Hello and welcome to my blog, Author Interviews. My name is Fiona Mcvie.
Let’s get you introduced to everyone, shall we? Tell us your name. What is your age?
I am Michael Pogach, and I’m 44 years old.
Fiona: Where are you from?
I grew up in the Philly suburbs. I’ve also travelled a great deal and lived in Southern California for a bit. Currently, my family and I live about 50 miles north of Philly.
Fiona: A little about your self (ie, your education, family life, etc.).
I went to Penn State and got a BA in American Studies. After a few years off traveling, I went to grade school at Arcadia University and got two MAs, one in Humanities and one in English. I’m a writing and literature professor, but this is not what I set out to do originally. For a long time I worked in auto shops and motorcycle shops. Getting these degrees were incremental steps towards finding a career that let me have cleaner hands at the end of the day.
On the family side, my wife and I just had our second child, a boy named Rowan. He joins his five-year-old sister, Coraline (yup, like the book). So things have been a little hectic around here with the newborn. Not much writing getting done, though I swear I’m going to get back to it this week (I totally did not say that last week, and you can’t prove it).
Fiona: Tell us your latest news.
Aside from the arrival of kid number two, the big news is my 3rd novel comes out on February 11. It’s the 3rd Rafael Ward novel and will be called The Tyrant Gods.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
As far as I remember, I’ve always written. I always had a notebook nearby, jotting down character names or backgrounds. I played some D&D when I was a kid, which helped with envisioning characters as people. If you ask my mom, she’ll tell you when I was in elementary school every story I wrote or told ended with everyone dying. So writing dystopian novels now seems like the natural next step.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
Near the end of my first master’s degree I got invited to share a story at a workshop with Tobias Wolff. The story I brought to that workshop wasn’t very good, but it got some great critique and Wolff talked about theory and writing endings that are deserved, and for the first time in my life I began thinking of writing as more than simply slapping the words down. I got really into creative theory and started trying to write stories that could stand on their own as publishable. That story I shared with Wolff ended up being the second story I ever had published.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
I figured why not. I’d gotten halfway decent at writing short stories, with a few of them published, so when my writers critique group (a bunch of author friends from grad school who I still work with today) decided to do our own mini NaNoWriMo one year, I went for it, trying to write a sci-fi Indiana Jones adventure. Four years later it had turned into a more involved story and was picked up by a publisher, and here I am.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
Oh man, I hate coming up with titles! They all sound like reject gang names from Grease 2 to me. I stress over them. I make lists. I scream at my computer. I walk the stacks at bookstores for inspiration. It took two years to settle on The Spider in the Laurel as the title of my first novel, taking it from an obscure Herman Melville poem. I’m still not sure I love it. That said, I do like the title of my second novel: The Long Oblivion. That’s also a line from a poem, Virgil’s Aeneid. Which has locked me into a pattern for this series. Now every book in the series needs to take its title from a poem. Because I obsess over titles.
(you should see me obsessing over naming a kid)
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style? Is there anything about your style or genre that you find particularly challenging?
I try to write fast prose, but I often get bogged down in the details. It’s hard for me not to keep working on a single sentence or paragraph for hours at a time. If I had to make a comparison for my writing style, I’d say it moves like Lee child’s Jack Reacher books, but I’m not as laconic as Child. When it comes to details I lean more towards Jason M. Hough or Neil Gaiman.
The hardest thing for me is keeping a manuscript moving. I get bogged down in small details on the first draft and have to remind myself to get the plot on the page. Fixing the details can be done later.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic and are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
I draw from my own experiences a ton. In my first novel, every location except one across the US and Europe the main character went to was a spot I’d been to myself. If it’s somewhere I’ve never been, I do a ton of research. Even though I’m writing dystopias, I want the foundation of the setting to be tangible to the reader. I want the reader to feel the reality of the place beneath the fiction of the action.
As for characters, I sometimes use real people as inspiration, but more often it’s just a name or a single personality trait. That said, in each of my first three novels there is at least one character who is based on a real person that I included as an honorarium or reward for helping me out in some way. No spoilers. Go ahead and see if you can figure out who.
Fiona: To craft your works, do you have to travel? Before or during the process?
Travel definitely helps, especially for a novel that deals with other countries or exotic settings, but it’s not required. With my first novel, I’d been to all the locations, but with my second, I had never been to most of the various settings, such as Spain. But I do have a friend who lives in Spain. He was gracious enough to take some pictures for me and send me some local documents to help out. I got help with a few locals in my third novel as well.
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
The very first cover of The Spider in the Laurel was designed by M.S. Corley for my original publisher, who subsequently went out of business. The book and its sequels were then picked up by the folks at Crossroad Press. The current covers of The Spider in the Laurel and The Long Oblivion were done by Shawn King at STK Kreations. The cover of The Tyrant Gods was done in house by my publisher.
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
I just want to entertain. I want people to enjoy my books. If they want to look at the dystopian future I’ve invented and see a message about greed or faith or corruption or anything else, that’s great too. At the end of the day, each reader has to engage with a book in their own way. I fully buy into the theory that once the novel is published, I no longer “own” it. It belongs to the readers and their interpretations as much as it does, or maybe even more, to my own intentions.
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest? Who is your favorite writer, and what is it about their work that really strikes you?
