Mike Sirota on Writing, Indie Publishing and His New Release!

“The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.” — Gloria Steinem

For Mike Sirota and his readers, that’s a very good thing.

Mike is one of my favorite people, and not merely because he edited In Her Shadow and was wearing a Beatles shirt when I met him (although obviously—perks!). He’s as kind as his tales are terrifying and seems to enjoy writing and helping fellow writers equally—both of which say a lot.

I’m reading his brand new release, Freedom’s Hand, now and have to say—it’s AWESOME. If you enjoy character-driven, suspenseful, heart-wrenching stories (and who doesn’t?!?), I highly recommend that you zip over to Amazon and nab a copy. Read on for more of the ins and outs of his wonderful story and why it came into fruition.

FREEDOM’S HAND, by Mike SirotaMike Sirota books author editor

As a teenager, Nathan Adler barely survived the horrors of the Auschwitz death camp at the hands of the Nazis. Fifty years later he could not have imagined that he would live the nightmare again. This time, however, the concentration camp is not in Poland. Erected by Freedom’s Hand, it exists as a citadel of suffering and death—in the desert of the American Southwest.

Mike Sirota on Writing, Indie Publishing and His Latest Release

AM: You set this story aside for quite some time before moving forward with publishing. Why now?

MS: Actually, I’ve made a few half-hearted attempts at marketing Freedom’s Hand in its nearly three decades of existence. Let me go back to its beginnings to say that, initially, I never planned on completing the manuscript until a publisher had made an offer. My then-agent convinced me that Simon & Schuster would take it on, but I needed to finish it. So I did—and they didn’t. Too controversial, or something like that. Imagine that—ME controversial! Afterward, I just left it “in the drawer” and went on to the more fun things that I enjoyed writing—until my long estrangement from the writing game.

But last year I pulled it out of the drawer and re-read it, as I did with a few other unpublished projects. Aside from some easily reparable crappy writing, I found it a powerful story, and I recalled how much emotion I’d put into it so long ago. I also realized, sadly, that it remained relevant even today. Hatred and intolerance always seem to be in vogue. People are tortured and killed by the hundreds, the thousands, and more in the name of twisted ideologies. For me, this makes Freedom’s Hand somewhat of a statement.

AM: Amen to that. Any advice for writers who are grappling with similar issues—wondering when to set a story aside versus self-publish it or seek representation?

MS: I don’t think that my experience with Freedom’s Hand and what you’re asking is an “apples-and-apples” thing. If I were a new writer and had a finished manuscript, I would want to see it published as soon as possible. But in my experience, most novices cannot be objective enough to judge if their project is ready, or as I call it—professional grade. They’ll need at least one other set of eyes for that, and I don’t mean their spouse or sister-in-law. A professional evaluation by a writing coach or editor will help that writer determine if the project is READY. While that could be costly, it will definitely speed up the process.

AM: As you know, I LOVE thrillers that address social issues. Yours does so beautifully. Why are its central issues so important to you? What compelled you to write about them? 

MS: My parents were Eastern European Jews who immigrated here in the early twentieth century. I was raised in a predominantly Jewish, lower middle class neighborhood in The Bronx, post-WWII. Many of our neighbors were Holocaust survivors, though I didn’t know this, or understand why they had numbers on their arms, for a long time, because no one would talk about it. When I finally did learn about it—and discovered that some of our own family members had perished in the camps—I was enraged. That anger stayed with me for a long time and proved the catalyst for Freedom’s Hand. (Readers might be interested in a story that I wrote about my childhood experience, titled, The Number People.)

AM: That’s horribly sad, and one reason I think stories like Freedom’s Hand are so important. You’re skilled at making the reader empathize with and fight for the protagonists, in Freedom’s Hand included. How do you approach character development? 

MS: My characters are reflective of most human beings: flawed. We’re just ordinary folks trying to get by in a challenging world, hoping to love and be loved. But sometimes, ordinary people are thrust into extraordinary situations—especially in fiction—and it is how they handle these necessary changes that, I believe, appeals to readers. In Freedom’s Hand we have David Lowe, a nerdy schoolteacher from suburban Chicago, suddenly pitted against a host of murdering, racist thugs in order to save his family. In Demon Shadows, successful novelist Paul Fleming has writer’s block because he misses his kids after a contentious divorce. This doesn’t exactly prepare him for the horrors he will soon encounter at an isolated writers’ colony, but somehow he’ll need to rise to the occasion. Bottom line: readers understand my characters because they see some of themselves in them, and they’ll be rooting for them to overcome whatever challenges I choose to throw in their path.

AM: You can have dinner anywhere in the world with any two authors—living or dead (but rejuvenated!). Who would you choose? What and where would you dine?

