Congratulations to the winner of the Author Spotlight giveaway of The Red Door Inn, Caitlin McCutcheon. Please email info {at} suzannewoodsfisher {dot} com to claim your prize.

Welcome Mike Nappa author of Annabel Lee, to Author Spotlight! Keep reading to find out how you can enter to win a copy of his latest release.

Nappa_MikeIntroduce us to you as an author: When did you get bit with the writing bug? How would you describe your writing style?

I don’t remember exactly when I decided I wanted to be a writer, but it was early on—I loved reading so much (especially comic books) that I wanted to create books and comics too. I used to fold a stack of notebook paper in half, staple the folded edge, and then fill it up with what I thought were page-turning, exciting stories. (“Bladey, the Super Blade of Grass!” anyone?) I do remember that when I was nine or ten years old, I read—and loved—The Runt of Rogers School by Harold Keith. By that time Mr. Keith had already won a Newbery Award, and I started reading anything I could find with his name on it. Then Mr. Keith came to my school to make an author appearance! I was so excited to meet him! He was kind of a crusty old guy with what I now recognize was a dry sense of humor. Back then most people wrote books longhand, on big yellow legal pads, and Mr. Keith was no exception. When it came time for questions, I was the first to raise my hand; I nearly jumped out of my seat to get his attention. “I want to be a writer,” I said, “but when I write stories my hand cramps up and it hurts. What should I do?” Looking back on it now, I think he could have given me all kinds of practical advice, like “Learn how to use a typewriter” or “Take breaks to stretch your hand when you write” or “Try recording your stories on a cassette tape.” Instead he kind of chuckled and rolled his eyes. “Find a new career,” he said, and then he moved on to the next question. I was stunned, and I don’t even remember the rest of his visit. After that, I spent 10 years or so thinking I could never be a writer because the great Harold Keith had told me I wasn’t cut out for the job. It wasn’t until I was in college (and learned how to type) that I started thinking seriously again about writing professionally. Turns out Mr. Keith was wrong about me, so that’s a relief.

As for my writing style, I don’t really know how to describe it. Some people have compared it favorably to authors like Dean Koontz or Dennis Lehane, but I don’t know how accurate that is. Mostly I just dream up a movie in my head and then try to write down what I see going on in there. So maybe “cinematic” is the right word to describe my writing? I’m not sure—maybe you can tell me?

Tell us about your new release:

Annabel Lee is the story of an eleven-year-old wunderkind raised in rural Alabama. One day her mysterious uncle sweeps her out of bed and deposits her in an underground bunker hidden on their property. “Don’t open that door for anybody,” he says as he leaves. “Not even me, not unless you hear me say the safe code.” So she waits as the days and weeks go by. And she worries. And she tries to maintain her sanity, completely unaware of what’s happening above her head. Completely unaware that her uncle has been killed—and he’s never coming back.

And then, you know, things happen.

And there’s a vicious German Shepherd guard dog involved, and a really bad, bad guy, and a few good guys, and stuff like that. And maybe Annabel survives, and maybe she doesn’t, and maybe we’ll never know what really happened to her down in that bunker. Guess you’ll have to read the book and see for yourself.

How can readers connect with you online?

The most reliable way to get in touch with me is through the “Contact Us” page at my e-magazine, www.FamilyFans.com.

Anything new for you on the book horizon?

I’ve finished the second book in the Coffey & Hills series, which is titled The Raven. It’s a story of a young street magician/petty thief who gets caught trying to blackmail a member of the Ukrainian mafia. And then, you know, things happen.The Raven releases in fall of 2016.

Aside from a cup of good, strong coffee, what helps you get all of your “brain cylinders” firing so you can write well?

I find that, for me, the hardest part of writing is the “not writing” part that comes before I ever start tapping on a keyboard. My wife can take a deep breath, sit down and start typing away. I just can’t do that. If I try to, I sit and stare at blank pages, or write words that I know are awful and end up deleting anyway.

So, to get my brain cylinders firing, I will actually spend weeks (or sometimes months) doing nothing but thinking about a book. Literally eight hours a day, or more, just thinking. I stare out windows, I strum nonsense tunes on a guitar, I hold a Chihuahua in my lap and map the color patterns in his fur, I take unnecessary baths, I lay awake at night and draw shapes in the shadows on the ceiling. You get the idea. When I finally get to the point where it feels like I’m seeing the book being acted out in my head, that’s when I start writing. Then it’s almost like I’m copying it from my brain to the page—and it reads a lot better than if I’d tried to just sit down and write on some arbitrary daily schedule or timeline. I had to learn to be comfortable with “not writing” in order write successfully.

