Michael A. Kahn interview with David Alan Binder
Post date: Jun 24, 2016 12:53:14 PM
Michael A. Kahn interview with David Alan Binder
Bio from his website (shortened): A trial lawyer by day and a writer by night, Michael Kahn is the award-winning author of nine Rachel Gold novels (including his latest, FACE VALUE); a stand-alone novel, THE MOURNING SEXTON (under the pen name Michael Baron); and several short stories.
His latest novel, THE SIRENA QUEST, was published earlier this year. As Publishers Weekly wrote in its review: “Equal parts rollicking adventure, existential and spiritual quest, and coming-of-(middle)-age tale, this stand-alone set in 1994 from Kahn includes a cameo appearance from series lead Rachel Gold (Face Value, etc.).” That review concluded: “This heartwarming misadventure isn’t so much about four middle-aged men finding a statue as about finding themselves.”
[He is a] former elementary school teacher in the Chicago Public Schools. In addition to his day job, where he represents individuals and companies in the fields of creative arts and media law, Mike is an adjunct professor of law at Washington University in St. Louis, where he teaches a class on censorship and free expression.
1. Where are you currently?
St. Louis, Missouri
2. What is the most important thing that you have learned in your writing experience, so far?
Don’t try to control your characters. I’m a big fan of cage-free characters—the ones who slip the author’s chains and head off on their own, often yanking the story in a new direction. My favorite cage-free character is Falstaff, who clearly seized control from Shakespeare in Henry IV, Part 1. I’m convinced that there are two full plays devoted to Henry IV because of Falstaff, who then convinced the author to create a third, Merry Wives of Windsor, starring Falstaff. Another cage-free character from that era is Sancho Panza from Don Quixote. In my own stable of characters in the Rachel Gold mystery series, my favorite cage-free character is Rachel’s best pal, the crude but hilarious Benny Goldberg. Late one night, as I was writing a chapter while seated in the breakfast room, I apparently started laughing. My wife Margi poked her head into the kitchen and said, “What’s so funny, Mike?” I turned to her with a big grin. “Margi, you won’t believe what Benny just said.” She gave me an odd look, backed out of the kitchen, and said, “Goodnight, hon.”
3. What would you say is your most interesting writing, publishing, editing or illustrating quirk?
I’m kind of boring, at least to myself. I’m a trial lawyer by day and a writer by night. Thus whenever I put a fictional judge in one of my novels, the lawyers and the judges in town all tell me who they think my fictional judge is based on (and they rarely agree on what they think the real judge is). But to the best of my knowledge, my fictional judges have no real-life counterparts—a fact I try to assure the real-life ones before whom I appear.
4. Tell us your insights on self-publish or use a publisher?
a. Who is the name of your publisher and in what city are they?
My current publisher is Poisoned Pen Press, which is headquartered are in Scottsdale, Arizona.
5. Any insights eBooks vs. print books and alternative vs. conventional publishing?
This is a time of great flux in the publishing world, and no one is quite sure where things are headed. My advice is stay flexible. In my day job as a lawyer, where I practice intellectual property law, I have had the privilege of representing many authors. The most frustrating thing about dealing with publishers is that they are wedded to contract terms that have become obsolete in the new world of eBooks. For example, most of those contracts still have an out-of-print clause that allows the author to take back his rights if the book ever “goes out of print.” But in the eBook world, of course, no book every goes out of print. Thus that term, and others, have to be renegotiated.
6. Do you have any secret tips for writers on getting a book published?
Don’t be discouraged by rejections. Some of the biggest selling books of all time were rejected by dozens and dozens of publishers. Keep trying—and in this new world of small publishing houses, be sure to seek them out as well. Unlike the big publishers, whose editors are under pressure to find the next bestseller, most of the small houses are looking to nurture new talents instead of seeking the next James Patterson or John Grisham.
7. How did you or would you suggest acquire an agent? Any tips for new writers on getting one?
Do some research into agents who represent the type of book you are writing. Find their websites, see what their submission guidelines are, and work on your query letter. Show that draft letter to friends whose advice you would trust. In this new era of publishing, the most important document you may ever write is the query letter that lands you an agent.