MS: The first one, easy: Edgar Rice Burroughs. He is my all-time favorite writer, and my muse. Without him I would never have begun writing. I can think of so many for a second choice, but let’s go with Mark Twain. I think that would be a hoot! His quotes are priceless and often make my day. I would invite them for seafood at one of my two favorite places: the Fish Market in Del Mar or Monterey Bay Canners on Oceanside Harbor.

AM: Awesome! I’m coming. 🙂 Seems as though you’ve been published by just about everyone over the years. What do you love most about being an indie author?

MS: Being in control of everything regarding your books. Not having to rely on the whims of a publisher to promote—or not promote—you, or not even matching your own efforts for the small percentage you’ll earn in royalties. Yes, it can be great to have a BNYP (Big New York Publisher), and once in a while even a newbie can become a mega-author.

But so much of that potential success may rely on things over which a writer has no control. Let me share one of my own BNYP stories. I landed Bantam Books for my novel, Demon Shadows, and thought I was on my way. I had a champion there, an executive editor who loved my work. She contracted me for a second book, The Well. Demon Shadows started out fine, about 25,000 copies sold per the initial royalty statement. The Well was about to be published. Then, my editor left Bantam. Losing your champion can be death to a writer. The Well was published but put Out of Print less than two months later. It never had a chance. I never received a royalty statement for it, or any other for Demon Shadows. And people wonder why I got out of the game back then?

AM: What’s next in the pipeline for you?

MS: A historical novel, a real labor of love that has spanned over three decades and is just about ready. It’s a Native American story—what else? Though fictionalized, it is a remarkable true story that deserves to be known by far more people that are presently aware of it. Enough said.

Mike Sirota August McLaughlin

****

Thanks, Mike!  Now it’s y’all’s turn. Have any thoughts or questions to share with this fabulous writer? (He’s also a writing coach and has about 20 zillion additional titles out; he’s a mega resource!) Who would you invite to your author date besides me? What would we you eat? 

You can also connect with Mike Sirota on Facebook, Twitter (he just recently joined!) and his coolio blog, Swords, Specters, and Stuff. His latest post features more juicy bits about Freedom’s Hand! Good stuff.

What’s REALLY Thrilling About ThrillerFest: Fabulous Authors Weigh In!

“An artist cannot fail. It is a success to be one.” – Charles Horton Cooley

What do you get when you put a bunch of story lovers with dark imaginations together in one of the world’s most dazzling cities? Besides Sharknado. (Kidding. I have no idea what that is.) I’m sure some of you guessed right: ThrillerFest. “Thriller” may be intended to describe the book genre, but the biggest thrill of the annual conference is undoubtedly its people. I’ve honestly never encountered such a warm, supportive crew—and I’m not talking blood-curdling, criminal heat.

I first attended two years ago, namely for AgentFest. (Think speed-dating with agents.) I hadn’t read the “how to pitch” tips on the website or attended the pitching preparation panel. Sitting outside the agent-filled room, internal butterflies spasming, a fellow writer who’d done his due diligence voluntarily filled me in. I used a couple of his tips and ended up meeting my agent that day. Then last year, I met Lee Child for the first time. Thinking I would shake his hand and scurry off, letting him get onto whatever it is that super famous authors do, he shook my hand and said, “August McLaughlin. Now that’s an interesting name. What do you write?” (Huh?!?) We chatted for a bit, as though we were from the same planet! 😉 Whether a writing newbie, a volunteer or a librarian, bookseller or agent, ThrillerFest folks are truly that congenial.

I really should've offered him my smoothie.

I really should’ve offered him my smoothie.

Rather than share my own ThrillerFest experiences this year, I thought I’d give you a glimpse through the eyes of some of my favorite attendees. I’m so honored to share their thoughts, and hope you’ll not only read their words, but visit their websites. I suspect that you’ll be grateful you did.

*****

JOHN DIXON, Author of Phoenix Island (Simon & Schuster / Gallery, February 2014), inspiration for the upcoming CBS TV series Intelligence, starring Josh Holloway and Marg Helgenberger:

“This was my third and favorite ThrillerFest, partly because I came to it loaded with happy news—my first book deal and the stop-the-presses announcement that CBS TV ordered the show based on my debut novel—but mostly because of the people with whom I could share it: excellent friends, some old, some new, all of them smart and charming and practically glowing with good energy. That’s the magical thing about ThrillerFest; everyone, from bestsellers to aspiring authors, comes together in the spirit of celebration and support. I’m already looking forward to next July!”

