Celebromancy and the Price of Fame: Michael Underwood Writes Again


Ree Reyes returns! Six months after her Geekomancy debut, Pearson’s one-woman nerd army takes on a new challenge: Hollywood. Author Michael Underwood stopped by to share the origin story of Celebromancytalk about why having a bisexual main character was so important to him, and what’s next for Ree.

Things are looking up for urban fantasista Ree Reyes. She’s using her love of pop culture to fight monsters and protect her hometown as a Geekomancer, and now a real-live production company is shooting her television pilot script.

But nothing is easy in show business. When an invisible figure attacks the leading lady of the show, former child-star-turned-current-hot-mess Jane Konrad, Ree begins a school-of-hard-knocks education in the power of Celebromancy.

[mantra-pullquote align=”right” textalign=”left|center|right” width=”40%”]GIVEAWAY!

To celebrate the release, Underwood is offering a copy of Celebromancy with a pair of promotional Celebromantic sunglasses – magic powers not included. Enter by telling us in the comments below what gets your geek going. Contest is open to fans in the U.S. or Canada. Winner will be chosen at random on July 30th, and contacted via e-mail. [/mantra-pullquote]

Attempting to help Jane Geekomancy-style with Jedi mind tricks and X-Men infiltration techniques, Ree learns more about movie magic than she ever intended. She also learns that real life has the craziest plots: not only must she lift a Hollywood-strength curse, but she needs to save her pilot, negotiate a bizarre love rhombus, and fight monsters straight out of the silver screen. All this without anyone getting killed or, worse, banished to the D-List.

Hollywood Jane: The spotlight (pun intended) in this book is on Celebromancy – was it a different process creating the rules of this magical system than when you created Geekomancy?

Michael Underwood: With Celebromancy, I had the advantage of having already blocked out a whole magic system for this world already (and enough of others to make them work for supporting characters). For the new style, I wanted to take a contrasting dynamic (fame rather than fandom) and create a system that literalized the metaphors associated with fame, especially contemporary flavors of fame. People being famous for seemingly no reason became one of the effects that the style can produce. In addition, I made a nod towards the pandemic of Photoshopping in the fashion/celebrity industry by letting Celebromancers create magical illusions in real time to make themselves look uncannily beautiful. I rounded the style out with attention-grabbing-and-maintaining powers, and so on. Celebromancy is a more focused style than Geekomancy, but also has very wide-reaching (and somewhat insidious) power. But I wanted to make sure that Celebromancy wasn’t explicitly ‘bad,’ as I’d tried to make Geekomancy not explicitly ‘good.’

I feel like there are so many ways to go with Celebromancy – Twitter turned out to be a key tool for Celebromancers in this novel, and I imagine YouTube has its own sect. I’m sure you’ll explore the labyrinth of Geekomancy in the future, but have you considered writing a guide to the other ‘Mancies’?

I feel like there’s a careful balance for me as the writer here – if I tip my hand too much right away, I limit myself in the future. The magical styles the readers learn about are limited to those that Ree’s aware of, which gives me flexibility to dribble out new styles over the course of the series to keep things fresh.

Now if a company wanted to license rights to produce a Geekomancy RPG, then that’d be a whole different matter. *winks at RPG industry*

Celebromancy actually explains a lot of the crazy, random stuff that famous people do – did you find yourself delving into the TMZs of the world, looking for tabloid-fodder that could be attributed to a ritual gone wrong?

I took a few discrete dives into the celebrity gossip world, just to see how crazy things got – but sadly, I didn’t really have to do too much, since the celebrity gossip world is all around us – it’s in supermarkets, on TV, and plastered all over the internet. As a movie/TV fan, my browsing and media exposure is always brushing right up against celebrity gossip, even when I don’t want to. And that tension between focusing on the properties and the characters (Geekomancy) vs. focusing on the stars (Celebromancy) made for a great opportunity to expand Ree’s world organically without seeming like it’d completely abandoned what I was focusing on in the first book.

One of the biggest inspirations for the story in Celebromancy was the public story crafted as the rise and fall of Lindsay Lohan – a child actress who made the transition into being an adult star, and in the years following, has had a huge amount of drama around and in her life, which I saw as largely being due to living in the spotlight, with the intense and somewhat reprehensible scrutiny associated with being a famous woman in Hollywood. I took the tale-type of her public narrative (which is all I know, because I’ve never met Ms. Lohan, and can’t pretend to know what her life’s been like) as a major inspiration for Jane Konrad, asking ‘so if this happened in a world with Celebromancy, how would it work, and what would the ‘real’ reasons behind things be?

What’s your favorite Celebromantic tool?

Ooh, good one. I made Celebromancy a bit less prop-intensive than Geekomancy, so I’d say that my favorite tool would be a heavily marked-up script. A Celebromancer focused on giving the best performance they can, which will give them more power, which they can use to be an even better performer – that’s the kind of writer I try to be, always using what I learn and the support I get to further my craft. Plus I have a thing for heavily marked-up manuscripts. It shows attention, detailed reading, and deep engagement with the text.

At the start of Celebromancy, Ree has gotten her big break as a television writer. When you finished Geekomancy, did you know you were going to throw Ree into the deep end of filmmaking while she was still finding her footing as a Geekomancer? 

