Melissa: Hi Mike. Thanks so much for joining us to talk about your latest book Kill Devil. I thoroughly enjoyed it!
Until the Jed Patrick series, your books were all standalone. Now that you’ve written the second book in the series, what are your thoughts about series? What do you find most challenging and do you think you’ll add follow up books for some of your previous work? If you did, which one would you most like to revisit?
Mike: Until these Jed Patrick books I vowed I would never write a series. It just seemed too daunting, trying to keep all the facts and history straight and not writing any contradictions. The jury is still out on that but I have enjoyed developing Jed Patrick’s character and story. I love writing about him and I’d be happy to continue his story for several more books if given the opportunity. As for follow-ups to my other books, I’d love to write more stories about Marny Toogood, the protagonist in Frantic. He’s such an interesting character and I believe could really get himself into some fantastic pickles. I’d also love to write a sequel to Darlington Woods. I feel that story isn’t quite over yet, there’s more to those woods than was covered in that one story. Now, if I could only find the time to write all these stories scratching to get out of my head.
Melissa: The technology in this book is downright scary. The mental manipulation occasionally caused my blood pressure to rise a few notches. What do you find most unsettling about the technology you present in this book? In what ways could you see some of the mental manipulation being widespread and not isolated to certain people or jobs?
Mike: Most disturbing? The ability to control people like robots. Ethically, this technology presents a real mess of questions, dilemmas, and scenarios. Who gets to play God? What controls will there be to make sure it isn’t used for the wrong reasons? And who determines what the controls are? Where the boundaries are? On a widespread scale I could see it used in military situations pretty effectively. In isolated scenarios, it could really benefit folks suffering from chronic pain, depression, psychological disorders. But again, the ethics of using such technology is very sketchy at best and could prove dangerous.
Melissa: Last year we talked a little bit about families and how they play a prominent role in your books. Daughters especially seem to be lovingly featured. As a dad of five girls, what are some of the most important qualities you model for your daughters? What encouragement or advice do you offer to dads in regards to how they raise and interact to their girls?
Mike: Wow, great question. I’m certainly not a perfect dad and make lots of mistakes. I’m learning as I go. But I hope I model honesty and integrity. I hope I show my girls that it’s okay to be wrong and to admit when you’re wrong. I also hope I model a never-give-up work ethic. I try to model fairness and forgiveness and the importance of making God’s will the priority, not our own will. For fathers of daughters I would encourage them to be the kind of man you want your daughter to marry. I’ve heard it said many times that more times than not women marry a man like their dad. Set the example for her of the kind of man she should entrust her future and safety and love to.
Melissa: There is a lot of suspense in Kill Devil, but it also has a healthy amount of psychological thriller. I love both of these aspects in a novel, though I will admit that at times the psychological aspects will mess with my mind. In what way does writing the psychological suspense/thriller portions of your books mess with your mind and how do you deal with the lingering affects afterwards.
Mike: You know, in this regard it’s tough being the author. I don’t get to experience my books the same way the reader does. For the reader there are lots of twists and turns, suspense techniques, surprises, confusion . . . all the great things that thrillers and psychological thrillers contain. But the author gets to experience none of the fun. I’m not surprised by anything because I see it all coming. I feel no suspense because I create the suspense. So in that way, the story doesn’t mess with my mind at all. What it does mess with is the ability to keep it all straight while I write. I often have to go back and re-read previous chapters to make sure I’m keeping all the twists and turns twisted and turned. I don’t want to reveal anything too early and that’s a challenge too. It’s more organizational stuff. Sometimes I wish I could suffer temporary amnesia so I could read one of my books without knowing what’s coming and see how it feels for the reader.
Melissa: Going back to last year’s interview again, we talked about the how the Christian fiction market has changed. We’re seeing less supernatural and speculative books. However, it also seems like there isn’t a huge market for straight up suspense, thriller, crime, or mystery either. What are your thoughts about the direction of this part of the Christian fiction market? Do you see it expanding or eventually dwindling much like the speculative market?
Mike: Boy, I hope this trend doesn’t continue. I write suspense/thriller and speculative. Others in the same genres have noticed a dip in sales. Why? I really can’t explain it. I don’t have solid numbers but I think it’s partly due to the overwhelmingly higher number of women who read Christian fiction than men. And I think women gravitate to the romantic flavors of stories. I know that’s stereotyping and I know there are plenty of women who enjoy thrillers and speculative but we’re talking generalities here, big numbers. Suspense is very popular in Christian fiction, but it’s the romantic side of it that is successful. I also think another aspect is just the marketing of Christian thrillers/mystery. Christian publishers and the marketplace in general are very good at reaching women readers with what they want but I’m not sure they’ve figured out yet how to market thrillers to Christians, especially to men. Possibly too many are using the same template they use for romantic suspense or historicals for thrillers and it just isn’t cutting it. Another reason, I think, is that we tend to look at Christian fiction as a genre and the genres within it as subgenres. It’s much like contemporary Christian music in the 80s and 90s. It was a style of music in and of itself. CCM. It wasn’t until recently that the stigma of CCM started breaking up and musical styles started taking on a personality and image of their own. Take, for instance, Christian rap. In the 80s and 90s it got lost in the CCM world. But as time passed it began grow into its own genre and now we have some really good, widely-known rap artists on Christian labels (think Lecrae, KB, Andy Mineo). Same thing for rock and indie music. I don’t what the music industry did but they finally got it right and the publishing industry would do well to look closely at how they did it. Now, if you’re looking for answers, the methodology and how-to of the whole thing, boy, I have no idea. My suggestion would be that if publishers are serious about selling thrillers/mystery/speculative they should get their marketing/promotions people to learn how the mainstream houses do it and try to emulate that model. And maybe they’ve already tried that and it just didn’t work because the market just isn’t there for it. One other thing, though. I think authors of thriller/mystery/speculative can do a better job of promoting their own work, not just to “readers of Christian fiction” but to secular readers of those genres. It’s one reason I’ve joined the International Thriller Writers. I need to get my work in front of those who read and enjoy thrillers, Christian or not.
Melissa: Normally we talk about your fiction work. However, you’ve recently self-published some non-fiction books. Talk a little about these non-fiction books and why you chose to write them.
Mike: Absolutely. The first, Finding My Way, is a memoir about my battle with cancer. But it’s so much more than just a memoir, it’s a devotional for anyone who finds themselves in one of life’s many valleys. It’s full of Scripture and thoughts and encouragement. It’s a great book for anyone who has been touched by cancer AND anyone who is battling life’s monsters. The second book I released is a short, quick read called Be Unstoppable. It talks about five ways to be unstoppable in life: have a right perspective, don’t let fear get the best of you, learn to fail forward, ignore negative voices, and give everything you have to what you do. Much of this comes from what I’ve learned in my own trials and struggles. There are also vignettes from Scripture that accompany each chapter.
Melissa: What’s next for you?
Mike: You know, I’m really not sure. I’d love to continue the Jed Patrick series and have a wonderful story idea for the next installment but that isn’t set in stone yet. I also have some other ideas for stand-alone novels with very strong storylines that I’d love to explore. I’m at a crossroad right now and just really trying to find which way to go. To keep up with what’s happening in my writing, readers can subscribe to my newsletter on my website or join my Darlington Society by “liking” my Facebook page.