Plans for the Wounded Angels publication continue at a break-neck pace. There is so much work to be done however, that the book cannot be published until early spring. Elm Hill, the Christian publishing division of Harper Collins, has completed all the editing and has sent me the interior layout draft for review and approval. They have also proposed three alternatives to Darrin Horbal's excellent cover design. Much more on these to come.
A Blog Interview for Wounded Angels
For those of you who might not be familiar with the term, a Blog is an on-line, special interest newsletter. These "Up and Coming" announcements for Wounded Angels and my other writing projects are my blog. Occasionally, a blogger will conduct an interview with someone as one of their posts. I recently completed a blog interview and found answering the 42 questions very helpful in focusing my writing efforts so I decided to share my answers with you. Here are the answers to my blog interview.
What inspired you to write this book?
Answer: For Wounded Angels, when my mother-in-law lost her husband, she became inconsolable until she met another emotionally damaged woman. These two dysfunctional women sustained and helped heal each other. They became “Wounded Angels” for each other. I saw this as an important story to share for two reasons: 1. We can and should give ourselves permission to live and love after the loss of a significant other and 2. Our brokenness can be a powerful tool to support and help heal others.
Can you tell me about the book?
Answer: Maureen Russo thought she had it all figured out. After spending a lifetime of love with close friends, caring family and her devoted husband, she would pass away peacefully. Things however, didn’t work out the way she planned. When her husband of more than fifty years dies suddenly, her deep-seated fear of abandonment rises to the surface and she is devastated. Friends, family and even ministers are helpless to lift her from her depression until help comes from the unlikeliest of sources: Doris Cantrell. The product of an abused childhood, a failed marriage and estrangement from her own daughter, Doris is as damaged in her own way as is Maureen. Neither woman has the strength or desire to save anyone yet they manage to sustain and help heal each other, not despite their disabilities, but because of them. When Larry Kowalski re-enters Maureen’s life, however, can her friendship with Doris survive her new relationship with Larry?
What is your writing process like?
Answer: My writing is not as consistent as I would like. I find it challenging to balance the business aspects of writing with the writing itself. After three books and working on my fourth, I still struggle with devoting a set time to writing each day.
Was the character inspired by a real person?If so, who?
Answer: My main character, Maureen, is based largely upon my mother-in-law, Charlotte, a beautiful, vibrant woman. I’ve often joked that she was part of the reason I married my wife.
What do you think happened to the characters after the book ended?
Answer: I know because I lived it. To say what happened, however, would spoil the ending for your readers, so they will have to read the book to find out. For those who don’t mind spoilers, I’ve created a series of blogs called “The Story Behind the Story” on my website at https://www.authorchuckmiceli.com/. They cover the real-life people and places behind the story.
Does writing energize or exhaust you?
Answer: Both. When I am “In the Zone” I can write for hours, lose track of all time, and enjoy every second of it. When I am struggling with competing priorities or I am lost at how to move forward, it can be very draining.
What are common traps for aspiring writers?
Answer: Perfectionism – we need to be willing to write crap at first and trust that it will turn out right in the rewrites. Pride of Authorship – We all write the book we love to read. Great authors write the books others want to read. The only way we can learn what others think of our writing is to be willing to hear their honest critique. Work / Life Balance - We need time to write. We also need time for family, friends, love and life. Writing, like any job, requires managing time for both.
What is your writing Kryptonite?
Answer: Perfectionism. I write, then rewrite, then rewrite some more and I am still never completely satisfied with what I have written. As a result, it takes me much longer to finish a novel than many other writers.
Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?
Answer: Both. I am less interested in writing many books than I am in writing a few well-crafted, original stories. At the same time, when I write, I picture the person reading my books: laughing at a funny part, squirming at a dramatic or scary scene or sighing at a romantic passage. I visualize them finishing the book, laying it on their lap, smiling and thinking to themselves, That was time well spent, or better yet, I’m sorry it ended. I write to delight the reader and if I succeed, nothing about the craft makes me happier.
Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?
Answer: Amanda’s Room, self-published in 2012, is a paranormal thriller involving college students that takes place in upstate New York. Wounded Angels, scheduled for release next spring, is a literary novel involving mature adults that takes place in New York City and suburban Connecticut. Black Hell Drowning, which I am writing now, is a multi-generational historical novel that takes place in the anthracite coalfields of northeastern Pennsylvania. The thread that connects all of my novels is the challenge of faith vs. circumstance. In Amanda’s Room, the scientist, Bert Myers, denies Amanda’s existence because to acknowledge her spirit would force him to accept the possibility of God’s existence. In Wounded Angels, Maureen questions the existence of the God she trusted in light of her husband’s sudden death. While Black Hell Drowning is still under development, a central question is how God works in the lives of faithful people on opposite sides of a conflict.
How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
Answer: I have at least three books that are in various draft stages and may never be published.
What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
Answer: I research as I write. I get a scene down and if I don’t have all of the information I need, I research the answers and rewrite as needed.
As part of my preparation for Wounded Angels, I spoke with people who lost a significant other after many years in close, loving relationships. When one of my early beta readers asked me why so many of my characters in the senior center were “frumpy,” I realized that I had no direct knowledge of what the senior center members were actually like. I spent the next three years rewriting the book on-site at the Bristol Senior Center. While there, I met a host of wonderful people who were amazingly diverse.
Since Wounded Angels deals with people whose brokenness makes them more effective at healing others, I read Henri Nouwen’s, The Wounded Healer. I also read and analyzed Nicholas Sparks’, The Notebook, for how he treated subject matter that spanned a long-term, love relationship.
Because of my character Frank’s war experience, I did an extensive amount of research into the operation of the draft in WW II, the experience of American soldiers on Okinawa and especially the operation of the Japanese “Lilly Corps.”
To augment the story of Maureen’s healing journey, I researched and read materials printed to help people cope with loss and incorporated several of the Abby Press Care Notes pamphlets into the story line.
How long were you a part-time writer before you became a full-time one?
Answer: I co-authored my first book, Fire Behind Bars, a text on deadly fires in secure institutions, in 1979. Then I did a thirty-year career in government before taking an early retirement to get back to writing. Even then, it was four more years before I committed to writing full time.
How many hours a day do you write?
Answer: If you count marketing and publicity writing, blogs, social media announcements, etc, I write about eight hours a day. I consider myself lucky if I devote two or more hours to writing my new books. I hope to change that in the near future.
What period of your life do you find you write about most often? (child, teenager, young adult)
Answer: It depends on the subject matter I am developing. There are segments of my books that cover the period when I was in grammar school, others in high school and others that take place well into my fifties.
What did you edit out of this book?
Answer: I originally wrote Wounded Angels as a Hallmark-type story and then I adjusted it to be more mainstream fiction. In my relationship with my publisher, a Christian publication division of Harper Collins, I needed to modify the story again to meet their guidelines, which included revising scenes with crude language and graphic sex or violence. I believe it is a better and stronger story because of it while still dealing with the challenge of maintaining faith in the face of bitter realities.
How do you select the names of your characters?
Answer: I visualize the characters in my head, playing with different names until one matches their personality. Sometimes, names come from people I have known who have similar traits or even places. The female lead in Amanda’s Room is Katie Jarvis. The reformatory I worked at in Cheshire, Connecticut was located on Jarvis street. Sometimes I just love the sound of the name. I also work at using distinct sounding names so that the reader can keep them straight as the story progresses.
If you didn’t write, what would you do for work?
Answer: I love public speaking. I have delivered training courses, seminars, workshops and keynote addresses all over the country. I would love to return to doing more of that. I have also written and directed several plays, one of which has been in continuous annual production for more than forty years.
