Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Thriller Author Mike Wells Interviewed on The Carnage Report

The following interview is reprinted from The Carnage Report, August 26th, 2013

What inspired you to write?
For me, that's a little like asking what inspired a bird to fly, or what inspired a fish to swim.  I am a writer; writing is what I do.   I feel a strong urge to write each and every day, and I've had this urge as long as I can remember.  This urge is different from "inspiration," I think.  To me, inspiration is a kind of high, and like most highs--whether naturally or artificially induced--it wears off pretty fast. 

Inspiration might get me started on a book, but I could never actually finish a whole novel, which takes months or years, fueled by inspiration alone.  I would never get through that difficult middle part of the story, where, as the author, you have to struggle with the thorniest story issues.  

Did your family play a role in the development of your literary skills?

Definitely.  My mother is also a writer.  Some of my earliest memories are the sound of her tapping away on a typewriter, writing short stories and other pieces.  In fact, the sound of someone clicking away on a keyboard in the next room is very comforting to me.  Maybe I caught the desire to be a writer through some sort of osmosis, or it's in the genes, I don't know.  

My family, as well as my wife and her family, have always been very supportive of my writing.  They have grown along with me in their supportive roles, too.  My wife has learned to be a fantastic developmental editor and her mother, who is a retired journalist, also helps a lot with both the overall shaping of my books and marketing.

Do you have any literary influences on your work?

I'm sure I do, but I'm not that aware of them when I'm writing.   Stephen King, Rod Serling, Thomas Hardy, David Mamet and Sidney Sheldon have influenced me a lot.  I’ve dissected their books and screenplays in great detail, trying to understand how their plotting, characters, dialogue, and other story elements work. 

What do you think of the state of the book market at the moment?

The fact that ebooks are revolutionizing the publishing industry in a disruptive way has been a godsend to me.  The gatekeepers, the literary agents and editors who were the barriers in traditional publishing, are no longer in the way.   Now authors can easily self-publish and reach readers, and the general public decides which books are good and which ones are not. What could be fairer than that?  Of course, the negative side is that virtually anyone who can push buttons and put together strings of characters (not necessarily forming intelligible words or sentences) can publish.  

This makes it hard for good books to be discovered by readers.  However, the industry is still better under this more democratic model.  I wouldn't want the system to go back to what it was before, not that it would be possible now.  Having a relatively few “experts” wedge themselves in between authors and the reading public, for the purpose of deciding what people will read, is a terrible concept.  It is a formula for corruption.  

What inspired you to write Wild Child?

There's the I-word again!  I felt the urge to write Wild Child as a result of a dream that I had about a girl that I knew in high school -- in the dream, she challenged me to swim across a lake, and it seemed a more than a little dangerous.  When I woke up I thought, "Hm, that's an interesting situation" and felt a lot of energy underneath it.  I poured myself a cup of coffee and started writing the first scene.  The story grabbed hold and I wrote the entire thing in a very short period, in a kind of creative frenzy.

What advice would you lend to a budding writer who has already completed his first novel?

First, break out the champagne!  Ninety percent of the people who say they want to write a novel never actually start one, and ninety percent of those who start one never finish.  So by completing your first novel, you're in the upper 99th percentile.  You have every right to celebrate!

Now, for the not so good news.  As hard as it is to do, try to accept the fact that this first novel of yours is probably not a masterpiece.  There is little chance of it magically zooming to the top of the bestseller lists or that you will be hounded by a gaggle of paparazzi and crazed fans who all "want a piece of you."  If you try to publish your book via the traditional route, you will probably not even be able to find an agent willing to represent it.  If you self-publish it, it's likely that your book will just sit there online and be completely ignored.  I hate to sound so negative, but these are the facts.  Of course there are rare exceptions to this—you might happen to hit on subject matter and/or a style of writing that strikes a nerve in millions, and have your book “go viral,” but think this is a matter of luck more than anything else.

However, take heart:  if you decided to learn to be a baker, would you expect your first cake to be perfect and take the world by storm?   The layers would probably be sliding off each other, the icing job would look a bit sloppy, and it would taste a little off.  That's how your first book will be.  Accept it.  To write a good novel, a formidable set of skills must be mastered.  And, like baking or roller-blading or designing spacecraft, much of the learning comes through trial-and-error and experience.

The most important thing you can do is get your first book out there in front of as many unbiased readers as possible.  The operative word here is "unbiased."    Your mom will force a smile as she swallows that first piece of cake, suppressing a grimace, and a few people who you thought were your friends will lash out with unmerited criticism because they're envious that you turned out to be in that upper 1%.  As a new author, the only readers who are of value to you are total strangers, folks who have absolutely nothing to lose or gain by reacting openly and honestly.

There are a number of websites that allow writers to post books for free for the purpose of getting feedback, often from professionals--HarperCollins runs an excellent one (www.authonomy.com).  What I would recommend is posting HALF of your book, cutting that first part on a cliffhanger, and then see if people start asking you for the other half.  This is the only true litmus test for whether your writing is any good--if it is, people will want MORE.  Even friends or family won't ask for more unless they're hooked.

If you post half your book and nobody wants to read more, then you need to bite the bullet and start asking why, what's the matter with it?  This is where another 90% of wannabe authors drop off, the ones who cannot accept any negative feedback and falsely believe that great writers simply sit down and whip off masterpieces with no learning curve.  Taking this last difficult and often painful step forward will lead you to address the weak spots that you have in your writing, and you will be well on your way to success.

