Blog Guest: Sean Munger, author of “The Armored Satchel”

Sean Munger is the last scheduled guest post from the Jukepop Serials crowd.

He is the author of  “The Armored Satchel, a spy adventure that takes place in occupied Europe during World War II (https://www.jukepopserials.com/home/read/501).

Per Sean: “In this serial, Max Volcker, a young German who grew up in America, assumes the identity of a crack Nazi intelligence agent called “the Specter.” Using the Specter’s steel-reinforced briefcase packed with false identity papers and counterfeit cash, Max decides to become a double agent for the Allies—but finds the world of espionage is a lot more dangerous than he bargained for!”

Sean -please provide some background about yourself.

I am currently studying for a Ph.D. in American history. As part of my course of study, I also teach history classes at the university. This is definitely a full-time job, even during the summer—right now I’m preparing to teach a summer course on the history of the Iraq War. I do my writing in the evenings or on weekends or basically whenever there’s time.

Hobby-wise, I love to cook, especially spicy food—I can make several different Indian and Chinese dishes. I learned to cook mainly because restaurants could never make anything spicy enough for me, so I realized if I wanted food with a kick, I’d have to do it myself! I also read about and research, in a very unprofessional armchair-sleuth kind of way, missing persons cases, which have fascinated me for a long time. You’ll see I often post about missing persons on my blog (at seanmunger.com).

What are your current writing projects? Do you have another Jukepop serial in the works?

Right now I’m working on a new horror novel, titled Doppelgänger. It’s a creepy Victorian haunted house story, set in the 1880s, but it has a twist to it, and I hope it’s successful. I’m also putting the finishing touches on my second zombie novel, The Zombie Rebellion, which will be coming out from Samhain Publishing in May 2014. These have been my main projects recently. Strange as it sounds, The Armored Satchel started as a sideline.

I may do another serial. The character of Max has grown on me, and I think he’d be interesting to put into another adventure. I already have some vague thoughts on that but I’m not entirely decided on how to proceed yet.

Longer-term, I’ve got two projects in the pipeline that are likely to take a long time to get finished. The first is a book called The Valley of Forever, which I’ve been working on since 2010. It’s a science fiction book about the nature of time. The second is more speculative, but I’m hoping to do a re-boot of my science fiction series which began in 2006 with Life Without Giamotti. That’s a much longer-term project.

How did you hear about Jukepop Serials?  What interested you in the program?  For example, was your goal to be paid or to find new readers? 

Someone on my Twitter retweeted a link to the JukePop site last fall. That was how I first heard about it. I thought, “Oh, that’s an interesting concept. Let’s see if they get off the ground.” A couple of months later I checked back and saw that they had some good stories on the site and seemed to be getting some traffic. I started to think that perhaps it would be something to get in on, so I began kicking around some story ideas in my head to see if one of them might work as a serial.

My goal was to find some new readers. Although my biggest book (Zombies of Byzantium) is horror, I didn’t want to be “typecast” as strictly a zombie writer. I thought doing something in a different genre would be interesting and also to expose my material to some people who might otherwise not have seen it. The prospect of getting paid was quite nice too, but that wasn’t a very big consideration.

Did you have a complete work before approaching JP to make your pitch? Or did you decide to post what you were writing along the way?

This is the question I get asked most often about The Armored Satchel! I had a story idea, but it wasn’t complete from beginning to end. Far from it. I’ve wanted to write a World War II spy story for many years, but I never came up with a concept that I thought would work. Then when doing some historical research I saw an article in the New York Times from 1945 about a young man, only 20, who was arrested by the FBI and suspected of being a German spy. He had lived in New York as a teenager but was deported to Germany during the war, and he evidently passed himself off as an American and tried to infiltrate the U.S. military late in the war. I decided, with the allegiances flipped (the hero, of course, has to be working for the Allies, not the Nazis), this would make an awesome story. The idea of the “armored satchel” filled with fake papers that he could use to pass himself off as anyone was more of a MacGuffin than anything else.

I approached it kind of like pitching an idea for a TV series. “Okay, here’s the basic concept of the show, and here’s the pilot episode. Do you want to pick it up?” After the second chapter, which describes the background of the story and completes the initial situation, I didn’t have very much planned beyond some vague ideas. So, from chapter three on, I’ve been making it up as I go.

Could you describe your typical writing ritual/process? Was it different for you from writing other things?

It’s absolutely different. In fact, it’s exactly backwards. With a novel, you start by planning the end and then work forward to the beginning, at least in structuring it. With a serial, you start with the beginning and work toward the end. It’s also very piecemeal. Writing chapter by chapter, it’s almost hand-to-mouth. “Okay, where did I leave off with the last cliffhanger? How do I resolve that cliffhanger? What’s this week’s cliffhanger going to be, and how do I get the characters there?” You don’t really think beyond the chapter you’re working on.

What I do for The Armored Satchel is write a kind of preliminary script for each chapter. It looks very much like a movie script—it’s got slug lines, dialogue, and very basic descriptions of the actions. Then once I polish that a bit, I’ll take the script and write it as a prose piece, but all the basic things remain the same. Once I’ve got the script down the chapters themselves write very fast.

