Michael Smart A baby boomer, I was born in the Bronx, New York, inheriting a love of reading and travel from my adventurous mother. Her fascinating story a book in itself, one I have yet to convince her to write, or allow me to write. I’m not sure where the writing bug came from, but I remember first putting pen to paper around the age of thirteen.

My restless urge to travel carried me around the United States and to distant corners of the world after college. Eventually I landed in Key West Florida, in search of a crew position on any cruising yacht heading for far horizons. In the interim I completed flight lessons and acquired my private pilot’s license.

I did find a yacht, a home built fifty five foot gaff rigged schooner, headed for the Caribbean, and I embarked on my first ocean crossing under sail. The experience provided a life changing epiphany, and I spent the next eight years living and sailing around the eastern Caribbean.

Long stretches at sea allowed countless hours absorbed in the pages of favorite authors like Chandler, Spillane, John and Ross MacDonald, Robert B. Parker, Le Carre, Forsyth, Follett, Dick Francis, Asimov, Clarke, Herbert, Wells, Verne, Bradbury, Heinlein, among others too numerous to mention. And time to write, short stories, a bit of science fiction, sailing and flying journals.

Following diverse careers as a charter and delivery captain, yacht broker, air traffic controller, marina manager, and raising two extraordinary kids, I now write full time, imbuing my love of the sea and sky in my characters.

Author Interview

What question do you wish that someone would ask about your book(s), but nobody has? Write it out here, and then answer it.

That’s a tough one. I’ve done many interviews for author profiles like this one, as a guest on blogs, and even live interviews. The questions have been the standard type, but also in-depth, thought provoking ones. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of a question I’d ask no one else has. At least not yet.

What is your writing process? Do you follow a regular routine or do you have any weird, funny, or unusual habits while writing and what are they?

I do have a routine. A typical writing day for me begins around one or two in the afternoon, depending on when I awake and get out of bed. I’m usually writing until three or four in the morning. Many times I pull all nighters. If the juices are flowing and my eyelids aren’t drooping I’ll just keep going. If I get into bed with too many scenes, action, dialogue, or story notes running around my brain I can’t sleep anyway. Rather than toss and turn, I simply get up and continue writing. Usually the first thing I do is go through my email, check my social sites, browse any blogs which were shared and the ones I follow, make comments and respond to emails, check the day’s headlines, make notes on what I need to follow up on, including any marketing I need to do for that day, all over a cup or two of coffee. That usually takes about two hours. Then I shower and dress and get ready as though I’m going to the office, which I am. I settle into a favorite nook, reopen my laptop, and I’m there for the next ten to twelve hours with breaks for food or drink or to stretch my legs. Sometimes I’ll write to music, sometimes I want complete quiet. Depends on my mood, or what I’m writing. When I write to music it’s usually a classical piece or movie soundtrack. Debussy’s La Mer, and soundtrack composers like Lisa Gerrard, Hans Zimmer, and Trevor Jones, are on that writing playlist.

Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? If so, what do you do about it?

I don’t experience what is typically termed writer’s block. I’m never at a complete loss for something to write. And on days when I can’t conjure a new passage or chapter, I’ll work on revising passages or chapters I’ve already written. On occasion I do get stuck at a particular point in a story where I’m not sure where to go next, or how to proceed with the plot. I’ve learned after five novels to take a step back and allow the work to sit for a while, because I now know even if nothing is happening on the page, it’s happening in my head. My characters are constantly speaking and interacting with me. They’re wrangling the problem and trying to figure out what to do next. It also helps when writing a series, because I’m dealing with the same characters, and I’m more familiar with them as the different stories unfold. Usually after this break, I’ll wake up one day to discover the solution fully formed in my head.

What is the single most important piece of advice for aspiring authors?

