First off, I have to say that Michael and I virtually “met” about a year and a half ago because both of us had books that were primarily for the Boomer audience. His Boomer book is called Goodbye Emily and I, along with thousands of others, fell in love with his very real, funny and poignantly interesting characters who, at the ages of 60+, decide to take a road trip to say a final goodbye to the main character’s wife. I liked it very much and I began to notice that everywhere I went online, there was Michael! He was working just as hard as I was to market his book and I contacted him about working together for a while to exchange ideas. I now happily call him a friend and am very glad to announce that he has just released a new book. I’ll get Michael to tell you about it, share some thoughts on his terrific novels, the writing process and more!
Marsha: Michael, welcome to my Anything That Suits Her Fancy blog! You know that I’m a big fan of your book Goodbye Emily and I’m really looking forward to your new book. But before we talk about The Yankee Club there’s several things I’m curious about. Since we’ve known each other, your bio has changed. It now says that you are returning to your mystery/suspense roots. Could you tell me a little about those “roots?”
Michael: I’ve always been a fan of mystery/suspense novels, the classics written by Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler as well as modern authors Nelson DeMille and Dennis Lehane. All four authors are big influences on my first published novel, Try and Catch the Wind, and my upcoming Prohibition-era series that starts with The Yankee Club.
Marsha: Your latest book is your ninth! Wow, I’m impressed! I know you didn’t start out as a writer, so how long have you been writing and how did that come about?
Michael: I started my second career (writing) in 1999, almost on a whim, when I attended an all day seminar on setting long term goals, defined by the moderator as a goal that would take a year or more to accomplish. As a former journalism major, most of my writing had been no more than 500 words. I couldn’t imagine writing 70,000, but I set out on my writer’s journey and finished the novel by the end of the year. Of course, it took me seven years to get it published.
Marsha: At what point did you go from writing to thinking of yourself as an author? And was this a significant transition for you?
Michael: It was a sudden and jolting transition. Four days after my 60th birthday, I was laid off by my employer of 17 years; hardly unique in today’s economy, but over the next few weeks, I made lemonade from lemons and decided I was a full time writer.
Marsha: I think your employer did you a great favor! Out of it you became a writer and so many of us have benefited from that! You know, one of the things that struck me about Goodbye Emily is that you wrote it in such a personal way that I actually thought you were the Sparky character – I really did! I thought you were grieving over the loss of your wife and I was thrilled to find out that she was and is alive and well! Are all of your books that personal?
Michael: I was still grieving over the loss of my career!
Marsha: I see, Emily was real ~ she was the representation of your career. How interesting.
Michael: One of my goals in writing Goodbye Emily, was to create a novel about and for baby boomers. Most fiction characters seem to be in their 30’s or 40’s. In Emily, Sparky and his two friends are in their sixties. I wanted to show people my age could still be funny, resourceful and dynamic people and characters. Since you brought up my wife of 42 years, I should mention she jokes (at least I think she’s joking) that most of the principal characters in my first eight novels are single or grieving over the loss of their wives. My 9th, The Yankee Club, is the first in a series involving a couple, very much in love, who get involved in investigating murders.
Marsha: Well, I know your wife is glad that this woman survives! Which leads to something I’ve wondered about. How much of your past experiences have you interwoven into your books?
Michael: I don’t write much about my past experiences, but I do extract emotional moments from my past that I’ve struggled to work through. I wasn’t at Woodstock, but I did attend the 1968 Monterey Pop Festival that inspired the Woodstock organizers. I revised those memories when writing Goodbye Emily.
Marsha: Oh, I see. OK, now tell me about your latest, The Yankee Club. It takes place during the end of prohibition. What kind of research did you have to do to make the setting and the people real for the reader?
Michael: The novel and the series was inspired by The Thin Man movies starring William Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora Charles. I read the Dashiell Hammett novel and have seen each of the movies countless times. And I’ve read many Hammett and Raymond Chandler books that were big influences of the style I was shooting for. Oh, and I visited plenty of bars so I could accurately describe speakeasies. I made the last part up.
Marsha: Nah, don’t tell us that! It’s fun to think of you visiting all those bars! You know, whenever we communicated while you were writing The Yankee Club it seemed as if you were having a great time! Were you?
Michael: Although it’s a mystery/suspense novel, it’s filled with humor and romance. I love the characters I created, especially Jake and Laura, but I also had fun writing historical figures who were in New York City in 1933. Jake Donovan is a successful mystery writer and Laura Wilson, a popular Broadway actress, so they run in the social circles of many famous people who show up in the novel, like Cole Porter, Babe Ruth, Dashiell Hammett, Lillian Hellman…oh, I don’t want to give too much away.
Marsha: All right, tell us why we will love reading The Yankee Club?
Michael: Dames, speakeasies, gangsters with Tommy Guns, and a little known, but historically accurate plot by powerful bankers to overthrow the newly elected President Roosevelt and replace him with a figurehead leader of a fascist group led by the bankers. Readers will also enjoy the second in the series. All That Glitters will be released January 6 and follows Jake and Laura to Hollywood during Tinseltown’s naughtiest, bawdiest year, 1933.
Marsha: Being a true movie buff, I’m really looking forward to All That Glitters! Now, back to The Yankee Club, I understand that the central character is a mystery writer. Any similarities to the mystery writer who wrote the mystery?
Michael: The only similarities between dashing, two-fisted Jake Donovan, is our interest in writing mystery novels, and our Irish heritage.
Marsha: How do you go about developing your characters?
Michael: I start by writing a detailed biography of each principal character that helps me understand how they will react in each situation they encounter. When crafting a scene, it helps and speeds the process along to know what the characters will say and how they will react. When I finish my first draft, I flesh out the characters to make sure they’re likeable, or despicable, if that’s their purpose, mostly by polishing the dialogue and making sure they behave and speak in unique ways, like real people do.
Marsha: Well, your process works for you, that’s for sure! So now you’ve published nine novels and in the process have created dozens of characters. Who is your favorite and why?
Michael: Readers down through the years, tell me Casey Bannister, the character in my first published novel, Try and Catch the Wind and three more, is their favorite. He’ll always be one of mine, but Jake and Laura are funny, resourceful, principled and brave. I like them a lot, and I’m certain readers will too.
Marsha: What has been the most rewarding experience to come out of your writing?
Michael: Without a doubt; when the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, on the site of the Woodstock Music Festival, selected Goodbye Emily to help them celebrate Woodstock’s 45th anniversary. They also invited me to host a book discussion of Goodbye Emily, and a novel writing shop at their center, September 6, so on the 5th I’ll be traveling to Woodstock!
Marsha: That’s wonderful! I’m sure they will enjoy you as much as you’ll enjoy the whole experience. I’m curious, in the process of writing and getting your books published, what’s the smartest thing you did?
Michael: I cultivate relationships with other authors such as yourself. In 2000, several local authors invited me to join their critique group ,and that’s when I truly started my journey to becoming a successful writer.
Marsha: And what mistake did you make along the way that you would advise any writer to avoid at all costs?
Michael: Without a doubt, it’s thinking my novel, or novels were finished when they really weren’t. Several times I thought I reached a point where I couldn’t improve my manuscript, so I pitched to agents and publishers and after dozens of rejections, I found myself polishing and re-polishing. The best advice I can give an aspiring author is to avoid thinking your manuscript is finished prematurely. Set your novel aside for several weeks before going back and taking a fresh look at everything. When you’re finished and absolutely sure you’ve done all you can do to improve the novel…set it aside again for several weeks and start the process over.
Marsha: Yep, editing is the tough one! But, unlike a lot of us, you have an agent and your books are published through names we all recognize, such as Random House. However, you work just as hard as the indie-publishers in marketing your books. Speak about where you see the book industry going and how you fit into it.
Michael: The industry has changed a lot since I finished my first novel. It continues to evolve, for example, Random House no longer publishes paperback novels. They replaced that line with several e-book imprints, mine being Random House Alibi. They provide extensive support in terms of production, marketing and promotion, but it remains to be seen whether they’ll be successful in competing with self-published authors.
Marsha: Is writing your career path from here on out? Do you see yourself always being an author?
Michael: I have a four-book contract with my Jake and Laura series. I’m working on specific deadlines for those. But I also have contemporary novels in mind, so I suspect I’ll always be an author.
Marsha: I’m very glad to hear that and I’m sure scores of others will be too! Any closing thoughts?
Michael: I’ve conducted novel writing workshops for several years. I love encouraging and mentoring aspiring authors. We fiction writers become so close to our characters and stories, that we lose our objectivity. It’s easy to become discouraged when we receive rejections from agents or publisher, of when our sales are slow, or we spend more time on marketing and promotion than we do on writing. I see my workshops somewhat as a personal responsibility to help and encourage writers who wish to achieve literary success. I hope I’ve helped others along their writing journeys
Marsha: Well, all I can say, Michael, is that you certainly have been a help to me. Thanks for joining me here today on my blog. I appreciate your friendship and your books! Best of luck with The Yankee Club!
Order The Yankee Club: http://www.randomhouse.com/book/237075/the-yankee-club-by-michael-murphy
That’s it for today! I hope you enjoyed Michael Murphy as much as I did and will check out his new book: The Yankee Club.
Until we meet again on my Anything That Suits Her Fancy Blog, may angels and blessing be with each of you! Please feel free to leave comments about this blog or anything else that suits your fancy. Love to hear from you!
Marsha Roberts, Author
Confessions of an Instinctively Mutinous Baby Boomer and her Parable of the Tomato Plant