This is a busy time of year for many people, with holiday preparations well under way. Our Christmas tree is up and the house is decorated, and I’m planning my traditional Christmas Day brunch with family—that is, the limited family that still lives in this area. Most of our family lives far away. Although cooking isn’t my favorite activity, I do enjoy making my annual brunch and baking Christmas cookies. These annual traditions always inspire me to get into the holiday spirit.

This week I’m talking with an award-winning author of dozens of books in multiple genres, Michael A. Black. Enjoy the interview!

Michael A. Black

About the Author

Michael A. Black is the award winning author of 47 books, most of which are in the mystery and thriller genres. He has also written in the sci-fi, western, horror, and sports genres. A retired police officer, he has done everything from patrol to investigating homicides to conducting numerous SWAT operations. Black was awarded the Cook County Medal of Merit in 2010. He is also the author of over 100 short stories and articles, and wrote two novels with television star, Richard Belzer (Law & Order SVU). His Executioner novel, Fatal Prescription, won the Best Original Novel Scribe Award. His latest novels are the Trackdown series (Devil’s Dance, Devil’s Fancy, Devil’s Brigade, Devil’s Advocate, and Devil’s Vendetta) and Chimes at Midnight (under his own name), Dying Art and Cold Fury (under Don Pendleton), and the Gunslinger series (Killer’s Choice, Killer’s Brand, Killer’s Ghost, Killer’s Gamble, and Killer’s Requiem) under the name A.W. Hart.

Interview

Michael, you have a very large body of published work. Who or what inspires you to write?

I suppose I got a lot of inspiration from my dad. When I was growing up he always had a book open and was reading. I was a rather shy kid and was bullied a lot at school. I found solace in reading adventure stories. I still remember the thrill of reading about Sherlock Holmes as he battled the snake coming down the bell chord in The Adventure of the Speckled Band.

Having a parent who reads a lot is a great example for kids. One of the best things I remember about my childhood was having a never-ending supply of good books to read because my mother worked in bookstores. What is the best thing that has happened because of your writing?

Well, aside from realizing my dream to become a writer, I’ve also helped a lot of other aspiring writers get published. That’s one of the reasons that I became a teacher of creative writing after I retired from the police department. I also belong to the Public Safety Writers Association and teach a writer’s workshop at our annual conference.

That’s so great that you’re “paying it forward” by teaching and helping other writers get published. What is the most difficult thing you have experienced about writing or publishing?

I’d say learning to deal with rejection of your work. It hasn’t been a smooth road to success, that’s for sure, but that’s made the journey more fulfilling. A long time ago I remember someone telling me you weren’t really a writer until you’d received that first rejection slip. I’d have to agree. But it’s a process you need to go through if you want to become a better writer.

I remember back when I was unpublished and struggling to get someone to notice my work. I’d written two novel-length manuscripts and had an idea for a third. I thought the second one had legs and had mailed it out to a prospective agent. Weeks went by and I decided I’d start the third one since the ideas were burning in my head. I sat down at the desk and typed that first line: It had been a year of ups and downs. Before I could type the second one, I heard the familiar sound of the postman’s delivery. I got up and went to check, and there was the manuscript I’d mailed out in the self-addressed stamped envelope. I knew the rejection letter was inside. Despondent, I went back to my desk, tore open the big envelope, and sure enough it contained another form rejection slip. I was crushed because I’d believed in that manuscript.

I sat there and stared at the screen and the single sentence I’d typed. Do I really want to keep doing this? I asked myself. More minutes passed as I deliberated, and then I set the rejected manuscript aside and typed the second line, which I thought reflected my mood: More downs than ups. It somehow brought a smile to my face and almost echoed the scenario I’d conceived for my down and out protagonist, Ron Shade. Right then and there I made a vow that I was going to keep writing and finish the book and that I was going to make it the best effort I could, even if I was the only person who was ever going to read it. It subsequently became my first published novel.

That’s a great example of perseverance, which is a quality writers must have in order to get their work out into the world. Is there anything you didn’t do during your writing or publishing journey that you wish you had?

Well, I’ve been doing this quite a while, so you might say I’ve done it all several times and not always successfully. I came up through the school of hard knocks, so I’d say I wish I’d learned from my mistakes quicker than I did. But then again, making mistakes makes the triumph that much sweeter.