A newer author that has blown me away is Nnedi Okorafor. Her Binti series is just incredible. I don’t know if I can name a favorite author, but I can absolutely name my two favorite series: the Jack Reacher series, by Lee Child, and the Miriam Black series, by chuck Wendig. Both move so fast and have such unique voices. I could read those two series forever and never get bored.
Fiona: Outside of family members, name one entity that supported your commitment to become a published author.
My writers group has been an integral part of my success. It started with four or five of us over ten years ago. At one point or another, at least fifteen or twenty people have been a part of the group. Today, it’s usually three or four of us meeting once a month to read and talk about our works in progress. There is no doubt in my mind that I would not be a published author without their input, revisions, and overall support.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
Not currently. But it’s also not a hobby or a side gig. It’s a thing I have to do. My wife knows that if I don’t get to write enough I get stressed. If I have an idea nagging at me, I need to get it out. That said, if I were to suddenly start making tons of money doing it, I would definitely consider looking at it as a new career path. For now, however, I’m happy to keep improving my reach and fan base a little at a time.
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
I write each book on its own, with very little thought about how the next one will go. So, there’s always some small details I might smooth out or adjust once I start the next book in the series. But for now, I’m pretty happy with all three books as they stand.
Fiona: Did you learn anything during the writing of your recent book?
I learned that walking away can be the best choice. I wrote about 50,000 words for The Tyrant Gods in the spring of 2018, but I got stuck. After a month or two of bashing my head against the plot, I walked away and finished a manuscript draft for a totally different novel completely unconnected to this series. Then when I went back to the Tyrant Gods in the spring of 2019, everything clicked. I rewrote that first 50k, and then added another 50k and finished the manuscript in about four months, which is incredibly fast for me.
I think writing is a little like working out. The rest time is just as important as the amount of weight or number of reps.
Fiona: If your book was made into a film, who would you like to play the lead?
This is such a cool “what if” question. I’ve gone over it so many times. Who would be the perfect Rafael Ward? Early 30s. Teacher-ish, but with a military background. More Robert Langdon than Indiana Jones, but also with the curiosity and willingness to rebel shown by Guy Montag in Fahrenheit 451. Joseph Gordon-Levitt? Daniel Radcliffe? Donald Glover? Oscar Isaac. Probably Glover or Isaac.
But for MacKenzie, the female lead in the novels, I’ve got it. I originally thought Zoe Saldana. Hands down. Now, however, it’s either Emma Stone or Sophie Turner.
Fiona: Any advice for other writers?
Finish the first draft. Nope. Shut up. Don’t want to hear the excused. Finish the first draft! Then revise. Get people to edit and revise with you. Best rule for this: choose only people who never have, or never wanted to, see you naked as your editors and critique partners. That’s it. Finish. Revise until you want to burn it. Choose good critique partners. Do these three things and you’ve got a shot.
Fiona: Anything specific you want to tell your readers?
Thank you. I never expected my first novel to sell 100 copies. All told, my first two novels have sold over 1100 copies and counting. These aren’t huge numbers, but they mean the world to me. Thank you!
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
I just finished Joe Abercrombie’s First Law trilogy, and I’ve just started another Jack Reacher novel: Make Me.
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
I don’t. But I remember the first two series that made me want to close myself up in my room and read until the pages were gone, and to hell with the rest of the world. The first was Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicle’s of Prydain. The second was the Dragonlance Chronicles.
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?
My kids. And my typos. Nothing is better than editing while listening to a five-year-old sing songs from Frozen II while correcting typos like “The sound of gunfire was little more than a poop.”
Fiona: Is there one person, past or present, you would love to meet? Why?
I kind of want to sit down with George Lucas in 1976 and just pick his brain. And maybe lodge some hint in there that Greedo shooting first is stupid.
Fiona: Do you have any hobbies?
With two kids and a full time job and being an author, I don’t do much else besides read, waste money at Starbucks, and daydream about winning the 6 book contract lottery. Not too long ago, I rode and rebuilt motorcycles and played hockey. But these days, if I can squeeze in an hour or two a week of Assassins Creed or Red Dead Redemption 2, I’m a fairly happy guy.
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
Oh, how I wish I could go back and re-experience Game of Thrones from the start, all at once. That was such a great show. I just finished The Witcher and The Mandalorian. Both excellent. And for whatever faults there are, I love Star Wars.
Fiona: Favorite foods, colors, music?
Lightning round answers: Ice cream. Pizza. White chocolate mocha. Black. Blue. Red. Metallica. Black Sabbath. Volbeat.
Fiona: Imagine a future where you no longer write. What would you do?
I think I build stuff. Maybe motorcycles. Or maybe I take up woodworking. Or welding. I’ve always wanted to learn how to weld properly.
Fiona: You only have 24 hours to live how would you spend that time?
With my family, my wife and kids, baking apple pies together and reading stories and laughing as much as possible.
Fiona: What do you want written on your head stone?
Father, husband, teacher, author.
Fiona: Do you have a blog or website readers can visit for updates, events and special offers?
My website is michaelpogach.com. You can join my newsletter there for first glimpses, sneak peaks, freebies, and more.
And here are my links…
The Spider in the Laurel: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B079QGVMLR/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_hsch_vapi_tkin_p1_i4
Michael Pogach Amazon page USA : https://www.amazon.com/Michael-Pogach/e/B015NAIMWE