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Iowa has turned cloudy and cold. Spring can't settle in properly. So, today, I picked this week's featured author and we transport to Local Grown, a coffee house at the end of the wharf in Coupeville, Washington, which juts out into Penn Cove on the eastside of Whidbey Island. The sun is out and the water is a deep blue and the trees are a rich green. Unfortunately, Mike ordered coffee for both of us, not realizing that coffee is about the last drink I'm going to have. I'll try to get the barista's attention and order tea during the interview.
1. Who are you and what makes you the most fascinating person in your city?
I guess the best description of me is I love life! I’m just happy to be here. I’m always interested in the world and the people I meet and I’m constantly learning from both. I’m lucky to be married to the love of my life and have four wonderful and successful children and seven grandchildren. I’ve had two exciting and interesting parallel careers as a police officer and a lawyer. I enjoy many outdoor activities and like to play blues on my guitar.
I am the most fascinating person in my town because I’ve walked around the world; hunted big game in Africa; been crowned chief of the largest tribe in Tanzania; dined with heads of state; invented a time machine and swam the English Channel.
And I don’t always enjoy beer, but when I do...
Did I mention I write fiction?
2. Without revealing a deep dark secret, what one thing would people be surprised to learn about you?
Most people don’t know I had polio as a child and if it hadn’t been for my father refusing to listen to doctors and just going with his instincts, I would be crippled today. After I was released from the hospital, he made me exercise every day until I was no longer paralyzed. Yep, he’s my hero!
3. What interested you to become a writer rather than something else such as an international spy?
Well, as you know I did do something else before becoming a writer, but I’ve always wanted to write. I’ve been a voracious reader my whole life and I knew I could write stories like the ones I read. I’ve written short stories, poems and essays since I was a young lad, but never with the idea of publishing them. When I retired from my two past careers, I decided to finally take writing seriously and write with the idea of getting published. I haven’t looked back.
4. Writers are readers. With which authors would you enjoy sharing dinner? Why?
There are so many writers I’d love to have dinner with, it would be a convention. However, if I had magical powers, I’d love to share dinner with Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner and Joseph Conrad. They are my favorite writers, yet each had their own style completely different from the other two. They were all instrumental in igniting my desire to write and were interesting and prickly men that sometimes clashed, especially on the topic of writing. I would think it would be a fascinating evening, especially after a few whiskeys.
5. If I were stranded on a deserted island (suffering a four hour layover at the airport), why would your books be great company?
My primary writing goal is to tell a good story that is both thought provoking and entertaining. Within my stories are different layers for the reader to discover. I recently had someone tell me that upon reading my first book a second time, they saw it as a new book. I’m striving to make my future books even more interesting in that way. So, I think you can read my books several times and come away with new thoughts each time.
6. Share your process of writing in regards to: idea and character development, story outline, research, writing schedule, editing and number of rewrites.
I write about cops and I try to write at least a thousand words a day. When I start a new story, I have the basic conflict and the ending in mind. I start with the protagonist and the story develops around that character. I really don’t have any idea how I’m going to get to the end, the characters determine how that happens, which is the fun part for me. Most of the other characters in the story develop in relation to the protagonist, but every so often a character appears and I have no idea from what little corner of my mind that character came...always an interesting experience.
Research is integral to my writing. I want my characters to be realistic at this point in my writing career and the plot has to be believable. I keep myself honest in that regard by putting my characters in a historical context, so history sets the parameters of how far my mind can play. The internet is a wonderful resource for research of just about anything and I use it extensively, but I also use books written by historians and journalists. I’m also a great fan of Google Earth.
As any writer knows, the first draft of a manuscript is crap. After I finish the first draft. I go through a painstaking rewrite to make sure all the pieces fit such as timelines, character consistency and other like issues. I also will expand in areas where I didn’t make things clear and look for parts where I violated the “show don’t tell” rule. After the first rewrite, the book goes to my professional content editor, who I call the “Evil Editor.” When she has finished her ruthless work and I pull the knife out of my heart, I will do at least two more rewrites before I submit the manuscript to my publisher.
7. “I think I have a good idea for a story, but I don’t know where or how to begin. Your process may not work for me. Any advice?”
Get your butt in front of your computer and start writing. Set a minimum word count for each writing session. If you don’t do this, you will never have a manuscript to work into a book. It doesn’t matter if you think you’re writing gibberish, that’s what editing and rewriting are all about. Just get the story written.
8. I saw an amusing T-shirt the other day which read, “Every great idea I have gets me in trouble.” What’s your philosophy of life?
Don’t be afraid of life, it’s going to kill you sooner or later. Follow your dreams and do everything you can.
9. Please tell me you’re not going to stop writing. What’s next for you?
Well, I’m glad you asked, Stephen. The first draft of Shadows, the sequel to my first book is almost done and I’m looking for it to be published this summer. I’m also writing a closed case mystery that delves into the dark side of being a homicide detective and a western that explores the concept of justice. I hope to have both of those finished by the end of the year as they’re both half completed now. Then I have another mystery set in modern times, but written in the style of the thirty’s and forty’s detective novels. Lastly, I’m writing a book for writers on how law enforcement works.
10. Where can people find more information on you and your projects?
People interested in my books and thoughts can visit me in Tanzania or drop by www.gotuseries.com, Twitter @Mike_McNeff and Facebook. I always respond to comments and inquiries.