Today, I'm interviewing Michael Maxwell, author of Cole Dust, as well as three other books in his Cole series. Help me welcome him to The Conley Corner.
Is there anything you would like to share to get us started?In the past few day, I have been challenged as to what it is exactly that I write. It has become apparent to me that I am a man without a genre. Three women whose judgment, guidance, and council I rely on, have all pointed out the very strong romantic elements of my books. That isn’t to say they are romances in the classic sense, but woven within the very fabric Cole Sage’s character, is a very real sense of the need for, and the depths of that love drive our actions.
I firmly believe in process. I think each writer must find the process that works best for them. BUT, to create and maintain structure to a finished product, you must have a framework that provides three basic things.
Describe your writing process.
1) Beginning, middle and end.
Every book I have written so far has started seed, a germ if you will that began with two or three paragraphs. Some have just been sitting all by themselves for ages. Then when I go back and re-read then POW an idea.
2) An outline.
As simple as it seems I use a 13 Chapter template. I need to visually see, a place to start laying out the plot. It frequently changes but if I don’t have a road map how will you know where you’re going?
3) Freedom to let the story go where it needs to go.
I think having the ability and flexibility to let the characters do what real people would do is really important. In my third book A Cult of Cole, Cole meets a pretty FBI agent who is cute, clever and witty, and he falls for her. It wasn’t some hot, lusty, tear your close off romance but a real, thoughtful caring attraction between two real people. I never saw it coming, and neither did Cole and I think the freedom within the story to allow things to happen is, a) natural and b) very romantic.
Here’s the crazy contradiction, to what I just said, I guess you would call me a chaos writer. I work from sketch, scenes and dialog. I will get an idea for a scene that is true and believable for the man character. And I’ll write it. I will write dialog between two characters that feels natural and real. Then later I come back to it and find it has a very natural place in the story. If you have a strong outline to work from you can jump around and it really removes the threat of writer block.
What motivates you to sit down and write?I have so many ideas that are pleading to get written that sometimes I just have to sit and write an outline for a book, a list of titles, descriptions of characters, sketches or sometimes just notes to myself about a seed of an idea. I have lots of motivation; I just don’t have enough time!
Where does your inspiration come from?I think several things have shaped me as a person and as a writer. First, I am a hopeless romantic. I think a lot of people who read this interview are going to see a side of me they wouldn’t have expected. I am a total sucker for a costume drama. I’m as of today, an out of the closet Catherine Cookson fan too! lol
Music is a lifelong passion of mine. I have gotten totally inspired by a three minute pop songs. I wrote an entire book from an idea I got listening to the Paul Williams song Waking Up Alone. I must have listened to it a million times while writing Diamonds and Cole it so perfectly set the tone I wanted to capture.
What do you think your greatest strength is in your writing?I like to feel I connect with my reader’s feelings. To have someone write a review and says I made them cry, tells me I reached a place that means something soul deep in them. I have also won praise for my ability to describe places, dreams, memories, and situations that make the read feel like they are right there with the character. These are the things people react to that makes me proud of what I have been able to write for them.
What is your biggest challenge?I live in constant fear of not being original. Those who have read the Cole Sage series have remarked that Cole stays true as a character, yet grows as a person. I refuse to follow formulas, where a body is discovered on page three and in chapter twelve “the person you least suspect’ is the one who did it. So to have a plot that allows a satisfying mystery and still shows Cole’s journey though love, family and his personal struggles is something that fans of the series really look forward to.
Earlier I said I’m a man without a genre. The spiritual and romantic journey that we find Cole Sage taking across the overall flow of the series I believe is more important than the mystery element. That is not to say that I am not totally focused on the problems he finds himself faced with solving but, the personal relationships, love and personal growth are an integral part of the story. Life is a mystery, sometimes and we just need to figure that out.
Name some authors who have influenced or inspired you?
What a list that would be! Charles Dickens, first and foremost. He was the greatest of all Romantic Novelists. Our Mutual Friend, (my favorite), Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations all are romantic perfection. The great Canadian novelist Robertson Davies was a storyteller like no other. If you haven’t, you must read The Deptford Trilogy. Then there’s the angelic trio Jane Austen, Catherine Cookson and Edna Ferber. To me they embody romance at it soul. You’re right! There are no mystery writer’s! Stuart M. Kaminsky, Peter Lovesey and Arthur Conan Doyle are my mystery trinity.
My latest book released on December 5, is the book I am the most proud of. If all I left behind as a writer was Cole Dust I could die a happy man! On the cover it asks the question, “Can a look into the past decide a man’s future?”
Tell a little about your most recent work. Title, genre, and tag line.
