Interview with Mike McManus

Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up in several places, and each one of them affected something in my stories. I was born in a small town on Lake Erie, named Ashtabula, Ohio. The “lake effect” snow in our town is at times severe. I actually lived out one of the scenes from my first book, where the main character and her guardian are trying to escape through a blizzard, inching their way through the storm, only to have to return on foot to their point of origin. I spent most of the summers in my youth on a farm that was much like the one in that first story, which is set in central Michigan. My descriptions of the places in that story are from my memories of those summer days. My second book is set in Orange County, California, my home for more than fifty years. I think it is natural for a writer to locate his stories in familiar places. The mystery I am working on now is set in the mountains of Central California, where I have a second home.
When did you first start writing?
I was probably ten or eleven when I got the idea to write a science fiction tale about a group of boys who encounter aliens. I probably still have the original draft of that story in the garage somewhere, along with other attempts at writing the great American novel. I got a little more serious about writing in my late twenties, when I wrote a novel, called “The Silver Colony”. It was about a group of space pioneers who tried to establish a colony on the Moon. Another novel from those days was a murder mystery called “It Started with Fire”. There was one more story in that era that I never finished. I didn’t even give it a title. You could probably say that the true genesis of my writing was in my late forties, when I started to have more time for artistic endeavors. After completing my fourth novel, I went through the process of finding an agent and/or a publisher. My first rejection letter from that effort is framed and stares at me from the other side of my office. The many other rejection letters were destroyed as they were received. After several months of trying, I gave up. I continued to write, however, even though I knew that I had many years ahead of me before I could dedicate enough time to make it the central part of my life. Then along came “indie” publishing. I can now say I am a writer, since many people have read my books.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
When I hear someone say that they laughed or cried while reading one of my stories, I feel a great sense of accomplishment. The core of the writing experience for me is entertainment. To some writers it is education or making a point. I just want people to come away from reading one of my books with the feeling that the time they invest in doing so was well spent.
What are you working on next?
My next title is “Death is not an Option”. I hope to have it out in the fall of 2013. It is a story about a man who has no enemies that he knows of, whose life is repeatedly threatened. It is set in a country club community in an out-of-the-way part of California, near the southern tip of the Sierra Nevada’s. I hope it comes out exciting and filled with suspense. I like to keep the reader guessing with a number of ways that a plot can go.
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
The honest answer is probably “pain”. I’m getting older, and at times my body demands center stage. However, on those days that I wake up pain free, I hate missing the sun coming up. The quiet of the dawn hour is the best part of the day for me.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
I have had a long career in software development, which continues but is winding down. I do some contracting at this time, but I am also marketing a software product I have been developing over the last few years. When I am not writing books or software, I do a lot of reading and write reviews for my blog and for I am also an avid golfer with a 12 handicap and a backyard gardener.
What is your writing process?
I first develop a basic idea, a situation to put some interesting people into. In planning my current book, I started by thinking about putting a well-liked guy into a situation where someone makes an attempt on his life. At that point I only thought about a single attempt, but it developed into the idea of multiple attempts, each as much a mystery as the first. Then I had to put people into the story and decide where the story would take place. After selecting a country club, having the head pro as the target was almost a given. The pro has a girlfriend, a best friend and relationships with country club members. There is a detective of some kind involved in the investigation. Once all of that was determined, I had to have an ending. That’s right. I determine how a story will end before I start writing a beginning. I think that comes from my software design experience, where I always determine what will come out of a piece of software, before I design what goes into it. You have to have something to shoot for in a mystery, or it will meander and lose the reader. Readers want to try to guess the outcome, even though they know that some little piece of information will be intentionally left out, to make it impossible to predetermine the outcome. When I start writing, I usually write a chapter at a time, before any review. Once the book is complete, I might read it as many as ten times, adding to the story or making changes. My last review is strictly to catch errors in typing or in continuity. I don’t find a book complete until I am happy with the plot and can find no more errors.
Where do you get your ideas for what you write about?
Imagination is a funny thing. If I sit down and say to myself, it is time for a new story, nothing comes to mind. I have to just let it happen. Sometimes I will wake up from a dream and say to myself, I had better write something down, because that dream would make a great story. The ending for my book, “Separate Truth” came from such a dream. I try to walk for exercise, and sometimes story lines come into my head while I am out on the bridle trails near my home. Most of the plot line and characters for the book I am currently writing came from such outings. Sometimes the ideas simply present themselves during the writing or review process. I am just happy that new ideas continue to develop in my mind.
Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
I remember in grade school reading about a family that took a long car trip. I still have that ultimate road trip planned.
What are your five favorite books, and why?
James Michener has two books in my top five. “Tales of the South Pacific” inspired my honeymoon in Tahiti. Memories of the book and that trip are vivid to this day, some forty years later. Michener’s “The Novel” inspired me to continue to write, even when no doors were opening for publishing my work. “The Hobbit” and “Lord of the Rings” I consider as one story. They represent the best writing I have ever read. Stephen King’s “Misery” comes in fourth. This story about a writer is true its descriptive title. In one place in that book King talks about “finding the hole in the paper”. When a writer gets to a point in his writing where he blocks out the rest of the world, it can be like he has entered his own story and is living it, rather than making it up. The last is Boris Pasternak’s “Dr. Zhivago”, an epic tale about a family surviving the Russian Revolution of the early twentieth century. I am somewhat of a history buff, and that story chronicled a time when the changes that occurred shaped world history for the next seventy years.
What is your e-reading device of choice?
Because I am a geek, I have four e-reading devices. I sometimes have a different book going on each one. Currently, I am reading “The Twelve” on my Kindle Fire, “The Kiss of Karma” on my iPad and “The Bourne Imperative” on the Kindle app on my laptop. The Kindle app on my Droid is ready to switch to any one of those at a moment’s notice.
Describe your desk.
Since I switched to a laptop from my Dell tower, I don’t have much use for a desk. I now prefer my leather recliner with the electronic controls, which affords me a view of my garden and Mt. Baldy. This is the ultimate ergonomic work station.
Do you see a time when you will stop writing?
When they realize I have stopped breathing and pull this laptop out of my hands, I hope they at least have the good sense to save the last few paragraphs I have written. Until that time, I hope to keep on telling my stories.
Published 2013-08-27.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.