Writing is a learned craft, which requires a great deal of practice, just as a champion athlete, dancer, musician, or visual artist must practice every single day to improve their craft. Learning and constantly practicing how to manipulate words and language is vital to writing, because what’s going on in one’s imagination doesn’t necessarily get translated to the written page. And it doesn’t happen by itself or by accident, no matter how ingenious the story. That doesn’t mean you need to take writing courses or get a degree in creative writing, there are other ways to learn the craft. One of the best ways is reading, especially in the genre you enjoy and want to create in. But do more than simply follow the story. Ask and answer what is it about the writing, the language, that engaged you, captivated you, enthralled you. How did the author’s choice of words, or turn of phrase, or scene setting, or character pathos, produce the emotions and imagery you experienced from reading the words on the page. Why couldn’t you put that book down until you’d read the last page, the last word.

What are your current/future projects?

My first science fiction novel, Davidia’s Seed, is due out this summer. And I have two other novels in the works, a fourth novel in the Bequia Mysteries series, and a mystery novel with a science fiction twist.

Why did you choose to write in your particular field or genre? If you write more than one, how do you balance them?

I’m not sure if I chose the genre, or the genre chose me. During childhood and adolescence I cut my reading teeth on the pioneers of mystery and science fiction, Dashiel Hammett, Spillane, Ross Macdonald, John D. MacDonald, Leslie Charteris, John Creasey, Asimov, Clarke, Heinlein, Verne, H.G Wells, to name a few. I wanted to write and tell stories the way they did, making my readers disappear into the pages as I did when reading these authors. Balancing both genres isn’t an issue for me. Story ideas for both genres are constantly bouncing around in my head. The promotional and marketing aspects are different since the audiences are different, but there is some overlap.

What do you think is the future for independent authors and do you think it will continue to be easy for anyone to be a published author?

I think the advent of indie-publishing is a fantastic boon to both authors and readers, and portends a bright future. I believe the ease of anyone to publish will continue. The challenge, is recognizing that this easy ability to put together a story and upload it is not a substitute for the craft, or a license to neglect creative use of language to mould characters, stage scenes, narrate a compelling story, and evoke emotional responses. Creative writing is still an art form, and a learned craft.

Are you traditional or self-published, and what process did you go through to get your book published?

I researched the issue for a year before making the decision to self-publish. The advantages are just too beneficial to pass up. And even though I indie-publish, every once in a while I’ll send out a query to a literary agent, but now I’m able to do so at my leisure, and I have the leverage in accepting any offers.

Have you ever changed a title, book cover, or even the content of your book after it was published? What was that process like?

So far I haven’t had reason to. The process I use during the writing, and preparation of the manuscript for publication, is similar to a traditional publisher, including professional editing and proofreading, cover design, and interior design.

What opportunities have being an author presented you with and share those memories? (i.e. travel, friends, events, speaking, etc..)

It’s provided the opportunity to connect and interact with truly fascinating people from across the globe, both online and in person.

What are your marketing, advertising, promotion strategies and which one(s) have worked the best for you? If you had to share your most valuable promotion tip, what would that be?

The most important and useful lessons I’ve learned are 1) Define your audience, your target readers, and determine where to find them. 2) Develop a brand for your work, whether you use the genre, or the name you write under. 3) The most important sales venue is the author platform, your website, blog, and the most important tool, your subscriber mailing list. 4) Social media is important for connecting to and interacting with your audience, but it isn’t where you sell books. Books are sold from your author platform.

If you are a self-published author, which platform do you prefer? (Amazon, Smashwords, Lulu, Author House, or something not mentioned), and why?

I use Smashwords for their distribution network and support, and CreateSpace for Amazon, which includes Kindle Direct Publishing. I shy away from paid services like Book Baby and Lulu, and flee in the opposite direction from any entity like Author House.

What field or genre would you classify your book(s) and what attracted you to write in that field or genre?

I write mysteries, seasoned with suspense and spiced with romance. And I write science fiction. These were the genres I grew up reading and enjoyed, by authors who inspired me, and whom I wished to emulate. I love the twists in a well-plotted mystery, and the obstacles the protagonists must overcome. And I love the world building, themes, and social commentary of pure science fiction.

What do you do if inspiration strikes in an inconvenient place like (car, restaurant, bathroom/shower, etc..) and how do you capture that moment before it gets away from you?

