When Micheal Maxwell isn't travelling the world with his wife, you are most likely to find him somewhere between Central Valley and the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California. If you do, and you have a chat with this interesting man, take care - you might just end up in a scene of one of his books! Maxwell loves writing character-driven mysteries about everyday people, books with heart that readers can relate to. In this interview, Maxwell reveals how Diamonds and Cole was inspired by a song, how he created Cole Sage and talks about his writing habits.
Please give us a short introduction to Diamonds and Cole
Diamonds began as a short story. The first chapter was written to try and capture the feeling the character lived with, of this terrible grieving for his lost love.
From that grew the character of Cole Sage. His life was one of success in the world of journalism, but in the end, it didn’t matter because the one he loved and lost wasn’t there to share it.
When she contacts him for help, out of the blue, after twenty-odd years, he is reborn in a way.
The story is one of greed, deceit, abandonment, misunderstandings, and the alienation that the characters Cole deals with feel. All the violence, deception, dirty dealings, are very shallow when held up to the light of what really matters in life, and eventually lead to their destruction.
What inspired you to use the newspaper world as the backdrop to your book?
When I got my first “grown-up” job, I worked for a man who was at the end of a brilliant career as a newspaperman, editor, and magazine publisher. The stories he told of that world fascinated me.
In my short time with him, I learned more about the craft of writing than in all my years in the classroom.
What inspired the creation of Cole's character?
When I began to write Diamonds and Cole, I wanted a main character who wasn’t a cop, or private investigator. I wanted a regular guy, without addictions, moral depravity, or three ex-wives and alimony he couldn’t pay. Been there, read that. I wanted a new kind of hero, with a new way of looking at the world. I wanted him to have real relationships, real struggles, spiritual, emotional, and occupational. In other words, someone you know. I wanted to explore what the average person would do when put in to situation that are not of their making, in order to help and protect those they know and love.
How much have your travels across the world influenced your writing?
You often hear people say, “I love to travel” then you look at their pictures and they have head and shoulder shots that could have been taken in front of the local Walmart! No background, no people, and I have to ask what is they like about travel?
Travel to me is people. The girl who scoops you ice cream in Norway, is worlds apart from the old lady who sells you roasted corn on the street in Ecuador. But, they will both share a smile, tell you about themselves, and ask about you and your world. The thing is you have to be open, and willing to negotiate for meaning, with someone who doesn’t share your native tongue. They aren’t the foreigner, you are. So, in the thirty-nine countries I have visited so far, I see it as my responsibility to make them comfortable, and give them a piece of me as well.
I have met so many gracious, loving, people across the globe they are all a piece of my heart, and in turn part of my writing. Not necessarily, the locale, but their spirit, their smile, our struggling to communicate, are all part of the world I draw from.
Not to put to rosy a spin on it, I have met some real, unpleasant folks as well. Mean, nasty and threatening is also a universal trait.
You place great emphasis on making your mysteries character driven. Why?
You can lay a gun, a dirty bomb, or an ice pick on a table, but without people you have nothing. The books, and writers, I love are all about the characters, and how they behave in extraordinary situations. It’s just another day, until somebody gets killed.
I have always been intrigued by why the villain does what they do. Why does the hero react the way they do. What shapes them? What drives them to violence? Why on earth would someone put their lives in danger to help catch the bad guy? In one of my books, the question is raised, “How far would you go to protect the ones you love?” If it comes down to you or them, do you take the bullet or run?
To me in the end, it is the lesser characters in a novel that really tell the story. We meet people every day, but do we notice who they are? I like to think I do, and when I write, I like to think I give them their due.
Tell us a bit about your writing habits. Where do you write and where do you go to find inspiration?
I have an office in my home, where I am surrounded by pictures, posters, books and various things that I love. I always start off listening to music, but somewhere along the way, it ends, I don’t notice and work for long stretches in silence. Not by design, I just get lost in what I’m doing.
We talked earlier about travel. I have finished three books while abroad. My wife and I love to rent an apartment for a month in a new city, and during the day I dedicate serval hour to writing. Then we go exploring, and I usually come back a write a bit more.
As to finding inspiration, I think a storyteller always has something to say. I think that is mostly because they are full of it! Lol Seriously, I reflect on my life, stories I have been told, and most of all people I have met.
I will be writing a scene, and a person, or place will pop in my head, and I will turn and write their name, or a quick sketch of the incident, and go back to what I was doing. Later on they will become part of a story!
Was there a particular event or incident that made you want to write Diamonds and Cole? What inspires your mysteries?
Actually, I heard a song on the radio by Paul Williams, called Waking up Alone by the time I got to work I had the story written in my head! I rushed in and typed as fast as I could, and tried to get down everything I could remember. I went out and got a copy of the song, (fast version) and I must have listened to it a jillion times trying to get back to that place where the Muse was fluttering about. It seems to have worked. Now, when I hear that song, I wonder how in the world I got Diamonds and Cole out of it!
I love mysteries. I constantly think of scenarios for some poor sucker to get caught up in. I think the challenge is to not rehash what has come before. An original idea, new twist on a killer, a reason for what the villain does, that is my inspiration. I wish I was faster at getting books written, I have some terrific outlines ready to be fleshed out.
You like to write books that are clean, without any profanity. Why do you pick this approach?
