Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester is happy to shine our Friday spotlight on Thriller author Mike Maden. Mike has written several of the latest Tom Clancy novels, so if you are a Tom Clancy fan, you will love his work! Mike will be speaking to us on a ZOOM call on Wednesday, June 10th, at 7:00 PM, so if anyone would like to join in, please RSVP on our Facebook page.
The first question we always ask an author is if they can briefly tell us a little bit about themselves and their writing. This was Mike’s response:
I’m living proof it’s better to be lucky than good. I write thrillers and, more specifically, techno-thrillers. My fiction writing career began in 2013 with my first published novel, DRONE, and three subsequent books in that series, followed by a four-book series in the Tom Clancy franchise featuring Jack Ryan, Jr. The fourth Clancy book is coming out June 9th titled FIRING POINT.
Where can people find your work? (Besides Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester–though they should totally check here first!)
After first stopping at Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester, readers can go to my website MikeMaden.com for links to print, ebook and audio book versions of my work. Like they say in the ads, you can find my stuff “Wherever books are sold.” (I’m not sure why the ads say that. You’re not likely to find them wherever books are NOT sold, are you?)
How can we follow your work and share your awesomeness?
My awesomeness is in very short supply—microscopic, actually—so it is highly rationed and not generally available to the public. However, the rest of my shtick I can be found on Instagram (MikeMadenBooks), Twitter (@MikeMadenAuthor) and Facebook (@MikeMadenAuthor). Conveniently, MikeMaden.com has all of those links as well.
For readers unfamiliar with your work, how would you describe what you write? What can readers expect from your work?
I’m a techno-thriller writer which are thrillers with a focus on weapons and technology. There’s lots of action, of course, and I try to highlight current or near-future technology that readers may not be aware of. I write fiction but I always try to tell the truth; in fact, it’s easier to do that in fiction. Sometime the genre veers to easily into violence for violence’s sake. While I have a lot of gray in my wardrobe (to my wife’s chagrin) I loathe it in art. I do believe in moral clarity but also in moral complexity. That’s why I research the historical and political contexts in which my stories take place. I need to understand what motivates the good guys but to build really important and well-motivated villains, I need to know why the “bad guy” thinks he (or she) is actually the hero of the story.
What piece of advice would you want to share with other writers?
If I could only share one piece of advice to other writers it would be this: Know thyself. If I could only recommend one book—and, in fact, it’s the only book I recommend to new writers—it would be Steven Pressfield’s, The War of Art. Finding your way as a writer is the most important part of your journey; the writing itself flows out of that knowledge. “Why?” is always a better question than “How?” because the former almost always solves the latter both for yourself and your characters—and who are we kidding, they’re one in the same, aren’t they?
What does your writing space look like? What do you need to have around you while writing or editing?
My favorite tool is my giant white board—which is actually a 4’ x 8’ piece of white panel board I bought at Home Depot for about $15 (https://www.homedepot.com/p/EUCATILE-32-sq-ft-96-in-x-48-in-Hardboard-Thrifty-White-Tile-Board-346428/308731683). I use a lot of “mind mapping” to brainstorm my way through each story problem—or just dream. I do all of my writing on my laptop (MacBook Air) and I break the first draft completely on Scrivener which is the best word processing program in the world to do it—and it’s very inexpensive (https://www.literatureandlatte.com/scrivener/overview). I need gallons of coffee to jumpstart my day and sustain the adventure and I migrate between a sitting desk and a standup contraption that works marvelously.
While you’re writing, do you prefer music, silence, other? Please elaborate!
That’s a great question! It totally depends. First off, I start my day in meditation and I have a music sequence that helps me get there. Second, I journal—often to other kinds of music to set the mood. During my actual writing time, there are periods when I need absolute silence. Other times, I might use a playlist of music I’ve built up for the particular novel to get me to the place I need to be for an intense action scene or what have you. Mostly I listen to space music or classical—anything without words. But even instrumental music if too complex or distracting can suck away some of the RAM I need to do the hard work of story problem solving.
Writers very often have furry or feathered or otherwise non-human companions to “help” them through their work. Do you? What do you have? How do they “help” (or, “not-help”) with your writing?
My current novel, FIRING POINT, is the first novel I’ve written without one of my two dogs at my feet. Literally at my feet. We lost Stella two years ago. She was the one who would curl up inches away from me for hours while I wrote. After she passed, her sister Lucy took over the writing gig but we lost her last year as well. My wife has always been an important part of my life but she’s content to leave me alone to pound the keyboard so it’s just me in the office these days. HOWEVER, once the first draft is finished, she jumps right in and is always my first, best reader. Better still, she reads the entire manuscript to me out loud. Can you imagine? Here’s my pro tip for the day: audiobook sales are becoming a huge percentage of total book sales. By doing an “audio” edit, I’m creating prose that will read and sound better for readers like Scott Brick (www.scottbrick.net) the amazing talent who has read all of my Clancy stuff.
Do you have any favorite foods or drinks that must be in the vicinity (or must be avoided) while you’re writing or editing a piece of work?
I prefer dark roasted, pour over black coffee first thing in the morning before working out. Then more of the same after I get home. And a couple of gallons more before I finally hit the rack after nailing my word count.
What do you consider the most challenging part of the writing process? And how do you overcome that?
The most challenging problem I have with the writing process is the bleary-eyed fellow who stares at me in the mirror every morning. My theory of writing (stolen from others brighter) is that we read for an emotional experience. Ironically, it’s a writer’s emotions (particularly fear in its various guises) that keep writers from writing well or even writing at all. It’s amazing how many times the voice in my head (whom Pressfield personifies as “Resistance”) tells me I’m a fraud, the story is terrible, etc. Suddenly my fingers freeze, hovering over the keyboard, paralyzed with indecision. It’s only my slavish devotion to a daily word count that saves me from that waking nightmare, day in and day out.
A secondary problem is this: learning to discern between the “editor” and the “creator” in my head. Maybe Left Brain/Right Brain is a physiological myth but it’s a useful metaphor. I like to think of the two competing forces as the cranky Old Editor vs. the reckless Toddler Artist. In reality, you need both to make a novel work. It all comes apart when you put them both in the room at the same time—the Editor will always dominate. The trick is to tell each one that they both get to come out and do what they do best but only when you give them permission to do so. The Toddler plays—day dreaming, doodling, Mind Mapping, whatever—but then the Toddler needs to go and take a nap every now and then. The Old Editor can then wake up from his nap (sorry, I’m a guy; your Editor will vary) and come out and straighten things up: typos, split infinitives, wooden dialogue, plot logic problems, etc. Then the Editor goes back to napping and the rotation continues. An Outline looks like an Editor’s document because of its orderliness. It keeps you on track as you write but even the Outline is only fully realized when the Toddler gets to throw out crazy ideas and see what sticks as it’s constructed. I suppose it’s a constant game of musical chairs between the Editor and the Toddler—but with only one chair which happens to be the one you’re sitting in. Here is the critical challenge that all creatives must overcome: most forms of structure kill creativity (SOPs, anyone?)—but every form of creativity needs some form of structure. Your first task as a writer is to figure out the relationship between those two opposing forces, and like the nuclear force that binds together the nucleus of every atom (which should split apart because of like-charged particles) you must find a way to hold them together to form a greater whole.
Thanks so much for taking the time out of your busy writing day, Mike. We are looking forward to speaking with you on ZOOM next Wednesday, June 10th at 7:00 PM!