Welcome to the four hundred and ninety-ninth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with multi-genre author Michael J Bowler. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Michael. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Michael: I grew up in Northern California and have always made up stories from as far back as I can remember. Writing just seemed to be in my blood. I majored in English / Theatre at Santa Clara University and then attended graduate school at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, where I earned a master’s degree in film / television production. I always loved movies, too, and wanted to write screenplays. After making several low-budget films that I wrote or co-wrote and / or directed, I began teaching English at a high school in the Los Angles area and continued doing that for over twenty years. I still wrote on the side, which is how A Matter of Time came into being.
Morgen: How lovely. It took me nearly 40 years to realise that I wanted to write fiction. I’d not even considered it as a career until I went to evening classes but then I had all that experience to write about. I’ve written a script (for the now-defunct Script Frenzy) but didn’t enjoy it; too ‘bitty’ for me but I admire those who do. What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Michael: I write in all genres, I suppose, but I usually like stories that have an unusual twist, almost a fantasy element, but the genre could be horror or drama or action. I’ve written in all these genres. A Matter of Time is hard to pin down into any one genre because it has horror elements, time travel, history, and romance. The book is currently a finalist in the Reader’s Favorite Self-Published Book Awards contest in the “Romance / Suspense” category.
Morgen: Congratulations. Do let me know how you get on. What have you had published to-date?
Michael: My first book, A Boy and His Dragon, was published in 2011 through Createspace. I wrote that book many years ago and never got very far with publication. It’s a fantasy set in the real world and aimed at junior high age kids on up to adult. A Matter of Time came out in March of this year to coincide with the 100th anniversary of Titanic’s sinking.
Morgen: That’s the great thing about publishing these days is that you can do it yourself. What lead to you going your own way?
Michael: It’s difficult to get agents or publishers to take a chance on an unknown writer. Most won’t even look at your work. In addition, I’ve been reading about other successful authors who started out self-published.
Morgen: Absolutely: Amanda Hocking and Joe Konrath in the US and we have John Locke here in the UK. Are your books available as eBooks? How involved were you in that process? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Michael: Both books are available as ebooks. A Boy and His Dragon is only available as a Kindle, but A Matter of Time is in both a Kindle and a Nook format. All I did was follow the directions to convert. Ha! Alas, I’m still not into ebooks – I don’t even own one of those devices. I’m still old school and like holding a book in my hands. Plus, I love good cover art and that usually doesn’t translate well into ebook formats.
Morgen: I’d say 99.9% of the authors I’ve spoken to (and publishers, editors, agents) have said they’d never stop reading paper books, and I’m the same. Besides, I think I have more books in my house than I can read in my lifetime. Do you have a favourite of your books or characters? If any of your books were made into films, who would you have as the leading actor/s?
Michael: I like both of my books that are out now, and love the third one I’ve just written. I think this new one, which hasn’t been published yet, is my best work so far. Of the two that are already published, they are very different. In A Matter of Time, I especially like the character of Dan, Jamie’s roommate. He’s funny and flip, but also very serious when he needs to be for Jamie’s sake. Plus, he takes a big leap of faith in following Jamie on his journey, and that takes some depth of character to do so. In a movie, Jamie could maybe be played by Ezra Miller – he’s the right age and is a phenomenal actor – he definitely has the ability to play the range of emotions required. In the part of Dan, maybe Liam Hemsworth. Dan is tall and good-looking and Liam has those qualities.
Morgen: I didn’t know either name so Wikipediad them. As a former Neighbours watcher I do recognise Liam but Ezra’s new to me (thank you). 🙂 Did you have any say in the titles / covers of your books? How important do you think they are?
Michael: Since both of my books are self-published, I selected the titles and designed the covers. I’m pretty adept with Photoshop and love designing my own covers. I guess if a big publisher picks up one of my future books I’ll have to relinquish that job, but I’ll do so reluctantly. Ha!