You certainly have triumphed and written an incredible number of books and stories. Do you have a publisher and/or agent, or are you an indie (self-published) or hybrid author?

I’m traditionally published and am currently representing myself. I’ve gone through a number of agents, some good, some bad, and learned quite a bit. I wouldn’t discourage aspiring writers from submitting to an agent. They can do you a lot of good, but the unfortunate current tendency with agents is to look for a quick return and not try to nurture or bring a new writer along. It’s the same with a lot of publishers. It tends to be a rather cutthroat  endeavor sometimes. I wish it were different, but it’s not.

I’ve heard from a number of authors who have published traditionally for their first book(s) and then switched to self-publishing. Which genre(s) do you like to write in, and why?

One of my writing goals has been to be published in as many different genres as possible. While I’m primarily a mystery/thriller writer, I’ve also been published in sci-fi, horror, nonfiction, mainstream, westerns, sports, and memoir to name a few. About the only genre I haven’t been able to crack is romance, but I’m working on that.

I admire your ability to write across so many different genres, and we’ll be looking for that romance novel to come out. Do you outline your books before you write them?

I’m most definitely a plotter and I do a comprehensive outline before I start a new book. I view this as almost like writing a first draft. It’s helped me maintain a productive writing schedule and I don’t waste time or words. I view an outline as a road map, which is not to say it’s written in stone. I usually change or modify my outlines at least three or four times through the course of writing a book.

Back in my undergrad college days I used to write without using an outline and while it was a lot of fun just to sit down and let the muse guide me, I found that I tended to go off on tangents way too many times and ended up tossing out many pages that had strayed from the story line. Using an outline doesn’t fence me in at all, and when I sit down to write, I know exactly where I’m at in the story. It’s allowed me to produce way more books than if I didn’t outline, but writing is an individual process and each person should figure out what works best for him or her.

Outlining your books before you write them has certainly been successful approach for you. How do you define success as a writer?

Finishing what you started, whether it gets published or not. Back when I was in grad school one of the professors I admired once said, “We all might not become published authors, but we’re all writers,“ Those words really stuck with me. For me, success is finally typing “The End” on that last page of your manuscript.  It’s knowing you created something and gave it your best shot.

It’s incredibly satisfying and even thrilling to finish a manuscript. Many authors celebrate when they type those last two words because it’s a huge accomplishment. If you could have lunch with any author, who would it be?

This is kind of a tough one because most of the authors I’d choose are dead and I’m not into zombies. Seriously, there are quite a few, ranging from Shakespeare to James Patterson, although I must admit I’d be trying to slip in a pitch or two with him. I’ve also been fortunate to have met a lot of the writers I admired, including Ray Bradbury, whom I found utterly fascinating. In answer to your question, I  guess I’d choose John D. MacDonald. I read his Travis McGee novels in my youth and I consider him the best writer of the Twentieth Century.

Like you, many of the authors I’ve interviewed were greatly influenced by the characters and adventures they read about during their youth. Having served in the army and worked as a police officer, I’m sure you’ve had many hair-raising experiences. Tell us about a great adventure you’ve had while traveling.

Most of my travel adventures center on either getting lost or delayed. Once I was stranded in the Portland, Maine airport for thirteen hours due to a flight delay. The cause was a flat tire on the airplane. It was a Sunday and they had to call a mechanic in on his day off, and this took forever. The airport is only slightly larger than a football field, and I actually managed to buy and read an entire novel while waiting there. Finally, they loaded us all on board and we taxied out onto the tarmac where we sat for another forty-five minutes. Then the flight attendant told us that a series of thunderstorms were preventing us from flying and we taxied back to the gate.

By then it was ten o’clock at night and we had to stand in line for an other hour to get rescheduled on another flight the next morning. I had to pay for my own hotel room, and when someone shouted that the airline should put us up at its expense, the belabored airline rep said that because the flight was delayed and cancelled by “an act of God,” (i.e., the weather) the airline was not responsible for our night’s lodging. I was so glad to get out of that airport, I didn’t complain, but I always wondered whether the cancellation was really caused by the storms or the delay because of the flat tire. In any case, I got rerouted with a stop-over in Detroit, and that turned out to be the most entertaining airport I’ve ever been in. They have this monorail around the inside of the place and I spent an hour just riding on it.

