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Saturday, 17 December 2016

Interview: Michael Michaud

On the blog today, crime author Michael Michaud stops by for a chat about his latest novella The Introvert and how he became a writer.

Let's get started! Tell me about your background.

I am a dual citizen - American-Canadian - born in a suburb of Montreal, then raised in Maine, Ontario, and Virginia. I attended McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario (English, Political Science), then law school at The University of Western Ontario. I have been employed as a criminal prosecutor in The Greater Toronto Area for nine years.

How did you first become interested in writing?

“I want to be a writer.”

I have been writing, saying, even singing those same six words for the better part of the last thirty years, ever since a fell in love with the written word at Longfellow Elementary School in Portland, Maine. It was the third and fourth grades that won me over. My school had enacted a program whereby you earned a sticker for every book read, and though it was proffered to the entire third-grade class, I somehow took it as a personal challenge. I enjoyed reading, yes, but I also took to the competitive nature of the exercise (each student’s name was placed on a large piece of Bristol board, with room beside it to ‘sticker’ your progress). The exercise was based on the honour system, but I would never have considered inflating my progress. Not even fibbed a single page. To this day, perhaps naively, I don’t fully comprehend dishonesty.

And so I read, and I read, and I read.

Bunnicula. Howliday Inn. The Celery Stalks At Midnight. The Mouse and the Motorcycle. Runaway Ralph. The Trumpet of the Swan. The Witches.

Well, you get the idea.

Bookmobiles and solitude were my friends. I was unstoppable, my freckled nose buried neatly behind the seam, wide eyes (or narrow, depending on the light) peeking out over the top of the pages. Every few days I would watch as another sticker went up next to my name, and I remember the fascination (perhaps unhealthy, in retrospect) with watching my sticker count spread across the Bristol board, dwarfing the progress of my other classmates. Ten stars, eleven, twelve. There were prizes along the way, bookmarks mostly. It didn’t matter. What mattered was that I was pretty good at this reading thing. And something else happened along the way. I became a devout fan of “the story.” Of characters. Of creativity. Of “what will happen next?” Yes indeed, I had the bug. And a part of me thought, maybe I could do this, too?

So I started to write, and by the end of the 4th grade, I had entered and won a story contest at my school, the prize was attendance at a writer’s conference, which I attended with my Mom and my 4th-grade teacher, Mrs Inman. That was when I began to utter those same six words in earnest. “I want to be a writer.” And they are as true today as they were when I was nine years old. As is my love of reading. It’s pretty well the same, really.

Just fewer stickers.

Image: Michael Michaud
Tell me about The Introvert.

The Introvert is a black humour crime novella about a young man who does not fit seamlessly into society. Some readers may find it disturbing. It can be brutal one moment, funny the next. The protagonist is peculiar, and it is told from his erratic point of view and is very stream of conscience. Also, I do not want to incur the wrath of introverts everywhere when I call my protagonist anti-social. Although he certainly has introverted characteristics, there is much more going on under the surface. But I do believe that introverts and loners will identify with him nonetheless. I count myself among them. What is it Carroll wrote – “we’re all a little mad here. I’m mad, you’re mad.”

The book’s dedication is “for the weirdos.” This was not meant to be pejorative. More like a salute.

How do you get inspiration?

Usually by reading. I wrote The Introvert immediately after reading Dostoyevsky (Crime and Punishment) and Camus (The Stranger). I enjoyed the two characters so much that I wanted to write a book that paid homage to both. The same for Billy Tabbs (& The Glorious Darrow). Animal Farm is my favourite book of all time, so when it came time to write my debut novel, I wanted to write a dystopian social commentary with rules and hypocrisy and all that great stuff from AF.

What’s your writing process?

I need to be alone, and/or left alone. Either secluded somewhere – or better yet - positioned privately at a pub or coffee shop where the people around me effectively become white noise. Alone but not alone, if that makes sense. Ideally, I try to block off at least an hour or two, so I can fully immerse myself into the pace and voice of the story. And the pint doesn’t hurt either. What was it Hemingway said – write drunk, edit sober. Just make sure you’re within walking or uber distance of home.
What do you love most about writing?

Making myself laugh. I believe that there are genuine laugh out loud moments in both of my first two books. I figure that if I get a kick out of them, then my readers might, as well.

Which authors inspire you?

George Orwell. He was a prophet, and likely my single biggest influence. The stuff he writes is brilliant and terrifying. He was topical in his time, and he remains just as topical now. 1984 and Animal Farm were not meant to be guides, they were meant to be cautionary tales.

I also adore the creativity of Kurt Vonnegut, and the beautiful prose of Dickens. Whenever I read these three authors, it reminds me how far I have left to grow as a writer.

Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?

Remember those six words I mentioned above (I want to be a writer)? It is the common refrain that I hear from most people in life as soon as I tell them that I’m a writer.

Almost every single person I meet tells me they want to write a book, and that they know they have a book inside them. I can see, even feel, the longing toward creative expression. It seems that nearly everybody picked up the same bug that I did back in Portland, Maine. But few follow through with it. Life gets busy. Our dreams are pushed aside out of practicality, if not necessity.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

My advice to all of you reading this is to read and write EVERY day. Make it a habit. Yes, this sounds easier said than done. I have a full-time career. I volunteer. I fully understand the demands of life on your time. But you CAN find the time to write. Everyday. If you prioritise it. Even if it’s only for five minutes. 

Set a timer. Do it every day. Remember that time is undefeated. The next year of your life WILL pass. As will the next two years. And the next five.

Even if you only write a paltry ten words per day (which can be done in minutes, if not seconds), then after a year you will have close to 4,000 words finished. A few extra minutes mixed in, and a few creative bursts, and maybe that pushes closer to 6,000, or 10,000. And I am low-balling your output to the extreme! The point is, just as in saving money, every little bit adds and compounds over time. Five years from now you will - like it or not - be five years older, and you CAN and WILL have your book written by then if you choose to. Just do a little bit every day.

Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither will be your opus.

Also – read Stephen King’s “On Writing.” - Worth its weight in gold.

Image: Michael Michaud
What are your ambitions for your writing career?

I have a very demanding and rewarding career as a criminal prosecutor, so at the moment my writing is a part time, complementary exercise. But you never know what lies ahead. My ultimate writing goal would be a book published by Penguin. My Red Sox already won the World Series in my lifetime. What’s left but publication by Penguin!

What are you currently working on?

I am putting the finishing touches on my 3rd book – Relics – which I started nearly four years ago (see above re procrastination). I’ve shelved it several times over the years, for various reasons. It’s sitting around 103,000 words at the moment, so I’ve moved from the chisel to the sandpaper. Relics is a family drama/mystery that spans two decades of my protagonist’s life. It begins when Sarah is 9, and concludes when she is about 30. It speaks to family dysfunction, and how small, innocuous moments from your past can return years later to much greater consequence.

Do you prefer e-books or traditional books?

Traditional, right up until moving day, then I hate myself for being archaic and nostalgic.

Do you prefer self-publishing or traditional publishing?

I haven’t self-published yet, but I can see the appeal. There is nothing like being your own boss. There is nothing like looking after the minutiae yourself, particularly for someone like me who is rather A-type. That said, there are still certain reviewers and bloggers who won’t look at self-published works.

What are you reading at the moment?

A Tale of Two Cities. Did I mention that I am in awe of Dickens? Well, it’s worth mentioning again anyway.

To find out more about Michael and his work, follow him on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. The Introvert is available to buy now.

Will you be reading the book? Let me know in the comments below!

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