Interview with Author Michael Saad: A Writer’s Take
by Trisha Sugarek
Michael Saad has been writing almost his entire life. Now he is about to release his first full-length novel, All the Devils Are Here. It will be published by Tumbleweed Books, an imprint of DAOwen Publications. He lives in Lethbridge, Alberta. A teacher by day, a writer by night, this is a fascinating journey of how Mike fits it all into 24 hours.
IM: Where do you write? Do you have a special room, shed, barn, or other special space for your writing? Or tell us about your ‘dream’ work space.
MS: I write in my ‘man-cave,’ as my family so affectionately calls it. It is my own, customized room in the house, filled with items that fuel my imagination. Everything from Star Wars posters and memorabilia (yes, I’m a wannabe Jedi—I’m totally a child of the 1980s…), historical paintings, nature portraits, my favorite books, and hockey artifacts. Every writer needs his or her own, customized work space, whatever that is, and it needs to be tailor-made by the writer, and for each writer that’s different, but it’s so important.
I didn’t always have my man-cave. In the past, as a university student, my writing was best done in a little cubicle in the basement of my old university library. It wasn’t customized and was quite drab, but it was my space and I did my best writing there. It doesn’t matter where ‘your’ space is, but you need one, no matter what stage you are in as a writer. J.K. Rowling famously wrote her first Harry Potter novels in a coffee shop, but it was—for that time in her life—‘her space.’ I had to work up to finally earn my own office—my wife and I had to share a workspace for quite a long time (which, I should point out, was perfectly fine) but our new house allowed us our own space, and this man-cave, I can truly call ‘mine.’
IM: Do you have any special rituals when you sit down to write? (A neat work space, sharpened #2 pencils, legal pad, cup of tea, glass of brandy, favorite pajamas, etc.)
MS: I usually have a hot Irish Breakfast tea, or an ice-cold Green-Tea, depending on the season, as I write. It’s like a little shot of ‘pick-me up,’ whenever I take a short break or have a lapse in my thinking. I also play certain music that, for whatever reason, somehow suits the mood of the story or piece that I’m working on. For All the Devils Are Here, for instance, the music of Nickelback and Ed Sheeran somehow spoke to me, so I would play their songs to either get in the mood to write the story, or to recharge and reset myself to counter those moments of Writer’s Block.
IM: Could you tell us something about yourself that we might not already know?
MS: I am a fulltime teacher in a small, rural high school. I love my job, my students, and teaching, but it is very time consuming, so to find time to write, and write well, is always a challenge for me. I’m always in awe of anybody who works full time and is able to accomplish a major project ‘on the side,’ whatever it is—building a shed, a graduate thesis, running a marathon, sculpting a piece of artwork—because I know how hard it is to balance completing a task like that with having a demanding career.
IM: Do you have a set time each day to write, or do you write only when you are feeling creative?
MS: When I’m working full time, especially with teaching, with all of the marking, lesson planning, and numerous ‘extra-curricular’ duties we have going on in our profession, it is very difficult to find the time and energy to write. As a married family man with small kids, my family has been very supportive of my ‘hobby time’ of writing, but it still can be an insurmountable task to balance work, family time, and writing. I want (and need) to spend time with my family, and I want (and need) to focus on teaching, so quite often writing will (and should) take a back seat to that. That being said, I have gotten up at three or four AM some days to write, often during holidays, just so I can squeeze it in and balance writing with my other responsibilities. It is not an easy thing to do, but when you truly find a hobby you like, whatever it is—in my case it’s writing—you are willing to do that if it means being able to get that ‘hobby time.’
IM: What’s your best advice to other writers for overcoming procrastination?
