Welcome to my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, scriptwriters, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with children’s, horror novelist and short story writer Michael Hebler. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Michael.
Michael: Hello, Morgen. Thank you for having me.
Morgen: You’re very welcome. I’m delighted you could join me. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Michael: Well, I live in Southern California, where I was born and raised. In addition to being a writer, I am also a film publicist, something I fell into while I was writing screenplays, which I fell into from being a theatre major in school – acting and writing plays.
Morgen: What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Michael: I write in two genres, actually – and they couldn’t be further apart from one another. My first published book is a children’s picture book called, The Night After Christmas, which extends the Clement C. Moore classic about Santa’s return to the North Pole after completing his busiest night of the year. And I have another picture book in the works while I write my dark thriller / horror series based on the el Chupacabra phenomenon. Night of the Chupacabra was just released in October 2012 and I have book two of the five part series, Curse of the Chupacabra, coming out on September 10, 2013.
Morgen: What have you had published to-date? Do you write under a pseudonym?
Michael: No pseudonyms. But in addition to the two books mentioned, I also published a free short story, Hunt for the Chupacabra, which I wrote as an independent prologue leading into Night of the Chupacabra, book one. That’s all so far.
Morgen: That’s more than me, and plenty of other authors. You’ve self-published, what lead to you going your own way?
Michael: I self-published the children’s book and had a great time with it. I really enjoyed the artistic freedom, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to do the same for my Chupacabra Series. I had a friend beta read the first draft. He’s someone I know from the film industry – who I also acknowledge in my book – who thought I would being doing my book a disservice by self-publishing. Luckily, he had an excellent contact in the publishing world and highly recommended that I give my manuscript to this agent who read it. The agent enjoyed it but then I attended a book signing by Jesse Cozean who wrote a memoir, “My Grandfather’s War: A Young Man’s Lessons from the Greatest Generation” (which I highly recommend by the way) and he was telling me of his experiences being traditionally published, and that’s when I returned to the idea of self-publishing. I’m every open to other people’s ideas and a great collaborator, but I just couldn’t get behind some of what he was telling me, which is personal to him so I don’t want to go into details.
Morgen: Are your books available as eBooks? How involved were you in that process? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Michael: Yes, they’re available as eBooks and I created all the eBooks myself though I’m not a fan of them. I’m old school all the way.
Morgen: 🙂 Most people are, although it’s great having a choice. Do you have a favourite of your books or characters? If any of your books were made into films, who would you have as the leading actor/s?
Michael: (laughing) As I mentioned earlier about writing screenplays, Night of the Chupacabra was originally one of my screenplays (then titled ‘el Chupacabra’) which I adapted, so I had many ideas who would play the parts. Of course, this was around 2003, so some of the actors would have aged beyond the roles now but I always imagined Noah Wyle playing Drake and Reba McEntire playing Miss Christie. I loved her in Tremors. I actually worked unit publicity on a film at the end of 2012 called Ice Scream, and the talented young actor, Spencer Treat Clark (Last House on the Left, Mystic River) would make a great Gavin. As for my favourite character, Jessie, I don’t have a clue who would play her. Like an overbearing father, I’m kind of protective of her and don’t really think anyone is good enough for her… or, to play her, I mean. Dakota Fanning would have be perfect back in the day.
Morgen: It’s funny how we get so emotional about our characters. Which author(s) were your biggest influences?
Michael: When I was about twelve or thirteen, I used to sneak books off my mom’s bookshelf and her favourite authors were Stephen King and Dean Koontz, so they probably influenced me more than I know. I really like J.K. Rowling’s writing style, as well as a few classic authors, Dickens, Twain, and Poe. Oh! And Tolkien! Let’s not forget him.
Morgen: I was a big Stephen King fan (and blame him for me wearing glasses; torch / duvet… need I say more?). Did you have any say in the titles / covers of your books? How important do you think they are?
Michael: My illustrator, Anita Driessen, designed the book cover for The Night After Christmas, which gave me about 50/50 say, but the Chupacabra Series covers are all me, which I designed myself, as well as the titles.
