ROCCO’s guest…suspense author Mike, aka M.A., Lawson!
Mike Lawson is the award-winning author of fourteen published novels. He has been nominated for the Barry Award six times and has twice won the Portland-based Friends of Mystery Award for his Joe DeMarco political thriller series. The first book in his second series, titled Rosarito Beach, involving a rogue DEA agent named Kay Hamilton, was optioned for television. Mike’s eleventh DeMarco book, House Revenge, was released be in July 2016 and his third Kay Hamilton book, K Street, in January 2017. Prior to turning to writing full time, Mike was a nuclear engineer employed by the Navy and he lives in the Northwest.
R: Welcome Mike! Tell us a bit about yourself and how you became interested in writing.
ML: Thanks ROCCO! I’ve always been a big reader and in the job I had working for the navy, there was actually a lot of writing involved. At some point, I decided to try writing a novel. This was way back in my thirties. The mechanical process of writing – on a typewriter, whiting out typos, etc. - was simply too time consuming for a guy working ten, twelve hours a day. What really got me started writing were programs like Word Perfect and Word and the invention of the laptop computer. Writing these days – and more importantly re-writing and editing – is just so much simpler with the technology available now, which is one of the reasons so many people write books. The other thing was, I used to take a ferry every day from Seattle to my job in Bremerton. It was a fifty minute ride and in the morning I’d do navy stuff but in the evening – and I had no idea how big a deal this was at the time – I had forty or so minutes of uninterrupted time in which to write – which for a working guy with a family was really a gift. The last thing that launched my writing career was that I read a book by a very famous author – I’ll never tell you his name – and the book really wasn’t very good. I said to myself: Self, you can write a book as bad as that one – and, in fact, I wrote one even worse. It never got published but I proved to myself that I could write a novel. And then wrote my first novel which was eventually published.
R: What writers in your genre would you say have made the greatest influence on your writing?
My favorite writers are guys like Richard Price and George Pelecanos, and in non-fiction, Michael Lewis and Eric Larsen. But I would say writers like John Sanford, Robert B. Parker and Elmore Leonard, who always have some humor in their books and a simple – I guess you’d say a “non-literary” way of writing – probably influenced my style more.
R: Tell us about your Demarco series. How did the idea for that come about? For your second series?
ML: The DeMarco books came about in two stages. The first was I wanted some sort of D.C. setting because there’s so much in the news every day – corruption, scandals, boneheaded things that politicians do – that I can always come up with an idea for the next book. Most of my books are based on some real life event. The other thing I wanted was a protagonist who wasn’t a cop or a detective or a lawyer – there are already too many of those characters out there – so I came up with DeMarco – a fixer working for a corrupt politician. The second series with Kay Hamilton started with a conversation with a television producer looking for a story with a female protagonist. I never completed the deal with the producer – that’s a different story – but wrote a screenplay that I eventually turned into Rosarito Beach.
R: Tell us about your newest release.
ML: K Street was in some ways inspired by the movie Three Days of the Condor – that is by the beginning of the movie, when Robert Redford walks into his office and finds all his co-workers dead – which is basically the beginning of K Street. After that it was a matter of pitting a covert, under the table intelligence agency (The Callahan Group) against real intelligence agencies, namely the NSA and the Chinese intelligence apparatus. What I like about the Kay Hamilton character is she’s ruthless and totally independent and not bound by convention.
R: Which of (your character) adventures was the most fun for you to write? Were any of them the least amount of fun?
ML: I enjoy writing all the books. Even the research can be fun. But I suppose the characters that are the most fun to write are the villains. I like villains who aren’t “Terminator” types - unemotional, pure evil, driven only by killing. I like villains who have an ordinary side to them, a human side, something that in some ways can make you like them just a little bit. In one of the books, the professional killer was a short, dumpy guy who ran a bar and was a terrible shot. That kind of character.
R: Do you have a “how I got my agent” story you’d like to share? How did you feel when you got the call your first novel had sold?
ML: It took me ten years to find the right agent and get my first novel published. I had four or five other agents during that period – some of those stories are a hoot – like the lady in Ohio – but I found my current agent in sort of an unusual way. I’d go to bookstores – when there were still bookstores – and look at the acknowledgment section of debut authors because they always mention their agent. I figured if an agent would take on one unpublished writer he or she might take on another. Anyway, that’s how I found my agent – found his name in a book because the guy doesn’t need to advertise – and sent him a query letter. When I found out he was John Grisham’s agent … Well you know that expression: Thought I’d died and gone to heaven? He got me a two book deal literally within days of agreeing to represent me. As for how felt when I got my first book deal – well I’m back to that expression: Thought I’d died and ….
