Interview: Michael Z. Ryan
This week we sat down with the author, Michael Z Ryan. Join us as we talk about his journey from a college kid enamored of screenwriting and theatre to co-founding the online magazine, InThePantheon.com and the publishing company, Rewritten Realms.
CJ: I know everything there is to know about you, but the readers don’t. So, the dreaded first question. Tell me about yourself.
Michael: Oh, boy. Where to start? I’m a guy. From the middle of somewhere. I’m not as old as I think, and not as young as I want to be. I like stuff. I write stuff. General purveyor of stuff. How specific does this answer need to be?
CJ: Whatever you want the readers to know about you. Some have given me professional backgrounds. Some have given personal. It’s whatever you’re comfortable with.
Michael: In that case, I am an author, screenwriter, playwright, absolute garbage poet. The Narrative Director of InThePantheon.com and the President of Rewritten Realms. Oh, I really like Mountain Dew. Readers need to know that. Fini.
CJ: And tacos, don’t forget the tacos.
Michael: Correct. Tacos are of utmost importance. To a lesser extent 5 layer burritos, but I digress.
CJ: What kind of background do you have with screenwriting?
Michael: I went back to college in my late 20s. So, as I was wont to do at the time, I decided I wanted to learn to act and dove headlong into theatre. Most of my friends were in their early 20s and fully in the DIY and Guerilla filmmaking mindset, so we started by just shooting the plays we wrote with a buddy’s camera. From there, I learned to breakdown scenes, acts, all the nuts and bolts of structure mostly because we were learning on the fly. Things that work on stage don’t work on camera. You need to plan lighting, because the sun only works 12 hours a day. Dick. I guess I read a bunch of scripts too, that’s what the professionals tell you to do. Wait, I guess I’m a professional now. Then, yes, read scripts and shoot them in your backyard with your friends with a phone.
CJ: What is it about screenwriting that draws you to it?
Michael: For me, it’s immediate feedback. If you can write something and see the “movie” of it in your head, then it’s working. In a practical sense, there’s a significant payoff to having a group of people work to make the words you put on a page into a visual display on a screen. There are subtle changes that the dialogue can have from how you wrote it. Someone says a line you only heard in your head in a way you never thought of. It’s a weird question, really. Screenwriting is predicated on the idea that most of the work you do is scrapped, changed, edited, swapped, or otherwise not 100% of what you originally came up with. I think I just get a kick out of the journey. You really have no idea what it will look like from when you start to when you wrap.
CJ: How does that process differ for you with writing a book?
Michael: Writing a book means I don’t have to budget anything. I don’t have to scrap scenes for time. There aren’t going to be DVD extras of deleted scenes. I get to keep it all. There’s a fair amount of pleasure in that, a lot of control too. Knowing that I can have the epic space battle have 10,000 ships in it instead of 30 because the VFX department only had 2 weeks to crank the work out, is a wonderful position to be in. The original process stays, though. I see the “movie” in my head. The characters talk, they move, they make choices. Writing a book is just taking notes of what the voices in my head say and do, then transcribing it later. Generally, it’s 2 people in a room talking. That’s the Elmore Leonard style I pretty much adhere to. He was a master of dialogue, and famous for cutting out the bits that people tend to skip anyway. Just get to the point. The couple argues, the good guy and the bad guy throw punches. Stick to the good stuff and it works out. The only problem is that when the voices in my head speak Russian, then I have to waste time on Google Translate because I have no idea what they said.
CJ: What is your preferred genre both for novel writing and screenwriting?
Michael: This question always seems to have a couple answers. One is mine, and the other is from people who read what I write. I think I’m a Science Fiction and Fantasy guy. Tried and true. I love space opera and Military Strategies and knights who save the kingdom. It’s all good stuff. What I have been told, however, is that I write drama and a fair amount of romance. So, take that for what you will.
CJ: I don’t see how those differ from each other. Sounds like life. You’re bound to get a bit of everything if you’re a good writer. Let’s turn the time back a bit. The Pantheon project was put together by three people who met on Twitter. When you first joined Twitter, all those years ago, what were your plans?
Michael: Way back in the wild west days of 2011, I thought I was going to strike it rich on the back of a viral tweet, or a witty reply that someone saw, recognized my genius and decided they needed to give me an unnecessary amount of money and health insurance. Turns out, that’s pretty much what everyone else was, and still is, doing. So I was just a guy hiding behind an avatar and some Greek History knowledge. Mom always said, if you’re going to have a God Complex, have a big one.
CJ: Walk me through your thought process at the beginning of the Pantheon project. What were your primary thoughts and feelings?
