Interview with Mike Colahan

Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up in a blue collar town in southern New Jersey with pretty easy access to Philadelphia. This was in the Sixties. Everyone was white and married, with the dads going to work and the moms staying at home and running the households. My mother was a widow, and that was the closest thing to a broken family on our block. It was a safe community to grow up in, but it didn’t teach you much about the world.

My first post-college job was doing financial aid for a small for-profit school in Philadelphia, and that's where I finally discovered how rough and complicated life could be, and how many broken people were in the world. At the same time the school I worked for was striving to help these same people do better for themselves. It was the most potent message I ever received about the true purpose of education.
Who are your favorite authors?
Favorite authors are too many to count. Names that come to mind quickly are Charles Dickens, John Updike, John Steinbeck, Margaret Mitchell, Armistead Maupin, Cormac McCarthy. Herman Wouk in his war novels could tell incredible stories with vivid description, dialogue, and inventive situations. He didn’t get too poetic, but he had a masterful command of language anyway, and his writing did yield moments of poetry, just with little fanfare.

Books impact me more than authors, and that can mix things up. I would never list Michael Crichton as a favorite author, but he wrote a brilliant novel in THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN and deserves mention for it. I’ve never thought much of Stephen King’s books and would never consider any of them a favorite, but he can put you in a hotel and make all the haunts within feel real, and that’s talent. And as much as I love John Updike, he has written a fistful of novels that I know I’ll never get through. So it varies.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
My mother once showed me something I wrote when I guess I was six. It was about ten lines long, written in crayon on construction paper, and all I can remember is that it involved an elephant who, at the end of the story, flew away. Possibly a Dr. Seuss influence there.

Most of my early stories were about monsters, ghouls, robots, and such. KING KONG was a huge influence. Then at age fourteen I read John Steinbeck's OF MICE AND MEN and discovered what literature was really about. I never wrote another monster story.
Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
I seem to have always wanted to write, even when I was very young. But at age fourteen I developed a crush on a girl (she was thirteen) who was reading John Steinbeck. I didn’t know who he was. I went to the high school library and started going through Steinbeck novels. I read OF MICE AND MEN almost by chance and it blindsided me; I sat at the study table and I was shaking from what that story put me through. After that I continued to write, but now I worked to start writing well.
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
The prospect of a cup of coffee.
What's the story behind your latest book?
CAREER SCHOOL explores passions and human relationships in a setting where you’d probably never think much drama could take place: the administrative offices at a college.

There are more than enough stories about extroverted teachers using unorthodox methods to bring out the best in their students, almost always in the face of a stodgy upper-administration that disapproves of what the teacher is doing. But the same dedication and love for students that is shown by those teachers also exists in the hearts and minds of school administrators, only no one ever sees it. That’s the side of education I wanted to bring to life with this book.

In my early years I worked for schools that needed to recruit students who were beneath the school’s academic standards just to make goal. Certainly that was not ethical, but the underlying positive irony was that the teachers at those schools—after screaming at Admissions for accepting those marginal kids—would roll up their sleeves and work three times as hard to make sure those students succeeded and graduated. It was an amazing thing to witness. I was working in financial aid at the time, and got to watch all this passion and anger and steel-hard dedication from the fifty-yard line.

I like to think that CAREER SCHOOL is, in part, a tribute to the teachers and administrators of those small schools, even the for-profit ones, who battled such difficult odds to bring hope and purpose to a lot of students who would have been dismissed pretty quickly by more prestigious schools.
How do you approach cover design?
A book's cover has to have two essential requirements: it needs to catch the eye, and it must be thematically appropriate. In the case of CAREER SCHOOL I also wanted the cover to exude a certain sex appeal, because sex is one of the driving influences in the story.
What are you working on next?
I am working on a novel about an upper-middle class married woman who goes on an incredible spiritual journey. It's highly personal and potentially controversial. I'm sure I'll be self-publishing that one too.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
I'm an independent author, so a lot of my time is spent at my day job. Nevertheless I am blessed, for college administration has proved to be surprisingly rewarding. I'm essentially an office worker working with other office workers, and yet we help students get an education. Over the course of thirty years I’ve helped thousands of students get ahead in their lives. I can’t imagine being able to say that if I had achieved the film career I once envisioned for myself.

I love my wife, and my daughters are wonderful, smart and talented. They are turning into better people than I am, and it blows my mind. They don’t empty the dishwasher as often as they’re supposed to, but they don’t complain about having to do their homework either. It balances out.
Published 2015-09-16.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.

Books by This Author

The Gospel of Catherine Deare
Price: $5.99 USD. Words: 139,180. Language: English. Published: May 8, 2018. Categories: Fiction » Religious, Fiction » Women's fiction » General
On the morning of September 11, 2001, a woman driving west of Philadelphia has an unexpected encounter with a stranger and convinces herself that he is Jesus Christ. She leaves her family to become a follower, and she, Jesus, and five dysfunctional disciples travel the Pennsylvania countryside asking big questions and finding big answers. An unforgettable work of faith and imagination.
Career School
Price: $5.99 USD. Words: 199,200. Language: English. Published: September 11, 2015. Categories: Fiction » Literature » Literary
This is the story of a respected college losing its soul to make a profit. Its heroes are a kind-hearted Quaker school director, his beautiful but ruthless admissions director, a cynical bursar, a stalwart dean, and a financial aid director who would rather be painting. A candid glimpse of small college management, told with humor, compassion, romance and heartbreak, a vital story for our times.