8. Do you have any suggestions or helps for new writers (please be specific and informational as possible)?
Discard all of your romantic visions about the life of the writer. It’s work, and you need to find time—even if just an hour—to write something every day. Rome was not built in a day, and your book will not be written in a day, or a week, or a month. But if you can find time to write 1 page a day, you will have a 365-page book at the end of the year. And if you can only write ½ page a day, you’ll have that book in just 2 years—not a bad pace for a writer.
One other tip I’ve heard but haven’t practiced that often is to end your day’s writing in the middle of a sentence in the middle of a paragraph. Your brain will keep working on the book while you are occupied other things, but when you sit down again with your manuscript 24 hours later, you will discover, to your delight, that your brain has already composed the rest of that sentence, the rest of that paragraph, and at least one or two more paragraphs.
And finally, some advice from Marcus Aurelius: “Begin—to begin is half the work, let half still remain; again begin this, and thou wilt have finished.”
9. What was one of the most surprising things you learned your creative process with your books, editing, publishing or illustrating?
That I could actually do it. When I was a young lawyer in Chicago, I was working on a big lawsuit in Kansas City and had to fly there almost every week. I’d pick up a novel in the airport bookstore and read it on the trip. When I unpacked my bags back home and took out that book, my wife Margi would often ask me what I thought of it. “Not bad,” I apparently said way too often, “but I could write a better book than that.” Finally, after hearing that more than a dozen times, Margi said, “Then write one already. Or please shut up.” “Huh?” I said. “Mike, you keep saying that. I don’t want you to be 75 years old and telling your grandkids, ‘I could write a better book than that.’ Just do it, hon.”
Well, I shut up for nearly a year, but finally got up the nerve to type “Chapter One” at the top of the first page. And lo and behold, before long I was typing “Chapter Twenty” at the top of page 221.
10. How many books have you written?
My twelfth novel, The Dead Hand, will be published this fall.
11. Do you have any tricks or tips to help others become a better writer (please be as specific and information as you possibly can)?
Mainly, the one I mentioned above: try to write a page every day. And if you are writing a mystery, my advice is to figure out where you want to end up. I’m not a plotter or an outliner, but I’ve learned the hard way that it’s better to know who at the outset who did it than trying to figure that out you are on page 200.
My agent recommends writing a 10-page synopsis of the novel before you type Chapter One. She explains that it’s a lot easier to work out the glitches at page 8 of a 10-page synopsis than page 250 or a 300 page manuscript.
12. Do you have any suggestions for providing twists in a good story?
The most important tip: don’t cheat your readers. There’s no bigger cheat than to hide a key fact from the reader, only to unveil it in the last chapter. You can still write a captivating story while letting your reader sin on key facts along the way. Fitzgerald did that beautifully in The Great Gatsby. Although the events leading up to Gatsby being murdered by his pool are certainly convoluted, every single key fact leading up to that surprise ending has been shared with the reader along the way.
13. What makes your or any book stand out from the crowd?
The characters. You need to care about the characters. While the setting is important, the characters are what make a book great. Jane Austen does a lousy job describing scenery in Pride and Prejudice, but what makes that novel still vibrant two centuries later are her characters—both the major ones (such as Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy) and the minor ones (such as her mother and father). Think of your favorite writers and your favorite novels and what sticks with you, what makes those books so special, are the characters.
14. What are some ways in which you promote your work?
I’m not a great promoter. I have a blog (michaelakahn.com), and I do book signings and talks, but I’m definitely an amateur in the promotion realm.
15. What is the one thing you would do differently now (concerning writing or editing or publishing or illustrating) and why?
Because I had a law practice and a growing family (5 children) when I started writing, I didn’t really have the freedom to try some other form of writing. These days, however, some of the most exciting writing is done for TV. Writers for shows like The Sopranos and Breaking Bad are the Charles Dickens and Raymond Chandlers and William Faulkners of our time. Thus I would advise aspiring writers to consider TV as a possible vehicle for their creations.
16. What saying or mantra do you live by?
I suppose I have two, one from Marcus Aurelius and one from Yogi Berra.
Nearly 2,000 years ago, Marcus Aurelius offered this sage advice for happiness: “Do not indulge in dreams of having what you have not, but reckon up the chief of the blessings you do possess, and then thankfully remember how you would crave for them if they were not yours.”
And from Yogi Berra: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”
17. Anything else you would like to say?
I’ve probably said too much already. Thanks for the opportunity, David. It was fun.
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