A fun conversation with Michael Bunker and Kevin G. Summers
It can be challenging for writers to write a book on their own. What is even more challenging is when two writers decide to collaborate to publish a single work together. Two writers who have their own unique writing styles and their own tricks on what they like to do while writing are put to the test as they must thrust their writing egos, if there are any present, aside to create something readers will enjoy. Two writers, Kevin G. Summers and Michael Bunker met by accident, became quick friends, decided to collaborate on a work of fiction, and succeeded in creating a well-written and incredibly fun story called Legendarium.
Summers lives on a farm in central Virginia in a small town called Amissville. His family raises dairy cows and chickens and, when he is not farming, he is writing, mainly science fiction and fantasy. He was first published in 2001 when he wrote a Star Trek story for an anthology called Strange New Worlds and he has enjoyed writing ever since. Bunker also lives on a farm in central Texas in a community of like-minded people. His family tries to raise as much of their own food and what they need as they can. He has been writing for most of his life, but really did not try to publish until around 2011. He had a successful non-fiction piece called Surviving Off Off-Grid and then went into fiction writing where he has had a bit more success since. He recently sold a film option for his Amish sci-fi adventure Pennsylvania.
Summers and Bunker met by accident through Kindle Worlds, Amazon’s fan fiction imprint. Summers said that people can write fan fictions of the “worlds” Amazon has the rights to and officially sell the fan fictions for Kindle devices. “[Kindle Worlds] got the World of Kurt Vonnegut, who is my favorite author, and I ended up writing a story set in that world and Michael was commissioned to write a story in that world,” Summers said. “We connected through Kindle Worlds’ World of Kurt Vonnegut and we realized we had a lot in common with farming and such, so we started talking to each other and that’s how this ball got rolling.” Bunker had been contacted by Amazon to write a novel in Hugh Howey’s World of Wool; however, after some complications clashing with an already signed contract, Amazon asked if Bunker would be willing to write in another world. He chose to write in the World of Kurt Vonnegut, met Summers, and they immediately hit it off. “In an Alistair and Bombo kind of way because [Kevin] is very much a geeky teaching professor kind of guy and I’m very much a Bombo kind of guy and, in that way, we hit it off,” Bunker said.
With the instant friendship came easy collaboration. So easy that Summers and Bunker were able to write the entire story of Legendarium in a little over two months. Bunker admitted it was 21 times longer than the original that it was based on. Summers said, “It went pretty fast. And then it went to an editor after that and cover art and all that stuff. But the whole thing, it cranked pretty fast. And that’s the thing, really. You get in ‘the zone’ or whatever cliché you want to use. You can really get cranking.” How were these two able to write a book so quickly? Both said it was easy to work with the other. “For me, it was pretty easy,” Summers said. “We had Facebook messenger up pretty much the entire time. I took the first draft and I was working through it and, if I had a question about Bombo, I would just hang him and then we would get going. The only thing that was hard was, as we were going, [Michael] would constantly be like, ‘Are you done yet? Are you done yet?’ And I was like, ‘Shut up, Michael, I can’t finish if you’re constantly [messaging] me!’ It worked really well. I thought we meshed pretty equally, so it was an easy collaboration.”
Bunker had done a few collaborations in the past, some including a novel with Nick Cole and another with Chris Awalt. “Every collaboration is different,” Bunker said. “What was great about working with Kevin was that, if you have two people who really don’t have an ego as far as the writing goes, then it can go really really well because you’re not fighting over a word or a sentence that is your baby that you don’t want somebody else to touch. The way we did it, actually, it was akin to you baking a cake and then sending it to somebody else and they frost it and they send it back to you and then you can change it. There were no rules. We didn’t keep online what sentences had been changed, what words had been changed. So you got it back, it was just a cake, and then you could change it up, re-frost it, whatever, and that’s really how it worked. [Kevin] came up with the basic framework of the story with Bombo and that world that existed as a foundation. When he sent it to me, I loved it, so it didn’t take that much. There was so much back and forth, where we just rewrote the whole thing, that it got to the point where I didn’t know what I had written and what he had written. It just was this cake we were making and it turned out really really well and people have really responded well to it.” Along with Bunker’s cake metaphor, Summers had a metaphor to add. “This book is like The Little Engine That Could. It’s got legs and it keeps coming around and that’s great,” Summers said.