Twitter: @johndixonbooks
Facebook: John Dixon

Left to Right: Todd Gerber, John Dixon, Kyle Steele and Peter Aragno

Todd Gerber, John Dixon, Kyle Steele and Peter Aragno

JON McGORAN, Author of Drift

“I didn’t get to many panels, but the ones I went to were excellent. The YA panel was particularly good. R. L. Stine did a great job moderating, hilarious as always, but he also managed to keep things moving and informative, with lots of great insights from Barry Lyga, Michelle Gagnon, Lissa Price, Kat Rosenfield, Linda Gerber, and Allen Zadoff. The best part, of course, was seeing old friends and making new ones. It’s not always easy being a writer, and you definitely make sacrifices, but once again I was reminded that one of the best perks of being a writer is being able to hang out with such amazing, smart, warm and hilarious people.”

Twitter: @JonMcGoran
Website: http://www.jonmcgoran.com

AUSTIN S. CAMACHO, author of the Hannibal Jones thriller series:

“ThrillerFest was one great moment after another. The highlight for me may have been seeing Ann Rice interviewed by her son (Christopher is the best interviewer EVER!) But my favorite memories are meeting with so many Facebook friends I’d never met in person before. Yeah, turning those electronic pals into 3-dimensional friends that was a series of favorite memories. And many will join me at the next great conference, Creatures, Crimes & Creativity.”

Twitter: @ascamacho
Facebook: Austin Camacho / Mystery Thriller Author

Austin S. Camacho

Austin S. Camacho and Maria Hudgins

D.P. LYLE, MD, ITW VP Education/Member Services; CraftFest Director; Author of the Edgar-nominated author of the Dub Walker Thriller Series:

“ThrillerFest was very special this year and I have many great memories including being ravaged, or is it savaged?, by a host off insane vampirettes, dinner with the wonderful R.L. and Jane Stine at their marvelous home and again at the Awards Banquet, and the opportunity to interview my friend and Spotlight Guest T. Jefferson Parker. And of course hanging in the bar with August as well as Heather Graham, Jennifer Hughes, Kathy Antrim, Twist Phelan and her husband Jack, Hans Watford, Phil Donlay, Bob and Pat Gussin, Tony and Tori Eldridge, and many others.”

Twitter: DPLyleMD
Website: www.dplylemd.com

D.P. Lyle and his throng! (Me, Amy Shojai, Carol Shenold, Twist Phelan)

D.P. Lyle and his throng! (Alexandra Sokoloff, Me, Amy Shojai, Carol Shenold and Twist Phelan)

 DANIEL PALMER, author of Delirious, Helpless and Stolen:

“Interviewing my father in front of a packed ballroom during his Author Spotlight appearance was a highlight, as well as an honor and a privilege.”

Twitter: @DanielPalmer
Website: http://www.danielpalmerbooks.com

Daniel and Michael Palmer

Daniel Palmer and Michael Palmer

BOYD MORRISON, Author of the Tyler Locke Thriller Series:

“Because the Yankees catcher Chris Stewart is a fan of my books, he arranged for me and my wife to get field passes and tickets to the game on Saturday. We had a fantastic time meeting him and watching the game from great seats. Not a bad perk for being a writer!”

Twitter: @BoydMorrison
Website: www.boydmorrison.com

IMG_0598

AMANDA KYLE WILLIAMS, Author of the Key Street Thriller Series:

“No one understands the panic of blowing a deadline or the fear of dry days like another writer. This is one of my favorite things about conferences like ThrillerFest. It’s one big therapy session. Usually in the bar.”

Twitter: @AKyleWilliams
Website: http://amandakylewilliams.com

Amanda Kyle Williams, Carla Buckley, Julia Heaberlin and Stefanie Pintoff

Amanda Kyle Williams, Carla Buckley, Julia Heaberlin and Stefanie Pintoff

ANNE RICE, Internationally Celebrated, Award-Winning Author of the The Vampire Chronicles (and so much more!)

“What I loved most about ThrillerFest was the generous high spirits of the top flight professional authors who’d come there to host and to mingle with all sorts of up and coming and aspiring writers. I mean the whole atmosphere was hospitable and fun, from start to finish, and it gave aspiring writers a chance to connect with professionals, to learn from them about craft and to connect with top flight agents. It was a terrific event. I felt so welcome. I want to support the International Thrillers Writers in any way I can.”

Twitter: @AnneRiceAuthor
Facebook: Anne Rice Fan Page

This year Anne was awarded the International Thriller Writers Lifetime Achievement Award! Congratulations, Anne!

Christopher Rice and Anne Rice, holding her brand spankin' new award!

Anne Rice with her son and fellow author, Christopher Rice, holding her brand spankin’ new award!

I have chills thinking of how inspiring these folks, and many others who attended ThrillerFest, are. I could go on and on and on… Instead, I’ll pass the mic to you. If you attended ThrillerFest, what was your favorite part? Are you thinking of going next year? Any questions for me and/or other attendees? I always love hearing your thoughts. ♥