Friday, July 22, 2011

In the Write Place: Idaho Writer Michael Marsden

I met Michael Marsden through the Coeur d’Alene Chapter of Idaho Writer’s League. In awe of the tall, dignified author whose first book, The House in Harrison, had recently been published, I listened with undisguised interest as he spoke of his writerly adventures; and shared a few of his less-than- memorable encounters with editors and publishers.

Shortly thereafter, I bought his book, and for the first time, read a book authored by someone I actually knew! What fun to read a ghost story complete with a priest, a dwarf, and a missing blue-diamond necklace; all intertwined in a mystery set in North Idaho.

Michael's inscription in my book,

"Mary Jane, read it alone at night and enjoy." - Michael

Michael Andrew Marsden was born in Washington D.C. in 1939. He grew up in a blue collar family living in the shadow of the nation’s capital but from childhood he dreamed of living in the West. With a degree in hand he made that dream a reality, and began a 30-year career with the USDA Forest Service when he took a position in the newly opened Forestry Science Laboratory in Moscow, Idaho.

Michael's career with the Forest Service took him to many interesting locations in the West. Having become infatuated with the colorful history of the area, Michael retired to north Idaho in 1993. He is married, has three children, and two grandchildren.

MJ: Was the move to North Idaho good for your writing career?

Michael: To retire and become a writer was the right decision at the right time. Coming to North Idaho was determined by other considerations. Here in Coeur d’Alene I have made some great connections with other writers and learned a great deal. Such opportunities were also available in Colorado and in some ways better than here in Idaho. I do not regret the decision to come to Coeur d'Alene.
In addition to The House In Harrison, Michael has published three more novels including: A Walk In The Rain, In The Closet, and Sam d'Bear. He also has three additional novels in process. His books can be purchased through his website and at local stores. Sam d'Bear is available as a Kindle e-book through Amazon.

MJ: How many story ideas do you have waiting for your attention; and how do you decide what to write next?

Michael: I have two more North Idaho Ghost stories. One is being revised and the other edited. Today my attention is on them but other stories are always in my dreams. I had planned on publishing ten books. I have four and soon will have six but that may be the end of my publishing career. I planned everything but allowed for change. My first plan was to write 10 novels in 10 years and then market the best of them. After a few tries at marketing my first novel I turned to self-publishing and that changed everything. I stopped reading Writer’s Digest. Now I was free to write the stories I wanted to write in the style I thought those tales should be told.

Michael's latest novel, Sam d’Bear was published by Gray Dog Press in Spokane, Washington. In addition to his novels, he has recently had poems, essays and fiction published in SpokeWrite Magazine.

Michael Marsden is not only a prolific writer, he actively markets himself and his books, following many of the branding techniques outlined recently on our blog by Nancy Owens Barnes. He recently returned from a book signing in Estes Park, Colorado because the novel Sam d’Bear is set in Estes Park. His next appearance will be at the North Idaho Fair & Rodeo where he and a few other North Idaho writers signed on to man a booth for the 5-day event. Be sure and stop by to say "howdy" to Michael and his fellow authors if you get the chance.
All I know about marketing is if the story takes place in Harrison, Idaho, market it there. - Michael Marsden
To learn more about Michael - what inspires him, who he credits for his success, his take on the advantages self-publishing, and his view on the importance of an editor - please take the time to read his recent interview with editor Sarah Cypher, which follows.

The journey to be a good writer does not end with the first published book. I must strive to make my next novel better than my last and to do that I know that I need an editor. - Michael Marsden
An interview with Michael Marsden
By Sarah Cypher

Author Michael Marsden is carving a niche for himself as an indie-published writer of ghost stories and novels set in the American West. He’s also demonstrated a fascinating approach to learning the craft of creative writing: sheer quantity. After writing twelve books in ten years, he came to me with the best of them and asked me to help him take his craft to the next level. Besides writing, he’s active in the state writing community. He has served in the Idaho Writers’ League as vice president for the state organization and president of the Coeur d’Alene Chapter. Today he has three published novels and four more in process.

1. Tell us about SAM D’BEAR, and about your writing. In this novel, Sam d’Bear, a big Newfoundland dog, comes into David Montgomery’s life by accident and makes a home for himself. This is not the story I started to write fifteen years ago. At a writer’s conference in Boise a literary agent told me that if I want to write the story. The dog took over; and by the end of the story I didn’t care if the arsonist was stopped–I just wanted the dog to come out all right. When Gray Dog Press started up in Spokane in 2009, I submitted the story to them and it was published this year. It was clearly a case of having a novel ready when an opportunity presented itself. I also have a series of North Idaho Ghost stories. Two have been self-published and two more are in revision. In a series of ghost stories the common thread is not the protagonist but the location. All four stories take place in small towns in North Idaho. The history of the towns always plays a role in the ghost stories.

2. You draw heavily on your own experiences in your work–from the landscape of the West to having a son in the service. Do you feel that your writing helps you reflect on these experiences and identities? Writers are often told, “Write what you know.” Instead of applying that to the main plot I apply it to individual relationships and scenes within the story. I never write about a place that I have not visited–it is not enough to read about a city, a river or a mountain. As for characters in the novel, I try to have someone in mind when I write. My wife, my sons and my daughter and now one of my dogs have all found their way into my novels. Experiences from my past greatly influence scenes in my novels most often these are well planned but sometimes I am surprised. After reading THE HOUSE IN HARRISON, my older brother told me about a weekend our family spent in an old house in Virginia. He and I explored the house and spied on the rest of the family from behind closet doors and under counters. I was four at the time and I didn’t remember doing this, but I could see the pattern in the story I had written.

