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Interview With Michael La Ronn — Black Author Thrives On Crossing Borders, Bringing People Together: Inspirational Indie Authors Podcast

Interview with Michael La Ronn — Black Author Thrives on Crossing Borders, Bringing People Together: Inspirational Indie Authors Podcast

My guest this week is Michael La Ronn, who many of you know as the co-host of the AskALLi Members’ Q&A podcast. You also may know him as a video blogger, and writer of fantastic fiction. He lives and thrives at the border between genres, and as black author who was raised in a biracial family, he chooses to try to bring people together in these polarized times.

Every week I interview a member of ALLi to talk about their writing and what inspires them, and why they are inspiring to other authors.

A couple of highlights from our interview:

On Living with Bigotry

In a way, it made me more race-conscious because the encounters with some of the people that had prejudices and ignorance were that much more magnified, but it also made me less race-conscious in the fact that I didn’t want to be those people, I didn’t want to perpetuate the problem.

On His Sickbed Resolution to Become a Writer

And I swore on that hospital bed that I would become a writer and that I would bend the universe around myself to do it. All I had to do was get well. And fortunately for me, that’s what happened.

Listen to My Interview With Michael La Ronn

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Michael La Ronn

On the Inspirational Indie Authors #podcast, @howard_lovy features @MichaelLaRonn. As a black author who was raised in a biracial family, his life and work is about bringing people together—especially in these times. Click To Tweet

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About the Host

Howard Lovy has been a journalist for more than 30 years, and has spent the last six years amplifying the voices of independent publishers and authors. He works with authors as a book editor to prepare their work to be published. Howard is also a freelance writer specializing in Jewish issues whose work appears regularly in Publishers Weekly, the Jewish Daily Forward, and Longreads. Find Howard at howardlovy.comLinkedIn and Twitter.

Read the Transcripts of My Interview with Michael La Ronn

Howard Lovy: I’m Howard Lovy and you’re listening to Inspirational Indie Authors.

Every week, I feature a member of the Alliance of Independent Authors to find out what inspires them and how they are an inspiration to other authors.

My guest this week is Michael La Ronn, who many of you know as the co-host of the AskALLi Members Q&A podcast. You also may know him as a video blogger and writer of fantastic fiction. He lives in thrives at the border between genres.

And as an African American author who was raised in a biracial family, he chooses to try to bring people together in these polarized times.

Michael La Ronn: Hello. My name is Michael La Ronn. I am the author of over 50 science fiction and fantasy and self-help books for writers. And I run the popular YouTube channel authorlevelup.com. I grew up in St. Louis, Missouri, more specifically Ferguson, Missouri, and it’s that Ferguson that was in the news a few years ago.

And so, I grew up there. I had a very happy childhood and the first time I realized that I wanted to be a writer was when I was playing a video game. And I was playing a video game and I found myself dissatisfied with how the story was going. And so, I asked my mom for some construction paper and she gave it to me, and I started writing out the plot, like rewriting the video game to how I wanted it to be.

I had the bug and I was probably six or seven years old at that point.

Howard Lovy: So, already Michael was infused with an independent spirit. We’ll get back to his writing in a moment. But first, I asked him to talk about what it was like as an African American in Ferguson, Missouri.

Michael La Ronn: Yeah, my experience in Ferguson was very good.

It’s a pretty diverse place. I mean, at least in terms of black and white, when I was there, there was a fair mix of black and white, and people were fairly welcoming and fairly open, but there was always a racial divide that I was always aware of. There was never really anything that specifically happened to me.

I wasn’t surprised after the Michael Brown killing that people were upset and acted the way they did because St. Louis is a fairly segregated city. It’s gotten a lot better over the years, but there are some divides among racial lines and that just kind of is how it is.

Howard Lovy: But the reality that Michael lived was one where the lines were blurred between black and white. Michael grew up in an interracial family.

Michael La Ronn: My biological father is black but he divorced my mom when I was young, and so my mom remarried a white man and I grew up with him and honestly, I consider him to be my father.

He filled the void that my biological father left behind. And so, I grew up in an interracial family. So, my mom and I are black and my dad and stepsister, or my stepdad and stepsister are white. That was a lot of interesting experiences growing up, just having a different perspective in terms of how people viewed race.

Ninety percent of people were fine with it, it was just every once in a while you’d get a whiff of someone that didn’t approve of two races mixing or marrying, and, you know, we just had to deal with that. And as a family, we were pretty strong, we had a very tight bond and we always stuck together and knew that, at the end of the day, people are people and that’s how we chose to live our lives.

In a way, it made me more race-conscious because the encounters with some of the people that had prejudices and ignorance were that much more magnified, but it also made me less race-conscious in the fact that I didn’t want to be those people, I didn’t want to perpetuate the problem.