Inspiration does seem to find me in the shower more often than anywhere else. But whether the shower, car, or restaurant, I like that I can’t act on it immediately. It gives me time to ruminate, cogitate, embellish, and follow the paths of different scenarios so by the time I’m in a position to make notes, I already know if the idea is viable, and one I want to keep or discard.

Do you have a target amount of words/pages for each of your books or do you just know when enough is enough?

I don’t write with a target in mind. I know when I begin writing where I want to take the story, and what happens during it. I do have an idea of the appropriate page count for the particular genre, and I usually end up close to it during the revision process.

How do you think you have evolved as a person/author because of your writing and do you believe your writing has helped others, how/why?

I don’t believe my writing has changed me as a person. On the contrary, it’s my life experiences and perspective which shapes my writing and my stories. I do recognize an evolution as an author, especially since I began writing in my early teens. I now have a greater understanding and appreciation of the craft, of how to wrangle the language to evoke imagery and emotion. I’m uncertain the extent my writing might have helped or influenced others, but I have received feedback from readers on what they learned or enjoyed from my style of writing. My editor for example, usually falls in love with my main character, and dreams about them.

How much influence do you believe a title, cover, content, page numbers have in purchasing decisions of potential buyers/readers?

In terms of priority, I think the author is the primary factor in the purchasing decision. If you’ve read that author before, or know the author through word of mouth, this is the first factor in either a positive or negative decision to buy. The cover is the second level, whether it captures and appeals to a browsing eye. Title and content may be factors if the author is completely unknown to the buyer. In my personal purchasing decision, page number is only a factor if it seems inappropriate for the genre. If a cozy mystery is the size of War and Peace, it’s a red flag.

Do you believe there is value in a Press Release, have you used any press release service, and what have your experiences been?

Yes. Although I haven’t used it yet, I intend to in the future, at the right time, and for the right novel. A Press Release is valuable in getting the word out regarding a new release, especially in gaining the attention of book bloggers and reviewers. However, its primary value is generating interest. A Press Release in and of itself doesn’t sell books.

Do you believe there is value in a review? Do you believe they are under rated, over rated, or don’t matter at all?

Reviews are essential in the marketing and promotion process. However, I do believe there’s a tendency to overrate them, placing too much emphasis and significance on the number of reviews. Do I really need a hundred people saying the same good or bad things? How many buyers are going to read beyond the first ten reviews, or first four? While the number of reviews may affect a title’s ranking on a site, Amazon for example, I’m uncertain if this has a significant impact on sales.

What are your thoughts on authors doing review swaps, paying for reviews, or reviews that just don’t seem right for the book?

I think review swaps for the most part are a waste of time, paid reviews a waste of money, and anonymous reviewers from a book review website a colossal mistake. Personally, I’ve developed a database of reliable reviewers who provide honest reviews based on their familiarity with the genre and my work.

Do you believe there are competitors or general readers out to sabotage authors with bad reviews and what are your experiences with this?

I’ve never experienced this personally, and I’d never presume to ascribe motivations to a person’s actions without having such knowledge as a certainty. But I have read other authors’ experiences, and I’m aware the internet is a bizarre place with some individuals who may have nothing better to do than spit venom and try to pull others down to their level.

Have you ever had an interesting, funny, or even bad experience during a live interview, reading, event, or autograph session?

So far they’ve all been enjoyable and rewarding experiences, but I haven’t done that many live promotions.

With self publishing being so easy these days, do you believe there is an over abundance of books out there and how do you sort through all the hype or copycats?

I think for readers, having that many choices is a great and fantastic. Readers will gravitate to the books and authors they’ve enjoyed in the past, and like me, may even discover a new author or genre they haven’t tried before. The real challenge is for authors, how to differentiate your work and get noticed in such a vast crowd.

What is your biggest fear about having a book published?

That my baby, my labor of love, has been released into an unpredictable world. It’s like the day I dropped my daughter off for her first day at preschool. I was already prepared at the outset some readers might like and accept my writing, others might not and reject it, so that wasn’t an issue.