Morgen: I’ve designed all mine and I’d be torn too but as long as I liked the finished result I’d be fine with that. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Michael: I have just finished a new novel called Children of the Knight. My book, A Matter of Time, is a finalist in the Reader’s Favorite Self-Published Book Competition and I’ll be going to the Miami Book Expo in November to promote it. At that time, I will bring Children of the Knight and try to generate interest from publishers and / or agents. If I can’t find anyone, I’ll self-publish. Unlike A Matter of Time, which is a romantic suspense thriller, Children of the Knight weaves my thirty years of experience working with marginalized and disenfranchised children in Los Angeles into a kind of populist fable that should generate some controversy with its themes and conclusions. It involves a man who may or may not be the legendary King Arthur, himself, who appears in Los Angeles to recruit cast-off, neglected, abused, and gang-affiliated children and teens. Using this new Round Table of knights, Arthur launches a crusade to return the city to the people, and to gain more rights for children, the most controversial of which is for children fourteen years or older to gain the right to vote.
Morgen: It sounds great, I hope it gets picked up. Do you manage to write every day, or ever suffer from writer’s block?
Michael: I have no trouble writing every day. I still have four more books in very detailed outlines to work on, not to mention sequels to the ones I’ve already written.
Morgen: Ah, sequels, music to an agent’s / publisher’s ears. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Michael: Usually there’s an idea and from that idea the necessary characters and situations come to me that will realize that idea.
Morgen: That’s what I love about fiction, it just develops as it goes along. You’ve mentioned a couple of your characters, do you have a method for creating them, and what do you think makes them believable?
Michael: I think, as with most writers, I pick bits and pieces of people I’ve known over the years and attribute those characteristics or incidents to my characters. Since the details and / or incidents were real, I feel that adds more verisimilitude to my fictional people.
Morgen: They do say to write what you know. Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Michael: I do TONS of editing. I always find a zillion typos, but I guess that’s normal.
Morgen: I’d say so, yes.
Michael: But I also tweak specific sentences, lines of dialogue, descriptions over and over again. After a while, the book runs through my head like a movie and I can picture specific sentences in my mind and hear specific lines of dialogue, especially if I’m running or working out at the gym. Often I’ll see a better way to phrase something while lifting weights and quickly type it into my phone so I won’t forget. Ha!
Morgen: Good idea. I have notebooks in every dog-walking jacket and bag, and have my BlackBerry, dictaphone and camera, all of which have dictation facility. Do you have to do much research?
Michael: When it’s needed. A Matter of Time required a lot of research on 1912 clothing styles, as well as a refresher course on the final night of Titanic’s short life. Having set the main story in 1986, when I was in college, I had to brush up on clothes and music that was popular at the time. I also had to study up on Newfoundland and fishing trawlers.
Morgen: I’m not a huge fan of history (or research) but that sounds like fun. What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Michael: I usually like third person omniscient because I like to enter the minds of all my characters and I feel that makes each one more real for the reader. Since most of my stories involve danger – i.e. characters could die – I never use 1st person. I hate suspense or thriller books written in the first person because I know there is no possible way the narrator could die.
Morgen: I’d not thought of it like that, because they do in some stories, don’t they.
Michael: With third person, I could literally shock the readers and kill off the main character, if I so chose. I feel third offers more potential for generating suspense.
Morgen: It is the most popular, and flexible, viewpoint. Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Michael: With self-publishing, they can all come out. Ha!
Morgen: 🙂 Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Michael: Oh yes, many rejections. I take them in my stride. I recognize the reality of the market place. Publishers like going with known commodities, authors who already have a following. It’s expensive for them to market an unknown, so I understand their reluctance. I believe in my stories, however, that readers will embrace them. So far, all the reviews of my two books have been very positive.
Morgen: You say you’ve struggled to find an agent, do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Michael: I had one for A Matter of Time and I liked her, but she wasn’t able to get anything going with the book. I suspect an agent is essential for dealing with bigger publishers and I will perhaps try to find one for my next book.