So, it was very important to me to be as open minded and as thoughtful and as respectful of other people, whatever their background is, because I knew what it was like, not only being black, but also being an interracial family, in dealing with intolerance and ignorance. And so, it made me more race-conscious, but also less race-conscious because at the end of the day, I just wanted to live in a world where people are people, individuals are individuals. It doesn’t matter what your race is, it just matters who you are and how you treat people.

Howard Lovy: Michael went to a small-town college in Iowa, where he studied English and Spanish and where he discovered that he really liked to write poetry and short stories. But like most English majors, he left college and found a job doing something else. But it took a near death experience to make Michael come to his senses and act on his passion for writing.

Michael La Ronn: I got a job at an insurance company as a bilingual claims adjuster. So, I was handling auto accidents as a claims adjuster in English and Spanish, and I was speaking English half the day, Spanish half the day, and it was really fun, but it had absolutely nothing to do with writing whatsoever.

I did this for a couple of years, and I was unfulfilled, I wasn’t happy. Student loans were half my paycheck, I had a new car that was another third of my paycheck and I just genuinely was not happy, and I didn’t realize how unhappy I was until I had a near death experience in 2012. So yeah, my wife and I went to a nice restaurant. She was my girlfriend at the time, but we went to a nice restaurant and I fell ill that night with what I thought was food poisoning.

And I went to the hospital and I was in a lot of pain and I’ll spare you the gastrointestinal details, but while I was in the hospital, they treated me for the problem that I had. But then I picked up another infection while I was in the hospital and the doctors didn’t know what it was. And it was to the point where if they hadn’t figured out what the problem was when they figured it out, I very much could have died.

The very week that I got out of the hospital, there was an article in USA Today about this particular type of infection and how it was spreading in hospitals and how it was killing people particularly my age. So, when I was in the hospital, I was just asking myself, you know, I was doped up on morphine, I couldn’t eat solid food, I was having these weird hallucinations and I just had a lot of time to think about what I was doing with my life. And I remember staring at the hospital wall, and I had this vision of me being a writer. And it was just this really beautiful vision of me being happy, me writing books and me being proud of what I was doing.

And I said that I wanted to do that. I wanted to be that person that I saw probably in those morphine hallucinations, but it was still real to me at the time. And I swore on that hospital bed that I would become a writer and that I would bend the universe around myself to do it. All I had to do was get well.

And fortunately for me, that’s what happened.

Howard Lovy: Now, Michael had never considered indie publishing. In fact, he had been opposed to the idea and was convinced that the only path was the traditional one. But it wasn’t long before Michael found that self-publishing very much suited his independent spirit.

Michael La Ronn: Yeah. So, I started researching how to publish a book.

And around that time I was looking at traditionally published stuff, and that’s when I started to realize that the indie movement was something that was happening. And this was right around the time I found Joanna Penn for first time, and so she opened my eyes to all the different options that were out there for authors in this new world of indie publishing.

And I also found ALLi, right around this time, I found Joanna and ALLi right around the same time. And I became a member of ALLi, looked at all the things that they had to offer and those were the two things that really inspired me to self-publish my first book.

My fiction is all about underdogs and people who are in situations where the cards seem stacked against them and they have to figure out how to solve it. So, my very first book or my first couple of books were what I called interactive fiction. You could call them, choose your own adventures for adults.

So, I loved “choose your own adventures” growing up and I always wondered what happened to them, and I found out that they didn’t age very well. They were on the Kindle at the time, but the reading experience was so bad. And I was all in on eBooks, and so I said, huh, what if I could take this genre and do something totally different with it?

And what if I could write an interactive novel where the reader could pick the choices that they wanted to pick by tapping on them? And then, what if I could do some really interesting stuff, like instead of just basic choices, what if I could have the reader choose what the character was saying in a conversation, for example, or what if I could have the reader compete in a game show?

And so, I started creating this really elaborate interactive fiction for my first two novels. And so that’s how I started. And so that gave me a really, really good understanding of formatting and a good understanding of storytelling because all of my books had several different plot lines in them.

That was a lot of fun, and then I started moving into more traditional narratives, more like fantasy stuff. So, I wrote a series called, The Last Dragon Lord, and it’s about a narcissistic dragon Lord who rules the world with an iron fist, and he gets his comeuppance. Some conspirators curse him, and they mean to kill him, but they don’t because he’s so powerful, and he falls asleep, wakes up a thousand years in the future that’s ruled by his enemies. And he’s broken and beat down and decrepit and has no idea how to navigate in this new future, the world he lived in was very, almost like Game of Thrones-ish, like that typical fantasy world, but the world he emerges into is a world that looks very much like ours and is very futuristic.

And so, it’s humans and dragons and elves and magic altogether. And you’ve got this super villain that’s trying to figure out how to navigate it, and readers are rooting for him. And that’s kind of indicative of some of the stuff that I like to write as well. And I’ve written some fiction about sword-carrying Teddy bears.

I’ve also written a story about anthropomorphic vegetable terrorists trying to take over the world. I just like to have fun with my stories. I’ve always said, I don’t take my stories very seriously, but my characters do. And so, that’s been something that has always resonated with my readers.