What is most memorable when readers read Legendarium are its two main characters: Bombo Dawson and Alistair Foley. Before Legendarium, Bombo already existed in Bunker’s work Hugh Howey Must Die!. During some free time between works, Bunker discovered a writing contest that was taking place in England where one could write a novel in less than 30 hours, which was insanity! Bunker decided to go for it, but with the reward of winning the contest not really being worth anything, he decided to make it into a joke. “The whole joke was I was going to stay up for 30 hours, write this book, and, in the book, I’m going to make fun of mainstream publishing and so, what I did, as soon as the book was done, I announced through my fan platform that I was going to self-publish it instead of putting it into the contest. So I pulled it out of the contest and self-published it. It got out there and it was funny. I didn’t sleep the whole time and you can see that in the writing and the lack of editing, but all that was left on purpose,” Bunker said. “I think Kevin really saw me as Bombo in that story and then he contacted me and said, ‘Hey, what do you think about us creating a character that is so anti-the opposite of Bombo that they would have some good witty repartee?’ and that’s how that happened.” Summers concurred when the two had come to the decision to collaborate on writing the story. “I wanted to come up with a character that was a foil for Bombo, so I looked at what Bombo was and went in the opposite direction,” Summers said. Bunker said that many of the conversations between Bombo and Alistair were real life conversations between him and Summers. “And really, we actually highlighted and copied a lot of our real conversations word for word out of Facebook and they’re in the book. Those are actual real conversations between me and Kevin,” Bunker said.
Other memorable traits of Legendarium are the literary works Bombo and Alistair find themselves a part of. Each of the main stories used were based on the favorite writings of Summers and Bunker. Summers loves Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass and Moby Dick is perhaps his favorite book of all time and that is how those two stories arrived in Legendarium. “I didn’t know if [the book] was going to take off or not,” Summers said. “I figured, if I only had a chance to do it one time, I wanted to pick from various genres, some of my absolute favorites. So I picked one of my favorite children’s books, one of my favorite literary books. I asked Michael, ‘If you could pick the works of one author, who would you pick?’ and he ended up with Hemingway and then the sci-fi story in there, the whole thing is a huge homage to Star Trek, specifically Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.” The first story Summers ever published was actually a Star Trek story and it first appeared in an anthology called Strange New Worlds, published by Pocket Books. Pocket Books would have an open call anthology and would receive thousands of stories which writer Dean Wesley Smith would have to read through and chose from the thousands of stories submitted. Summers had submitted a Deep Space Nine story and Smith loved it. The story won third place in the contest and was on the preliminary ballad for the Nebula Award.
Bunker admitted that during parts where Summers would explain something related to science fiction or fantasy to him for Legendarium that he was bored out of his mind, for even though Bunker writes in these genres, he is not a fan of reading them. “I write sci-fi, but the depth [Summers] gets into, which is what made the book so good because he really is, in a way, a better writer. He’s Alistair,” Bunker said. “We would have these conversations where he’s trying to explain to me why something needs to be in the book. And I would just say, ‘Kevin, I hate this.’ And the names, Gondor the Griphic of Slavenhill and I said, ‘Why can’t we just have a bad guy that’s Bob from Cleveland?’ We actually had those whole conversations and those are in the book. He started explaining to me a part of Legendarium 2 and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m in this again.’”
Speaking of Legendarium 2, the sequel is currently being written and is rumored to be completed sometime in 2016. Not much is revealed of its story, but Bunker and Summers had small hints to share with readers. Bunker said, “To me, the thing that worked with [Legendarium] was that however much Bombo and Alistair don’t like each other, they actually like each other and they love literature and they want to protect it. So that’s really a foundation for the second book that you really see that comes through. That it’s really about how important literature is to all of us and how much we would lose in losing it.” Summers added, “I think the goal here, too, is to not do an exact carbon copy of the first one, but to grow the characters organically. Their relationship is not the same as it was because they’ve been through this experience together, so they’ve grown some.”