Morgen: What are you working on at the moment / next?
Michael: Well, probably more projects than I should at once. I’m wrapping up final editing on Curse of the Chupacabra and doing another draft on Legend of the Chupacabra, which is book three, while collaborating with Anita on our next picture book based on the origins of Halloween. And then, in between all that, I’m writing a dramatic novella.
Morgen: That’s busy. Do you manage to write every day, or ever suffer from writer’s block?
Michael: I rarely have writer’s block. I struggle more finding the right word to use then I do moving my story along, which I think probably has something to do with my writing process. I had such an easy time adapting my screenplay into a novel that I write a screenplay version first of everything now, which I like to think more of an extensive outline. It helps iron out the plot holes and builds the characters and their relationships with one another. It also gives me a chance to start thinking of their backgrounds, which is then flushed out when I write the prose.
Morgen: That’s an interesting process. I wrote 102 pages of a TV drama for the now-defunct Script Frenzy and didn’t enjoy the process. Give me prose any day. Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Michael: (laughing) I’m into genealogy big time and about 80% of the names in my stories are from my family tree. As for creating their characteristics, I think my studies in theatre and character development have helped tremendously with that. I develop a character that would make sense in the plot, and then tweak him/her slightly to make them less perfectible and interesting, for example: make them disagreeable when they don’t need to be, or give them a mannerism that tells the reader a little more and gives them a unique quality. While I was writing Curse of the Chupacabra, I came to a point where I needed a very generic character to fill certain needs for the story, but he couldn’t be exceptional, otherwise he would pull focus away from the central characters during their shared scenes. Well, I had to give him something, so I gave him a rabbit’s foot he would rub the hell out of whenever he was nervous or scared, emphasizing he was superstitious, which was the majority in the mid-to-late 1800’s.
Morgen: Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Michael: I not only had Night of the Chupacabra professionally edited but I edited it over and over and over myself. It had been read for editing probably… I want to say, fourteen times. And the reason for this was my writing was getting better. It continued developing while writing the first drafts for the next two books in the series, so I kept going back to the first book to make tweaks so that the style would match throughout the series.
Morgen: Have about research – do you have to do much?
Michael: Oh god, yes! Since the first three books take place in America’s Old West, I not only needed to do a lot of research on what certain things were called, but idioms, phrases, and inventions. I didn’t want to refer to a rubber hose when it hadn’t been invented yet or have it be 1872 and explain that the train was headed for Reno, Nevada when tracks to that city hadn’t been laid yet. I tried to be as accurate as possible. I don’t know how writers did it before the internet. I’m sure the time it took me to research what I did would have taken me ten times longer if I had wrote this in the 1980’s or earlier.
Morgen: I love being a writer with the technology we have (I only started eight years ago). What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Michael: I don’t dare try second person. Not yet, at least. I’m a fan of third person but I also head hop, which some people love because it gives the reader a better sense of each character and their perspective. I know some people don’t like it and it can be frowned upon if not done well, but I’d like to think my head-hopping is seamless.
Morgen: Second person’s probably my favourite but I’d only really recommend it for short pieces. Do you write any poetry, non-fiction or short stories?
Michael: No poetry… at least, not yet. There was only one non-fiction story I ever wanted to write and that was about my grandfather’s time as a bottom turret operator of a B-17 flying fortress during World War II, but he died just after I started interviewing him, which links back to why I went to Cozean’s book signing. And as for short stories, yes, I love them. I’m planning a few Chupacabra short stories in-between the novels. So far I have ideas for two, but I’m sure there’ll be more.
Morgen: They’re fun, and my favourite format to read; I love being able to know the start, middle and end in one sitting. Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Michael: Unfortunately, yes. Some of my other screenplays; although, there are a couple that I hope will see rebirthed into a novel. There’s actually a dark / slapstick comedy, “The Scattering of Ernest” which I hope to adapt. It was the only time I wrote with a partner and every time I go back to re-read it, I just laugh my you-know-what off. But, of course, I’d find it funny because it’s totally my sense of humor.