What was your hardest scene to write?
Answer: Actually, it wasn’t one scene but the approach to the entire book. I originally wrote Wounded Angels from a third-person perspective. My main character, Maureen, however, came across as shallow. I couldn’t impart the kind of emotion I wanted to give her. I finally realized that in order to create the desired emotional impact, I needed to “Get into her skin.” I rewrote the entire book from the first-person perspective of Maureen. I expected it to be difficult as a man to write from the perspective of a woman, but the writing flowed well and from the feedback of many beta readers, it apparently comes across as very authentic.
How long on average does it take you to write a book?
Answer: It took me less than a year to co-author my non-fiction textbook, Fire Behind Bars. It took me seven years to write Amanda’s Room. I started Wounded Angels in 2005 and it will be published next spring. I started Black Hell Drowning in 2001 and it will be at least another two years before it is finished.
Do you believe in writer’s block?
Answer: I’ve lived it! For Amanda’s Room, I wrote two thirds of the novel as a stream of consciousness and let the characters drive the action. Then I hit a wall and for several months, I had no idea where the story was going or how to finish it. I finally took out my frustration by having one of my supporting characters experience all of the anguish I was feeling and poured it out on the paper. The scene worked and I outlined the rest of the book.
What works best for you: Typewriters, fountain pen, dictate, computer or longhand?
Answer: For my first novel, I wrote everything out on paper and made the computer transcription my first rewrite. Now I type everything directly into my computer and edit in my word processor. I would like to master dictating the first draft into a voice recognition program, but I’m not there yet.
When did it dawn upon you that you wanted to be a writer?
Answer: In Grade School. I wrote a poem about my mother with a funny punch line, intentionally ending with the word “aint”. I waited for the nun’s reaction as she read it aloud. She howled at my ending right on cue and then told me I had to change it because it was bad grammar.
How hard was it to sit down and actually start writing something?
Answer: I find it easy to start writing and difficult to stop. Like the priest who answered the criticism about his sermons being too long, “That’s because I didn’t have the time to write a short one.” Most of my rewriting is taking material out.
Do you aim to complete a set number of pages or words each day?
Answer: Not currently, but I would love to return to that habit.
Do you set a plot or prefer going wherever an idea takes you?
Answer: I start with a broad idea of the full arc of the story. Then I see where the plot will take me for as long as practical. If I get bogged down, I outline as much as needed to move forward again.
Do you read much and, if so, who are your favorite authors?
Answer: I like to read whenever I can, but not as much as I would like. I’m a slow reader and I tend to analyze the story as I go. I was amazed by Harper Lee’s description of young Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird, which inspired me to start writing novels. I learned the art of the “hook” by reading Mario Puzo’s, The Godfather. I like John Grisham and Stephen King very much. My favorite author is Ken Follett. I have read many of his books and I am still jealous that he wrote Eye of the Needle when he was twenty-seven. I consider Pillars of the Earth my favorite book. Right now, I am reading non-fiction books on coal mining as part of my research for Black Hell Drowning.
What is the most important thing about a book, in your opinion?
Answer: Great non-fiction books, skillfully crafted, can be life-changing tools by imparting essential knowledge and wisdom. Great fiction can teach us the “Why” of life by allowing us to see it through the character’s eyes and can transport us to entirely new worlds.
How much of yourself do you put into your books?
Answer: Very much. Parts of many of my characters are autobiographical. Many of the situations in my books are out of my own life experiences as are the other people and places involved.
Who is the most supportive of your writing in your family?
Answer: I enjoy the support of many in my immediate and extended family but my daughter-in-laws, Jenn and Jolene, and son Mike win the prize for most supportive. When I give Jenn or Jolene a draft manuscript to read, their feedback is brutally candid and detailed. That is essential to my rewriting. My son, Mike, is a gifted visual and video artist. He and Jenn created the cover and the video trailer for Amanda’s Room and will be doing the trailer for Wounded Angels as well.
