Q&A with Mike Baldwin

          While Mike was promoting his second book, “DREAM KILLER,” book reviewers from around the world spotlighted Q&As with Mike on their websites. Q&A “highlights” are divided into five topics.

WRITING STYLE

     Q: What is the methodology for your initial “rough draft” outline?

      A: It’s essential to get a reader to invest emotionally in the story and your characters. The story needs to be fast paced with “thrown-into-the-fire” tension. I compile a list of tension-filled scenes to see if my story idea has enough “tension” to write an entire novel.

      Q: Why do you use multiple points of view?

      A: I strongly believe it adds depth to your characters to see the story though a supporting character’s eyes early in the book. When they’re in the background, and one of the lead characters is the focal point in a later chapter, the reader is aware of other characters’ thoughts and emotions. In all of my novels, six or seven characters will be featured in at least one or two chapters to allow a reader to see the story from their point of view.

      Q: Why will you always write female lead characters?

      A: I enjoy writing dynamic women. To be honest, I really can’t explain it. My guess is it’s “something new” since I wrote stories centered around male coaches and athletes during my sportswriting career.

      Q: How do you handle “writer’s block?”

       A: I remind myself the only solution is to sit at the computer and write something even if I end up deleting what I write. Often times you might surprise yourself. In fact, it’s indescribable to sit down with no idea of what you’re going to write and all of a sudden your story swerves in an exciting, new direction.

        Q: What time of day do you usually write?

        A: I’ve always been a night owl, which was extremely beneficial in my first career. . . If the creative juices are flowing it’s not uncommon that I start writing around dinner time and continue writing until 3 or 4 a.m.

      Q: If inspiration strikes you in an inconvenient place, like driving or eating with a friend at a restaurant, what do you do?

      A: Write it down. Immediately! Several times I’ve pulled off the road and spent ten minutes in an empty parking lot scribbling down notes which prove to be invaluable when I write that scene.

      Q: What is the most gratifying aspect of being an author?

      A: Everyone dreams of writing a New York Times bestseller but the actual joy is the writing itself. It’s intoxicating to watch a character come to life or a scene come together. Fellow writers can relate to that magical feeling of creating something out of nothing, write a story they believe others would enjoy reading.

      Q: If you could sit down and have dinner with any author who would you chose?

      A: John Grisham. I’m a huge fan. His storytelling acumen is phenomenal, and he has a unique talent to propel a reader through a story, which is why my top priority is to write fast-paced novels. Since I prefer female lead characters, “The Pelican Brief,” is my favorite Grisham novel. . . Plus, he’s a huge baseball fan.

PASSION FOR WHODUNITS

      Q: Why do you specialize in mysteries?

      A: I’ve always loved a well-written mystery since I got hooked as a kid after I read Agatha Christie’s “THEN THERE WERE NONE.” . . . Popular TV shows dating back to black-and-white “Perry Mason” episodes actually are mysteries — shows like “Major Crimes,” “Monk,” “Law & Order,” and “Cold Case,” in addition to mystery series like “Murder She Wrote” and “Matlock.” . . . I contend a lot of mystery fans enjoy speculating on the why (motive) as much as the who (the killer).

      Q: What is your writing process to include all the twists and turns?

      A: After I’ve written a rough draft outline, I write the first five or six chapters to get a feel for the characters and the storyline and then I normally skip to the end and write the final two or three chapters which inevitably undergo countless revisions along the way. Some authors can’t write the ending until they build drama but I never feel good about the plot until I’ve written a knock-your-socks-off ending.

       Q: DREAM KILLER is a sequel. Why do you claim it’s not necessary to read your first book?

       A: It’s a stand-alone plot. Several readers have read DREAM KILLER first and thoroughly enjoyed the book without the background. The handful of references to events from the first book are self explanatory.