Morgen: Quite a number of the authors I’ve spoken to have dealt with publishers directly, although (from memory) all those with larger publishers do have agents. How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Michael: I do as much as I can. I have a webpage: http://michaeljbowler.webs.com and a Facebook page (Author, Michael Bowler), but I’m pretty new to the whole Internet marketing thing and even social networking. It’s an area about which I need to gain much more knowledge.
Morgen: It’s just practice really. I’ve been on Facebook and Twitter for a couple of years and I’m still learning but I do feel all authors need them these days to get the word out. What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Michael: My favorite is getting into the minds and hearts of characters and having them suddenly say or do something I didn’t consciously come up with – the character came up with it. Sitting in front of the computer is my least favorite part – I get neck strain when I’m there too long. Ha!
Morgen: I’m terrible. I could (and sometimes do) sit here for hours but my dog reminds me every now and then to take a break (a squeaky toy is as distracting as an email ‘ping’). What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Michael: You how you want to end your story before you begin it. That way all the plot points and the character decisions are moving in the same direction. Too many movies these days, and a lot more books I’ve read, don’t seem to know where they’re going and thus have plot holes or dropped / unresolved plot points. I suspect the writers did not know how their stories would end and that’s why the stories fizzle out.
Morgen: I do think it helps although I found with my first novel that I plotted far further than it ended but having written it, it wouldn’t have been right to keep going. If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and what would you cook (or hide the takeaway containers)?
Michael: I would invite Thomas Andrews, builder of Titanic, so I could ask him why he didn’t try to flood the rear compartments so Titanic could’ve stayed afloat longer, and maybe gotten everyone off. I would invite Abraham Lincoln because his life and the whole Civil War era fascinate me. And lastly I’d invite William Shakespeare just to get a sense of the man behind that amazing writing ability. As to food, I’m not much of a cook so I’d probably make pizza or spaghetti.
Morgen: I’m sure they’d like either. If you had to choose a single day from your past to re-live over and over, what day would it be and why?
Michael: Alas, I can’t think of one. I’m more of a forward-thinking person.
Morgen: Probably wise. Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Michael: “It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.” — Mark Twain
Morgen: I love that. What do you do when you’re not writing?
Michael: I work out daily at the YMCA and help train some teens over there. I like going to the movies. I enjoy reading – I’m always reading two or three books at the same time.
Morgen: I’m a big movie fan and have a season ticket for the local multiplex. I usually hammer it but have been particularly busy recently. Are there any writing-related websites and / or books that you find useful?
Michael: Writer’s Digest sometimes has some useful tips. I don’t subscribe to the magazine, but I get email updates from them that are occasionally helpful.
Morgen: I think we do have the Writer’s Digest in the UK but an imported version. I subscribe to so many already (Writing, Writers’ News, Mslexia, New Writer) that I struggle to keep up with what I have.
Morgen: What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Michael: Obviously, ebooks are the future. Much as I love holding actual books in my hand, I suspect in the not-too-distant future we’ll all be reading from Kindles and iPads. Oh, well . . .
Morgen: I think we’ll have both, less paperbacks, and the hardback may disappear, but I do know of people who have loved an eBook so much that they’ve then bought the paperback. Where can we find out about you and your writing?
Michael: My website is: http://michaeljbowler.webs.com.
Morgen: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Michael: Keep an eye out for Children of the Knight. My hope is that book will spark some debate about how we treat children in this country.
Morgen: It’s a problem everywhere, there’s almost always something in the news (there was today) about children being treated badly. It’s amazing how many people have children and yet don’t seem to really want them. Is there anything you’d like to ask me?
Michael: What made you decide to start this blog and how much time does it take you each day to maintain it?
Morgen: <laughs> It takes pretty much all my time but that’s the associated emails. I started it as I’d heard it was a good things to do and it took off from there. I love it and the feedback has been fantastic, I think because there’s so much to read and so many options to be involved in… the downside is that I get 100+ emails a day but better that than twiddling my thumbs. 🙂 Thank you, Michael.
