Monday, January 9, 2012

Inteview with an "Angel"? (Author David H. Fears (Mike Angel Series) Talks About Writing

Indie Authors are a wonderful, diverse group of people.  One writer that I have had the pleasure of meeting in kindleboards is David H. Fears, the author of several books in the Mike Angel Series.  Mike Angel is a PI and the books are mysteries, with a little bit of a "hard boiled" feel...and a lot of originality. 

David was kind enough to help me with the blurb for my second book Gastien Part 2: From Dream to Destiny, which I really appreciated.  He has also agreed to be interviewed today here on my blog.  I am really pleased and excited to present to you Mr. David H. Fears, a fabulous author and a new friend on mine:

Hi Mike!  Thanks for taking time to chat with me for a little while today.  You have several books under your belt, so I know you can give some great insight and advice.  Let's start by talking a little bit about how you became an author, your books, and you. First of all, I am curious as to what made you personally decide to write your first book, why you decided to go "indie", and when the first book went "live".

I’m a historian and a recognized Mark Twain scholar (See Mark Twain Day By Day in 4 volumes, 3 now out; each 1100+ pages. Ivy Leaguers love these). I came to writing fiction late in life (doesn’t it always feel late?). I literally immersed myself in reading fiction, long and short for a couple of years, after realizing that save for a few school assignments, I’d mostly read non-fiction and history (which can be a certain kind of fiction, depending on the schlub who’s writing it). I also immersed myself in online and in person crit groups and studied the craft of fiction writing in 60 books I purchased. I began with short stories and flash stories, and was quite enamored of them. Having a rolling computer biz with over 300 customers, I self-pubbed a collection of my 20 first good stories (“Tree House Tales”). I paid for cover art & design, an editor and printer and did a run of 500 books costing about $4 each. That was in 2001. I broke even and was happy with that, and I think there’s still a couple of boxes in the garage.

My writing was perhaps not as polished as it would be but even today when I read them I feel there is a dollop of freshness and vibrancy in several of them. That was my first idea to go indie, since agents wouldn’t look at a collection by an unknown. Of course, those who knew me would have argued I wasn’t unknown! It’s all relative. About this time I was offered a part time gig as an English Comp instructor at a career college and loved it, also fitting in a masters degree in Education. Teaching comp by using fiction became my most successful approach to turning students on. I haven’t taught in several years but would jump at the chance to do it again. From 2003 to 2006 I wrote the first 4 Mike Angel novels. The first, DarkQuarry, was actually 4 diff. stories “stitched” together. I don’t recommend that method, but it did get me past my fear of writing novel-length works.

Then ebooks came along and on Christmas Eve, 2010 I uploaded the first couple of Mike Angel novels. Since then I’ve written 2 more for a total of 6. Each book is in a subsequent year, beginning in 1960. Each has elements of historical fiction, using real events, persons, places. The first began in the NY/NJ area (Mike was from Newark) and then moved to Chicago. Novels 2-5 are based in Chicago, from 1961 to 1964. The last, Dark Moon (#6) is based in my hometown of Portland, Oregon.  I find these so damned much fun to write. I can be several sides of myself, don’t have to be politically correct at all, and can do research of the times for things I cannot recall (I was a young man in the 1960s and find today I’m still cursed in that way—arrested development?).

Due to all the snubs and weirdness connected with trying to find an agent in the late 90s and early 00’s, I have sworn on an altar (actually it’s my desk) never to go traditional publishing or to use an agent. Since I grew up with a bossy sister (think Lucy-Linus), I enjoy doing it myself in my own way, be it right or ruinous (insert Sinatra here, singing “I Did It My Way.”)

How many books do you have out?  What are the other titles and genres?  Tell us a little about the main character(s).

Currently, 8, though I also have several short stories or bundles of short stories. My main writing these days is the Mike Angel Mystery Series, and there are 6 of those: Dark Quarry, Dark Lake, Dark Blonde, Dark Poison, Dark Idol, and Dark Moon. These, if you haven’t guessed are a bit, uh, “dark.” Besides the 2001 Tree House Tales (20 short stories under the pen name DH Henry) I have a collection of 44 of my best short stories collected from 1998 on, 44Collected Stories by David H Fears (DH Henry). Obviously the mysteries are mysteries—so much of a dab of this and that; the short stories are in a wide range of genres. As a historian I enjoy wrapping a story around historical figures and events—the Mike Angel Series goes up against Chicago corruption in the Richard Daley administration; one short story that illustrates my love of history is “Pretty Boy Floyd We Need You Now.” Mixing history with fiction is very much like a slug of good scotch with a suds chaser. They both work.