As far as future stories go, again, not much can be shared, but Bunker and Summers have ideas for the next few books, however many that will be. “We have Legendarium 2 in the process right now and, Michael doesn’t know this yet, but I know the story for Legendarium 3 and, if there’s more after that, I don’t know, but I think there will be three,” Summers said. “There’s always a possibility that there could be more, but I think, for sure, there will be three.” Bunker, on the other hand, believes there will be many more stories to come for Bombo and Alistair. “First of all, like Kevin said, this book has really had legs and you write a lot of stuff,” Bunker said. “I’ve written a lot of books. You write some that you like, you enjoy them, people enjoy them, you make money off of them, maybe. A year or two after they’re out there, there’s just no legs. They just basically disappear and this is one that this has not happened to and so, it’s not only an enjoyable process in writing them, but it’s enjoyable for people that are reading them. So when that happens, you kind of want to hang onto that as much as possible.”
When Legendarium had been published, Summers and Bunker saw the finished product separately, but had similar experiences when holding it for the first time. With the publication of Legendarium, Summers had an amazing first experience in the indie world of publishing. “For me, it was really amazing because I had done the traditional publishing route for many years. I had books that I sold to small presses for $25 and I had stories that I sold to Pocket Books for a heck of a lot more than that. I was really hesitant to take the plunge into indie publishing and we took the plunge with this book and, to me, it was amazing. I took this leap of faith and I got this book in my hand and it was like, ‘Well, here we go. I’m going to do the indie thing now and see where it takes me.’ And it’s taken me to some pretty cool places. Legendarium was really the thing that made that take off. It was cool to hold that book. I have one on my shelf right now,” Summers said. “The best part for me, really, is, we made an audio book of this and my oldest daughter is obsessed with audio books and she listens to Legendarium once every three months. All my kids will come and ask me questions about it and they want to know things. It’s fun. I actually wrote something my kids could read, which they really shouldn’t read the rest of my stuff.” Bunker was cranking out stories very quickly when Legendarium was published. “On this book, because I was really really busy, Kevin really took the lead on just about anything. He actually wrote the original draft of the story and he took control of the thing once we were done with the draft. So I was moving on into other things and then, when I actually received it to see what an excellent job he’d done working on the cover, working on all that, he just did a really really good job on it. It was fun,” Bunker said. “I’ve done maybe about three books that were fun, just fun from beginning to end, and that was definitely one of those three where I just enjoyed the whole process and so then, you actually get the book and you enjoy it.”
A true life Bombo and Alistair duo, Bunker and Summers brought so much to life in their first story together. Being lovers of literature, they wanted to reach out to other lovers of literature and place them, through Bombo and Alistair’s adventures, into some well-known and beloved literary worlds. “One of the elements of the stories we try to focus on is its accessibility: that it is something people kind of do readily recognize. You want that,” Bunker said. “You don’t want them dropping into some story that nobody read from the doctorate level. At the same time, you want it to be something that they can actually interact with in a way that’s meaningful.” Along with the familiarity of the stories, Summers added that they wanted a variety of genres to reach out to many different readers. “As a person who’s taught creative writing, I think that one place people get hung up on and why genre fiction tends to get a bad rep is because so many people that are into writing science fiction or horror or fantasy, that they only read those genres that they’re into and, because of that, you get the same old tired stuff coming up over and over and over again,” Summers said. “In this world, the elves and dwarves are friends, but in that one, they hate each other, but it’s the same story over and over again. If you add a little bit of Vonnegut and a little bit of Tolstoy and a little bit of Hemingway, I think that rounding out your reading really improves your ability to tell stories with more depth and character.” With the anticipation of waiting for Legendarium 2’s release, both present and future readers can only hope Summers and Bunker have more stories in store for their characters to create and to stumble into during their adventures.
Originally published at www.examiner.com on January 28, 2016.