Most travelers can identify with the dreaded flight delays, but it sounds like you made the best of it by reading an entire novel and riding the monorail. Airplane travel is definitely good for getting in some extra reading time.

Michael, thank you for sharing some of your experiences with us! Readers, you can find out more about Michael’s seven-book Trackdown series here. You can also find Devil’s Vendetta and Devil’s Breed, or learn more about Michael and his books on his Amazon page.

Readers, what do you do to kill time during flight delays? Let us know in the comments!

27 thoughts on “Author Interview—Michael Black

  1. Thanks for sharing your conversation with Michael, Heidi. I really related to his comments about writing the first line and hearing the doorbell to a rejection. His despondency hit me as exactly the feeling I know I will experience when I finish and send out my book. Michael’s words will help me get ready for that, haha

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the comment! I think virtually every writer that has submitted their work for publication or representation can relate to that feeling of rejection. I experienced it myself when I submitted my memoir to a handful of agents before I decided I didn’t want to invest the time into getting an agent or publisher and became an indie author. It was a huge learning curve, but I don’t regret my decision.

      Like

  2. Heidi, thank you for this fascinating insight into Michael Black’s writing career. Not only is he well read, his background in the military and in law enforcement have helped him, but as he mentioned, he’s also helped other writers. Amazon and Wall Street Journal Bestselling Author Barbara Nickless was thrilled when Michael wrote a blog for me. She asked for help in her novel, and he graciously replied.

    What I didn’t see addressed in the interview is that among the 100 short stories he’s written, he’s published with Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. My favorite is Waiting for Godot, which incidentally, the title has an interesting story behind it.

    Finally, I think authors get sidetracked in airports. I’ve gotten in trouble in a few myself. 🙂 But I missed a connection from Dallas to Memphis because I was . . . get this . . . reading.

    Thanks again for a great interview.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great interiew! Mike is a great guy and he amazes me by how many book he can write undr horrific deadlines.
    I’ve enjoyed many of his books.Being stuck in an airport is no fun,,ut when it happeens, I read too.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. As a teacher and a writer Michael is unpretentious. He uses a common sense approach to his critique of other people’s work. He advised me once to completely use another voice in writing my story. I did as he suggested and submitted my book to a contest and won an award. I have read many of his books and have enjoyed them all. What more can you say of a writer. This is an excellent interview and I have nothing but praise for the interviewer who brought out things about Michael I hadn’t heard before and just makes me appreciate him even more as a writer and a teacher.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Michael A. Black is one of my favorite authors. He’s also been a great inspiration to me. I firmly believe the reason I’m a published author is because of the insights, suggestions, and patience Mike showed to me when he read some of my early work. Thanks, Mike, for always being there. And thank you, Heidi, for bringing a spotlight on this great author and wonderful human being.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thoroughly enjoyed reading this interview as it confirmed what I thought about Michael, who by the way, I have yet to meet in person… the man is an Existentialist who accepts the reality of the situation and takes things in stride, not to mention he’s also a Giver and a damn good writer.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Totally enjoyed reading this interview and gaining insight into this talented writer and his approach to writing. Mike will be joining the Sisters in Crime Upstate South Carolina Chapter’s Mystery Book Club to discuss Chimes at Midnight on May 10th. We look forward to hearing more from an author with such broad writing experience. If you care to join us, send me your email address to get added to our invitation list.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sally, I’m sure Mike’s talk with the Sisters in Crime will be interesting and enlightening. I subscribed to your mailing list, so you have my email address. Is this an in-person event or virtual? Thanks for the comment!

      Like

  8. Wow, I’m overwhelmed by the great responses. I sincerely appreciate all of them and thanks to everyone who stopped by to read the interview. And let me give a special thanks to Heidi for giving me this opportunity.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I enjoyed your interview with Michael Black. He is a very diverse and prolific writer! I like to hear about authors who have persevered through many rejections to become published authors. Good job!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Mike Black is always a fascinating author and person to read their interview answers. Mike is a true professional in writing, always writing and publishing and never giving up.

    Liked by 1 person

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