I had a vague inkling about Celebromancy as a style, but I didn’t decide on that as the title and central focus of book two until Geekomancy was fully revised and submitted. That’s largely due to the fact that my editor pulled off the awesome feat of getting Geekomancy fast-tracked to publication in order to feature it at SDCC in 2012, so I had to do everything for that book on a very accelerated schedule.

After book 1 was submitted, I went back to the notes about sequels I’d sketched out in my car before talking to Adam (Adam Wilson, my editor) for the first time, and was deciding between Celebromancy and Bromancy as the focus styles for book 2. I was initially going to have Bromancy be the second story, but in talking with Adam, he advised me to try Celebromancy, since he thought it’d be a more organic progression – the ideas I had for Bromancy were very theory and activism-driven, as in Ree Reyes vs. The Patriarchy!, and Adam was right – I would have banged my head on the wall trying to come up with an appropriate Ree story using Bromancy. Celebromancy was still hard to write, since I was challenging myself on several levels in one book, but flowed more organically out of the story of Geekomancy.

So basically, yay Editors!

She also has to deal with a suddenly complicated love life that includes a movie star, one of her best friends, and a Steampunk man-out-of-time. Tell me something about the process of writing a love “rhombus” around a bisexual geek girl.

This was one of the challenges I set for myself. I’d enjoyed building up the romantic tension between Ree and Drake in Geekomancy, but didn’t think either character was ready for the two to get together. And when I was developing Jane Konrad, I decided that one of the ways to complicate the story for Celebromancy and to tie Ree’s magical, screenwriting, and personal lives all together in a deliciously tangled way would be to become romantically involved with Konrad just as Priya and Drake connected through their shared interest in Steampunk.

It was also important to me that in writing a character that identified as bisexual, that she would necessarily have love interests who were both male and female. Ree’s sexual orientation also let me avoid the ‘woman forced to choose between two men, each of whom define her identity in a different way, until she picks one to control her life’ trope which I’ve seen sometimes with love triangles.

The “love rhombus” as I call it is a delicate one, since it includes the secrecy and guilt of keeping the magical world a secret from one of her best friends, the ambivalence of being romantically interested in her strongest ally in the fighting evil and monsters and things™, and so on. By making the whole situation ridiculously complicated along several lines of characterization, I gave myself the ability to put Ree into an escalating series of difficult situations, and help drive the story along.

I believe delivering Celebromancy was part of the deal when you sold Geekomancy – did that put on much added pressure while writing, or affect the storyline in anyway?

For me, the validation of selling the books was actually a huge help in writing Celebromancy more quickly than I’d written Geekomancy. It also helped that I’d already laid out the rules of the universe, developed the setting of Pearson, and that I knew most of the characters, Ree most important of them all.

There was definitely added pressure – especially as people started responding to Geekomancy – now I wasn’t just writing for a vague ‘people who read urban fantasy’, I was writing for an existing audience, people who’d already connected with the characters. That really became a factor during revisions, but I tried to use that connection with readers as a boost rather than as a limiting factor. I’d gotten great response to Drake, so I felt confident bringing him back as a major character.

My biggest concern was beating the sophomore slump – which is said to effect novelists, musicians, and possibly everyone in the artistic world. When you’re unpublished, you have all the time in the world to write. But when you sell the completed book one and a not-even-a-gleam-in-your-eye book 2, suddenly you have deadlines, expectations, and you have to either suck it up and do the work, or admit that maybe you weren’t ready to become a working professional. There are many writers who have difficulties with deadlines, for many (mostly good) reasons. I was glad to have a very supportive editor, agent, and partner, as well as friends and my reading community, and managed to stay ahead of schedule with Celebromancy, which was a huge relief.

Are there more Ree Reyes books in your future? I’m hoping Bromancy is next.

Bromancy is still waiting for me to figure out how I want to make it into a good novel’s worth of story. But the Bromancers will definitely be back.

The next Ree Reyes story is currently titled Fortress Grognard, and it’s going to be a shorter story – the draft I just submitted was about 40K words (about half the size of either of the first two books). This one takes place over one Saturday night at Grognard’s Games & Grog, when nearly every single conceivable thing at Grognard’s goes wrong, one after another. Eastwood makes a return, as does Lt. Abigail Wickham, and of course Drake (he’s washing dishes). Grognard is there, being Grognard (aka surly). It was awesome fun writing all of those characters in claustrophobic proximity and under lots of pressure – I basically put everyone in a bad situation and the characters’ relationships with one another made it very easy to just tap away in playing out their arguments. Hurray for intricately interconnected characters almost all of whom are very pronounced personalities! They make my life easier.

You can download Celebromancy (I get thanked in the acknowledgments!) through Amazon or Google Play, and I hear there’s a really awesome audiobook version on Audible.


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This article has 4 Comments

  1. If you mean “My Geek” as in the “physicist I married” I can basically say “Me;” because I am very lucky. And as a subset of “me” I would say “my feet.”

    If you mean “My Geek” as in the person totally involved in something to the exclusion of attention to other things: the news, the idea that other people don’t know what a Bludbunny is, then the response would be steamy books and fine jewelry.
    steph at fangswandsandfairydust.com

  2. If you could grab the best parts of Tony Stark, Thor, and Hawkeye and smush them into one dude with Chris Hemsworth’s hair, that would totally work for me.

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