If you have multiple books published what do you feel is your greatest work, why?

The novels I’ve published to date are all part of a series. While I think each has its own strengths and weaknesses reflecting my progression as an author, I don’t see any particular one as being a greater work than the others.

What is the intended audience for you book?

For my mysteries, my target audience is English speaking, urban or suburban, educated, middle or upper income women aged 35 to 65, who enjoy reading mysteries and romance, and fond of travel. I have many male readers also, but the female demographic is the target audience. For my science fiction, readers who enjoy the classic, pure type of science fiction. Star Trek fans, and fans of James Cameron, Asimov, Verne, Wells and Sagan, are sure bets for this audience

Give us a fun fact about your book(s)?

The Bequia Mysteries are set in an exotic tropical locale, and I make full use of the beaches, sunsets, food, and culture.

If you had the chance to get one message out there to reach readers all over the world, what would that message be?

Visit my website, discover my novels, and sign up for a subscription.

Do you find it easier to connect with your readers with the advances in technology we have today like social media? What platform do you prefer, and why?

Digital technology and social media has completely transformed the ease of connecting and interacting with my audience. That’s primarily how I use it. I don’t see social media as the venue for generating sales, but for engaging my audience and building my brands. I spend more time on Google+ and Goodreads than I do on Facebook or twitter, and my posts are never about me personally, but my writing and my novels. With Pinterest I just have fun, and it’s turned out to be a great site for generating interest in my novels.

What makes a good story, why?

For me, a good story is about the writing. I can only get through a novel if the story is well crafted, with compelling characterizations, and writing which engages me on a visceral, emotional level. For me, that’s where the joy of reading comes from. Otherwise I lose interest, no matter how imaginative and intriguing the story may be.

How important are names to you in your books? Do you choose the names based on liking the way it sounds or the meaning? Do you have any name choosing resources you recommend?

Names are very important in my writing. I choose names to create imagery and symbolism, and if they happen to sound cool and have a catchy flow in the narrative, so much the better. I don’t have any single resource or list I use in choosing names. That is usually part of my research process when I’m writing, and the source could be anything or derive from anywhere.

Do you read your reviews? Do you respond to them, good or bad? Do you have any advice on how to deal with the bad?

Yes, I do read my reviews, and no, as a policy I do not respond to any reviews, good or bad. I think that’s a sound policy for any author.

What are some events you have attended or participated in that has been a positive experience/influence on/for your writing?

The main characters in my writing usually share my passion for flying and ocean sailing.

What is the easiest/hardest scene for you to write, why? (Love, action, fight, death, racy, controversial, etc…)

I place the same amount of effort and sweat into all the scenes I write. I don’t find any easier or harder to write than others. I do enjoy and have fun choreographing fight scenes.

What would you like to write about that you have never written about before?

I’m not sure yet. It’s still early in my writing career, and right now I’m having fun writing mysteries and science fiction. Perhaps a day will come when I’ll decide to try something different, but right now, I think that day is a long ways off.

Have you ever had a book idea or characters come to you in a dream? What did you do about it afterwards?

All the time. Not just story ideas and characters, but especially scenes and notes for the project I’m working on at the time, which usually occupies my thoughts as I’m falling asleep. I keep a notepad and pen on my bedside table for that specific purpose. If the dream is still vivid when I awake, I’ll transcribe it immediately.

Do you have any characters you would like to introduce in other books or a combination of characters from multiple books you would like to write about in one book?

I’m having fun right now with the characters in the Bequia Mysteries. I know them intimately, they reside in my head, and are constantly interacting with me, a mental activity I thoroughly enjoy. I can’t envision introducing them in a novel which doesn’t involve a Bequia Mystery. And I’ve created unique characters for my non-Bequia novels. For me, part of the fun of writing is creating characters.

Were your characters based off real life people/events or did you make it all up?

Some of my characters are composites of different real people I know, others are completely made up, conjured from my imagination. I’ve had requests from friends to include them in my novels, and if it fits the story I’ll base a character on them, or name a character for them.

