Friday, March 28, 2014
Interview with thriller author Michael W Sherer
From the author of the 2013 Thriller Award-nominated Night Blind comes the second Blake Sanders thriller, Night Tide.
Friends don’t let friends go to jail and live to tell about it. Twenty-some years ago, Blake Sanders’s best friend Perry Langford was arrested and convicted of murder for a campus bombing, but Langford always maintained his innocence, claiming someone else blew up the building. Not even Blake knows what really happened, and he was there, a secret he’s kept all these years. Now Langford is out of prison, and he’s gunning for all those he holds responsible for his stint in stir, including Blake. Whoever planted the bomb is cleaning up loose ends, and the prize they’re still seeking after all this time—a revolutionary battery design—is worth a fortune, even worth selling out one’s own country…and killing for.
"A great, great read! NIGHT TIDE is on my (very) short list for 2013 awards. Once again, a crime from the past entangles Sherer's nocturnal hero Blake Sanders in its present-day repercussions, and once again Sherer makes Seattle at night the perfect setting for a thriller full of unexpected twists, darkness (literal and metaphorical) and wonderful, three-dimensional characters. Even better than NIGHT BLIND, and that's not easy." –Timothy Hallinan, author of The Fame Thief
“Michael W. Sherer's solid, sure-footed prose reminds me of some of my favorite crime writers of the past. Night Tide shows an author at the height of his faculties, with a tight, well-constructed story and characters that leap from the page. I'll definitely be back for more.” –Robert Gregory Browne, author of Trial Junkies 2: Negligence
“I am an unabashed fan of Michael W. Sherer's books. His unlikely hero, Blake Sanders, has a newspaper route and an unsavory past--yet he's the guy you'd want if your back's ever against the wall. Add the beauty of Washington state and enough interesting and quirky characters to fill a phalanx of float planes, and you have a cracking good story and a first-rate thriller. Blake is oh-so-human--a regular guy, but from the moment you meet him you know he'll pull you through. Sherer holds his own with the big guys of the genre.” – J. Carson Black, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of The Survivors Club
“An interesting thriller, and an interesting protagonist. Very well worth reading.” – Willa, Goodreads (4 stars)
“A great thriller, one I have no hesitation in recommending.” – Brenda, Goodreads (4 stars)
“As with NIGHT BLIND, this offering is both a thriller and a mystery, written by a writer who shows a deft storyline execution, economical yet telling character development, and expertly built conflict.” – Hal Johnson, Amazon (5 stars)
How/why did you start to write?
The one subject in college I felt reasonably confident of passing was my native language, English. Pass I did, with Cs, Bs and the occasional A.
The school used a 4-1-4 semester system—two semesters of four courses/credits each, in between which fell the month of January, otherwise known as “Winter Study,” when all sorts of eclectic courses were in the catalog, and grading was pass/fail. A creative writing course was offered my junior year. Since it was in English, I figured I could pass.
The course was taught by an alum who had graduated ten years earlier. In the first few classes he told us about his own creative writing experience. He’d gone to live with his grandmother in Spain the year after graduation and had written a novel about college life. Upon his return he sent it around to the major NYC publishers where it eventually found a home after about 17 rejections. The book became an instant bestseller, and was made into a major motion picture starring Liza Minnelli. His second book, bought by the publisher before it was written and finished under deadline pressure, bombed. Critics hated it and few people bought it. He married, moved to Taos, N.M., and wrote for a muckraking newspaper and had been working on his third novel for six years.
I decided then and there that I wanted to be a novelist. What a great life! Write a bestseller, sell the movie rights and sit around a pool in Taos living off the royalties!
The teacher was John Nichols. His first book was The Sterile Cuckoo, and the book he was writing the year I met him (published a year later) was The Milagro Beanfield War.
How did you become an author?
The easy answer is, by writing. I didn’t call myself an author for years, thinking the term was somehow reserved for those who write best-selling books. But I do feel a certain reverence for the term. Anyone who writes a book can call himself an author. If the book’s so bad that no one reads it, though, the term is meaningless.
So, let’s start with how I wrote my first book. During my senior year of college, due to a series of unfortunate events, I failed my winter study course. (Not my fault, I swear. Oddly, the only two courses I ever failed were both pass-fail college winter study programs.) As a result, I had to over-elect the final semester of senior year to have enough credits to graduate. Since I found out too late to register for courses, I begged an English professor I knew to sponsor an independent study in creative writing. He asked me what I intended to do. I told him I was going to write a novel. He said if I actually finished, he would give me a B.
Though I’d never written anything longer than a 25-page term paper, I decided there couldn’t be anything more to writing a novel than sitting down and typing out a story until it was over. So that’s what I did, and by the time the semester—and the story—ended I’d written a 385-page novel. A bad one, but a novel nevertheless.
What was your first published piece?