When I first quit my editorial job to begin writing full time, that paradoxical writing process drove my wife crazy. “You’re supposed to be working!” she’d say to me. “I am working!” I’d say. “But you’re just standing there!” she’d say. “I know!” I’d say. Then she’d throw her hands up and walk away frustrated. But my system works. Over the years I’ve published more than 50 books in practically all genres, and they all started with me just standing or sitting around, thinking.

And for the record, my wife my now supports my methodology of inertia. Recently I was complaining to her about how I was having trouble getting started on book 3 in the Coffey & Hill series. She pointed me toward an open window and said, “Get to work!”

Why do you write?

I wish I could say something lofty and important here. Something like, “I write because of my great calling … I write to make Jesus known in my world … I write to make life better for people everywhere …” I’d love to be able to say those things, but the honest-to-God truth is that I write because I can’t not write. It’s almost physically painful for me not to be able smear words across a computer screen. This is the way God created me, the way he shaped me through the years of my life, and the way he’s planted me in my profession. It’s kind of annoying sometimes, because I’m often juggling several ideas at once in my head, and I have trouble keeping up with all of them.

For instance, many years ago, I started a juvenile fiction novel about a group of orphans who become a kid-superhero team. I had the whole story mapped out in my head. It was kind of fun, so I wrote the first few chapters and read them out loud to my son, who was around 10 years old at the time. He loved it. “When can I read the rest?” he asked. “I have a deadline on another book first,” I told him, “but I’ll write the rest of Infinity’s Children for you after that.” He frowned. “Promise?” he said. “Sure, I promise,” I said. Then I went off and finished that other book. Afterward, I came back to my son’s superhero tale … and could NOT remember what happened. No matter what I did, I couldn’t bring the story back. My son is mid-twenties, now, married, with two kids of his own, and he still insists that I finish that book. “You promised me,” he says. It’s the only promise to him that I’ve ever broken! But I just can’t remember the story.

That experience taught me two things: 1) Never make casual promises to children, and 2) Write notes to yourself when you think you have a good idea! Now I have a file on my computer with over a hundred book ideas, who-knows-how-many unfinished manuscripts, and all kinds of notes to myself so that if I ever decide I want to write something I can remind myself what it was all about.

All that to say … I write, I guess, because I don’t know how not to write. And because I’m hoping someday I’ll be able to finally keep a promise I made to my kid a long time ago.

What are you best known for … writing or otherwise?

I started out writing Sunday School curriculum and youth ministry resources (I was a youth pastor for a few years). But most people know me because of my inspirational and family books—those are the ones that have actually paid a few of my bills over the years. Interestingly, those are also the books that also almost kept me from writing suspense novels.

nappa.inddA number of years ago there was a night when I couldn’t sleep. I was bored, so I spent the time making up the premise for a suspense novel. Afterward I figured, why not? and I started writing it. When it came time to pitch the novel to publishers, no editor would read it. My agent at the time explained it this way: “They keep telling me, ‘Mike Nappa is an inspirational writer. He can’t write suspense.’” So I did what any stubborn writer would do. I erased my name completely from the manuscript and made up a pen name instead—a woman’s name. I re-submitted the manuscript to one of the publishers who’d seen it (and not read it) a year prior. I told them the author was a homemaker in Florida, and that this was her first attempt at writing. I had a contract offer on my desk in three weeks. In the end, I wrote three novels under that pen name—it was the only way I could get anyone to look at my fiction until Vicki Crumpton and Revell came along. I’m grateful to finally be able to publish novels under my own name now.

Ever had a bad review? How did you handle it?

Wait a minute … are you suggesting that some writers out there DON’T get bad reviews?? Oh man, am I the only one who gets creamed by critics and random readers on Amazon? How embarrassing.