Howard Lovy: To Michael, spinning fantastic tales of fiction is also a way to better understand the real world.

Michael La Ronn: How do you portray the real world in a way that people can make sense of? So, I’ve always read fiction as a way to become more empathetic myself and to learn more about the world that I don’t know about.

That’s why I like reading fiction from perspectives and types of characters and in locations where I’ve never been, because I’ve always felt that that has made me a more thoughtful person, a more empathetic person and more receptive to the experiences of people around the world, which I’ve always enjoyed.

And so, when I write my own fiction, it’s how can I convey my own experience without politicizing it or beating people over the head with it, but what are some of the things that I bring to the table? What are things that I’ve seen in my life, and how can I portray those on the page?

It’s just this endless cycle for me, I love it.

Howard Lovy: Another aspect of Michael’s life and career is educating other indie authors on how to succeed. It’s his way of showing gratitude for all the help he’s had along the way.

Michael La Ronn: I do it because I had, throughout my life, really great people who took the time to mentor me and teach me what they knew without any strings attached. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for those people. And so, I’ve always said that at the end of the day, I just want to help people. I want to help them become the best versions of themselves. I want to help them find the paths that they feel they need to walk in order to reach success that they want to reach.

Whether that success looks different than mine, that’s totally fine. When I became an author and I published my first book, I was unrealistic, like a lot of people. I thought that my first book was going to make me a millionaire. You know, I thought I was going to make six figures. I thought I was going to be able to quit my crappy claims adjusting job at the time. And I thought I was going to be able to retire to Mexico and all that stuff. And I was shocked when in my first month I made $5.79 in sales commissions. It was something, but my mom bought my very first book, I bought a book just so I could generate my Amazon sales rank, and then a good friend of mine bought my first book. And those were my sales commissions.

And so, I realized very quickly that this is a very brutal, sometimes, in many respects, life to live because it’s not easy to build an audience, it’s not easy to learn writing craft. And so, my perspective has always been, I am not a guru, I am not somebody that holds themselves out as an expert, but what I am going to try to do is document my experience and talk about the things that I’m learning when I learn them. And maybe people can learn from that. Maybe there’s something that you can learn from listening to me and following me every week and, because I’m documenting that journey, it’s just kind of interesting, it’s one way for me to see my own growth, but it’s also a way for people to see how I started with nothing, $5.79 in sales, and progressed into what I hope will be a bestselling author someday. And so, I just thought that that would be an interesting way to help

Howard Lovy: Michael’s life and career so far has been about bringing ideas together, about bringing people together. After all, he’s lived it, from being raised in a mixed-race family to raising one of his own. His wife is Latina and his children are biracial, and despite some struggles along the way, with a few people who insist on highlighting differences, Michael continues in his life and his work to blur lines to bring things and ideas together.

That, he says, is the only way forward from these polarizing times.

Michael La Ronn: I can only speak for myself. I can’t speak for anyone else who has my skin color. But what I would say is that it’s very interesting politically, just because of how polarizing it is. You know, I think everybody agrees that racism is a bad thing, right?

It’s just, how do we tackle the problem and what do we feel is important? And I found it to be pretty tiring, just debating the issue and listening to people here talk about both sides of the issue. But one of the things that I’ve been pretty good at is trying to just focus on my, as they would say in the corporate world, focus on my 100 square feet.

I mean, there’s all sorts of things going on in the world and in many respects, the thermostat of the culture just keeps getting turned up and up and up and up, regardless of what your political feelings are. And so, what I’ve tried to do is turn my own personal thermostat down so that I can focus and that I can continue doing the work that I want to do.

And yeah, it’s been hard sometimes to be able to sit down and write, but I’ve, in many respects, dragged myself to the computer because I know that this, like all things, I mean the pandemic and the protests that are going on here in the United States regarding race, it’s going to pass and we’re going to emerge into a new world and into what’s next.

I don’t want to look back on this moment and say, you know, I didn’t do anything. I want to be able to have something to contribute and whether it’s a book or whether it’s courses for writers or whether it’s podcast episodes or interviews like this, I almost find some sort of an obligation to continue talking and continue contributing to the conversation because I think it’s what people need right now. It’s easy to be pessimistic, but you know, I think that, at the end of the day, and this is maybe the optimist in me, I think at the end of the day, everybody in the world is just doing the best they can. And I choose to believe that people are mostly good.

And that, despite what you might see on TV, despite what you might see in the media, sometimes things get overblown. I think most people are on the right side of the issue and it’s just a matter of how we communicate. And so, that’s why I choose to be optimistic about the future.

Howard Lovy

Howard Lovy is an editor and writer with more than 30 years of experience in journalism, from newspapers to magazines specializing in business, science, and technology. He has spent the past few years guiding coverage of independent publishing, amplifying voices of the marginalized. Howard is also a book doctor who enjoys working with authors to get their work ready for publication.

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