Morgen: Which will be shared by many, I’m sure. Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Michael: I try to keep the rejections to a minimum. Too many can chip away at my confidence. I handle them – some better than others – but if I get one, I’m usually fine after I’ve slept on it.
Morgen: Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Michael: No agent. Not as a self-publisher. Honestly, it’s difficult to answer this questions having never had one, but based on my experiences… they’re not vital or necessary. They can open a few more doors for you than not having one, but I think that’s it. And the funny thing is, if you have an agent, you’re doing just as much work on your own than you are with one. I don’t think they’re like Hollywood agents where they do all the work for the talent.
Morgen: How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Michael: Excellent question for an author who is also a professional publicist. And the answer would be… a lot and all of the above.
Morgen: What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Michael: I think constantly feeding the creative bug until he’s fat and happy is my favourite aspect and having no medical benefits is my least… that is, until I join a union. There really haven’t been any surprises. Everything is pretty much what I expected.
Morgen: The joy of being in the UK is that our health system is easier (and cheaper, I think) to belong to. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Michael: Probably… don’t close yourself off to other people’s critiques and comments. Be open-minded. Chances are if they’re giving an honest opinion then there will be others who would agree. This is ultimately a business and you want to create the best product you can.
Morgen: Absolutely. If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and what would you cook (or hide the takeaway containers)?
Michael: Oh, I would definitely cook. I love futzing around a kitchen. I’d probably make some Hungarian dishes, noodles, kraut, and goulash… that sort of thing. As for the three people, one would definitely have to be Charles Dickens. I would also want Frank Darabont there – I consider him the king of story-telling and character development in today’s world. And the third would probably be an ancestor of mine, Christopher Gist, who was always by George Washington’s side, even pictured in the famed crossing the Delaware portrait. Of course, having George Washington himself would be cool, but I think having Christopher would be more meaningful and just as inspiring.
Morgen: If you had to choose a single day from your past to re-live over and over, what day would it be and why?
Michael: Hmm… umm… that’s a difficult one. Obviously, I want it to be a happy day unless I’m able to keep the knowledge of what will happen and then undo a regret. But assuming I can’t do that, I’ll have to say the first day I fell in love… or the night The Empire Strikes Back was released theatrically, which isn’t too far off from my falling in love.
Morgen: Love’s pretty hard to beat, unless you’re a Star Wars fan. 🙂 Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Michael: I really need to come up with a new answer for this one because every time I’m asked only one comes to mind from Woody Allen, “The good thing about being bisexual is that it doubles your chance of a date on a Saturday night.” It has nothing to do with writing but it just makes me laugh every time I think of it, and I love to laugh.
Morgen: It makes the world a happier place. We should all do it more often. Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
Michael: I do have a blog called My Little Obsessions, which is tagged as being “Things I like to write about when I take a break from writing,” but quite honestly, I haven’t done much with it since last November because of other projects and life commitments. I’m hoping to start blogging again sometime this Spring.
Morgen: What do you do when you’re not writing?
Michael: Oh, yeah. I’m a geek at heart. I love video games, movies, books… I live three miles from Disneyland so I go there whenever I get a chance. I love my genealogy project and running as well, but I’ve had to break away from running because of bad knees. Most of this stuff is actually in my blog.
Morgen: Are there any writing-related websites and / or books that you find useful?
Michael: There are tons of good websites out there and I would love to name them all but that would just be impossible, so I’ll keep my list to three that helped me a lot when I was just starting:
1) Infinity Publishing (http://www.infinitypublishing.com) – I can’t recommend their services because I don’t use them, but they post some of the best articles on writing I’ve ever read.
2) authonomy (http://www.authonomy.com) – This site is free and run by Harper Collins. It’s very useful for getting feedback on your writing. Just be careful to recognize a good criticism from a bad one as they are written by fellow authors and not professional critics.
