Raised in the Central Oregon mill town of Prineville beneath deep blue skies and rim rock, Michael Bigham attended the University of Oregon and during his collegiate summers, fought range fires on the Oregon high desert for the Bureau of Land Management. He worked as a police officer with the Port of Portland and after leaving police work, obtained an MFA in Creative Writing from Vermont College. Michael lives in Portland, Oregon, with his wife, his daughter and a spunky Bichon Frise named Pumpkin. Harkness is Michael’s first novel. You can find him online at www.michaelbigham.com and http://blueparrot.blogspot.com/. His Twitter feed is @wassir.
Q: Welcome to Beyond the Books, Michael. Can we start out by telling us whether you are published for the first time or are you multi-published?
A: Harkness is my first novel, but I have had two short stories published: “American Clipper” in the anthology Coming Home and “Siren” in the anthology Aftermath.
Q: What was the name of your very first book regardless of whether it was published or not and, if not published, why?
A: My first book was called Springtime in Tunisia written 20 years ago. It was a spy parody, very rough, very much a first novel. I took it to a writer’s workshop with Jack Cady in Cannon Beach, Oregon. He said it was very funny and that I wouldn’t have any problem getting it published, but he also told me not to publish under my own name, to reserve that for my “serious work.” It sits patiently in a trunk in my basement waiting for me to return to it.
Q: For your first published book, how many rejections did you go through before you either found a mainstream publisher, self-published it, or paid a vanity press to publish it?
At least fifty rejection slips are in my desk. Shopping around a novel isn’t for people with fragile egos.
Q: How did the rejections make you feel and what did you do to overcome the blows?
A: Yeah, so my ego is a little fragile. No one ever trashed my prose, but it is a difficult process, especially the form rejections that I got. I relied on the positive comments I got from other agents and editors to bolster my spirits.
Q: When your first book was published, who published it and why did you choose them?
A: The publishing business is in a state of flux. Traditional publishers are in trouble, so it was time to try something different. A couple of writer friends and myself decided to start up a small publishing house, Muskrat Press. We’re going to publish our stuff first with an eye toward publishing other writers somewhere down the line.
Q: How did it make you feel to become published for the first time and how did you celebrate?
A: It felt great. I immediately sent copies to friends and family and set to work on promotion and the next novel.
Q: What was the first thing you did for promotion when you were published for the first time?
A: I’m still trying to figure out the promotion thing. The first thing I did was to announce my book on Facebook. Social media is great for self-promotion.
Q: If you had to do it over again, would you have chosen another route to be published?
A: I’m happy with this option, but for the next novel I’m going to have a self-promotion plan in place before publication. I’ve discovered that you need to make the publication of your book an event. That’s something I didn’t do and now I have to backtrack.
A: Harkness was published a couple of months ago, and I don’t have my next book finished yet. I hope I’ve grown as a writer. I have more confidence in my prose and in developing my characters. My main challenge right now is to plot before I write rather than winging it.
Q: Looking back since the early days when you were trying to get published, what do you think you could have done differently to speed things up? What kind of mistakes could you have avoided?
A: There was a period when I stopped writing seriously. I had received some harsh criticism in a writing workshop and it shut me down for a couple of years. As a writer, you need to write constantly rather than suffer through long dry periods.
Q: What has been the biggest accomplishment you have achieved since becoming published?
A: I had a very successful reading in Portland a couple of months ago. Many of my friends and family were there, and I felt very proud of my book.
Q: If you could have chosen another profession, what would that profession be?
A: Tough question. I was a cop for 27 years. It was one of those love/hate things. Sometimes I loved my job, but at other times I didn’t. I seriously thought about going back to school for a degree in social work or psychology. Those interests reflect in the depth of my characters.
Q: Would you give up being an author for that profession or have you combined the best of both worlds?
A: I’m exactly where I want to be. After leaving police work, I got a Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Vermont College. It’s the best move I could have made, and I’m content with my decision.
Q: How do you see yourself in ten years?
A: Hopefully, I’ll have two series of mystery novels out in the world. I have an idea for a second series that will also take place in Eastern Oregon.
Q: Any final words for writers who dream of being published one day?
A: Keep plugging away and remember that the publishing business is being turned upside down. The traditional path of getting an agent and shopping your novel to the big publishing houses isn’t the only path to your success as an author.