My mystery novels are hard boiled to a degree, romantic to a degree (if you think of seduction and a growing love interest as romantic), with a smidge of the supernatural (Mike’s dead father “talks” to him during periods of danger), and humorous to a degree (how could I write without being humorous? Answer: I can’t.)

Mike Angel, aka (D’Angelo) is a too-young (30-35) and not-ready-for-prime time investigator, who, after a stint in Korea and with the NYPD, followed his father’s dream of establishing an elite agency; his father was murdered on his first case after retiring from the NYPD Detective force. Mike tends to be headstrong, rush-in with fists or bullets flying, has a weakness for drink and females in trouble (whether bad or good) and struggles with commitment issues. Mike’s a simple, what-you-see-is-what-you-get kind of straight forward guy, who is ambivalent about being a PI, and struggles with his failures. He’s a bottom line romantic though, not the tough woman-beating PI of Spillane, nor the cultured loner of Chandler.

Molly Bennett meets Mike in the first novel. She is then 24, a bright, cute, and shiny penny of optimism who is wise beyond her years. She loves Mike totally but understands, and more importantly, accepts him, knowing she cannot tie him down without his permission. She encourages him to let the relationship build slowly; is his office whiz and even helps on some cases by her cogent questions. Nothing ever gets her down, with the one exception of the death of her father (Dark Lake). She’s in it for the long haul, and will wait for Mike to understand he’ll never find a better mate, mainly because she’s convinced of it. She admires him to death and even encourages him to “fib when you need to” though this acts as a brake to his behavior. She also takes judo lessons and is a brown belt working toward a black belt. One misled reviewer thought Molly was “all right” with Mike’s womanizing. The poor thing (reviewer) didn’t understand just how Molly approaches this, so she needs to read the other novels.

Rick (“Don’t call me Richard”) Anthony (age 58-63) was the lead detective partner of Mike’s late father on the NYPD 23rd precinct. He retired but didn’t want to fish or play golf. Over educated and burdened with a head-slapping vocabulary from taking every NYU night class available for 20 years, Rick is the analytical partner and balance to Mike’s rush-in nature. Rick came West to Chicago during Dark Lake (#2) and talked Mike into being his junior-senior partner. Though increasingly unable to endure rough and tumble as he ages, and with his own predilection for females (society widows, etc.), Rick provides a lot of humor and give & take with Mike & Molly, and keeps nudging Mike to commit to Molly. He also wants to hear about every salacious dame who trips Mike & beats him to the floor, as most of his bedroom enjoyment is vicarious through Mike’s missteps and adventures.

The late Chet Anthony, Mike’s father, gets a “quota” of words to use in warning Mike of dangerous situations; Only Mike “hears” this voice in his head and he hasn’t yet told anyone about it, though he’s convinced St. Peter is allowing Chet to speak to him. Chet also “warns” Mike by prickling and burning a long scar on Mike’s jaw that he earned when chasing down his father’s killer in Dark Quarry (#1). The Voice isn’t frequent enough to be overbearing or that Machina ex Deus thing writers are warned about, and it isn’t often enough for Mike to be sure one way or the other if he’s going bonkers.

By the way, I LOVE your book covers! When is your next book coming out?  What is it about?

Besides my historical reference work, Vol IV of Mark Twain Day By Day out late 2012 hopefully, I have a seed of an idea now for a 7th Mike Angel Novel. What is it about? The murder of a stunning model, human frailties, danger, seduction/temptation. Sometimes these seeds drop in my briar patch from a certain image I’ve seen on the Net. This one is now germinating.

I also have an idea for a “chicken soup” type of book—that contains discussions of the last conversations with loved ones passed by a bunch of folks. I have at least 3 segments to add myself. Send me yours!

What advice would you give other people who are thinking about writing their first book, but then that self doubt comes in?

Self doubts are the worst. Read and act on a book called Be Your Own Best Friend, the gist of which is to tell yourself only those things that you would say to encourage your best friend, and flush the others. Then, go ahead and write, get a lot of crits, editor advice, beta readers (not family) and learn the difference between editing and revising. Lastly, put it to the drawer test—let it lie there as long as it takes to forget a lot of it. Then pull it out and do another read through. Read it also aloud—very important. You might want to read it backwards, or printed out in a diff. Font. Learn how to self-edit. Don’t buy too much into what “experts” tell you—be true to your vision. Finally, throw it out there—if you find you’ve made errors, ebooks are quite easy to edit & republish. Even paperbacks using Createspace are easy to change. 

