Apple-Obsessed Author Fella

Mike Underwood: Five Things I Learned Writing Attack The Geek

A side quest novella in the bestselling Geekomancy urban fantasy series–when D&D style adventures go from the tabletop to real life, look out!

Ree Reyes, urban fantasy heroine of Geekomancy, is working her regular barista/drink-slinger shift at Grognard’s when it all goes wrong. Everything.

As with Geekomancy (pop culture magic!) and its sequel Celebromancy (celebrity magic!), Attack of the Geek is perfect for anyone who wants to visit a world “where all the books and shows and movies and games [that you] love are a source of power, not only in psychological terms, but in practical, villain-pounding ones” (Marie Brennan, award-winning author of A Natural History of Dragons).

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What’s better than one main character? Two, obviously. And by that, logic ensembles are even better – since you get to balance the spotlight between five or more characters and have them enrich and illuminate one another. Part of why Marvel’s The Avengers was amazing was that it was an ensemble piece, playing with the character’s relationships (Captain America & Iron Man, Hulk & Iron Man, Black Widow & Hawkeye, etc.) and using them to deepen the meaning of the action.

The downside is that writing an ensemble piece is like being the DM for an unruly party of six players who are all already half-drunk and yet also buzzed on Mountain Dew. Each character has their own agenda, their own voice, and to do right by the ensemble, you have to find a way to get them all motivated, carry the story forward even when one half of the group would rather just stay in the bar and flirt with the barmaid and/or bartender. Ensembles require flexibility in writing character voice, and quite a lot of organization (ala “Eastwood done anything for five pages, and the last time we saw him he was holding a grenade that was about to explode. Revision time!”)

But when they work, ensemble stories are incredible – characters become crystal-clear and dynamic when reacting to one another, relationships develop, and you get the classic ‘here’s my awesome team, don’t you love them’ awesomeness which so many readers and viewers adore.


Speaking of ensembles and clashing personalities…In Attack the Geek, I really connected with the dramatic win that was character conflict. If your entire party all have the exact same priorities and agenda, you’ll get a cohesive team, but it’ll be far less enjoyable a ride. But if the characters are yelling at one another over a crucial point of morality or philosophy (or whether Deep Dish or NYC-style pizza is superior), the story can be all the better. And after all, everything is better with pizza.

Putting characters in conflict ads tension to absolutely everything else about a scene. Two people walking down the street? Meh. Two people walking down the street, each trying to muster the courage to tell the other that their relationship is over? Dynamite. If you add character conflict on top of external/plot conflict, you get to cross the streams of storytelling excitement. And as we know from the late, great, Harold Ramis, crossing the streams leads to explosions. And as storytellers, explosions are great.


Attack the Geek is set largely at a game store-slash-bar. I spent about eight years of my life hanging out at a game store, so I knew that world pretty well. By adding the bar element, plus the ‘magical hangout where people buy geeky props to do magic,’ I found a mix of ‘write what you know’ and ‘write what you don’t know,’ with Grognard’s Grog and Games as a place that was both familiar and strange, and would be similarly familiar and strange to readers, most of whom I imagine have spent substantial amounts of time in bars and/or game stores.

Where Grognard’s had been a notable side-location in Geekomancy and Celebromancy, it is to Attack the Geek what the Serenity is to the series Firefly. Since the story happened 75% in or just outside Grognard’s , the sense of place, was of utmost importance, moreso than in any other story I’d written so far. The setting itself had to step up and help tell the story, something I’m looking forward to doing even more of in the future.


When you’re constraining location, other aspects of a story need to vary more, so that the reader doesn’t get bored. Since I was telling a very action and fight-driven story, I needed to make sure to find ways to vary things up to keep the action fresh.

Here’s how I did it – I changed weapons, I switched up who was fighting and who was standing by, I injured the characters, I ramped up or slowed down the action, and I changed the bad guys, forcing the heroes to have to fight differently for each challenge. I switched between fights that were about gaining ground and fights that were about holding ground. Fights that included rescues and people watching each other’s back with fights where my lead had to break off from the pack and achieve an objective.

Fight scenes are a type of storytelling, and like anything else, they need variety, and most importantly, they need stakes. By shifting the immediate stakes each fight, with all of them pointing towards larger stakes, I worked to keep the story moving and the reader happy.


What if geekdom was its own magic system? That was the idea that kicked off this whole crazy series, and what lead to the magic system of geekomancy. But while in Celebromancy I introduced a separate magic system, for Attack the Geek, I wanted to go back to basics while also showing that there were as many ways to be a geek (And therefore a geekomancer) as there are in our world.

While Ree focuses on genre emulation, re-watching her favorite shows and movies to temporarily gain associated powers (watch The Matrix, do Wire-Fu. Watch Sherlock, get super-investigation skills), other members of the magical community do geekomancy their own way. The mild-mannered Uncle Joe uses collectible cards to achieve one-shot effects like a classic D&D Wizard, while weapon-seller Patricia Talon connects with geekdom by using famous weapons and armor to embody her favorite characters.

Attack the Geek let me step back and provide several more interpretations of that central question which had inspired the whole series, and lead to me deepening and widening the Wild World of geekomancy.

Michael R. Underwood Website | Twitter

Attack the Geek: Amazon | B&N | Kobo