A Chat with Author,
There are few things that interest me more than chatting with authors and artists, especially those who are open to sharing what motivates them and how they work.
Michael Kent is one of those authors, and so much more. His police/crime/mystery series featuring Lieutenant Robert Beaudry is a pure joy to read. More than that, Michael Kent has a delightful sense of humor that try as he might, he cannot hide (see the caption to the picture on the left.) Simply put, Michael Kent is one of those people who always brings a smile to the table and a mystery to the page.
The first question for any author is always the same. I always want to know what made him or her interested in his craft. So, let’s get started:
SinDe: Please tell me a little about how you became interested in books, from reading them to writing and becoming a successful author.
Michael Kent: My mom was an avid reader. She instilled in us the love of books from kindergarten on. We read in French and English everything from comic books to the Hardy Boys mysteries, and Nancy Drew mysteries. My mom started a tradition that each new year, we would gift one another with new books. By the time I moved into my first bachelor pad, I had a wall of over 2000 books.
SinDe: That explains your love of reading, but when did you first start writing?
Michael Kent: I worked as an international management consultant and in some cases acted as an arbitrator between the unions and management. I wrote a lot of technical reports and legal decisions in that capacity. I started writing fiction in 2003, after reading a badly penned novel from a best seller list – I can probably do better- I said to myself. It was NOT that easy–I did Village Writers University and took several courses on fiction writing. Later, I joined The Next Big Writer site. I met many wonderful writers and got plenty of coaching and feedback for my stories. I won a few contests for some of my flash fiction.
SinDe: Many of the authors I have had the privilege to chat with have a set space where they write, like a home office. Others prefer to write at a table in the public library. Where do you prefer to write?
Michael Kent: When my daughter left home to get married, we sold the big house and moved into a condo that I had purchased as an investment. We had it renovated to our needs including a dedicated writing office for me. Here is a picture of my office space.
SinDe: When do you write? Do you have a set schedule or a favorite time of day for writing?
Michael Kent: I write early in the morning and sometimes after lunch. I run out of speed around 4p.m. and then I can restart after 7 for another sprint. I try to write every day sometimes for an hour, and sometimes I forget to eat lunch.
SinDe: Some of the authors with whom I have chatted set word count goals each day or a set number of hours for writing. Do you set goals for each day?
Michael Kent: I write as long as it flows. I used to set a number of words per day goal, but the strident buzzsaw sound as the target flew by unmet bothered me.
SinDe: Do you write organically, or do you outline? Please share a little about your process.
Michael Kent: I wrote up a CV for each of the main characters in the series. Some history, background, quirks, habits, and speech patterns.
I draft a rough plan using an Excel spread sheet where I track my progress, chapter sequences, and days in the story. If it rained on Tuesday in the last chapter, Beaudry will comment on the smell of wet earth on Wednesday. I put in notes on events that I feel should happen in the story, or some quip or saying for Beaudry that I may slip in somewhere in the novel. I do the actual writing organically and let myself be led by what I know of the characters. Sometimes they just run amuck.
SinDe: I love the caption under the picture you provided of your morning meeting with the characters. Now, please tell me a little about the exact process. Do you write the entire manuscript before editing or do you edit a few chapters before moving on with the draft?
Michael Kent: I write two or three chapters, then I will re-read from the previous chapter to put myself back in to the story and edit where I catch bumps or glitches in the read. I then go on to write a new chapter or chapters. I repeat the same pattern of going to back a few chapters before starting a new one. At the end, I will review and edit the whole novel at least twice. Then I send the final draft to Beta readers for comments and suggestions. Normally it will then go to a professional editor. And I still find typos and bad punctuation.
SinDe: I follow you on Facebook as you know. I noticed a few weeks back you mentioned that you seemed to be stuck with writers’ block. I don’t know exactly how you felt about that, but I panicked. It’s time for a new Lt. Beaudry novel. So, how do you overcome the dreaded writers’ block?
Michael Kent: I may try writing another story that I have on the back burner, or I will read a novel from one of my fav writers or write a review on somebody’s new novel that they have sent me. Another trick is to print out some chapters from my work in progress and edit them in a different environment than on the screen in my office, such as a restaurant or bar. (I know write drunk and edit sober- I sometimes reverse this)
SinDe: Cheers! to you from the Book and Wine Drinking Club. Just keep writing. You can always sort it out later.
You are a self-published author. Why did you decide to go that route?
Michael Kent: I have an author friend that went the trad route. He had connections in the industry, and it took him a year to get a sale, then the company produced his novel for market nearly two years later. I’m not a young chicken anymore. In two years I can publish 4 new novels. And, if we analyze trends, self-pub is fast growing. The closed-door publishing business will soon have to re-evaluate their business model.