MS: There’re a number of things. The consistency of writing—that is, doing it every day—can certainly help you to build flow and enthusiasm in your work. However, most of us— certainly those of us who do not make writing our careers—are unable to have the advantage of being able to write every day. So I think the key, then, is to have a piece or project you believe in, but also have definite parameters in place for the size and scope of your project. Don’t try and write the great Canadian novel, for instance, if you truly don’t have the time to do so. Work on a short story instead. Also, if you just find yourself not believing in your work, and don’t have that passion for it that, perhaps, you thought you did now that you are partway through your first draft, then perhaps, you need to let it sit and start another piece. A lot of my published stories, for instance, including my most successful ones, have come from having started another piece, leaving it incomplete, and then starting the brand-new one, which—for whatever inexplicable reason— has wound up being the story I complete and go on to sell. Quite often, the piece left incomplete is still sitting on my hard drive in limbo or left stewing in my mind for me to either revisit someday—maybe with a new angle in mind—or abandon altogether in digital ‘development hell.’ And, in my experience, at least, that’s been perfectly okay, because it’s helped me overcome what otherwise would have been procrastination on a floundering project…
IM: Where/when do you first discover your characters?
MS: Honestly, they just pop into my head. There’s no real rhyme or reason to them. I see them in the oddest of places—when I’m driving on the highway, sitting on a plane, or walking on a trail. I don’t necessarily see them in whatever plot I conjure up in my head. I often work backwards that way, at least with fiction. I envision the character before the plot.
IM: What first inspired you to write your stories?
MS: Growing up as an only child, I developed a natural inclination toward reading. It was a solitary activity to kill time. I had a lot of comic books, and it definitely started there. I became so enamored with the comics of the early 1980s, all the Marvel and DC titles primarily—particularly Star Wars, Avengers, Superman, Spiderman, Star Trek—that I began envisioning myself taking part of those imaginary worlds, where I was either the main character (e.g. Batman), or I was telling the story with those characters. My parents and family used to wonder why I would spend time wandering around aimlessly, pretending I was fighting, or jumping over buildings. They called it ‘the jump’. Well, that was what I was doing—acting out my comic book stories. My later love and future appreciation for more ‘mature’ literature stemmed from that, as did my inspiration to write stories. Just to clarify, I still read those comic books! I really am just a big kid in an adult body!
IM: Do you ‘get lost’ in your writing?
MS: Yes, absolutely. I know exactly what that means. A few of my fictional stories have literally ‘written themselves’. It’s hard to explain, but I think many experienced fiction writers can identify with that. I can think of two stories in particular that I’ve published, where I’ve looked back and asked, ‘did I really write that?’ and ‘where the heck did that come from?’
IM: Who or what is your “Muse,” at the moment?
MS: I have many. Right now, I am totally into musical artists like Hozier, Rachel Platten, and Virginal to Vegas. Their lyrics and sounds speak to me in their various messages of hope and optimism or, in Hozier’s case, the exact opposite. In the past year, these artists have been an inspiration, not only to my writing, but also for my teaching, as I see how many of our young people today have had to be resilient in the face of adversity.
Exploring the natural world—hiking, canoeing, sightseeing—is certainly another muse. Many stories and ideas have come to me just standing in the outdoors, on a mountaintop, in a stream, or watching a bull moose bathe in a pond. Seeing the destruction of nature—be it by pollution, overdevelopment, or flat-out negligence on the part of human beings—is both devastating and maddening for me to watch, and this frustration is slowly starting to pop up more and more in my writing.
IM: When did you begin to write seriously?
MS: Probably 18 years ago (in 1998), when I first started my teaching career. I knew I needed a bona fide hobby. I had been playing a lot of sports and going to the gym, but I felt I needed a constructive interest that exercise couldn’t quite fulfill. I need to create, and I had always had in the back of my head that I wanted to write stories and articles, so that was the direction I decided to go.
IM: How long after that were you published?
MS: I was published two years after that. I have had many short stories, novellas, and historical articles published since then. Incidentally, I’ve also had hundreds of rejection letters in that time. Only a fellow writer would appreciate that last statistic!
IM: What makes a writer great?
