Interview with Michael Hammond

Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up in a small town in southwestern Ontario called Corunna. It is on the border with Michigan, USA and located next to Sarnia's Chemical Valley, not to mention vast stretches of farm land. Growing up in the area gave me an appreciation for the stories of middle class families, blue collar workers and their daily struggles to get ahead. I think many of my stories reflect the theme of people trying to get ahead, make their mark in the world and grab a sliver of glory. To me, the most interesting story is not the story of the rich and famous but the story of the person next door.
When did you first start writing?
I first started writing in my teens when I dabbled in awful poetry. I started writing seriously when I was in my twenties and working late nights as a city hall reporter in Peterborough, Ont. Having much of the conventional workday to myself when everyone else was working, I found the silence a brilliant motivational force for my imagination. I wrote the bulk my first novel in four months.
What's the story behind your latest book?
I was inspired to write my latest book after hearing a song called Civil Twilight by a Canadian rock band called the Weakerthans. The idea for a story came to me when I considered the possible meanings of the term 'civil twilight' and how that time of day could be used as a metaphor. I thought about how you could interpret the term civil twilight as way to explain the end of common civility among neighbours when a disaster strikes. If that sounds vague, I apologize, but I hope it inspires you to check out this book, which I honestly believe is some of my best work so far.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
I don't really see being an indie author as a choice per se, because the odds are stacked against the vast majority of authors out there. I have not submitted my writing to publishers for quite a while, so that makes me an indie author by default. I did have one book published by a local publisher in 2006, but I found the experience underwhelming, through no fault of the publisher. I simply thought I could do what I wanted to do on my own and let readers decide for themselves whether they thought my writing was worth their time.
How has Smashwords contributed to your success?
Smashwords has given me the motivation to get my writing out there and get it off the shelf, most importantly. I like the democracy of being an indie author on Smashwords. There are no barriers for anyone other than your own ability and will. The site gives you many of the tools you need to succeed. After that, it's up to you to follow through.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
When I write, I start with an idea and a rough idea of where I want the story to go. However, I try to avoid thinking of an ending or what path my characters will take to get to the end of their story, whatever it may be. The greatest joy for me is when my story takes an unexpected turn or when a character says or does something I didn't expect they would do when I first started writing the story. To me, the joy of writing is similar to the joy of reading. I like it when a story I'm writing takes me some place where I didn't expect to go.
What do your fans mean to you?
To me, the greatest compliment I can receive is when someone I don't know says they liked my story. My family and friends have often told me they liked my stories but this praise, while appreciated, is always coloured by their personal connection to me. Someone I don't know is under no obligation to like my story or share their praise with me. When they do, it lets me know that I have done something that touched them in some way. It's immensely rewarding.
What are you working on next?
I am writing an adventure/mystery novel called Civil Twilight. It's the first time I have attempted a novel in this genre. It's the story of two normal guys who find themselves trapped in the basement of their workplace when an unknown emergency strikes their town. Once they finally emerge into daylight, they find their hometown nearly empty. As they piece together what happened, they find themselves stumbling upon a complex conspiracy that makes them question everything they've come to believe about those in power.
Who are your favorite authors?
I have a few. I still maintain the best book I've ever read is the Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. He's my favourite from that era. I also love the work of Canadian authors Douglas Coupland and Rohinton Mistry and would rank them as my top two authors. I also love the work of Cormac McCarthy and Nick Hornby. I have a number of authors on this site that I love to read, but there are too many to mention.
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
My wife, my daughter and the incredible gift of the everyday. If you can't find some sort of meaning or something profound in your everyday life, then you're not living!
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
I am a desk jockey working in a humdrum government job. The job has a number of lulls, which gives me lots of opportunities throughout the day to peck away at my creative writing. It's one of the unexpected perks of an otherwise thankless job. I do enjoy playing soccer, curling, watching baseball and, of course, reading.
How do you discover the ebooks you read?
I am pretty random when I search for stories. If I like what I read in the synopsis, I will read the ebook. I try not to approach my book-buying decisions with any preconceived notions. Good writing is good writing.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
The first story I wrote was called One in Ten Thousand and it was based on the question I had: What would happen if you had a lifelong unrequited love and suddenly had the chance to meet that person one more time? The title comes from the theory that everyone meets ten thousand people in their life. I revised the story a little bit, but I found that, for a first effort, the story has held up well over the years, which is more than I can say for other stories I have written.
What is your writing process?
I wish I had one. I work full time and have a young family. My writing process consists of me finding time to write, be it during a gap in my workday or during nap time. I always start with an idea for a story and a rough outline in my head for how the first part of the story will go. For the most part, I do not decide the ending of the story in advance because I find it saps the creative process. I do not write a story on paper. It goes straight to screen.
How do you approach cover design?
Cover design usually starts with selecting a photo that I feel represents some element of my story. I usually pick an image from my own photos and treat it on the computer for colour, contrast, temperature and other factors. I usually opt for a minimalist approach when it comes to the title. I was lucky enough to have a graphic designer friend design the cover for Redemption Song, my first novel, which was an incredibly stylish cover.
What is your e-reading device of choice?
My e-reading device is a Kobo Mini. It was a gift from my wife. It is a perfect size for my bus ride to and from work.
What are your three favorite books?
The Grapes of Wrath by Steinbeck will forever be in my top three because it's such an epic story about the power of the human spirit. I usually judge a book's power based on the amount of time the story stays with me after I have finished it. I've read this book three or four times and it's always just as powerful.

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry is another book that stayed with me for years after I read it. I wish this author would release another book. His pace is so slow, but his stories are all beautiful works of literature.

I think I would have to call it a tie for number three. I would say it's a toss-up between The Road by Cormac McCarthy and Eleanor Rigby by Douglas Coupland. The Road is by far the scariest book I've read while Eleanor Rigby is one of the most surprising.
What do you read for pleasure?
When I'm not reading books, I occasionally read Esquire or books about history. Books about Canadian and American history are most interesting to me. I recently read The War of 1812 by Pierre Berton and was amazed at how it changed my perceptions about that war.
What book marketing techniques have been most effective for you?
Well, I found with my first book, using my connections in the media helped me score some free press. Since I have been out of the media for a few years, this tactic is not an option. I would recommend that if you are going to approach the media, do it through an agent. I had a media-savvy friend work as my agent on a commission basis and it worked well. It creates the impression among the media that you're not just another unknown author trying to get noticed. It gives the impression that you're a confident, established professional.
Describe your desk
I do most of my writing in a cubicle at work. My job is ridiculously slow moving, which allows me to fit in creative writing during the gaps in my work day. Picture your typical cubicle in an ordinary office building and that's where I do my writing. To me, the setting doesn't matter as long as you're able to let your imagination take you into your story. That's when your surroundings fade away.
Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
I remember the first really meaty adult novel I read on the recommendation of my mother, who was a teacher. She told me that I would enjoy 1984 by George Orwell. Before that time, I usually read whatever books that were part of my high school English curriculum. After reading that book, I began to discover the classics, which also fuelled my initial interest in literature.
Published 2013-08-29.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.