I then invited Michael to include an extract of his writing…
Jamie gently retrieved A Night To Remember from his bed and traced one finger along the outline of the sinking ship gracing its cover. “How can I expect you to understand when I don’t even understand. I just know, deep down, that I have to do this.” He turned to face them, clutching the book to his chest and fighting back his fear. “If I don’t, I’ll be dead in two days.”
Not knowing what other approach to take, Maggie tried reasoning with him. “But the Titanic is at the bottom of the Atlantic . . . “
Jamie nodded. “That’s true. But there is a theory that time is like a continuous river. Assuming one could move to any place along that river, he could experience whatever historical events were happening.” Jamie glanced down at the book he was clutching before continuing. “In other words, all events in history are concurrently happening along that river.
Since I’m obviously a part of what went on, and is currently going on, aboard the Titanic, hopefully there will be enough overlap for me to enter that time period.”
His theory was greeted with a stony silence from both. Sighing angrily, he turned and slammed the book into his travel bag, yanking the zipper shut.
Dan stood and placed one remarkably gentle hand on Jamie’s shoulder. Jamie turned to face his roommate with thinly disguised annoyance. “What?”
Dan’s sober expression darkened his usually handsome features. “Jamie, all kidding aside, let’s get you some help. Whatever this virus is, it’s obviously got your brain all tied up and –“
Jamie flung Dan’s hand from his shoulder as though it was a venomous snake, eyes blazing. “I knew you wouldn’t understand, either one of you! But I’m not crazy and I intend to prove it! Do you realize something? If I’m right, and I am able to go back to Titanic, I could not only save myself, but I could also save that ship! I could save 1500 lives!”
And a synopsis…
What is your destiny?
This question haunts 20-year-old Jamie Collins. A junior at Santa Clara University in 1986, Jamie has friends, a professor who mentors him, and a promising future as a writer.
Then the dreams begin – nightmarish visions that transport him back to a time and place fifty years before he was born: Titanic’s maiden voyage in 1912! Less than a week before the 74th anniversary of its sinking, Jamie discovers that his fate is inexplicably linked to that of the famous vessel. Somehow, the two timelines are overlapping, and when Titanic dies this time, Jamie will die along with it.
The dreams reveal something evil stalking the ill-fated ship, something that expedites the collision which sinks her. Jamie realizes that the only way to stop this evil and prevent his own death may be to prevent Titanic from sinking in the first place.
But how? How can he stop that ship from sinking in 1912 when he hadn’t even been born yet? And even if he can stop it – should he? What will be the effect on history if he succeeds? Jamie’s quest to fulfill his destiny ties friendsand family together in ways he could never have imagined.
A Matter of Time is an emotionally charged voyage into the value of friendship, the power of love, the impact of evil, and the vagaries of Fate.
Michael Bowler grew up in San Rafael, California. He attended St. Raphael’s School and Marin Catholic High School before attending Santa Clara University. Titanic and her tragic fate fascinated him for as far back as he can remember. He has a vast collection of artwork, memorabilia and virtually every book ever written about the disaster.
He majored in English and Theatre at Santa Clara and got a master’s in film production from Loyola Marymount University. He partnered with two friends as producer, writer, and/or director on several films, most notably “Fatal Images,” “Dead Girls,” “Hell Spa” (later re-edited and titled “Club Dead”), “Things” and “Things II.”
He has written a number of unproduced screenplays and is currently working on other novels he has outlined. He’s been teaching high school in Hawthorne, California for over twenty years.
He has also been a volunteer Big Brother to seven different boys over 28 years with the Catholic Big Brothers Big Sisters program and a volunteer within the juvenile justice system in Los Angeles for 27 years. He is a passionate advocate for the fair treatment of children and teens in California, something that is sorely lacking in this state.
His first novel, A Boy and His Dragon, was originally written in the 1980’s before fantasy stories enjoyed a major renaissance, and has remained unpublished to this day. It is intended as the first of a trilogy.
A Matter of Time, his second novel, was originally written in the 1980’s and completed in the mid-1990’s as time permitted.
You can visit Michael on the web at www.michaeljbowler.webs.com.
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