MS: I may have a different answer for you 20 years from now, but today I would say having the ability to achieve resonance with your reader. Only the very best writers can do this with as many readers as possible. Notice I state ‘with as many readers as possible,’ and not ‘every single reader who’s ever read their work.’ There’s a reason for that, and it’s the very reason why you’ll hear many people praise the Stephen Kings and Shakespeares of the world as literary geniuses, while others condemn them as laughable and boring. Some writers connect with certain people and others don’t. It’s that way with all art, not just literature. That being said, we can safely categorize Stephen King and Shakespeare as literary marvels, because of their unprecedented success, and I think it’s because their characters, their themes, and their style resonate at a high level with the majority of their readers. Readers relate to their characters; they can share in the drama of their suspenseful scenes, and their themes are presented in a poignant enough way that we remember them. I read King’s It and Shakespeare’s Macbeth over 25 years ago, have never seen the film versions of either, and yet remember the plot, characters, and nuances of both stories to this very day. Two months ago, I read a novel that I barely remember. It was written by a well-known author and I would be hard-pressed to tell you anything about the plot or characters. It’s all about resonance for me, and for every reader, that’s different. As a writer, I, of course, hope that my work holds resonance with every single person who reads it, but I know that’s not realistic, and I certainly don’t let that hinder me from writing.
IM: What does the process of going from “no book” to “finished book” look like for you?
MS: Well, for All the Devils Are Here, it was a step-by-step journey in the truest sense. It started off as a short story assignment I did 25 years ago in a class called Writing 11. My English teacher at the time, whom I dedicated the novel to, gave me good feedback on it, but told me it was incomplete and challenged me to delve more into the main characters’ storylines. This soon became one of my ‘back-burner’ projects, while I ventured into other pursuits like university, history, teaching, and sport. About ten years ago, I encountered my English teacher again in a chance meeting, and we conversed and he asked me about my story. I decided to turn it into a novella, taking his advice from 25 years ago to heart. From there, I still found myself with unanswered questions about the main characters, and so then, I turned it into a full-fledged novel, which I now realize was what my teacher was steering me toward all along. Sadly, my teacher passed away suddenly two years ago, so he wasn’t able to see it in this finished form, but I definitely owe it all to him, hence my dedication to him.
IM: How have your life experiences influenced your writing?
MS: I have encountered drugs and drug use in my time, and have seen and experienced the cycle, agony, and destruction that addiction can bring. That subject has been a big part of my fiction writing now and in the past. Life experiences are very much an influence on my writing. I would best describe them as the thread that weaves in and out of the fabric of my work. All of my characters and plots are imaginary, but there are elements of them that are reflective of various experiences I’ve encountered in the trials and tribulations of life. Like everyone, I am not perfect and have my fair share of demons in the closet. Every now and then, I turn some of them loose in my writing.
IM: Have you—or do you want to write in another genre`?
MS: Yes, I have written science fiction and horror stories. My science fiction carries explicit warnings and themes, whereas my horror stories are more subtle in their message. I have always been drawn to the serious stuff, and that includes all other types of media—video games, movies, television, theatre. For me, sitting though comedies of any kind is akin plucking out nose hairs at best, or full-out psychological torture at worst (the latter especially so with the banal slapstick comedies that are so popular today). Even with the great Shakespeare himself, I was bored stupid reading The Taming of the Shrew and Much Ado About Nothing, yet was enamored with the tragedies, like Hamlet and King Lear. I completely suck at reading or writing comedy, but I think that has to do with my interests in war, history, and the state of the world. The crazy part about all that is, I actually do like to laugh. There ARE a couple of comedies I’ve enjoyed— I can count them with two fingers: Revenge of the Nerds (1985) and My Big, Fat Greek Wedding (2002), and both of those are probably because I could relate to the characters in those films. Otherwise, I may laugh at a quirky line that characters like Mr. Spock, Data, or Khan Noonien Singh quip in Star Trek. Yes, I’m weird, and maybe a bit of a party pooper that way.
IM: Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know?
MS: Yes. [Haley Joel Osment voice on] I see dead people. Kidding… 😉 See, I can be funny—or maybe not.
You can see and read what Michael is up to here: https://msaadwriter.wordpress.com/2015/11/21/welcome-to-michael-saads-author-page/
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