What are the most important elements of good writing? According to you, what tools are must-haves for writers?

I’d say, and I often do, the most important element is learning and practicing the craft. Learning how to manipulate words and language is vital to good writing. You can have all the elements of a great story, the characters, plot, etc., you can pour your soul into writing, but if the craft is missing in the writing, then even the best ingredients, and the time spent, won’t matter. Unfortunately, I encounter this lack of craft in far too many indie-published authors. Weak words, unimaginative language, and passive voice. The tools I use in my own writing include a long list of weak words, verbs, adverbs and adjectives I seek out and destroy during the revision process, and a thesaurus. For me writing without a thesaurus is like writing with a pen without ink.

What book(s), author(s), or significant life event(s) have had a positive or negative influence in your life that inspired you to begin writing?

The mystery and science fiction stories I read growing up, and those pioneering authors,
awakened my desire to write, and provided the biggest influence on what, and how I write. My life experiences, including extensive travel, living in other countries, my adventures as a pilot and sailor, also have a significant influence on my writing.

What are your thoughts about eBooks vs. print books?

Personally I don’t get the point of this discussion. I don’t see the choice as either, or, some sort of zero sum equation. I enjoy the convenience of a digital reader when I’m at an airport, or waiting in line. But I can never give up the contentment of lying in a hammock reading a printed novel, having real pages to turn and the smell and feel of a real book in my hands. It’s why all my novels are also available in print format.

Do you view writing as a career, labor of love, hobby, creative outlet, therapy, or something else?

As both a career and a labor of love.

Were there any challenges (research, literary, psychological, or logistical) in bringing your book to life?

My first published novel, Dead Reckoning, was a challenge every step of the way. Challenges I readily accepted and thoroughly enjoyed. Sitting to complete an entire novel, not to mention the attendant research, and applying the craft of creating writing, was the first challenge. Now it’s an established routine. The revision process, and making peace with shredding a passage, whole chapters, or an entire draft, was another challenge, now I take it in stride. Acquiring a compatible editor and cover designer another challenge. Mine have been with me since the first novel, and they are incredibly talented people I trust implicitly. Finally, perhaps the biggest challenge, publishing the novel. I spent a year researching and studying the book publishing industry and the growing arena of indie-publishing before deciding on the latter method, which entities to use, the hows, wherefores, nuances, and traps to avoid in the process. I haven’t had a single regret.

Do you proofread/edit your own books or do you send them off to an editor? If you send them off to an editor, who/what have you had the best experience with?

I do proofread and edit during the revision process, but I also use a professional editor. My experience with my editor has been entirely amazing.

What are the advantages/disadvantages of self or traditional publishing?

The advantages of self-publishing in terms of control, royalties, and time to publication are obvious. The disadvantage is the self-publishing arena is in its adolescent and it’s the wild wild west out there. I personally see no advantage to traditional publishing except for the status provided by having a traditional publishing imprint.

Do you have a subject/genre you would never write about, why?

I refrain from using the word “never”, but I have no interest in writing fantasy, or anything involving vampires or zombies.

What motivates you to write and where does your inspiration come from?

If you’re truly a writer, you awake every day wanting to write. For me it’s the first thing on my mind when I awake and the last thing before falling asleep. I draw inspiration from everywhere and anything. Everyday things like people watching, a news story, films, television programs, novels, an unusual street sign, a scent, a piece of music, and of course my own life experiences.

What makes your book stand out from the crowd?

My books have great eye-catching covers, and are well written stories with engaging characters.

Do you design your own cover? If not who does, why?

No matter how talented or adept you may be using imaging software, if you’re not a trained graphic designer, it’s a really bad idea to design your book covers yourself. I use a brilliant cover designer whose designs are just awesome.

What is your most/least favorite part of the writing process, why?

I don’t have a least favorite part. I’ve grown accustomed to my process and enjoy every aspect of it, even the tedious parts, like editing and revising. It’s during revisions I get to focus on my word choices and sentence structure, and that’s fun and rewarding. If I had to choose the most favorite part, It’d be creating characters.

Books by Michael Smart


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