When I read a book, I hate it when gratuitous sex, gore and profanity fill the pages. I’ve been around the world, worked in the music industry, and taught in one of America’s largest continuation high schools, and there are very few people, who spew the kind of filth that comes out of the mouths of characters in far too many books today.
“Garbage in. Garbage out.” I don’t want those words and mental images bouncing around in my head, and I think there are a lot of people like me. Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, John Gresham, John Jakes, Robert B. Parker, the real great story tellers, don’t rely on profanity and explicit sex to fill their pages.
Do people swear, of course. Do my characters swear? On occasion. But it is character and story driven. There are however, words I have not, and will not, ever use out of respect for my readers, and myself as a writer.
Diamonds now has over 1,000 reviews, eighty something percent are four and five stars. I think people appreciate a clean, character driven, mystery, thriller, suspense, romance, kind of series.
What do you hope the reader will take away from Diamonds and Cole? Is there an underlying message?
I want readers to finish the book and see themselves in one or more of the characters. I want them to realize that the bad guys may win, for a while, but in the end, they always get their due. I truly believe that.
I believe that we all make decisions that we regret. Sometimes, like in Cole’s case, it can be resolved and we find closure. Other times, it something we have to learn to live with. Sometimes faith, forgiveness and acceptance are the only path to peace.
Besides writing, what other secret skills do you have?
In high school I had a teacher who made a big impression on me. He spent a great deal of time on the Renaissance and what it meant to be a “Renaissance Man”.
When I got to college, I set out to be a “Renaissance Man”! I took Art, Filmmaking, TV and Radio Broadcasting, and anything else that struck me as interesting.
The end result I have a little knowledge about a lot of stuff!
I have painted (two hang in our home), turned bowls, made a film, made jewelry, built furniture, I am a pretty good cook, I come up with the ideas for my book covers (a real artist does the actual covers), I’ve done talk radio, special radio programing, and interviewed famous musicians.
I have a serious need to create. I don’t know if all these things count as skills, but they sure were rewarding.
If your books would ever be adapted to a movie or TV series, which actor would you like to see in the role of Cole?
I have always seen Bruce Greenwood in the role. I was watching TV one night with the sound off, and he was in whatever way on, and I yelled to my wife, “Come here you gotta see this guy he’s Cole Sage!” Kelly Mitchell who appears in the series, would have to be played by, Sela Ward, she’d be perfect!
You can see I’ve thought about this. Just waiting for Lifetime or Hallmark to call! LOL
Diamonds and Cole contains quite a couple of twists. How do you plan them out and keep the reader from solving the mystery too soon?
One of my greatest frustrations as a “mystery” writer is my lack of Rubik’s Cube style plots, where everything suddenly snaps into place.
I try very hard to create an atmosphere of suspense, and a problem for Cole to solve. I have often said I am a man without a genre. My books are not classic mysteries in the Agatha Christie, Conan-Doyle school. My brain just doesn’t work like that. My heroes in mysteries writing are Stuart M. Kaminsky and Peter Lovesey, again they tend to be more character driven.
As far as planning, I’m a great one for outlines. I usually come up with a problem, villain, or threat and then wrap them in a good story.
Diamonds and Cole is your first Cole mystery. Did you plan for it to become a series from the start?
No, not at all. The thing was, when I finished the book, I really liked this guy Cole Sage! I wanted to see what he would do next. So, a couple days later, I started Cellar Full of Cole! In the middle of Cellar, I got this crazy idea for Helix of Cole and it was then the snowball started down the mountain.
I think as Cole developed as a character the more interested I was in him. Six books in, I think he still has more to do. I see him facing changes in the world around him, and he’s going to have to make some hard choice. Some of those choices brought on by outside, unpleasant circumstances.
What are you working on right now?
Book #7 Heart of Cole is finished. I hope to have it out by mid-October.
I have three books I am really excited about doing outside of the Cole Sage Series, so they are next. The first is a project, I have come back to when I need a break from Cole. I don’t want to say much about it except it is a totally unique, Western.
The next is a book called Dupree. It is the story of a successful lawyer, with all the trappings, and a life and family he hates. His vision for his life was derailed years and go and as he contemplates suicide, he decides to make some radical changes.
Then, I am currently in talks with a wonderful writer I met, to help me continue the Time Pedaler series. She is really fun, and excited about taking the story in to the future! Actually, the hero only travels to the past!
Where can our readers interact with you or discover more of your work?
I really enjoy getting email from readers. I have made some wonderful friends, who I have even bounced ideas off of!
Amazon is gracious enough to allow authors a dedicated page with info on and all their books. Mine is located at https://www.amazon.com/Micheal-Maxwell/e/B00F20MDCG/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1378671759&sr=1-1
I have a blog: https://michealmaxwellauthor.wordpress.com I must confess I’m not very good at it.
My Facebook Author page https://www.facebook.com/michaelmaxwellbooks is a wonderful community of readers who are always on my case to get busy! It is the first place I announce new releases, promotions, stuff like that.
My email micmax at comcast.net (Clever way of defeating spammers! at = @) is the most direct. I do respond.
I would encourage anyone who gets Diamonds and Cole to take advantage of the offer for a Free Copy of Three Nails and sign up for my mailing list. We usually offer a free book every month.
If anyone is interested I also have an Author Chat video on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WJjgxkfaQJg There is a reason I mention it last! LOL