Today’s spotlight: Mike Nappa.

[Leave a comment for a chance to win a copy of The Raven by Mike Nappa. The winner will be announced in the next Author Spotlight feature. Congratulations to Shirley Chapel, the winner of Jane Kirkpatrick’s “This Road We Traveled.” Shirley, please email suzanne {at} suzannewoodsfisher {dot} com to claim your prize.]]

Welcome, Mike! Tell us about your new release, The Raven. What inspired this particular story?


Nappa_MikeMike Nappa: There were two things that came together to inspire the “Coffey & Hill” story of THE RAVEN. First, for awhile my wife and I got on a kick of watching the TV show, “Brain Games” on the National Geographic channel. One of the regulars on that show was “deception specialist” Apollo Robbins. This guy is one of the modern masters at close-up magic and sleight of hand—fascinating to watch. I’m a total fan. So much so that I thought, hey, I should write a story about a guy who’s something of a “deception specialist” like Apollo Robbins. Next thing you know, The Raven was born in my mind.


The Raven-Book Cover-1The second inspiration for THE RAVEN came out of my novel, ANNABEL LEE. In that book, one of my characters, Samuel Hill, bought a fancy red dress for his ex-wife (and my lead detective) Trudi Coffey—but she never got to wear it! In my mind, Trudi likes to get dressed up and go out on the town, but ever since she and Samuel divorced she rarely gets the chance. So I thought, what situation can I put Trudi in where she finally gets a chance to fancy up and put on that red dress? Chapter one of THE RAVEN was my answer.


After you started writing seriously, how long was it before you were published?


Mike Nappa: Believe it or not, the first thing I ever tried to publish actually got published! (Sort of.) It was an article for a youth ministry magazine published by Group Publishing. I was working as a youth pastor at the time, and it seemed a natural step. I wrote up a five-page article that I thought was perfect and mailed it off to the editor. (Yeah, that was back when we did thing by mail!) A few weeks later, I got an envelope back from the editor. It was my article. In green pen, on the front page, she’d written, “I like this.” Pages 2 through 5 had all been crossed through with a big green “X.” At the bottom of the last page, the editor had written, “Give me more like page 1, and I’ll buy it.”


So I took the challenge.


I rewrote the article and sent her five pages “like page 1.” She bought it, published it, and I became a regular writer for her magazine over the next several years. She also passed my name to other editors in the book department at Group Publishing, and pretty soon I was writing for them too. Three years later, Group hired me as a youth curriculum editor, and the rest, I guess, is history.


Best author moment? Worst author moment?


Mike Nappa: I think my best author moment and worst author moment are probably the same moment.


When my son, Tony, was nine years old, we used to sit around and entertain ourselves by making up stupid jokes. You know, silly things like, “Why did the boy throw his pencil out the window? He was skywriting!” After several weeks of Tony and me trying to top each other, my wife pulled out a recorder. “We should start collecting some of these,” she said. “We might want them someday.” Sometime later, I decided to transcribe a few of the recordings and was shocked to discover we had over 100 silly jokes. Well, I am what I am, so it wasn’t long before my nine year old son (and me) had a book deal. That was kind of a cool thing, so when the book came out (my son was ten years old by then) the publisher invited him to make an author appearance at a book convention in Nashville. After a little lobbying, they let me tag along too.


On the signing day, we showed up at the publisher’s booth, and there was a table with stacks of our joke book on it, and a sign announcing when we’d be there. “Tony,” I said, “right now nobody has any idea who you are. When you sit down at that table, you’ll be famous for about an hour. Then, when you get up, no one will care who you are again, so be ready for that.” A few minutes later we sat down. The line for our autographs snaked down the aisle and around the corner! We signed (I think) about 200 autographs over the next hour. People lavished us with praise, fawned over us, and told us how great we were. Then our hour was up.


We stood up, stepped about five feet away from the table, and suddenly were forgotten. Our line dispersed, people walked up and down the aisle, ignoring us completely. We couldn’t have paid a passerby to take our autograph! So we learned something about the reality of so-called “fame” that day. It was a good lesson for my son—and probably both my best and worst author moment all wrapped up in one.


If you weren’t able to write, what would you do?


Mike Nappa: Honestly, I thought I was going to be a youth pastor my whole life—that’s what I first studied in college. My bachelor’s degree is in Christian Education, with a minor in Bible Theology. It wasn’t until I was 40 years old that I finally admitted writing was my true career and went back to school to earn a master’s degree in English literature and composition. So if I couldn’t write, I think I’d want to go back to being some kind of pastor or church worker. I really enjoyed doing that, years ago.


Can a person make a living as a writer?


Mike Nappa: Nope. If you stand in a room with 100 writers, chances are pretty good that only two or three are actually paying their bills by writing words on a page. The rest of us are supplementing our incomes by marrying sympathetic spouses or working “real” jobs outside of our writing career.