SinDe: As a self-published author, how do you go about promoting your books?
Michael Kent: This is my weak point. (Wife has a longer list) I waited till I had a series before putting money into advertising. I am now taking courses in marketing and promotion- A whole new skill to learn. It’s not easy being a self-published author. We must rely on readers and fans for reviews and to spread the word.
SinDe: I am a big advocate for readers taking a few minutes to write a review. I have learned that authors really appreciate them.
You write in first person, something that always intrigues me, and yet, you manage to get a fully fleshed out storyline into your novels. What made you decide to write in first person?
Michael Kent: My writing skills (such as they are) were influenced by my favorite mystery authors. John. D MacDonald, Raymond Chandler, Robert B. Parker. All of them wrote in first person to put the reader right into the action as it happens to the protagonist. It filtered into my style, and I now find it easy.
SinDe: John D. MacDonald is one of my all-time favorites. Having grown up on the Atlantic Ocean, I can relate to Travis McGee living on the Busted Flush. One thing your novels and MacDonald’s novels have in common is the easy flow of dialogue. Writing in first person, good dialogue is essential to telling the story.
The conversations you create seem so natural, not forced. How do you go about creating dialogue among the characters? I know you ‘meet’ with your characters before you begin writing. When writing dialogue, do you read the words aloud to capture the natural flow?
Michael Kent: I try and listen to people in real conversations. I once jokingly created a license to do so on Facebook.
SinDe: So, let’s talk a little about Lt. Robert Beaudry. Is he purely a figment of your imagination or is the character influenced by someone you know or may have known?
Michael Kent: Lieutenant Beaudry is a good cop, but one who has lost many pages from the procedures manual. The character is loosely based on ‘Cartouche’ Rene Duperron. Duperron was a beat patrol officer that made his own law in the tough red-light district of Montreal in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. His nickname ‘Cartouche’ is French for bullet. He was not afraid to pull out his service revolver. He once spotted the glow of a flashlight in a closed store. He found four burglars and marched them single file to the police station with the admonition of ‘anybody who steps out of line I will shoot to kill.’
SinDe: I was not familiar with ‘Cartouche’ until you mentioned him. I have since looked him up online and discovered he was quite the character. Do you draw on any of Duperron’s arrests or adventures in the Lt. Beaudry stories?
Michael Kent: No, I use tough guy Duperron as a model for Beaudry’s personality and the fact that he grew up without a mother and was raised by his dad and uncle, as you will find out in some of the later novels. So Beaudry is a bit of the old-fashioned Macho style silent tough guy.
SinDe: Louise Penny is another Canadian author I love. I have noticed in her Detective Inspector Gamache novels there are very few curse words, except maybe the occasional “merde,” and even that is spoken/printed in French. I have noticed that the Beaudry character doesn’t curse or use some of the words often found in detective novels, even though he is a tough guy.
Michael Kent: I try to keep my writing as ‘clean’ as possible in English. Beaudry uses ‘Rats’ instead of the F word because he had promised his ex-wife to be more politically correct when attending embassy parties. I do, however, let the captain slip in some mock swear words in French or Nico may occasionally use some impolite terms in Italian. I do let accessory characters say words in other languages as needed for the story.
SinDe: Well, now everyone knows why I can swear in multiple languages but cannot ask directions to the bus terminal in any language other than English. That said, it is the perfect segue into ‘Crackers.’ As a cat lover — I have eight — I find they bring out my worst swearing at times. You and I have laughed about the chipmunk being dropped into the shower with me, by one of my furballs. What influenced you to add ‘Crackers’ into the series?
Michael Kent: I grew up with dogs and cats. My young daughter wanted pets; the guinea pigs were dull companions. She fell in love with a friend’s Maine Coon that she had cat sat for a week. We wound up with two fluffy Maine Coons. Some of Cracker’s antics are from our experience. I decided to give Beaudry a cat since in some of the novels he is violent and fast on the trigger- a man who likes cats can’t be all bad.
SinDe: Agreed. Crackers ongoing ‘affair’ with the fern and the bathroom tissue also gives the reader a chance to take a breath. While reading your novels I often experience a steady rise in tension. Then, Beaudry goes to his apartment and it’s Crackers’ antics that often allows me to exhale. When writing, do you plan for those lines of reader relief?
Michael Kent: Absolutely. You are a very astute reader. Beaudry fans will figure out some of my ploys, when all is quiet and going well beware, hell and mayhem is about to break loose in the next chapter.