        The one advantage to reading them in order is a reader has a much deeper understanding of the two lead characters. After they experience the whirlwind, two-week adventure on a farm in Kansas in SMASHED TATER, a reader is emotionally invested in Veronica, the gorgeous, ball-of-fire sports agent in her mid-thirties, and her shy, lovable assistant, Missy, who has psychic-like dreams that haunt her.

      Q: Since your first two novels included a sequel, will you write a third book and turn it into a series which are popular these days?

      A: No. . . The only reason I wrote the sequel is a good friend enjoyed SMASHED TATER and strongly encouraged me to write another book that featured the primary characters. I reminded my friend Veronica Townsend, the lead character, was a sports agent, not a police detective or private investigator. After I mulled over possible storylines that would require Veronica to solve another murder, I was invigorated by the plot I ended up choosing for DREAM KILLER.

      Q: What is unique about DREAM KILLER that you feel helps your mystery stand out among a reader’s many choices?

      A: The final fifty pages force the reader to examine their views on an important social issue which I maintain is rare in a whodunit. I’ve been encouraged by favorable reviews of a plot that deals with a sensitive subject.

      Q: Will you exclusively write mysteries?

      A: No. In fact, my third book, DON’T LET THEM ROB YOUR JOY, is an upbeat motivational book with fictitious characters. And my fourth book will be a thriller based on a story I started writing twenty years ago. But if I gazed into a crystal ball, my guess is most of my books will be whodunits.

 

20-YEAR-OLD MANUSCRIPT FOUND IN CLOSET

      Q: What’s the story behind you finding a twenty-year-old old manuscript in your closet?

      A: One day my editing partner was at my house and I informed him I was writing a novel twenty years ago. He liked the plot. I knew I had a floppy disc somewhere. We both acted like kids on Christmas morning when a box in the back of my office closet contained a printed-out version of SLAM DUNK.

      (Interesting side note: The older generation can visualize the half-finished manuscript was printed on paper with holes on each side that aligned the paper to a dot matrix printer).

      Q: You seriously never looked at that manuscript for twenty years?

       A: The year was 1994, the summer O.J. Simpson’s white Bronco mesmerized the nation. It also was the year my son was born and I was transferred to Dallas after OU legend Barry Switzer was named the Dallas Cowboys head coach. Between my sportswriting career taking off, and getting involved in my son’s life, writing a novel was put on the back burner.

      Q: Have you ever wondered what might have happened if you had finished that novel twenty years ago?

      A: One renowned literary agent two years ago insinuated in an e-mail maybe I should have considered leaving the newspaper business to focus on writing novels. My response was succinct. . . I wouldn’t trade my sportswriting career for twenty novels. It was a surreal journey.

      After I gave it additional thought, during my sportswriting career I estimated I interviewed more than one-thousand people. Granted, the majority was coaches and athletes, but I also interviewed university presidents, mayors, governors and rich, influential boosters. My career took me to cities across the country which provide an inordinate amount of settings I can use in my novels. The way I see it, my sportswriting career is the main reason I’ve written two novels that for the most part have received positive reviews.

 

SPORTSWRITING CAREER

      Q: Who were some of the pro athletes that made the biggest impression on you?

      A: If you include athletes who were in town for one event, I interviewed icons like Tiger Woods when he was in his prime. One summer I was assigned to a beat that covered ultra-cerebral Kareem Abdul-Jabbar when he coached a semi-pro basketball team in Enid, OK. The list of one-on-one interviews would include: LeBron James, Shaquille O’Neal, Jack Nicklaus, Larry Bird, Nolan Ryan, Magic Johnson, Roger Staubach, Charles Barkley, Peyton Manning, Dale Earnhardt, John McEnroe, Tom Brady and countless other legends. . . The one trait they all had in common is the “great ones” are motivated to always improve no matter how much success they’ve achieved.

      Q: What was the most inspiring story you ever wrote for the newspaper?