3. What comes first: character, or plot, or something else? The plot always come first, but it need not be formulated in great detail. The first version of a story is like an artist sketch in pencil; only after it is completed can I add color and details. It is in the second or third revision that the characters begin to fit into the location and interact with the plot. The main character tells me how he wants the story to be told. SAM D’BEAR is the exception. The dog changed the focus of the story and what was to be a subplot became the main plot. At the time I was writing this novel, I had a Newfoundland dog named Keeper who would lie behind my chair or under my desk while I was writing. The agility trial in the novel reflects a trial she won in Missoula, and I felt I had to write the scene that way because Keeper was watching.

4. How did you come to writing and what has helped you the most along the way? My mother was a writer of children’s stories. She had fifty-five published. She noticed that I always made up stories to tell my children and encouraged me to write than down and someday publish them. After I retired I set up a ten year plan to write a complete novel each year and then market the best of them. During these years I studied many books on writing, attended classes and conferences. Besides novels I wrote some rhymes and short stories which I entered in contests. I have belonged to five different writing organizations since I started writing. I am now active in only two. The greatest help has come from other writers I have met along the way.

5. As an author who has both self-published and been published traditionally, what is the top advantage and the top hassle of each? The top advantage of self-publishing is control. I have a definite image of the story, and the book; seeing the two come together is a point of great joy and pride. The downside is the amount of work it takes, and unless you can manage to get a distributor to accept you book, your sales are limited. Gray Dog Press is a new local small press and I have a feeling of trust with them. It is much different from dealing with a large business in a different time zone. Marketing has more opportunities when you have a publisher. The author has a strong role in marketing in either case but I don’t like being a bookkeeper or storing boxes of books in my guest room.

6. You seem to stay involved in a community of writers–both in a critique group and at the front of the room, giving talks about writing and publishing. More than ever, reaching out to other writers and readers seems to be a required part of the writing life. Is it required? What is the best way to start, and use your time wisely? I much prefer to write and let someone else read what I say, but some people are verbal communicators. They want to hear what others have to say and to interact with the presenter. Since I have learned much from the presentations by other writers, I am obligated to try to share my experiences.

7. What advice would you give to someone else who is just learning the craft of writing novels? Relax. Write and write until you come to the end of your novel and then write a second one. Only when I can see the entire story can I judge its worth. In my ten-year plan, I wrote twelve novels. The next year I took the most promising of the twelve and rewrote it from the beginning. It is important to share what you have written with others, but the author is only one who knows what he started out to write. Once you feel comfortable that you have said something, find an editor.

8. What question do you wish I would have asked, and what would you say to it? That question would be, “What role do you think an editor plays in one becoming a writer?” Nikki Arana, the most successful writer that I know personally, gives great credit to her editor for helping her become a professorial writer. I am by trial and error making some gains in my writing ability, but finding a good editor, critic, and teacher is key to stepping from the novice to professional level. The journey to be a good writer does not end with the first published book. I must strive to make my next novel better than my last and to do that I know that I need an editor.

Check out Michael’s latest novel, SAM D’BEAR, from Gray Dog Press. Sam d’Bear, a big Newfoundland dog comes into David Montgomery’s life by accident and makes a home for himself. Sam seems to know when someone needs a friend and his arrival creates both opportunities and problems for David. As their story unfolds, they are confronted by fire, snowstorms and even a mountain lion. David is a local businessman and photographer who finds himself drawing the attention of two very different but extremely attractive women. Sharp Bateman, a lonely boy with a troubled past, becomes involved with two rebellious teenage girls who are setting fires around town. When David’s house is set on fire Sharp’s only friend is David, who does not believe what everyone else assumes.

Sarah Cypher, editor and principal since 2003, served as a university press editor for three years and as a freelance writer and editor for over ten. She holds a B.A. in Creative Writing, Phi Beta Kappa, from Carnegie Mellon University and her writing has most recently appeared inCrab Orchard Review and The Oregonian. She is a community workshop facilitator and member of the Northwest Independent Editors Guild. Sarah can be reached at She offers:
  • Substantive and/or developmental editing and critiques.
  • Agent, publisher, or self-publishing research assistance.
  • Prepublication services for self-publishing writers.
  • Regular free advice on her blog,
  • A book! Check out The Editor’s Lexicon: Essential Writing Terms for Novelists (Glyd-Evans Press, 2010), or find the e-book on your Kindle, iPad, or nook. (Available on Amazon and as an e-book for sampling and purchase on Smashwords.

1 comment:

Jennifer Rova said...

I loved these interviews. Michael is a gentle giant who always wears a smile. I, too, met him through IWL. He often was in the small critique group that follows each meeting. With tact and insight, he taught me a lot about writing. I like and admire his stories. I am glad he decided to retire in Idaho! This is what Writing North Idaho is about . . . connecting with local authors and sharing our experiences and knowledge.