In fifth grade at Cherry Street School in Phoenix, N.Y. we were assigned to write a piece of fiction. At the time I had an extensive collection of plastic model World War II airplanes. I read all the historic information the model makers provided and read books about the pilots and the planes. So I wrote a story about an air battle over the deserts of North Africa. I recall it as the messiest, largest air battle fought over North Africa, ever.
Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
I don't exactly remember the first one, but I remember the impact of reading in junior high school every book I could on World War II pilots for the sense of adventure and bravery they displayed; and then later Shakespeare and Eugene O'Neill, which taught me character and complexity and setting. As an adult, when I read Kenneth Robert's "Arundel," I remember thinking, "That's how historical fiction is supposed to be written."
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up in the Northeast US. We were Navy brats and moved from Navy base to Navy base. I remember in detail the places I lived after the age of maybe four and use them as settings for my stories. I use the sense of place as a character in all the stories. Also, all that moving around created a foot-loose sense of life and many of my characters are loners.
What's the story behind your latest book?
One day I read a small newspaper item about a break-in at the college I was attending. The thief entered a dormitory and left with a few small items and was not caught. A few weeks later I was awake during a heavy wind and rain storm and wrote a short piece about a person who gets on a city bus and takes it to the college where he kills a girl and disappears into the woods. Even later, after visiting a book store where owner sat in the back of the desk, the story moved in a new direction. Leonard the blind bookstore owner, his friend Detective Frank Nagler came to live. That book was titled "A Game called Dead," and was about an investigation into a death at the college involving a video game come to life, a serial killer, and an event from Nagler's past. Even later, I took one element of that book and added politics, and the story emerged as "The Swamps of Jersey." I'm adding elements from "Game" to "Swamps" to connect the stories better. I plan a third Nagler story that should bring all the elements of the first two stories to a conclusion.
What are you working on next?
I am always writing. The main projects are a rewrite of the second Frank Nagler story, "A Game Called Dead," and to complete a draft of another novel, "Oswald's War." (Sample first chapters of each are at my website, (http://www.michaelstephendaigle.com/) But I also have in mind a couple of short stories and want to plan an audio book of my Smashwords publication, "The Resurrection of Leo," as well as a second audiobook of stories with women as the lead characters.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
The adventure of writing, seeing where the characters are going and what they will say. As the author, I attempt to create a framework for the story, but at times, its veers off course. I can either let it go in that direction, or rein it in. Sometimes, as with the Frank Nagler stories, entire new books emerged.
What is your writing process?
The process varies. There is the discovery process, the taking of a thought or an idea and running with it. Then there is a planning process, such as with the three Frank Nagler stories. When I started the first one, I knew it was three stories. The idea process has a life of its own and was honed during my newspaper days. In that business you have to be able to take a random thought or fact and develop a story from it. In fiction, I have to be able to take whatever the thought is: a line of dialogue, a location, a scene, a face, whatever, and build on it. One example, for "The Swamps of Jersey," I was sitting in park in the town that acts as the setting, watching some kids play on new playground equipment when the phrase "There's more here than meets the eye" popped into my head. That phrase led to the character Lauren Fox, and her arrival changed the story from a subplot in "Game Called Dead" to a whole new story. Someone once asked me about the difference between writing for a newspaper and writing fiction. I said that as a journalist you write the facts, but in fiction, you get to create your own facts. As for actually writing, I write, edit and rewrite all at the same time. It's an old newspaper habit.
What do your fans mean to you?
I learned as a newspaper reporter that I can write for impact. We chose topics and presented them in a certain manner that resulted in a heightened level of discussion on our chosen subject. The responses of readers were our guide as to the success of that venture. As a fiction writer, hearing from reader and fans is very important. I'm going to write the stories I write, but always want to hear from readers about what they like or dislike about the story. I learned as a journalist that while writers want to pretend it is a self-serving endeavor, one has to attract others to read the work. It is always a fine line between self-satisfaction and public satisfaction. I believe it would be a disservice to my readers if I did not write the stories in the way I chose.
Who are your favorite authors?
Fiction: John Updike, John Cheever, John Gardner ("The Sunlight Dialogues"), Kenneth Roberts. Non-fiction: John McPhee, Laura Hillenbrand, David McCollough, David Halberstam, Samuel Eliot Morison.
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
The main inspiration these days is an old dog who has to pee. Seriously, I wake each day looking to explore. I read newspapers and the Web for information. I look forward to getting back to see what the characters in my stories are up to.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
Reading, working in the yard, nursing a renegade garden back to health, especially an old rose bush that has died and come back to life several times. I used this bush in a story called "Weight," which is included in the Smashword's collection, "The Resurrection of Leo."
How do you discover the ebooks you read?
I see what friends have written, suggested, or recorded as audiobooks. I read a lot of newspapers and search out the reviews there.
How do you approach cover design?
I designed my own covers for my Smashwords' editions using photos I staged.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
I wanted to give it a try, to see what the response to my work would be. So far, it has been interesting. I believe I have interesting stories to tell, and am exploring all means of getting them in front of readers. Indie publishing, developing my own website, and having a friend record several pieces as audio books are ways of measuring an audience. I also plan to reach out to traditional publishers. I think having people read my stories in a variety of forms is a good thing.
How has Smashwords contributed to your success?
Smashwords gave me the confidence to try indie publishing and provided valuable lessons in the process. I have been encouraged by the increasing number of page views and free down loads of my two Smashwords books.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.