You have written a lot of books.  Which one was the hardest to write?

The Drive-By Wife, a psychological thriller which I am about to release, has definitely been the hardest book I've ever written.  I'm not saying this because it's my latest book and is heavy on my mind.  I say it because it's the book that's taken me the longest to write.  It amazes me to think that I started in…drum roll please…1995!  Eighteen years, folks, to finish one book.  Of course in terms of actual time it probably only took about a year and a half. 

 I got stuck in the middle of the story and every few years I pulled the half-finished manuscript out of the drawer and valiantly attacked it again, only to find myself yanking out my hair in tufts (which is why I don't have much now) and then finally saying, "I just can't nail this one," and putting it away.  It's very discouraging when that happens but you just have to keep the faith.  

Part of the reason this crime novel was so difficult is that it takes place between three characters and is almost "hermetically sealed," like an Agatha Christie mystery.  The character dynamics were hell to develop and get right.  But it's also because I simply didn't have the skill set to finish the book.  As I said earlier, writing a good novel requires mastering lots of skills, and the learning curve is never finished--this particular book really required me to stretch beyond anything I've written before.

Do you have a writing process?

Yes.  When I start on a new book I become very organized, get everything all lined up and ready to go, telling myself that unlike all the other books I've written, THIS one will go smoothly.  Then I start writing, trying to maintain that order, becoming more and more desperate as things begin to fall apart, and eventually I say "Oh, hell" and dive head-first into the deep end, struggling, choking on water, jumping all over the place in the story, half-drowning and fighting for dear life...and after a few months of this struggle, my wife finally drags me out and gives me CPR, and the first draft is done.  The rest is relatively easy.

For you, what comes first?  Character or plot?

That's one of those chicken-and-the-egg questions, because as you well know it's nearly impossible to separate the two.  Sometimes Character and Plot arrive together, unbidden, with a lot of fanfare, in a horse-pulled carriage, and they graciously step out and introduce themselves to me.  Other times I have to round up a posse to go track one or the other of them down, and I often find them cowering in a cave somewhere, refusing to come out. 

Interestingly, Billy, the villain and most memorable character in The Drive-By Wife, appeared out of nowhere in a scene in another story I was writing in a completely different genre.  Billy was so fascinating that I simply took that scene and started developing a plot around him, one that would really let him shine as a villain.  

Conversely, in Lust, Money & Murder, the plot came first.  I had an idea that there might be a criminal somewhere out in the world who could counterfeit U.S. paper money so well that the fakes would be indistinguishable from the real thing.  So I had the plot first, and then I needed to create interesting characters who would fit that plot, a villain and a hero.  

But if you want to know the truth, these two elements, plot and character, come at me much faster and much less distinctly than it sounds here--whenever I'm working on a story idea, the characters and plot hit me almost simultaneously and I jump back and forth between the two very rapidly--I mean, ten times back and forth in five minutes, that kind of thing. 

So the two elements shape each other until the overall story is nice and round, everything works from both a character and plot point of view.  In fact, that's the most difficult part of writing for me, going back and forth and massaging the plot and character until it all fits together seamlessly.

Do you have any new releases in the pipeline?

Yes, as I mentioned previously, The Drive-By Wife will be released shortly (around September 1st).  This is a psychological thriller about a young, upper middle-class couple who are terrorized by a seedy truck driver who becomes obsessed with the wife. He tries to blackmail the couple into letting him spend the night with her each time he passes through town. My wife describes it as “Cape Fear” meets “Psycho.” 

Following The Drive-By Wife, I plan to have Lust, Money & Murder, Books 4, 5 & 6, out by the end of the year, in time for the holiday season.  This will feature the same characters, including the villain, who was in the first series.
I want to say that I appreciate the opportunity to give this interview, and to thank you for asking such good questions.

Connect with Mike on twitter @MikeWellsAuthor or visit Mike's site here,

Also, you can purchase Mike's books at Amazon here


  1. Mike, you mentioned that you think it's great that writers can sidestep the publishing industry (agents, editors, etc.) and yet you also point out that the ease of self-publishing means that a lot of poorly written books can get exposure. Do you still think the traditional publishing industry can serve as a gatekeeper to keep out bad writing? In that sense, is it still somewhat "safer" to buy a traditionally published book? Just curious to get your thoughts, Joe

  2. Good question, Joe, thanks for your comments. I think buying traditionally published books is a safe way to ensure that you get decent production quality - books that are relatively free of grammatical mistakes, typos, etc. - but on the negative side, traditional publishing plays it safe, too. You're probably not going to discover as many books that are different or unusual, as traditional publishers will take less risks and try to mold their books into a form that has already proved successful.

  3. I love your writing style Mike. Your books are truly page turners. I have read Wild Child 1 & 2 and 3 books of Lust, Money, & Murder. All fun to read. I have written a book myself for the middle reader/young adult audience. I have submitted it to many Agencies and a few publishers without any success. I am becoming more and more interested in self publishing especially after reading about your journey in publishing. Where would you suggest I begin considering I have limited funds?

  4. Thanks for your comments about my work, Denny. About publishing, I would recommend starting with ebooks only and publish on Smashwords and Amazon, which are both free. Keep all other costs down as much as possible by doing everything yourself or bartering with other writers. Using this approach you can publish your book for less than $100.