Writers are often believed to have a Muse, your thoughts on that?
Answer: Does praying count? I’d like to become more playful in my writing and entertain thoughts of a muse looking over my shoulder. Right now, my characters tend to provide my motivation to write and yes, I do pray a lot.
Did any of your books get rejected by publishers?
Answer: By publishers no, by agents yes. I have learned to recognize the importance of what a particular agent enjoys reading and/or promoting. I have had agents pass over my current book while asking me to bring them my future one when it is finished.
What is your view on co-authoring books; have you done any?
Answer: My first book, Fire Behind Bars, was co-authored with Al Golden. Al was an experienced Fire Marshall and I was the researcher / writer. The partnership worked extremely well as we had compatible skills and personalities. I would be open to doing it again for the right book with the right person.
Is writing book series more challenging?
Answer: That is not something that I have done to date.
Does it get frustrating if you are unable to recall an idea you had in your mind some time earlier?
Answer: It use to. Now the problem is having too many ideas to work on and narrowing them down to doing a reasonable number at any one time.
Have you ever destroyed any of your drafts?
Answer: No. I painted when I was much younger and I was actually good at it. I destroyed many of my paintings when I was going through a period of severe self-doubt and always regretted that. Now I am less critical of my early writing attempts and accept that they will improve in the rewrites and provide the foundation for better work later on.
Can you tell us about your current projects?
Answer: Right now I am conducting research for the rewrite of the novel I first started writing in 2001, Black Hell Drowning. My father was a coal miner in Pennsylvania and died of the Black Lung. Black Hell Drowning is a multi-generational historical novel about life and death in the anthracite coalmines of northeastern Pennsylvania. After writing about 200 pages, I realized that I was not experientially or emotionally ready to finish that book, so I put it away and worked on the other two novels. Now I feel ready to finish it and, as I write this, I am in Pittston, Pennsylvania, the town where the book takes place, doing research for the book. I am also working on the rewrite of a play script for Wounded Angels. I held a reading for the play April of 2018 in Connecticut. Over 150 people attended and gave a standing ovation but the play needs more development.
Had any of your literary teachers ever told you growing up that you were going to become a published writer one day?
Answer: No. Many told me I was going to be a lawyer because I loved debating, but I think I hid my writing skills because of my poor self-image at the time.
Were your parents reading enthusiasts who gave you a push to be a reader as a kid?
Answer: No. My father was pulled out of school in the fourth grade to work in the mines. He taught himself radio and television repair and read mostly technical manuals. My mother’s reading was mainly limited to religious pamphlets. Most of the books in our house were those we brought home for schoolwork.
Do you enjoy discussing upcoming ideas with your partner? If yes, how much do you value their inputs?
Answer: My wife is the last reviewer after all of the other beta readers and before the book goes out for editing. I read the book aloud to her and she comments on what she hears. That process works well for both of us. She had extensive input on Wounded Angels as the book is based primarily on her mother’s life.
Have you ever turned a dream or a nightmare into a written piece?
Answer: When I’m working on a book, I often take Stephen King’s advice and invite my characters to play out the next scene while I sleep. Then I write down their actions for the next chapter the following day.
How can readers find out more info about you and your books?
Answer: My website, https://www.authorchuckmiceli.com/ contains information about me and my books. Your readers are welcome to visit the website and to sign up for my monthly newsletter, Up and Coming. For those who love to understand the background of a book, I have been blogging for the last several months on the “Story Behind the Story” for Wounded Angels. There are archives of all the blogs on the website. Future blog posts will contain information about the upcoming publication of Wounded Angels, pre-order details, discounts, contests and giveaways, and the Book Launch details. I welcome readers’ questions and comments and I love speaking to library groups and book clubs. My publisher will be creating a new website for Wounded Angels in the near future and will link the two sites so readers don’t get lost.