He has also had stories published in magazines such as Hardboiled, Bare Bone and Pirate Writings.
Michael’s first mystery novel, One Man’s Castle, was released in March of this year. In a Publishers Weekly review they said “Major’s crime thriller debut displays…genuine talent… Major makes his complex lead a plausible character, and the investigating officers are fully realized as well.”
Why switch to mystery and why go from short stories to a novel? Let’s ask him. Without further adieu, I present J. Michael Major.
Michele: Let’s get right to it, Michael. Why did you switch to the mystery genre and decide to write a full-length novel?
Michael: Actually, it wasn’t a switch at all. Several of my short stories have been mystery or crime–themed, including the original version of “One Man’s Castle,” and one of the main subplots of the novel One Man’s Castle, the one about the grieving puppeteer, was a horror story. I’d put off writing a novel for the longest time because I was afraid I would just end up writing a longer, padded version of the original short story. But the characters had stayed very
real to me, and the more I thought about them and their situations, the more I wanted to explore what happened. And the novel grew from there.
Michele: Then what makes you decide if you are going to write horror or mystery? And does that affect the length of what you write?
Michael: For me, stories are often separate ideas combined with a What if? I never know where they are going to come from. But I would have to say that my horror ideas come from something I fear, so they become short stories because I don’t want to spend a lot of time dealing with that fear; while mystery is often something that confuses or angers me and I want to spend the time figuring out why.
Michele: Was there anything in particular such as a person, place or event, which inspired you to write One Man’s Castle?
Michael: The inspiration came from an observation someone made about Robert Bloch’s Psycho. Before the novel (and movie), the killer was always someone obvious: a gangster, the town nutcase, the evil genius or mad scientist. But Psycho, based upon the real-life crimes of Ed Gein, showed how a serial killer could be your neighbor or friend, someone you would never expect. And I thought that the next logical step would be: What could make me a serial killer? Well, I knew that could never happen, so then next step was to wonder what might make me appear to look like a serial killer. And that’s when all the ideas and possibilities started forming.
Michele: I’ve read One Man’s Castle and thoroughly enjoyed it. Walter is a very interesting protagonist. Could you tell us a little about how you developed his character?
Michael: Walter is an Everyman, a former victim who feels that our current society is
more concerned about the rights of the criminals than those of victims and their families. Much of Walter’s attitude and motivation comes from things that infuriated me on the news. One example was a time several years ago when a criminal stole a family’s car, then used their keys to return to the house to burglarize them while the family was home. The homeowner shot the criminal, and the police were more upset that the homeowner defended himself than they were that the criminal had returned to their house. Instead of saying what the criminal could have done (ie: In Cold Blood), they criticized the homeowner’s actions by saying things like “The homeowner could have accidently shot a family member or made the burglar mad.”
Really? What’s wrong with this picture? It was that type of frustration that I used to create Walter’s character.
Michele: Did you find any of your characters particularly difficult to create?
Michael: I wouldn’t say difficult, but the scenes with Larry Jensen, the puppeteer, were very hard. Watching a man (whose wife and newborn daughter were killed by a drunk driver) slowly descending into madness because of overpowering grief was emotionally draining to write.
Michele: If you could be any of the characters in your novel, who would you be and why?
Michael: I most closely resemble Riehle because he’s a husband and father who loves his family, however, I’d have to say that if I had to be someone different, I’d be the medical examiner, Dr. Thomas Griskle. I mean, who wouldn’t want to go to work dressed like a rock star?
Michele: Why did you choose suburban Chicago as your setting?
Michael: Except for the time I attended the University of Arizona, I’ve lived around Chicago all of my life. It’s what I know, and I feel that helps me make the setting and concerns of the
characters more real. Not that I’m comparing myself to him, but look how well Harlan Coben proved that suburban thrillers could captivate readers.
Michele: One Man’s Castle is a standalone novel. Have you considered doing a mystery series?
Michael: Actually, I’ve always felt One Man’s Castle was the start of a series. Though Walter’s story is done, there are a lot more crimes for Detectives Riehle and Capparelli to solve.
Michele: Excellent. So we can look forward to seeing more of your detectives in the future. Michael, writing is neither an easy occupation nor one where most people can even make a living. I know I’ve been told by other authors to keep my day job. What is it about writing that
motivates you to continue despite the odds?
Michael: I do it because I can’t stop thinking about storylines and characters and thinking What would happen if …? Whenever I get too overwhelmed with my regular job or family obligations or the reality of how hard it is to promote yourself in a world filled with tons of full-time authors and I feel like giving up. However, the words suddenly start flowing again as soon as I remove the stress of the business side of writing. The stories are just there and the thrill of creating never goes away. For which I’m very grateful.
Michele: I know exactly what you mean. Many of the authors I speak with don’t necessarily enjoy reading the same type of novel as those they write. What types of stories or books do you enjoy reading in your leisure time?
Michael: Honestly, I mostly read crime novels, though I occasionally throw in science fiction / fantasy, mainstream, horror and biographies just to help keep things interesting. Reading other styles exposes you to different ways to keep your prose fresh and spark new ideas.
Michele: Are there any books or authors that have inspired you in your writing?
Michael: There are simply too many books to list that have blown me away and made me say: “I want to do that!” But the three authors who had the most impact on my writing style are: Joe R. Lansdale, whose stark, harsh realism exposes the dangers and horrors of the world; James Lee Burke, who writes the most beautiful prose I’ve ever read; and Ian Rankin, who still keeps his main character, John Rebus, interesting and changing and complex and evolving and dynamic after all these years (when so many other writers just go on auto-pilot). And a little Carl Hiaasen humor thrown into the mix never hurts any either.
Michele: Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Michael: Don’t procrastinate, sit your butt in the chair, and write the book you want to read. Trends come and go, so don’t try to capitalize on something that is currently popular, because it won’t be by the time your book is published. And you’ll only end up looking like a copycat anyway. Write the book you believe in, and your passion will always shine through.
Michele: What can we look forward to seeing from you next?
Michael: I have a horror story coming out soon in the anthology Splatterlands, and, of course, the next Riehle and Capparelli mystery!
I hope you’ve enjoyed getting to know J. Michael Major. If you want to learn more about Michael, please visit his website at www.jmichaelmajor.com. If you are interested in reading One Man’s Castle, and you should be, you may purchase it as follows:
www.brnsncks.com (Brain Snacks Bookstore. Signed and personalized copies can be ordered here, and they ship worldwide!)