3) And because I’m a publicist, I need to add one PR site. I suggest getting on the mail list for The Publicity Hound. Every week she sends out some great ideas on publicity. (http://www.publicityhound.com/?awt_l=5orzF&awt_m=Jme3sx770TtYrK)
Morgen: I tried authonomy but didn’t have the time to commit to critiquing others’ writing. Ditto http://youwriteon.com. Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Michael: Sure. You have to be if you’re publicizing your own work. I’m on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, StumbleUpon, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and Seek n’ Shout. Some I keep up on more than others but they’re all useful tools and mandatory in this day and age.
Morgen: Ooh, not heard of Seek n’ Shout – I should <coughs> seek it out. 🙂 What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Michael: Well, there’s the whole self-publishing controversy of course, which I think is making leaps and bounds in favour of self-publishing as long as self-publishers take their craft seriously and do everything a traditional publisher would (i.e., editing, layouts, etc.). I took a chance in designing my own covers but so far, they’ve been well received. I also went through multiple ideas and tweaked the format I settled on at least 50 times. It helps to be a perfectionist when you’re a self-publisher.
Morgen: Where can we find out about you and your writing?
Michael: For one-stop shop, just go to http://www.michaelhebler.com. It links to just about everything I have a hand in. But be warned Apple uses, it is currently a Flash site but an HTML version is currently being created.
Morgen: Eek, that’s me (I use Macbooks and an iPad). Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Michael: If you read my books, I hope you enjoy them?
Morgen: I’m sure I would. I read far too little (she says looking at the stack threatening to collapse at any second). Is there anything you’d like to ask me?
Michael: Oh yes! How is it that you have time to do anything beyond maintaining your blogs?! It’s a monster project I imagine. I can’t even keep up with my one blog.
Morgen: <laughs> I’m very lucky in that I’m home full-time (I rent out two rooms in my house) but yes, it’s tough. I run five online writing groups (and associated Facebook groups) where I post four 15-minute writing exercises every weekday, a daily short story blog (http://shortstorydaily.wordpress.com where, yes, I post a short story, mostly flash fiction, every day), a Blogspot blog (http://morgensauthorinterviews.blogspot.co.uk, not to be confused with this one), and not forgetting the main blog http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com where it all started in March 2011. This new interview-only blog is the newest (and took me nine days straight to copy / paste the 630+ interviews I’d already run on the main blog. It felt good when I’d done it though). I try to post items ahead of time (which takes up most of Sunday / Monday) then I can relax (or rather deal with emails). Thank you, Michael.
I then invited Michael to include a synopsis of his book ‘Hunt for the Chupacabra’…
There is a creature that lurks in the vast open deserts of the west. It can only survive on blood and, although it prefers to prey on the weak and young, it will slaughter anyone or anything, once provoked. It is unnatural, deceptive, and difficult to kill. Word about the existence of this elusive beast has not spread for anyone who has crossed paths with it did not live long enough to tell of their account.
If you are reading this and you write, in whatever genre, and are thinking “ooh, I’d like to do this” then you can… just email me and I’ll send you the information. They do now (January 2013) carry a fee (£10 / €12.50 / $15) for the new interviews on the mixed blog but everything else (see Opportunities on the main blog) is free.
Alternatively, if you’d like a free Q&A-only interview, I now have this blog, https://morgensauthorinterviews.wordpress.com, on which I’ve rerun the original interviews posted here then posted new interviews which I then reblog here. These interviews are Q&A only, so I don’t add in my comments but they do get exposure on both sites.
If you go for the interview, it’s very simple; I send you a questionnaire (I have them for novelists, short story authors, children’s authors, non-fiction authors, and poets). You complete the questions, and I let you know when it’s going to go live. Before it does so, I add in comments as if we’re chatting, and then they get posted. When that’s done, I email you with the link so you can share it with your corner of the literary world. And if you have a writing-related blog / podcast and would like to interview me… let me know.
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As I post an interview a day (amongst other things) I can’t unfortunately review books but I have a list of those who do. I welcome items for critique for the online writing groups, and their associated Facebook groups, listed below:
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