I graduated from college with a degree in English, which is good for one of two things: teaching and washing dishes. I ended up washing dishes in a restaurant in Denver, and kicked around for several years in a number of jobs. In 1978, I finally got a job in Chicago working for a trade magazine called Foodservice Distributor Salesman because of my background in the restaurant business. The features and news items I wrote for that magazine were my first published pieces. Since then I’ve written more than 500 feature articles for a wide range of magazines.
My first book, though wasn’t published until 1988. My first novel (the one I wrote in college) went into a drawer. I wrote another, a mystery, shortly after graduating. I started a third and wrote 250 pages before putting it aside. A few years later, after moving to Chicago, I met an agent who took me on and tried to get a contract for me on the basis of partials. He wasn’t successful, of course, and after we parted ways, I wrote a fourth novel.
I worked on that book for several years before I thought it was good enough to sell, and started sending it around to publishers in 1985. Back then, editors still responded to query letters, and authors could send books in “over the transom” with representation. I sent the book to dozens of editors, and at one point got a very nice, personal note from an editor at Dodd, Mead who said it was better than most manuscripts that crossed her desk. Her encouragement prompted me to call her and ask if she would be willing to look at another book in the same series. She said she would. Problem was I didn’t have another book.
However, I did have 250 pages of a novel I’d started, and I felt I could fix it without too much trouble and finish it. I rewrote the book in about three months and sent it to the same editor. This time I asked if she could possibly read it in a few weeks as I had a business trip to New York planned, and I wanted to take her to lunch to talk about it. She said, “Lunch is one of the things I do best.”
The fateful day came. I met her in her editorial offices in New York. She came out to reception and said, “I’m taking you to lunch,” which I was sure meant that she was going to offer me a contract. At lunch, though, after we’d ordered, she told me she wasn’t going to buy this book, either. The problem, she said, was that it was a Chicago-based series, but the book took place in upstate New York, so it couldn’t possibly be the first in the series. My heart sank.
But she raised my hopes a moment later by saying, “Send me the first book again. I’ll take another look, and if I don’t absolutely hate it, I’ll show it around to some people in the office and see what they think.” Fortunately, the book had been making the rounds in New York for so long that the publisher’s sales VP had seen the manuscript when he was at a different house and had loved it. So, the two of them convinced the editorial board to make me an (very modest) offer.
I gladly accepted, and An Option On Death was published in 1988. Sadly, Dodd, Mead, in business since 1839, went bankrupt in 1990.
What did you do before embarking on your writing career? Was it an asset to your writing? How?
My non-fiction writing career—first as a trade magazine editor, then as an account executive in a public relations agency and finally as a freelancer—has been both a help and a hindrance. Writing is like almost any other craft. It takes practice to become good. Everyone from figure skaters to needlepointers must constantly hone his or her skills to improve. So I appreciate the opportunities I’ve had to work at my craft. But working as a freelance writer takes time away from writing fiction, regrettably.
All the other jobs I’ve had—dishwashing, bartending, photography, employee benefits consulting, lumber yard go-fer etc.—have contributed to my general knowledge as well as expose me to situations and people I’ve been able to draw upon when writing.
What inspires you?
Great writing inspires me. I believe there are three kinds of authors (discounting those who are downright awful)—those who tell a great story but don’t write well (think early John Grisham); those who write beautifully but wouldn’t know a plot if it bit them (think Wallace Stegner); and those who tell a page-turning yarn in language that sings. I try to be one of the latter, and my goal is to make each book better than the one before.
My other great inspiration is my wife Valarie. She makes me want to be a better person every day.
Please share one of your successful author platform building technique
I don’t think anyone has that piece of the puzzle figured out yet. Most authors have websites, participate on social media and use the standard promotion strategies—book tours, blogs, appearances at conferences, etc. But few can tell you exactly what worked for them and what didn’t.
Stephen White, the Boulder, Colo., thriller author once said that he became a best-selling author through sheer serendipity. When his second book came out in paperback, the lead title for that publication month wasn’t ready. Five minutes before editors at his publisher broke for lunch after putting aside the topic of what to do about the problem, someone raised the question again. An editor piped up, “What about White’s book?” Since everyone was hungry, the suggestion passed unanimously, and the publisher did a 400,000-copy print run, putting Stephen White’s name in front of customers everywhere.
I think you just have to keep writing good books and hope that eventually readers find you. My first Blake Sanders thriller was nominated for an ITW Thriller Award in 2013. I was sure that my sales would rocket upwards as a result. It had no effect. So, who knows?
I’ve heard the same words from writers everywhere—those of us who keep doing it, putting out books no matter what, can’t not write. It’s what we do. It’s who we are—authors.
Michael W. Sherer is the author of Night Tide, the second novel in the Blake Sanders thriller series. The first in the Seattle-based series, Night Blind, was nominated for an ITW Thriller Award in 2013. His other books include the award-winning Emerson Ward mystery series, the stand-alone suspense novel, Island Life, and the Tess Barrett YA thriller series. He and his family now reside in the Seattle area.
Please visit him at www.michaelwsherer.com or you can follow him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/thrillerauthor and on Twitter @MysteryNovelist.