Michael: At the time, I had just sort of come back to Twitter after a few years of not really paying attention. I stopped following political figures and celebrities. Jumped on the #WritingCommunity and wanted to connect with some fellow creatives. It helped a bit that I was running around as Zeus still, and there was a bit of charm to it that seemed to ingratiate me with some folk. When the first notion of The Pantheon started, I had absolutely no plans or expectations. It just felt nice to have a community to play around with. Pretending to be Gods and Goddesses turns out to be a helluva good time. I think most creatives just want to feel like they belong somewhere. At the time, that’s all it was. Then, something like a month later, we had a WordPress and a domain name and it was off to the races from there.
CJ: I believe all of that happened in less than 2 weeks. If I remember correctly. As the Pantheon grew, how did your expectations change?
Michael: The concept of time is wonky at this point. It could have been literally the next day and I would say it was a month. If it ever becomes a Jeopardy question, I’ll likely get it wrong. We plodded along for a couple of months, putting out content with the 10 or so people we had at the beginning in May 2019. It really wasn’t until September 2019 when things really changed. The creation of Rewritten Realms as a publishing arm turned this ragtag blog (I hate that word, it just sounds dumb) into an Online Magazine that would eventually publish full-on novels. It stopped being a hobby and became at that point a legitimate business venture that required a different attitude and approach. I had to learn to be in charge, had to learn how to work with I think 25 people we had in September 2019. When people rely on you for a direction and understanding of whatever the hell it is we were doing, it’s sobering. I’m not that great at it, even now. I hope I’m learning and growing. That’s the best I can do.
Michael: So, hopping into the way way back machine, we go back to roughly middle school. I found Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms novels from the late 80s. Classic stuff. Anyway, I’m reading the pants off of these books because they’re amazing. My grandmother hated it. Absolutely hated them. I figured as a kid that reading anything was a win in and of itself. Welp, Grandma thought differently and wanted me to go out and get a job. Or whatever it was a 14-year-old could do at the time. Anyway, she hated the stuff I read and the stuff I started writing. I knew that writing at some point in my life would be a major theme. For me, and this is entirely personal and probably a fair bit petty, being published now is the proof that I was right. I knew I could do it. I knew I should. The fact I have a book with my name on it, by definition making me immortal, hopefully, is just enough of a middle finger to my grandmother that it kinda tickles me. Also, like, it’s super cool. People are spending hard-earned money to read my word salad. It’s slightly terrifying and rewarding at the same time.
CJ: You’ve got experience in screenwriting, running an online magazine, running a publishing company, and being published yourself. At what point do you define yourself as successful?
Michael: That’s an incredibly difficult question to answer. I’m sure some say money, I’m sure some say the work in and of itself is the reward. I mean, chasing this creative stuff is the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do. I suck so bad at doing anything else. I get bored and irritated when I can’t write or create. I’m sure that’s common for most artists. Maybe I’m dodging the question a bit, but I don’t know that I’ll define myself as successful. The word always sounds past tense to me. I’m still chasing success, so as long as I’m chasing it, I don’t know if I am or not. I just like being on the journey.
CJ: What are your plans for the future?
Michael: We just put out the first anthology, we want to get hard at work for the next one. I’d love to take some of our print work and make scripts out of it. I think the Gods of Olympus haven’t been done all that well on TV or in Film over the last…. ever. I’d like to do some major work on that. Beyond keeping myself busy with Zeus and his dysfunctional family, I’d like to knock out a couple of things off my bucket list.
CJ: What things are you looking at?
Michael: Well, the first item is to witness an exorcism. I don’t care whose. Could be mine. That just sounds fun. The second thing would be for Neil Gaiman to notice me. Just validate my existence in some way. I think that would be a good time to die. The third item is to build a wicked sweet Tree Fort, but that requires my own property so that’s probably super far fetched. Uh, the last thing on my bucket list is to have Aubrey Plaza yell at me once. She’s pretty, and I think it would be cool if she yelled mean things at me. Aside from that, life, liberty, and the pursuit of that paper. The classics.
CJ: All perfectly reasonable things to seek the attainment of. You’re awesome. Is there anything else you’d like to add before we wrap up?
Michael: I hope I don’t come across as weird or aggressively sarcastic. I’m only extroverted when I have the battery power and talking about myself is not usually where I spend my time. I’m just a dude who writes stuff and hopes that maybe people like it. Outside of that, help control the pet population. Have your animals spayed or neutered? Yea. Bob Barker. Let’s roll with that.
Michael: Can confirm.
You can find Michael via these avenues: