A. B. Michaels

Ed.: I love this circuitous journey!

A. B. explains: “I started out thinking I’d write romance, so one of my first books was Sinner’s Grove, which is contemporary romantic suspense.  But I wanted an origin story, so I wrote The Art of Love, which takes place in Gilded Age San Francisco. The books I’ve written about that time period work better as historical fiction than historical romance, so I’ve switched from the romance genre.

“I love history so much that my origin story has evolved into a six-part series called THE GOLDEN CITY, which was one of the nicknames for San Francisco at the turn of the twentieth century. I also completed the contemporary romantic suspense trilogy I originally envisioned, called SINNER’S GROVE SUSPENSE, that follows descendants of characters from the historical series.  And now I’ve embarked on a third genre, historical mystery, with my newest novel, The Twisted Road.  It’s the first book of my BARRISTER PERRIS MYSTERIES, which features characters introduced in THE GOLDEN CITY.

“It’s a good thing my books are all stand-alone reads; otherwise, it might get confusing!”

Do you have a writing routine? Where and when do you write?

Oh, I wish I did – I would be so much more productive! I primarily write in my office (coffee shops are too distracting!) but I’ve been known to write scenes out longhand wherever I am, as the muse strikes. That often happens right before I go to sleep or right when I wake up. I also work out story problems during that time.

Do you have any patterns or rituals associated with your writing time? 

I’d say no, except that I can’t write in, say, fifteen-minute spurts and then go fold laundry or something. I need to know I’m not doing to be distracted for an hour or more to really make progress.

I guess a ritual might be that I always read what I last wrote before adding to it. Of course, I spend way too much time tweaking the old before moving on to the new. I envy those writers who can blast through a first draft from start to finish – wow!

What do you do when you hit a wall with your writing?

I distract myself, which is all too easy to do, but whenever I have a quiet moment (not just around bedtime), I’ll find myself thinking about the issue that’s holding up the story.  Eventually I come up with something, at least until I send it to my editor, who either confirms or nixes my solution.  She will often have suggestions which, if I like, I’ll build upon.

Do you plan your book in advance (plotting and outlining) or are you a “discovery writer” (AKA “writing into the dark”). Or are you somewhere in between?

Definitely in between.  I don’t outline, but I do write a narrative of the various subplots of the novel. Those help me get from point A to point B as I write.

What is the last book you read that made you go “Wow!” 

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles.  Loved it, loved it, loved it.

What book or author do you find yourself recommending and why?

Erik Larson, because he writes nonfiction as if it were fiction. He often takes two completely different storylines and draws them increasingly closer as the book unfolds.  I used that technique with The Twisted Road; I hope readers find it effective.

What’s on your To Be Read pile?

The Splendid and the Vile (Erik Larson), The Covenant of Water (Abraham Verghese), Travels with Charlie (John Steinbeck), No Graves as Yet (Anne Perry) and various mysteries set in my time period (early twentieth century). 

What advice do you have for readers? 

I would suggest that readers be kind to writers when they make what you perceive to be mistakes (because sometimes there’s method to their madness) and of course, shout it to the rooftops when you like their work!

What author, past or present, would you wish to have a long conversation with? Why?

I’d have loved to talk with Anne Perry, who recently passed away.  She wrote historical mysteries, and I was captivated by her William Monk series. Perry herself was convicted of murder when she was a teenager and spent time in prison, so it would be fascinating to know how it affected both her personal life (e.g., she never married) and her work.

Do you have early memories of reading or writing you’d like to share?

I remember always wanting to read the original rather than an abridged version of any book, and yes, I devoured Nancy Drew mysteries! I didn’t major in English or creative writing, but I did make a living as a promotional writer for many years.  I think that’s partly why I took so long to jump into writing full-length fiction: because I wrote during the day, that itch was scratched. 

What books and/or authors have most influenced you as an author?

Charles Dickens was important to me because he always tells a good story; he also gives the reader someone to root for. Jane Austen is right up there, too, because she demonstrates that the key to keeping a reader interested is the depth of the novel’s main characters and their relationship to one another.  I recently read a novel (which shall remain nameless) in which no character was sympathetic, and therefore I cared nothing about what happened to them. If I hadn’t committed to reading it for my book club, I would have tossed it. I know others can find merit in such stories, but not me.

What do you most enjoy about being a writer? What do you least enjoy about being a writer?

There is very little that can match the joy (and relief) of having created an entire novel filled with characters who go through incredibly difficult situations, and who come out changed for the better (most of the time), according to your particular set of values. When you spend so much time with these fictional people, they almost feel real. To think that most of them (except for historical figures I sprinkle here and there) came from my head is pretty awesome! The part of the process I enjoy least is having to promote my books after I’ve written them. I’m not very good at it; I’d much rather be working on the next book!

What would you tell a new writer?

In my humble opinion, the most important quality of a productive writer is perseverance.  As I’ve often said to people who ask how I do it, I say it’s a simple matter of three words, “butt in chair.”

You will invariably have times when you think your work is terrible, or you can’t think of how to solve a particular story problem, or perhaps you’ve grown sick of the story itself.  Any of those feelings can make you want to give up. Don’t! Just keep at it and eventually you will finish. Whatever it takes, make sure you have a qualified developmental editor (or perhaps really good beta readers) who will honestly review what you’ve written. Take their advice seriously, even if you don’t agree with everything they have to say.  No matter how experienced or prolific we are as writers, we all need an objective eye on our work before it’s published! When you do all that, you’ll have the satisfaction of holding something in your hand that you created – something that others can enjoy and maybe learn something from, and something that will survive long after you’re gone.  What’s better than that? 

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