      A: There are too many to narrow it to one, stories like a baseball player at a rural high school who had worn a prosthetic leg since he was five years old. The seventeen-year-old kid his entire life had refused to give up playing sports after his heartbroken father, while mowing the lawn, tragically ran over his son’s leg. . . It always was inspiring when athletes and coaches got involved with community projects like helping families whose homes were destroyed by a calamitous tornado. . . One year, one of my stories was selected the fourth best “sports feature” in the country. It engrained in me the importance of the subject you’re writing about. More than my writing skills, the award was a tribute to Oklahoma State defensive back Martel Van Zant’s life story of being one of only two deaf players to ever play high-level Division I football.

      Q: It sounds like a fun job but all occupations have drawbacks. What’s the downside to being a sportswriter?

      A: The biggest sacrifice is sportswriters work a lot of nights, weekends and holidays, so they often can’t attend family events or parties thrown by friends. As for the job itself, you’re constantly beating deadlines. It’s common to have ten minutes to write a game story. Beating a deadline produces an adrenalin rush akin to the athletes you’re covering, but it’s a high-pressure job. . . After 9/11, travel became a real hassle for sportswriters who cover professional teams that travel around the country during a six-month-long season.

      Q: What is the biggest difference between writing a novel and writing a story for a newspaper?

      A: As a sportswriter, my stories were centered around facts. Wins. Losses. Statistics. Stories are restricted to the teams, coaches and athletes you cover. . . As a novelist, there are zero limitations. Which is exhilarating! That’s why I love FICTION. There are no boundaries.

 

SELF PUBLISHING E-BOOKS

      Q: Why did you choose to self-publish your first two books?

      A: I tried to go the traditional route and sign with an agent after I wrote SMASHED TATER, only to be disheartened agents and publishing houses are extremely picky about “niche genre fiction” in the oversaturated 99-cent eBook era. . . A friend who had published several books advised the industry had changed substantially and e-Books were a viable option. I decided to create my own website primarily because I wanted to write more books than remain bogged down by the emotionally draining, snail’s pace process of trying to beat lottery-like odds and go from the “slush pile” to your book being sold at Barnes & Noble.

      Q: What is the biggest advantage to self-publishing?

      A: The best perk — by far — is you can print IMMEDIATELY compared to waiting a year (or longer) for your book to be published if you go the traditional route. . . Another plus is the author retains complete control over all content. . . Amazingly, an author also reaps about the same profit from a self-published, reader-friendly priced $4.99 e-Book compared to trickle-down profits an author typically receives from a publishing house published $22.99 hard cover.

      Q: What are the biggest disadvantages to self-publishing?:

      A: Your book is the proverbial needle in a haystack of two-million eBooks, which is why most authors would still choose the snail’s pace traditional path, if the author is fortunate to land alottery ticket from a Big Five publisher. Authors nowadays must be involved with social media but a publishing house markets your book which allows an author more time to write. . . 

      As for the process itself, you do all the work, including finding someone to design an eye-catching eBook cover that readers see on Amazon, Nook and iTunes. I found a jewel in Brandi Doane McCann, an eBook cover design specialist in Maine (ebook-coverdesigns.com). Brandi did a fabulous job on the covers for my first two novels. . . The biggest challenge is no matter how many times my reading team and I edit a book it’s difficult to duplicate the pristine editing of a publishing house produced book.

      Q: How do you deal with a bad review on Amazon or Goodreads?

       A: I’m in the early stages of building a fan base. Different readers have different emotions based on different life experiences. Some readers really enjoyed my two mysteries but it was inevitable a handful of reviews weren’t as positive. I remind myself even the classics receive 1- and 2-star ratings. I enjoy reading a keep-you-guessing mystery but other readers prefer a romance novel or science fiction. It’s the same with reviews. Different strokes for different folks. I focus on positive comments from the 3-, 4- and 5-star reviews and view a negative comment as constructive criticism.

       Q: Will you always self-publish?

        A: Not necessarily. In fact, I will pitch my third novel to New York literary agents.

 

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