Dean: Your new novel, The Prophet, is a crime novel, a suspense novel, but also a good novel about brothers and family relationships. I know you a little, and I'm 99 percent sure that you weren't cloned, that you have a family, but I don't know about siblings. You write so well about brotherly relationships that I wonder do you have any? And football playing it, coaching it serves both as a background and as a solid metaphor for the value of traditions. Did you play football in school? Have you coached any?
Michael: I was a natural athlete. Played every sport, and the responses from my coaches were unanimous and emphatic. Whether it was a basketball or football or baseball bat or golf
club in my hands, they'd say, "Son, I think you should be a writer." It's good to have consensus. So, no, never played football beyond pickup games I bruise too easily and lack fundamental coordination but I was hopefully able to bring some authenticity to the book due to the tremendous level of help and access I received from Scott Bless, Tyler Abel, and the rest of the Bloomington High School North coaching staff. I spent a full year with them in coaching meetings, practice fields, and on the sidelines, and it was tremendous and fascinating. The bad news for them is I'm hooked now and currently drawing up plays. If they'll just give me a chance...As for brothers, I have none. Just friends who feel like brothers to me, in the good ways and the infuriating. And I have a sister who brings only the positive side.
Dean: You quickly built a reputation for crime/suspense, and
then went for a touch of the supernatural in So Cold the River, The Cypress House, and The Ridge. Did your agent freak out? Many years ago, when I first began ricocheting from genre to genre, I received more than a few heartfelt lectures about how I was destroying my career. Now, The Prophet has no supernatural edge. What is it with you, pal? Easily bored? Creatively restless? Enjoy walking a cliff's edge? Multiple personalities?
Michael: Dean, please stop answering the questions before I
can. Yes, yes, yes, and, certainly, yes to those last four. As for the
genre ricocheting, I had a supportive agent. I lost a publisher, but
that'll happen, and somehow I fell into the hands of Michael
Pietsch at Little, Brown, who I think is one of the all- time great
editors. Can't say enough about the team over there. They've
indulged my flights of fancy, and I know it isn't easy, and I've
heard plenty of lectures from other parties about the career suicide
I'm cheerfully carrying out, but I'll always say the same thing here: You've got to tell the story that wants to be told. That's the joy of it, the privilege of it, and, I'd argue, the responsibility of it. To write the best story you can. That won't always fit in the same tidy box. And to try to do so seems far too close to actual work. I'm not cut out for actual work.
Dean: Most of us grab the chance to adapt our books to film.
But film writing is highly collaborative, with every executive a potential master. I found I really liked the screenplay format, its
fluid nature and ease of revision, but disliked everything else about
the film process. Have you done some film writing? If so, how
close to madness did you come? How close to homicide? Or are
you one of the lucky ones who feel comfortable in both worlds?
Michael: Past madness, short of homicide. I love the form. I've been fortunate to work with great writers and producers, genuinely good people. But if your novel becomes an irrelevant piece of source material, with an entirely new cast of characters and story, then it's awfully tough, not just letting go you would probably not be surprised to discover how easily I can do that! but because you've got to love a story to write it well, and supposing you don't love the one that's handed to you? It's tough.
It's a grind, everything in it is foreign, and the emotional investment between writer and characters and story that is imperative for good work is one that can't be forced. Delivering quality work from that place is diffi cult for me. Every circumstance is different, though. I love movies, always have, always will, and one of these days it sure would be fun to see one of my stories break through to the big screen. We'll see.
Dean: I would never put a writer on the spot by asking him
which living authors he most admires which always leads to at
least one friend having been unintentionally forgotten. But what
deceased writers do you most admire, and why?
Michael: There was once this guy named Dean R. Koontz. Had a middle initial, a mustache, and a bald head. I don't know what happened to him, because dust jackets tell me he is long gone, but I loved his stuff. Let's see, in all seriousness, keeping the list to a respectable length: Raymond Chandler, John D. MacDonald, Ross Macdonald, Dashiell Hammett, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Charles Dickens, G. K. Chesterton, Mark Twain, Ray Bradbury, Ira Levin, Robert Louis Stevenson, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Why? Because I think they were all storytellers first, and writers second. The story was the thing.
Unless otherwise stated, this interview was conducted at the time the book was first published, and is reproduced with permission of the publisher.
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