It is a romance of epic proportions, a mystery, and a journey that questions what molds us into the people we are. It is again a real problem putting into the genre box. My most faithful followers are women. Strong women, who have responded to the strength of a journalist who has overcome heartbreak, depression and disappointment to overcome it all to find there is a second chance in life. One woman said “Cole Sage is the man every woman wants and every man needs to be”.
This is the description that will be accompanying the book on Amazon:
Every family has its secrets. To Cole Sage the greatest mystery of all is why his parents would never speak of his grandparents.
In Cole Dust, Cole Sage inherits a house and small farm in Oklahoma from a long lost cousin. Orvin, Oklahoma is filled with colorful characters that open their hearts, and town, to the last member of the Sage clan.
A dusty old trunk in the attic opens to Cole the world of the grandfather her never knew. Through the journals of George Sage, we travel from the pre-World War I America to the late fifties and the story of a man who is tormented by alcohol, racism, the Dust Bowl, the Great Depression and an addiction to gambling that have left two generations scarred and resentful. Possessing a devil may care charm, and a heart torn between love and duty, George Sage takes a dark secret to his grave and a link to the grandson who would never know him.
In George, Cole sees many of the struggles he faces in faith and fate in his own life. His relationship with Kelly Mitchell is growing deeper as Cole struggles with the desire to stay in Orvin.
As he rebuilds the old farm Cole reads of over forty years of the triumphs and disgrace in a family history he’s never known. Along the way, Cole discovers a love and pride in this man that his parents tried to erase.
The last volumes of the George Sage’s story unlock a secret locked away for fifty year and that will change Cole Sage forever.
Tell us about your favorite character from the book.Obviously Cole Sage is the star of the show, you gotta love him! Then there’s Cole’s grandfather George Sage is a wonderful character, he’s handsome, witty, charismatic, and full of hopes and dreams. Tragically his life is destroyed by lies, loss and alcohol. Somehow through it all the spark of love and truth burns bright enough for him to keep pouring out his soul in his daily journal entries for forty years. He’s quite a guy.
Is/are there specific themes that you would like your reader to grasp while their reading your novel?I think redemption is the major theme of my writing. I got a 3 Star review on Amazon that said “I don't care to read about a reporter who is bogged down in so much doom & gloom” I had to laugh, because the 11 five star and 3 four star reviews almost all point to the redemptive message of the story. There is hope. There is a new start, and there is love in the world.
I think we need heroes/heroines who are real people. I get sick of reading stories where the hero, make that protagonist, is a drunk or drug addict, or that gambles away every sent he makes and beds any woman who happens to turn up in the story. THAT my friend is not who heroes/heroines are. I pray to God that is not who we have become as a society. So, I thought who would I want to be like? Cole Sage was the answer. He is no superman, or saint, he has his flaws, but he is a real guy who feels, pain, love, loyalty and has a moral compass that point straight to right. And will fight to the death to protect what he feels is right, and those he loves.
What makes a good story?First and foremost, the characters must draw you in and make you want to know what they are going to do. If you don’t care about the hero/heroine what does it matter how clever the storyline is? It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.
I think a story has to NOT have an “oh come on” element to it. Nothing turns me of faster that some preposterous event of plot that just stretches the boundaries of credulity to where I set the book down and say “Oh come on!” I am awful to watch TV with. Sometimes I get why Elvis shot his TV. lol
How do you market your work?Not well enough! Seriously, I have tried all the things my learned coaches have advised. Facebook friends and an Author page have really help me learn from others. I have a strong following on Goodreads. Twitter is great for spreading the word. I have recently started buying a few well-chosen ads. As an independent author you really need to study what successful writers do and copy it as well as you can.
I have a lot of irons in the fire at the moment.
Do you have a current work in progress? Can you tell a little bit about it?
I am writing the fifth and sixth Cole Sage books. Cole Shoot is about a gang war in San Francisco, and a dear friend of Cole’s is killed by a stray bullet. He is reaching a “next step” moment with Kelly Mitchell his delightful love interest. A nice surprise is a character from book one returns and is in mortal danger. A new member of the Cole Sage family or characters, California Corwin makes her debut!
Cross of Cole is a real interesting one! Cole is sent to write the obituary for a charismatic spiritual leader whose life strangely paralleled a man who was killed a couple thousand years ago. And what about Kelly? Wait and see!
There is a spin-off book based on the exploits of California Corwin a rough and tumble female Private Investigator. Cal is like nobody you’ve ever met before the book is written in collaboration with David VanDyke the amazing Science Fiction writer coming in January.
AND… If the planets all line up correctly there will be an announcement of another collaborative effort with a terrific Western writer on a series of romantic western novels based on the writing of a legendary music icon!
Other than that there’s not much happening.