Yes, I get bad reviews, more frequently that I care to admit. My writing has inspired anger, derision, insults, and formal rebukes—and that’s just from my family! There are also plenty of strangers out there who hate my work and wish I’d just shut up for a while. My favorite was the guy who sent me a letter telling me I was corrupting children with my writing and that I was going to end up in hell with CS Lewis if I didn’t repent. That’s probably the only time my name will ever be mentioned in the same sentence as CS Lewis, so at least there’s that.

Christian readers tell me that my fiction is not religious enough. Non-Christian readers tell me that my fiction is too religious. I’ve been told my stories are too scary and thus inappropriate for religious readers, and not scary enough and therefore boring for mainstream readers. I’ve been told my theology is both too conservative and too liberal, that I’m too politically correct, that I’m intolerant and politically incorrect, that I’m just an arrogant jerk writing arrogant trash, and so on.

So what do I do when I get a bad review? Usually I obsess about it for a while, worry that this reviewer has finally unmasked the fact that I’m an imposter faking my way through a writing career, and make plans to give up writing for a job at the local Panera restaurant where at least I can eat a cinnamon bagel when I’m feeling down.

Then I sigh and forget about it.

Hey, everybody hates somebody’s book. I hate a few of my own books myself. Why should I be upset if somebody else does too? If I can’t take a bad review, then I don’t belong in publishing.

So I try to ignore bad reviews and move on. Which means, to be fair, I ignore most good reviews too. The truth about a book is usually somewhere in between the rapturous praise and the snarky derision, so I take it all with a grain of salt. In the end all that matters is that I know I did the best I could with the meager talent I have. The rest is an “SEP” (“Somebody Else’s Problem”).

What do you least like about being a writer? Most like?

I really dislike all the pressure to pursue celebrity in order to be able to publish books. I don’t like having to invest time and energy and expertise on social media, on keeping press lists, on writing press releases and begging for media coverage, on trying to create a significant promotional platform, and so on. I became a writer because I wanted to write, not because I wanted to become a marketing and publicity professional. All that stuff just sucks time, and honestly, doesn’t yield the benefit that most writers (and their publishers) hope it will. Still, I don’t have a better idea for how to sell books , so I just have to live in the world as it is instead of the world as I wish it would be.

What do I like most about being a writer? I like it when I forget that I wrote something and then read or hear it again years later and say to myself, “Hey, that’s pretty good. Did I write that?” Of course, most often I read something I wrote years back and think, “Wow, that’s crap. How did that get published?” But sometimes I like my writing, and when that happens, it feels nice.

What advice would you give to new writers?

This is going to sound sarcastic, but I’m 100% serious. The best advice I can give to new writers is to marry someone who can support your family with one income.

There’s a reason why most art and literature in times past was created through a system of wealthy benefactors who paid living expenses while an artist/writer spent each day creating art. It’s because art in itself (including literature) isn’t typically a big moneymaker for the artist/writer. A few make a lot; most of the rest of us make just a little. So, no Virginia, you probably won’t be able to support your family by working solely as a writer. My advice then? Find a spouse who loves you enough to support your talent by working a real job that pays the family mortgage and grocery bill for you. If you don’t have the pressure of scrambling to make ends meet every month, you can invest yourself in creative effort and quite possibly produce a real, timeless work of art. Or two.

Who’s your favorite character you’ve written so far? Explain:

My first suspense novel (written under a pen name) featured a Civil War era vigilante named The Sinner. In his constant pursuit of justice, he struggled to comprehend the awful/beautiful truth of forgiveness. I wrote his story through journal entries, and many of those entries came directly from my own personal writings and struggles, so I felt very intimate with that character, like he was a reflection of something deep inside me. I thought it was funny that after my wife read that book, she asked me, “Where did you find The Sinner’s journal? Was it online or at the library?” She’d watched me write the book, but was still surprised to hear I’d made up The Sinner’s most intimate thoughts. She thought I’d copied those parts from somewhere else as part of my historical research for the book.

Best indulgence:

I collect Captain America comic books. In fact, I own every Captain America comic book published in my lifetime. Yeah, it’s juvenile and a colossal waste of time and money, but it brings me joy, so I’m OK with it. My dream is to write at least one Captain America story before I die. And yes, I have a framed rejection letter from Joe Quesada, the Chief Creative Officer at Marvel Comics, telling me I’m not good enough to do that. I’m hoping that he, like Harold Keith, is wrong about me. We’ll have to wait and see, I guess.

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