MLC: Do you remember the first mystery you ever read? If so, what was it, and what pulled you into it?
AUTHOR: Fer-De-Lance by Rex Stout. It introduced Nero Wolfe, rotund orchid grower and genius at solving crimes, and Archie Goodwin his wisecracking PI partner. Archie did the legwork and Nero ate a lot. I thought it was hilarious and at the same time a wonderful mystery. I still have the book. I now go back and marvel at what a great writer Stout was.
MLC: When did you first decide you wanted to write a mystery, and what led you to that decision?
AUTHOR: Well, since I avidly read mysteries it was a no-brainer. I try to include in my stories those traits that grab me.
MLC: Do you write in any other genres? If so, which ones?
AUTHOR: I’ve written a couple of fantasy/paranormal short stories but as of yet no novels. I am trying to finish a Western titled Rattler I’ve been working on for a few years. I’ll complete it one day. Otherwise, it’s strictly mysteries.
MLC: Which comes first for you, the plot or the characters?
AUTHOR: It depends upon the story. Most of the time it’s the plot but in my Mike Shepherd PI series it’s now the characters.
MLC: When you are all wrapped up in the story, do you feel like you could solve the crime, or maybe even solve all the world’s mysteries?
AUTHOR: No. Not at all. I try to put my characters into an impossible situation and have them get out of it. There are times when I wonder, how are they going to get out, and it may take days to come up with an answer.
MLC: Do you write every day, or what kind of a schedule do you have? Do you write fulltime, or do you have a “day job”?
AUTHOR: I’m a “full-time” author, but I don’t write every day. My wife, who is my first editor, and I have a date day each week where I’m forbidden to sit at the computer except to check my e-mail. Sunday is for rest and church. On Wednesday and Thursday two hours each day, I teach a Project Read class for those who are unable to read. Some have said it’s because I’m trying to sell more books. Seriously, I really get a kick out of turning on someone to the joy of reading. So, the rest of the time I try to fit in some writing. Usually three or four hours in a day.
MLC: Other than your writing, what do you enjoy doing? What is the most important thing to you in your day-to-day life?
AUTHOR: I guess for a multi-tasker there is no most important thing. My wife is my angel-on-earth, and I try to help her as much as I can. I’m the official Maintenance Engineer and Waste Management Supervisor. There are many murders in my house when the Spider Patrol eliminates nasty, crawly things. Also, I have a toy poodle who allows me to share her den, and she brings me back to planet earth when she demands to be fed, taken out, or played with. (Sorry for the prepositional ending.) I am a terrible golfer, but I keep going back for more humiliation. And of course I love to read.
MLC: Who are your favorite mystery authors? Do you try to emulate them in your own writing?
AUTHOR: We have limited space so I can’t list all my favorites. Raymond Chandler, Rex Stout, Mickey Spillane, Richard S. Prather, Dashell Hammett, Dick Francis, Agatha Christie, Carl Hiassen, Elmore Leonard, William Kent Krueger, Barbara D’Amato, Jeffery Deaver, James Lee Burke, and I’ve left out hundreds more. I don’t try to emulate anyone. I have my own style or voice. But I have been compared to Chandler and Spillane in my reviews, which I count as very humbling.
MLC: In your present book, is this part of a series, or is it a standalone book?
AUTHOR: Her Name Is Mommy is due out Dec 1st through Wings ePress, Inc. www.wings-press.com. It’s the second in the Mike Shepherd PI series, but I write intending for each to be a standalone.
MLC: If you are doing a series, do you see an end to it sometime, or do you plan to go on for several years with it?
AUTHOR: Right now I’m working on the third in the series titled Aftermath. My goal is to have thousands of people plead with me not to end the series after number twenty-two. As long as I like being with the characters and they don’t get stagnant and predictable, I’ll keep writing about them. After all it takes about a year to write each book so I’d better enjoy the experience.
MLC: Do your characters ever drive you a bit crazy by going off in their own direction? If so, how do you rein them in, or do you just let them run off on their own?
AUTHOR: Absolutely! I start with an idea, a plot if you will, and let them go. After throwing away so many outlines I just say, okay characters go to it. I try to make them stay in line, but it often doesn’t work out.
MLC: Do you pattern your sleuths after yourself or someone you know? If so, do you let that person know they were your “pattern”?
AUTHOR: For my main characters I do a complete sketch of what their life has been up to the point of the book. I know their family history, likes, dislikes, and traits. I don’t consciously pattern anyone. I had one character in Shepherd’s Pie, Bebe Wambaugh, who is the “spitting image” of my niece Heather. But I asked her if I could include the character. After I read her the descriptions she was excited and gave me her blessing. That’s been the only one so far.
MLC: How long did it take you to get published? How many rejections did you have to suffer through first? Were you ever tempted to give up? What do you think made the difference when it was accepted?
AUTHOR: I have always written. Before 2002 it was short stories and I had some accepted and many, many rejected. In that year I became a novelist and had eight rejections before I landed my first contract in 2005. I’m very fortunate. I not only have a fantastic publisher but I have a bunch of friends at that company. I’ve never been tempted to give up. I can’t because I love to write. I think the difference is that I was able to learn to write by getting rejected and looking at my work and saying, “that can be better”. And with short stories you must be concise. That made me improve, which I hope I’m still doing.