The exception would be “journalists” who make a living as staff writers (employees) of newspapers or magazines or large websites. But most of us just write because we “can’t not write .” And so we take whatever income we can make from writing and assume our “other” career is the price we pay for the privilege of publishing.


What is the role and importance of an agent?


Mike Nappa: I’m frequently asked, usually sarcastically, often with a bit of a frustrated whine in the voice, “Do I really need an agent to publish books?” My opinion after two decades in the publishing business is this:


Yes, you need an agent. And that stinks.


You ought to be able to approach any publisher directly with your book ideas and proposals, but that’s just not the way publishing works in the 21st century. An agent’s primary job is to build relationships with the decision-makers at the different publishing houses, and then those relationships allows him or her to approach the publisher for you, knowing that your work will at least be considered for publication. Without that kind of relationship, most publishers will either fire off a rejection without ever looking at your book, or even worse, ignore your submission and never respond to it.


Here are situations when you might not need an agent: If you already have a relationship with a particular editor or publisher; if you have a friend that already publishes with a particular house and he or she passes on your manuscript to his or her editor; if you self-publish a book and it sells over 20,000 copies without the help of an established publishing company.


Don’t have any of that? Then yes, you need an agent. Suck it up and do the work required to get yourself a reputable agent. Complaining about the “rules” of this industry doesn’t get you published. Trying every random idea in order to shortcut your way around the need for an agent is almost always a waste of time. You want to publish? Do the work. Hard work trumps talent (or even lack of talent sometimes) and creates opportunity. Do the work, keep doing the work, and then work some more—and you’ll be able to find the agent you need.


What is the smartest writing advice you ever got?


Mike Nappa: My first boss when I went to work at a publishing company was a guy named Stephen Parolini. Early in my tenure there, he dropped a manuscript on my desk and told me (kindly) it wasn’t good enough. “As you’re rewriting,” he said, “think of your three very best ideas. Then go with your fourth idea.”


Mind. Blown.


I’ve followed that advice ever since, and it has never failed me. The simple truth is that there are thousands of very creative people competing with me for every opportunity I pursue. If my only asset is that I can think of ideas somebody else can think of too, then I’m not going to last very long as a writer. But if I can keep coming up with that “fourth idea”—that unexpected, unique, compelling, surprising idea—then maybe, just maybe, I can stick around this fickle industry for a few days more. Thanks Steve!


If your house were on fire, what one thing would you save?


Mike Nappa: I’m going to give you the needlessly long, bloviating response to that question. (Hope that’s OK!) If you want the short answer, just skip to the last sentence in this section. Otherwise, here we go…


When I was a kid, I was captivated by superhero comics. I liked most any superhero, but my favorite was always Captain America. At that time, Stan Lee was a driving force behind most Captain America comics and every time I’d read a new Cap story, I’d feel wistful about it, wishing that I could grow up to write Captain America comics.


Well, sadly, I’ve never written a single panel of a Captain America comic, or any Marvel comic for that matter—but I did grow up to become a writer, and I have published my share of adventure and suspense stories. Even in a detective story like THE RAVEN you can see influences of Stan Lee on my writing style. So when Stan the Man himself made an appearance at a Comic Con just a few hours from where I live, I made an appointment to meet him. (What that means is, I paid an exorbitant price for a ticket that allowed me to take a 30-second picture with the legendary comics creator. Yeah, I’m that kind of nerd.)


I had Stan sign the oldest Captain America comic in my collection, “Tales of Suspense #58,” and then when they ushered me next to him for my photo op, I held up that comic and leaned down and whispered in his ear: “I want you to know I became a writer because of you,” I said. He grinned for the picture and said to me in that deep, Stan-Lee bass voice, “I’m so delighted.”


Click. Camera flashed and Stan’s people pushed me away. But I had my comic and I had my memory. It felt pretty good.


So, if my house was on fire and I could save only one thing, it’d be my Stan Lee-signed copy of the 1964 edition of Tales of Suspense #58. Excelsior!


If I could go anywhere, it would be…


Mike Nappa: Disneyland, with my wife, just long enough for us to breathe in the air on Main Street USA and see her smile like she’s finally made it home again.


How can readers connect with you?


Mike Nappa: The most reliable way to get in touch with me is through the “Contact Us” page at my e-magazine,

Thanks, Suzanne!

Thank you, Mike, for taking time for such a great interview. Loved, loved, loved your responses! Especially the story about you and your son at a book signing. May the Lord bless and extend the reach of your writing gift, Mike.

Readers, don’t forget to leave a comment for a chance to win a copy of The Raven by Mike Nappa. The winner will be announced in the next Author Spotlight feature, so check back next week to see if you won!

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