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Michael Byers

Michael Byers Myra Klarman Photography

Michael Byers is the author of the story collection The Coast of Good Intentions, a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award, and the novels Percival's Planet and Long for This World, winner of the First Novel Award from Virginia Commonwealth University. Both were New York Times Notable Books. A former Stegner Fellow and Whiting Award winner, he teaches at the University of Michigan.

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  • Book Trailer for Percival's Planet

    A novel of ambition and obsession centered on the race to discover Pluto in 1930, pitting an untrained Kansas farm boy against the greatest minds of Harvard at the run-down Lowell Observatory in Arizona.

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Q & A

Where are you from?
Seattle, WA

Who are your favorite writers?
John Cheever, Don Delillo, Alice Munro, Raymond Chandler

Which book/books have had the biggest influence on your writing?
It's tempting to name the big names, as though I teethed on Tolstoy and Dickens. But really my influences have been less exalted. The spy novels of Trevanian, for their high-speed plotting and riveting eroto-mysticism, enthralled me as a kid. Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game and Isaac Asimov's Foundation series, too. Mark Helprin's Winter's Tale. Jim Harrison's Legends of the Fall. All books that promised a world beyond this one, where an attuned sensibility was the key to acquiring beautiful women and world domination. (The idea appealed.) By college I had found Raymond Carver and Tobias Wolff and the tone had begun to climb. Alice Munro became indispensible. Lately I rely on the strangeness and verbal rigor of Ron Hansen. And the metaphorical eye of John Updike. But I have an unkillable affection for those grandiose books that dare to suggest the world is a mysterious and romantic place, alive with marvelous possibility. The best books do just that - they confirm the suspicion we have that there's more to the world than we can quite apprehend.

What are your hobbies and outside interests?
I am a die-hard fan of old-time radio - the dramas, the comedies, the police procedurals. In my spare time I am a devoted amateur gardener and baseball (and sometime basketball) fan. And I can quote Star Wars until the family begs for mercy.

What was the lineup of the 1979-1980 NBA Championship Seattle Supersonics?
Fred Brown, Dennis Johnson, Gus Williams, John Johnson, Lonnie Shelton, Paul Silas, Jack Sikma, Joe Hassett, Wally Walker, Dennis Awtrey, Tom LaGarde, Dick Snyder, and Jackie Robinson.

Did you ever meet John Johnson in an airport security line decades after he had retired and declare, at the top of your voice, in a completely involuntary fashion, "Johnny Johnson! Big fan!"
No comment.

Where do you write?
I'm fortunate, I guess, in that I can write pretty much anywhere. For the daily labor of novel-writing, though, there's nothing like a private room where you go every day and do the work. That's at the end of the hall at home, with windows on three sides. I have to wedge the wonky door shut with a wad of paper to keep the cats out (they are demanding). When I'm standing up I see birds, neighbors, the driveway, I contemplate my inadequate lawn. When I'm sitting down I just see the screen.

What is it about R2-D2, anyway?
He's the narrative driver, all right. He gets the message from Princess Leia as her ship is being boarded; he withholds just enough of the message to convince Luke to remove the restraining bolt - which allows him to leaves the vaporator farm in order to search for Obi-Wan Kenobi, which allows Luke to be away from the farm while Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru are being murdered. Later he finds the power generator that Ben needs to de-activate in order to disable the tractor beam aboard the Death Star, and - well, I could go on.

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BOOKS BY THE AUTHOR

Percival's Planet

Michael Byers

A novel of ambition and obsession centered on the race to discover Pluto in 1930, pitting an untrained Kansas farm boy against the greatest minds of Harvard at the run-down Lowell Observatory...

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