How /when does the Jukepop Serials staff get involved with you? Does the staff or other writers get involved in the process prior to posting your chapters?

The staff at JukePop doesn’t interfere at all with the writing process. They’re very good about letting writers go where they want to go. They occasionally email us with suggestions about how to promote our stories or new features on the site that they’re developing, but never about specific content. I think they really want to foster an environment where writers are free to do whatever they want.

Do you interact with other JP authors? How?

I do. It’s mostly on Twitter, and there’s sort of a little clique of us forming—Kevin A.M. Lewis, author of Metal Shadow Prelude, is very active on Twitter, and I often talk with Josh Thornbrugh (The Sixth Seal) and Ryan Leeds (Synchronicity). For my blog tours I’ve interviewed Nathaniel Tower, author of Misty Me and Me, and Robbie MacNiven, author of Werekynd—Beasts of the Tanglewild, which given the number of votes it’s received is likely to remain the #1 top-ranked serial until the end of time. There has been some vague buzz about possible collaborations between some JukePop authors, which I think would be a lot of fun, but nothing definite yet.

What do you think distinguishes the more popular JP writers from those who haven’t quite as had as many votes?  Do you think the voting enhances the experience for the reader?

That’s hard to say. It is not 100% a meritocracy. A lot of it is about promotion and marketing, but that’s a good thing for writers to learn, because promotion and marketing is important in the writing business. Robbie MacNiven engaged in vote drives on his university campus where he gave candy to people in exchange for votes. I myself sponsored contests on my blog where I gave away autographed copies of some of my previous books once The Armored Satchel got to a certain level of votes. You have to do that kind of thing.

That said, people do get genuinely hooked, and only a well-written story can do that. You do need to have an interesting premise, engaging writing, and characters that people relate to. So it’s a synthesis of art and promotion.

I think voting does enhance the experience, because it gets readers more passionately involved with the serials they like. The “horse-race” for votes which comes at the end of every month really does spur your loyal readers to get on the site and vote. They like to see their favorite stories move up in the rankings just as much as the authors do.

If you were able to provide advice to someone thinking about submitting to Jukepop Serials, what would you tell them to consider?

Make sure you want to make the commitment. When I submitted The Armored Satchel, I wasn’t really expecting it to get picked up. When it did, I thought, “Okay, well, I put this out there—now I’ve got to follow through.” It immediately became like a needy child. I had to feed it, update it and promote it every single week. You don’t think, “Gee, do I really want to do it this week?” You just don’t think that way. It’s a given that you’re going to do that, and excuses like “Oh, I’m so busy” or “I’m not really feeling creative this week” just don’t enter into the equation. If you’re not willing to sign on to that in the first place, don’t do it at all.

What will you do once you’ve finished your serial?

Part of me blanches at saying  “I’m going to write another one,” but the truth is I’m probably going to write another one. I have a potential sequel to The Armored Satchel cooked up in my head, but I haven’t decided whether to just press on and keep running chapters under the same title, or start over again with a different self-contained story. The second “movement” of The Armored Satchel would feature Max squaring off, not against the Nazis, but the Soviets. That could be an interesting story.

If I chose to do this I’d probably use JukePop again, as I now have a fan base there that I can leverage. Why reinvent the wheel?

I see you have a book out with Samhain.  Could you talk about how this happened and what your thoughts are on how the two methods of delivery work for you? 

I made the deal for Zombies of Byzantium in January 2012, more than a year before it came out. I’d completed the book the previous summer and had begun sending it out to publishers in the fall. Samhain actually had to compete with another publisher to get it, as I had an acceptance come in before they had committed to it. I’m really glad I went with them. The horror editor at Samhain, Don D’Auria, is literally the best in the business. Samhain has a sterling reputation among writers and it’s absolutely deserved. As I said I’ve got another book, The Zombie Rebellion, in the pipeline with them, and I hope to do more books with them.

It’s very different than serial writing, obviously. With serials it’s very instant-gratification. A chapter goes up and you see people reacting to it in real time. A book with a traditional publisher has a much longer gestation period, and it filters out to the world much slower.

Are you finding your audience crossing over from one to the other?  And was your serial experience something you mentioned to Samhain?

Both of my deals with Samhain were made before The Armored Satchel started running, so I was not yet a serial author when I published with them! That said, I’m sure they’re grateful for every bit of exposure one of their authors can get. I know some of my JukePop readers have bought Zombies of Byzantium, and vice-versa, some of the zombie fans have clicked on to JukePop. Chances are if you’re a writer and people like something you do, they’ll be curious to see the other things you do.

Sean’s story:  “The Armored Satchel” can be read  at https://www.jukepopserials.com/home/read/501

Connect with Sean at 

Twitter: http://twitter.com/Sean_Munger

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Sean-Munger/267079030087379

Blog/official site: http://seanmunger.com

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5 comments

  1. It was interesting to hear about how you differently you treat writing for Armored Satchel and writing for your book. When I’m writing for Radio Silence, I only think about the chapter I’m currently writing and maybe the next one.

    Great interview! : )

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