Mike Wells is a bestselling, American author of over 25 ‘unputdownable’ reads. Mike is a self published author, who greatly advocates the use of cheaper reading via eBooks, with the vast majority of his novels being in this format. His work has been rated highly by his fans, and has gripped many, with his best known work being his series Lust, Money & Murder, which we have previously reviewed and found to be just that.
All of the novel specific questions in this interview are surrounding Lust, Money & Murder: Book 1.
Emma: Have you always thought you would be a writer, even from a young age?
Yes, I can vividly remember one particular rainy afternoon when I was sitting in the school library, in Cleveland, Ohio, in the third grade, reading a Hardy Boys book, and thinking that it would be really cool to be able to write books like that, to create this whole world that seems as real to people as this one is. Being able to do that is a very powerful thing.
E: Do you have any favourite authors, or any that have inspired your work?
Jodie: What inspired you to write this novel, and particularly within this genre?
I wanted to write a crime novel with a strong but imperfect, three-dimensional female hero, and I also wanted to write one about currency counterfeiting, because it had not really been done before and I found the topic interesting. The initial idea was triggered by an article I read about the so-called “super notes” (fake $100 bills) that the North Korean government was supposedly making using printing presses exactly like the U.S.A. uses. The notes were so good that even Secret Service agents could not tell them from fake ones. (Note: I’m sure if it was ever proved that the notes were coming from North Korea, but they were in circulation). Anyway that’s where the idea initially came from. It evolved quite a bit from there.
J: What research did you do for the book, especially the secret service programmes and protocols?
I did quite a bit of research on that aspect of the book, including making a special trip to Washington, D.C. and going on a tour of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, where they print paper money. I actually got a few good tidbits from the tour guide, who told me some things that were not part of the tour (not top secret, I’m sure, just interesting details). I also read quite a few books and articles on what it’s like to be in the Secret Service, their training program at their Laurel academy, etc. Finally, I asked a couple of retired Secret Service agents questions via email. I think research like this is important to give authenticity to a book, but you have to be careful to parcel it out modestly, in just the right amount and in the right places (just what the reader needs to know at any given point in the story for the purposes of the plot), or you will bore people. You invest a lot of time into research and it’s easy for some of it to become a “darling” that you want to share but has little or nothing to do with the story.
Using this approach, you will never actually use 95% of the information you collect–readers only see the tip of the iceberg. But that big unseen part that lies under the surface gives you confidence and lets you write authoritatively about the subject matter. This comes across between the lines, I believe. So none of it is “wasted.”
J: What was the hardest part of writing the book, and in particular, which character was the most difficult to write?
The middle of a book is always the hardest part for me to write, and I think most writers would agree. My middles always end up a mess–I’m halfway through Lust, Money & Murder Book 8 at the moment, pulling my hair out, trying to keep all the various plot threads together, fine-tuning the character motivations, keeping it moving forward. In terms of characters, Elaine Brogan is always the most difficult to write in this particular series because she is the hero and the most psychologically complex one.
E: You've written a lot of novels, does this mean that you write 5 days a week, or is your day less structured?
My days are not very tightly structured, but, yes, I write five days a week. Unlike many authors, I don’t set a specific word count goal, as I don’t think that’s a good idea, either. Some days I write 4,000 or more words, and on some days I write 2 words and spend the entire time struggling with plot or some other issue. What I do is force myself to work on the book a fixed number of hours every day, to pound away at it, and try to keep it moving forward come hell or high water. I do this for at least four hours per day, sometimes more, usually two hours in the morning and two in the afternoon, with a long workout in between, some physical exercise outdoors, running, swimming, riding my bike. I have a lot of good ideas during those breaks, actually, stuff bubbles up, creative solutions to problems. This schedule seems to work well for me and I can write a full length novel this way in about three months (and then there’s a month of editing process involving other people).
E: Are you an author who meticulously plans, or do you dive-in head first?
I’m in between. I used to just develop an interesting premise, like in this case, “Girl’s father dies after unknowingly getting mixed up with currency counterfeiters and she joins the Secret Service to find and punish those responsible,” and then dive in, as you say, letting inspiration drive me forward. Doing such little planning, however, leads to some real problems when you get about 1/3 of the way through and have no idea where you’re going. So, these days, I generally plan out the beginning, middle, and end, sort of, in a fuzzy, loose kind of way, scene by scene, but with some blank spots between them. I don’t make written outlines except for a very short, two-sentence synopsis (see my blog for details about this, it’s a very useful tool) at the very beginning, before I start writing anything. My feeling about outlines is: big written outlines can result in too complicated a plot for the reader to follow. If, as the writer, you can’t keep it all straight in your head without the use of an outline, are you going to expect other people to pull out a pencil and paper and create one, too, while they’re reading your book? Big outlines are great for hashing things out details, simplifying things, but if your story can’t be grasped without consulting one, then it’s too complicated. Less is more.
J: What advice would you give to budding writer about the writing process, and getting published?
I assume you’re talking about advice on becoming a financially successful fiction writer. It’s actually pretty simple in terms of the basics: you need to develop the skill to write stories that are a) the kind of stories you enjoy and feel inspired to write, and b) the kind of stories readers will pay money for. How do you go about finding this middle ground? Changes in technology have made this so much easier than, say, 10 years ago. Before then, it was very, very difficult for writers to connect directly with readers. Nearly impossible. You had to find a literary agent, get that person interested in your work, then they had to go out get a publisher interested in your work, and if you were lucky, after a couple of years, your books would finally get into the hands of ordinary readers (this is how traditional publishing still is today, if you go that route) and only then would you start learning something. But now, writers can post their beginning work on all kinds of different free websites, like WattPad, etc., and instantly start connecting with readers, getting feedback, developing their voice, experimenting with genres, etc. until they find some traction. You have look for patterns in what readers say and use that to improve–and avoid the self-defensive posture where you think anyone who doesn’t like your story is an idiot (it’s hard!) Once people like what you’re writing and asking for more, the rest becomes much easier. So, my advice would be the usual stuff–learn as much as you can about fiction writing skills (take a class, read some books, join a writer’s group, etc.)–BUT most importantly, start publishing your work somewhere as soon as possible so you can develop voice, genre(s), and start building a readership.
E: Where do you see publishing going in the future?
I’m not sure, but I hope it keeps heading in my direction!
I would just like to say a massive thank you to Mike Wells for agreeing to do this interview. Please check out his website below, where you can even download free copies of his work, along with a link to his twitter.
Note: This is an interview conducted by both Jodie and Emma.