This week I had the pleasure of interviewing bestselling author Mike Wells exclusively for this site and ask him some questions about his books and writing. He was born and raised in America but has been living in Europe for the last fifteen years. Mike wrote dozens of novels and a couple of screenplays and at the moment he teaches part-time in the Creative Writing Diploma program at University of Oxford.
Books & Writing: What inspired you to write your first book?
I always wanted to be a writer—I wrote a lot of short stories starting back in high school. When I was 35 I moved to California and started screenwriting, but that career did not last long. I found out, the hard way, that movies are a highly collaborative effort and that screenwriters are at the very bottom of the totem pole and have very little creative control. I moved back to Tennessee and started working on my first novel, where I could have full control (at least until the literary agent/editors get involved!)
Books & Writing: What is your first book called?
Mike Wells: The Founder’s Medal. It’s a technothriller that takes place in Silicon Valley (California).
Books & Writing: How long did it take you to write your first book?
Mike Wells: It took about a year. I was lucky enough to be able to work on it full-time. It would have probably taken a lot longer, otherwise.
Books & Writing: Where do you get your ideas from for your books?
Mike Wells: Many of my ideas are from small incidents that happen in real life, greatly exaggerated by asking a lot of “what if?” questions and letting my imagination run wild. Some ideas catch hold and begin to have their own energy, like a snowball rolling downhill, picking up lots of debris. Much of the debris has to be cut out but some of it becomes key parts of the story. For me, the process of writing fiction is very much like dreaming while awake. Daydreaming and writing it down as it happens in my imagination.
Books & Writing: Which one of your own books are you most proud of?
Mike Wells: That’s a hard one, as I’m proud of them all. I would have to say The Wrong Side of the Tracks, though, because it was based very much on my real life as a teenager and about someone who I was very close to who nearly died in an awful car accident, was very painful for me to write. The book was very heavy for me, emotionally. I nearly didn’t get through it and was depressed for a time when I finished. But it is not a depressing book. It was just the memories that it brought up.
Books & Writing: Which one of your own books gave you the most headaches to write?
Mike Wells: Definitely The Founder’s Medal, the first one. This was because I really didn’t understand storytelling skills. Before I wrote that book, I thought that being a great fiction writer was all about words, dialogue, characterization, etc. It turns out that’s only half of it. The other half is learning story structure, about heroes and villains, about genres and reader expectations, and especially what to CUT, keeping a story tight and focused. To me, “Less is more” is THE most important rule of good storytelling/fiction writing, and yet one of the most difficult principles to put into practice. I wrote a blog post about this called “Does Bruce Willis Have a Dog?” The title refers to the book and movie called “Die Hard.” And the answer is, in that movie, we don’t know whether the character Bruce Willis plays has a dog because in that particular story, it doesn’t matter. Every writer should strive to cut out extraneous material that is not relevant to the story no matter how badly it might hurt.
Books & Writing: How do you overcome writers block, if that occurs?
Mike Wells: I was plagued by writer’s block for many years and at first was baffled by it when it would strike in the middle of a book. However, I eventually learned to understand what causes it, at least for me. It’s when I don’t know where the story is going or there is something fundamentally wrong with the plot that I’m not yet consciously aware of. I also learned how to solve it. What I do when I get writer’s block is go the farthest possible scene that I know (for certain) will be in the book and work BACKWARDS from that scene, writing the scene I know must happen before that scene, and then the scene before that one, etc. This almost always gets me going again. A story is like a chain, and each link in the chain triggers the next one. If you go to any particular link in the chain that you KNOW will be in the story, you can work in either direction from there.
Books & Writing: How many words, or hours a day do you spend writing on a book?
Mike Wells: Three to four hours of intense writing is all I can do in one day. I learned from experience that if I write more than that, I will start feeling weird and when it’s time to go to bed, I will try to take my pants off over my head.
Books & Writing: Are you working on a new book at the moment?
Mike Wells: Yes I’m always working on one or more books. Even if I’m not actually in front of the computer writing, I’m thinking about a book. I do a lot of thinking about a story before I every actually start writing it down, I daydream about it a lot, visualize how it will start and various key scenes (let that snowball start rolling down the hill!), and sometimes discuss it with trusted friends. But I don’t talk about it out loud very much because that sometimes dissipates the creative energy—better to keep it contained until I write it.
Books & Writing: What tip would you give to aspiring writers?
Mike Wells: The most important thing you can do is—you guessed it: write. And write. And write. And then write some more. With writing, the best learning comes from doing. Struggling through one novel, or even a long short story, is far more valuable than taking writing classes, reading writing books, etc. (though I do recommend doing those things, too, alongside your writing, as they will help you)
Books & Writing: Where can we find you on the internet?
Thanks again Mike for taking the time out of your schedule to do this interview and I wish you the best in all your future writing endeavors.
You can check out his books on Amazon.