MLC: Do you ever attend any conferences? If so, which ones?
AUTHOR: I attend at least two every year. The Love Is Murder in Chicago in Feb. and the Midwest Writer’s Workshop in Muncie at the end of July. I have learned so much from conferences and met so many fabulous talented writers who have been so generous with their time. And every one has been a nice person as well. There are many more conferences I want to attend when I have the travel money.
MLC: Do you have to promote your own work, or does your publisher do that for you?
AUTHOR: Unless you have a recognizable name you do your own promoting. Visiting bookstores, libraries, craft fairs, and speaking at local organizations all are a necessary part of becoming an author.
MLC: If you have to do marketing, what methods have worked the best for you?
AUTHOR: My best advice is to keep your books in the trunk of the car. I have t-shirts emblazoned with the cover of my books, hoping that someone will ask and I can make a sale. Have business cards and pass them out. Be a familiar name on the Internet, join writing groups, blog, and mostly have a website that is up-to-date and current.
MLC: Do you have any idea how your book is selling?
AUTHOR: I’m not on the bestseller list yet, but I’m doing better than I had hoped. I never went into this business thinking I would get rich. It’s a good thing I didn’t. Everything that has happened to me so far has been gravy. My original goal was to finish a novel. The fact that the first one is in print exceeded my dreams. And every quarter I get a royalty check. Life is good.
MLC: What has been the best review you have gotten, and why?
AUTHOR: Shepherd’s Pie received a wonderful review by William Kent Krueger. The fantastic thing about it was that Kent offered to do it after reading some of my work. I was blown away. I still am.
MLC: Have you won any awards, either as an author or for your books? Please tell us about them.
AUTHOR: My publisher awarded Shepherd’s Pie, my first book, the Golden Wings Award for excellence in writing. It was also picked as a finalist in the 2006 Reader’s Choice awards on Author Island.
MLC: Is there any one certain thing that a reader has written to you that made you just want to jump up and shout “Yes!!!!”?
AUTHOR: I got an e-mail from one of my church family. She was mad at me because she began reading Shepherd’s Pie one evening at 10 p.m. and finally decided to go to bed about 1 am. She was mad because she couldn’t stop thinking about it and had to get up and finish the book. Another lady e-mailed and said she liked my book so well she was sending them as Christmas presents to her friends who enjoy reading. It’s things like this that keep you on a high for days.
MLC: What is your next project, and when will it be out?
AUTHOR: As I said Her Name Is Mommy is out Dec 1, but my work in progress is called The Smudge. The platform is–A small town paralegal goes to visit her ATM one nasty evening. She wipes a smudge off the screen, and it’s blood. Then she hears a moan. It should be done in October, and I will be looking for an agent for it.
MLC: If you could write anything at all, ignoring what editors and publishers say they want, what would it be?
AUTHOR: That’s a hard one. Right now I’m totally happy with what I’m writing and the genre. And so far my editors and publisher have not had any negatives for my work. How fortunate I am.
MLC: Do you have any words of wisdom for aspiring mystery authors?
AUTHOR: Just don’t give up. I didn’t get published until I was 65 years old. Keep at it and learn every chance you get. Get a writing group that can inspire, gently criticize, and encourage you. If you can’t find one in your area, go online. There are some out there. I’m in the MuseItUp club and Yahoo group. A great place to cuss and discuss writing. Go to conferences. The MuseItUp club sponsored a free, weeklong online writer’s conference Oct 8-12. I gave a workshop on suspense that Wednesday. It will take place again during the second week of October 2008.
MLC: Do you have any teasers for your readers and fans about the next book?
AUTHOR: The next Mike Shepherd book, Aftermath, opens this way: "The remnant of the happy birthday balloon fluttered around the room until it came to rest on the baldhead of the late Jashu Magli, who had refused to open his cash register. The shotgun blast still echoed through Magli’s Corner Grocery. The weapon’s pellets deflated nine of those balloons, perforated an entire display of candy bars and one of the bullets opened a hole in the store owner’s chest. Pieces of litter rained down as I huddled in front a pyramid of Coors Lite cases, with two other customers, waiting for the next action from the goateed shooter. The smell of ammonia overpowered my nostrils as a river of Windex flowed toward us."
MLC: If a genie suddenly appeared and said they would grant you just one wish for your books, what would you wish for?
AUTHOR: My wish has always been that everyone who reads my books gets enjoyment, a laugh or two, and is not afraid to have it read by their children. I believe novels can be suspenseful and G-rated.
MMLC: Please give us your website url and your email address where people can contact you.
MLC: Thank you so much for giving us a little glimpse into your books and your life. We look forward to a lot more books from you.
AUTHOR: I thank you, Dawn, for this opportunity to spill my guts. Okay, I’ll say it nicely; I thank you for this chance to talk to your readers. I’d love for them to become my readers as well. Continued success.