I wanted to do this interview with Michael mostly because of my interactions with Medallion Press. This company has been so wonderful to me. Michael is one of the four authors I have the blessing to work with. The other reason is because of his novels being set in the Ukraine. My brother-in-law, Olexiy, is from there, and of course the whole Chernobyl disaster. I had contacted Michael in regards of doing a review for his books "Chernobyl Murders" and its sequel "Traffyck." He kindly obliged my reading obsession and sent me a copy of each novel. I really enjoyed this interview with him. He has some very profound things to talk about. Thank you for your time and generosity Michael!
You're a Chicago native. On your site you have pictures of the Ukraine, where your father is from. Did you ever visit there?
I have visited Ukraine in spirit many times. There is a Ukrainian Village in Chicago, and I am a member of Friends of Chernobyl Centers US and have participated in fundraisers. Another Ukrainian writer I know wrote her book before she was able to visit Ukraine, and recently she was able to go there. This is how it is with many writers who are not famous. We must settle for research and conversations with friends and relatives. All of my relatives on both sides of my family came from Hungarian, Czech, Ukrainian, and finally Russian areas of Western Ukraine. As a boy I was told many stories of growing up there, went to ethnic picnics and other festivities, and was therefore educated in the culture. So, this is why I can say in spirit, I have visited Ukraine and other parts of Eastern Europe many times.
With numerous short stories and a collection of books, have you ever doubted yourself? Thought of not writing at some point?
Of course. I think all writers have this feeling at some point in their writing career. But with some of us, it is an obsession. We feel we must put down this material, even if it is only for future generations to read. We can’t all be famous, but I think a writer does want to be read. When a writer says they are only writing it for themselves, I am skeptical. Writers want, and sometimes need, to be read. So, when there is a dry spell, and no interest is being shown—when the mailbox is devoid of even a rejection slip for days on end, I start to wonder if there is something else I should be doing with my short time on this planet.
Are you a fan of the "Bourne" series?
Yes, I am a great fan of the “Bourne” series. I have watched the films many times and each time I am struck by the detail, especially in non-action scenes, of all things. When he is thinking, walking—when we see his face, it is as if I can put some thoughts there. It is as if I can write in something of what is going on in his head. A lot of writers watch movies this way. We can’t help it.
You lucked out on Vietnam. Were you relieved? Or did you want to be involved in one of histories major wars?
Those were uncertain times, and I almost enlisted right our of tech school. I thought, like a lot of others, that it would be better to get it out of the way. It seemed so inevitable at the time that eventually I’d be in the service one way or another. It was a complete surprise to me that once I started working at a National Lab I would be assigned to a department working on classified material very critical to the US position in the Cold War. Even when I had my physical with the other guys my age, I thought I’d be going. And then I found out that what I had learned during my short time on the job had made me a risk, if I was ever captured. And so, there it was. Yes, I was relieved. But also, I felt guilty. Guys I knew went, and some did not come back. I especially recall a good friend from high school not being at the class reunion and finding out only then that he’d been killed.
Is "Sunstrike" out of publishment? Or has another publisher resurrected it?
The paperback publisher who published SUNSTRIKE went out of business and when I got back the rights to the book, iUniverse was just coming online with their program. At that time they would put published books back into print at no charge as part of a program to launch their business. So, SUNSTRIKE is still available as a print-on-demand book from iUniverse and can be ordered at Amazon and other distributors.
How did you go from being a "top-secret government member" to becoming a writer?
My writing actually evolved from my Catholic grade school experiences. While working for the Atomic Energy Commission, I began writing in the evenings, mostly short stories revolving around what I look back on now as a wild and crazy time. I was an altar boy; the end of the world was around the corner with all the nukes piling up. So as I matured, a lot of my boyhood fears and concerns went down on paper. And then, because of the nature of my AEC work, my writing began evolving into scenarios of suspense, mystery, and drama. I found a workshop back then in the University of Chicago area called The South Side Creative Writers, and while in this group I began publishing and won some awards.
I love the cover art on "Chernobyl Murders." Was any of that your inspiration?
Yes. I referred the cover designer to some actual photographs of displays at the Chernobyl Museum in Kiev. At the museum there is a setup of one of the first responder firemen in his rubber suit and mask. The mask on the cover is a very accurate drawing of the terribly inadequate protection these poor men—many of the dead—had to protect themselves. Also, I saw in the mask the emptiness in the glass coverings of the eyepieces.
Have you ever collaborated with another author, or worked on any anthologies?
My work has appeared in anthologies. These include short stories in The Automobile and American Culture from The University of Michigan Press, American Fiction from New Rivers Press, and Alfred Hitchcock’s Tales of the Supernatural and the Fantastic. Although I have edited work for new writers and taught a few creative writing classes, I have not collaborated.
What kind of novels do you enjoy reading?
I enjoy novels that are character-driven. What I mean by this is that I want to be deeply in the mind of one or more viewpoint characters.This method of writing is what I strive to do. By staying in the mind of the characters and revealing the narrative through their sensibilities, a reader experiences fewer author interruptions. I find author interruptions very distracting. Any time readers think to themselves, “Oh, the writer is filling me in on some information,” that is bad news. The thing is, this happens much more than should be expected. I guess you can call it formula or hackneyed or whatever. In conclusion, I love writers who make me forget I’m reading about something or someone, and actually make me feel I’m there, on the scene. Good mysteries and thrillers must do this in order to succeed.