R: What’s a must have for you when you are writing? What aids the creative process?
ML: Mostly I just need a place to sit. In the early days I wrote on the ferry and wrote a lot in coffee shops. So I don’t even need total silence as I can usually just block everything out and focus. (People gabbing on cell phones are an exception.) These days I write mostly at home but I don’t need anything special – like music or a sound proof office - just a lot of coffee and functioning laptop. I’m one of those people who wake up very early, and I write everyday. Some days it goes well, some days it doesn’t. But I get up about five and just start writing and I’m usually done by ten or so and then I go play golf or do whatever my wife tells me to do.
R: If you had access to a time machine, which historical moment would you travel to and why?
ML: You know that’s an interesting question and I suppose a lot of past eras would be interesting just to see how much reality matches written history. But the truth is, I’d much rather go forward in time to see if mankind ever manages to escape its own worst instincts or if we’ve totally screwed up the planet, the way we currently appear to be doing.
R: If a movie were to be made of one of your books, which one would you want it to be and who would you pick for the lead roles?
I would really like to see either the DeMarco books or the Kay Hamilton books turned into television series. I think both have enormous potential – DeMarco because of the political aspects of the books and the humor – and Kay Hamilton because she’d make an interesting, unconventional female protagonist. (Rosarito Beach was actually optioned for television but in the end the series was never produced.) Regarding who plays the lead characters, I just want it to be some bankable star who would attract viewers. I honestly don’t have a particular actor in mind for either character.
R: What is one thing your readers would be most surprised to know about you?
ML: It seems that most people are surprised that I worked as an engineer when I had a real job. (Writing’s too much fun to be classified as a real job.) Most people seem to think of engineers being too “left-brained” to be creative. The fact is that writing is kind of like a little engineering problem when it comes to developing plots.
R: What is the craziest thing you've ever done?
ML: I could come up with a long list of crazy things I did when I was a kid – the kind of things where I could have been seriously hurt or killed – the kind of stupid things it seems most boys do. But as an adult I can’t really think of anything particularly crazy. Does going out on sea trials of a just overhauled nuclear submarine – where they take the ship down to test depth to make sure everything was put back together correctly during the overhaul - count as crazy?
R: What do you hope readers will most take away from your writing?
ML: Enjoyment. I’m not trying to push any cultural or political agenda in the books. I want people to be entertained and I hope they are.
Just for Fun:
Night or Day? - Definitely Day. I get up so damn early that I go to bed pretty early, too. Can’t remember the last time I was in a bar when they said they said: Time to drink up, we’re closing
Dog or Cat? (answer carefully) – We had a cat for years. I like that they’re independent and don’t require a whole lot of care – Okay, I’m talking about having no desire to walk behind a dog and pick up poop and put it in a bag.
Beach or Pool? Beach side bar is more my style.
Steak or salad? Both. It’s the baked potato I can’t handle these days.
Favorite Drink? Coffee of the non-alcoholic type. I’m not a Coke guy. Vodka Martinis when it comes to the other type.
Favorite Book? Don’t really have a favorite. I read a lot, like both fiction and non-fiction. I just finished reading Richard Price’s “The Whites”, Michael Harvey’s “Brighton”, and “The Pope and Mussolini” (non-fiction) by David Kertzer
Favorite TV Series? The Wire. Thought it was brilliant.
Favorite Movie? The Shawshank Redemption
Favorite Actor: One of my favorite actors was Philip Seymour Hoffman. He was a brilliant character actor and his passing was truly a tragedy.
Favorite Actress: I’m really impressed by the actresses who seem like they’re ageless, the ones that have lasted even after the bloom of youth is gone, actresses like Judi Dench, Helen Mirren, Meryl Streep, Susan Sarandon. I think actresses like Cate Blanchet and Kate Winslet are those kind of actresses and will be acting into their eighties.
Hawaii or Alaska? Hawaii. Especially as I’m writing this. There’s snow outside and I can’t play golf.
Finish this sentence: If I could meet anyone in the world, past or present, it would be:
J.D. Salinger. Why in the hell did he decide to stop writing? Or did he?
If I had just one wish, it would be: The best, happiest lives possible for my wife and son. I’ve had a great life and have no complaints.
If I could trade places with anyone in the world, it would be: Hell, I don’t know. Santa Claus?
Thanks for a great interview, Mike.
Mike will be giving away a copy of his latest release, K Street, to two lucky commenters! To enter, leave a comment on this blog post with your name and email address (entries without email will be disqualified). For extra entries, you can do any or all of the below:
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Winner will be chosen at random using random.org. Don’t forget to mention all you’ve done in your comment. Good luck! Contest ends midnight, January 22!