I met author Michael Goodell, Author of Zenith Rising, on shelfari.com a few years ago. I bought his book, eager to read a something published by someone who I actually got to interact with in a book club. I love getting to know authors along side their work and separate from their work, its fascinating to me, which is why I am a huge fan of reading biographies and memoirs after reading everything the author has written. I enjoy pairing fiction with nonfiction and finding the beautiful little seams that tie the two together. So imagine my excitement when, in addition to booking a signing with me, Michael Goodell agreed to do a blog interview as well!
Describe your book. What genre do you prefer it to be classified?
Zenith Rising is a work of mainstream fiction with a linear narrative function. It is set in a declining industrialized Midwesetern American city, and describes how a handful of characters respond to the city’s decline, including that of the protagonist, a real estate developer who, on the eve of his greatest triumph, is rudely confronted with the poverty in his city, and decides he must attempt to do something to try to save the city.
I prefer to use the term serious contemporary fiction to describe its genre. In other words, I don’t aspire to write literary fiction, because I think most literary fiction today employs tricks, slight of hand and technical flourishes. It is actually more a matter of showing off, or of trying to impress your creative writing teacher or seminar host. The view today is, bizarrely, “If it reads well, it can’t be literature.”
What were the major influences for you when writing this book and for you as a writer in general?
I was working with a nonprofit housing group, trying to arrest the downward spiral of poverty and despair through restoring housing. It was such a positive experience, meeting a compelling need, that I wanted to get the message out to a wider audience. I thought fiction would be the best way to go. The kind of fiction I like always has a message–not an overt one, but one conveyed through the story. Since the novel was based inDetroit, but I set it in the fictional city ofZenith, where Sinclair Lewis set Babbitt, I suppose you could say he was a major influence at the time. So was Hemingway, along with Paul Bowles and John Fante.
When and why did you begin writing?
I have always written, because, trite as it may sound, I had to.
What is the first book you remember reading?
I don’t remember the name, but it involved a pair of wooden skis, a hut, and a hill. I was very young.
Do you have a personal favorite out of the characters in your book? Who is it and why?
When I started it was Narrows Burton. By the time I finished it was Seneca Doane III. He started out as a villain, and, honestly, I never expected him to turn into one of the good guys.
How did you come across the artist featured on Zenith Rising’s cover?
I met Warren Dreher inSan Francisco. We were both working in the back office of a brokerage firm. He was a painter, I was a writer, and we got an apartment together, along with a third friend who played the saxophone. We used to dream about how our lives were likeParisin the 20’s. There were some nights when we would all be in our rooms working on our respective crafts, and it was beautiful. WhenWarrenpainted the cover painting, I told him I wanted it on the front page of my first novel. I never realized it would take 20 years, but eventually, it made it.
Did you learn anything from writing your book? What was it?
I learned that if your work is real the characters actually take over the story, as I mentioned with Doane above. I had a basic story line in my head, but the characters kept driving the plot. I suppose one thing I learned, then, is to get out of the way of the story, that if you are struggling with the plot it probably means you are trying to force the story somewhere it doesn’t want to go.
In your future ventures in the publishing world, what will you do differently? Why?
I won’t get published by PublishAmerica. I would rather not self-publish, which is basically what I ended up doing with PublishAmerica, even though they billed themselves as a legitimate publisher. At this late date I may end up having to self-publish though.
Tell me about your next book. How is it linked to Zenith Rising? When is it coming out?
The new book is called Rebound. It’s more of a straight murder mystery, or what I called a postmodern treatment of the hard-boiled detective novel. It came about as a “what if” response to a news article. I wrote 30 pages and then let it sit for ten years because I didn’t know where to go next. When I dusted it off and reread it, I was amazed that there were arrows pointing the way. So I wrote it. It’s set in Zenith, but involves entirely new characters, though some of the old ones make cameo appearances. Much more of the novel unfolds in the exclusive suburb ofWellingtonLakes, where the rich and powerful kill each other and break all the laws. It was fun to write. The dying city plays as big a role in this one, though not as a theme, merely as background. It will come out when I find a publisher, or decide to do it myself.
What’s one thing you would want your readers and fans to know about you?
Tough question. I was going to say that I’m honest, especially in relation to writing. I suppose, though, I should say I am passionate about the written word.