What do you think are the five most important things a new author has to "take care of" to give them the best chance at success?

1)     Discover ways to exercise your imagination—without it no piece of writing, no matter how “correct” can be a good story.

2)     Study and learn the craft of writing fiction in whatever way you can. Read all the time—have at least a couple of reads going in the genre you plan to write in. See how others do it; observe & even ape the masters, but use your own head, heart & mystery.

3)     Have your life in proper priority—no one has to ignore family, God, Country, etc. to become a good or great writer. For what shall it profit a man if he gives up his soul for his writing? (I kinda borrowed that). If you don’t have a thick skin, rent one. Write what’s fun or exciting or scintillating to write.

4)     Don’t follow the crowd—they’re always proven to be dumb lemmings.

5)     Write regularly—don’t wait for some stupid “muse”—ass to chair; writing is discipline as well as fun.

Let's talk a little bit about you as a person now. Tell me, what about life never fails to make you laugh?

People mostly—those without a sense of humor are the funniest. Groucho movies, Peanuts cartoons, Old Seinfeld episodes, kids—what they say and how they say it.

What has surprised you about life that you were not expecting that is good?

A strong and surprising increase of love for children and animals; also being, feeling younger as I age.

How about same thing, but bad?

The tearing holes that come at the loss of a parent, or a life-long friend; a lonely warehouse of memories & no one to share them with.

What do you enjoy doing besides writing?

Historical research and reading history; eating those baby chocolate donuts while watching The Biggest Loser and Cupcake Wars with the wifey. Bicycling on some great trails in the woods near my home. Watching nourish old movies. “The stuff that dreams are made of.”

Finally, let's play the old genie in a bottle game. You get 3 wishes. They can't be general wishes, like "peace on earth", or all disease cured. No I wish my family, etc would stay healthy.  We all wish those kinds of things.  These 3 wishes are for personal, material things. What three things would you wish for?

I have no wishes for material things, understanding like the rich guy who tried riding that camel through a needle’s eye was on the wrong path. I’ve been a millionaire and also a pauper and learned that neither lifts the spirit. I hope to teach writing again someday and see once more the students catch my enthusiasm and learn to write better than they thought they could. I also wish my calico editor cat Sophie lives to be 20 or more years. She is now 11, and this interview has put her completely to sleep next to me.

What book by another author do you wish you would have written and why?

A tie: first, The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler because I think it is simply the best, the most sublime in the genre. Also Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy (I read all his novels one summer years ago), because he created a place called the Heath, which became a character in the moody novel. I try to re-read these two every year.

Any last things you would like to tell people about you or your writing?

I always strive to be a good storyteller first. As I taught my students, “you can pick all the flies off of a dead man but you’ll still have a corpse”—meaning, voice and story must take priority over grammar and correct diction. Of course you can be thin and rich too? I am challenged to bring back some popularity for the PI Mystery, hard boiled to a degree, but with my own ingredients applied as well. Seduction and romance carried beyond those famous fade out scenes, venturing into erotica territory. I aim for likable sympathetic characters with depth but also strive to give life to the minor characters even if they only have a brief time on stage. I’m probably done with short stories, but deeply respect the crafting of them and those who do it well, like Alice Munro. Not every writer can be a novelist. I read once that every short story could be a novel, and every novel could be a short story. Life is both—a novel, and a short story—way too short for most.

I thank you for this opportunity. My persona does not always come across well online. Many people actually think I’m a jerk! Of course this can be publicity of a sort. “Be good and you will be lonesome” – Mark Twain. Last, I’d like to see writers interviewed in Utube or Skype sessions. That’d be an improvement in that follow up questions would be added. Now I’ve done my one interview for 2012 and will go back to being a hermit in my den. Wake up, Sophie! It’s time for lunch.
Thanks, David.  And, Sophie, thanks for letting me borrow David for a few minutes.  I grew up with cats, but now have 2 parrots.  Something tells me you and my parrots would probably not be best friends...but I do love felines.
You can click on David's book titles that are linked above, or here is a link to all of David's books on Amazon:
There are reviews and free samples for each book on Amazon.  I am betting you will quickly become a Mike Angel fan!

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