A Conversation with: Michael A. Black
February 2, 2014
Mufti-careered Law Enforcement Professional, Kick-boxer, Prolific Author, Co-Author, and Much More[i]
Today, I’m visiting with Michael Black. For a change, I’ve actually met Michael in person at a Public Safety Writers (PSWA) conference before connecting electronically! Since then, we’ve talked at several conferences and have been on panels together. Michael is not only a dedicated, good, and very busy author, but he’s one of “the good guys” on several fronts. On top of that, Mike hails from Chicago, my home town—can’t ask for a better reference![ii]
Thank you, Michael, for taking the time to visit with me. It’s been fun catching up with you at conferences, but so often we don’t have the time to really talk. And I’ve been wanting to have a conversation with you for a long time.
The first thing that hit me when I met you at a PSWA conference—a few years back now—was that you co-authored several books. And with well known people[iii]. When I looked at your long list of books on Amazon,[iv] I was again impressed and intrigued by your wide range of writings, but especially how you’ve co-authored books. In my little experience, I can’t imagine the mechanics or emotion involved in co-authoring. What’s it like?
Thanks for having me, Maddie. It’s a pleasure to have this conversation with you. As far as co-authoring books, it can be a mixed bag. I’ve been very fortunate in that I got along well with my co-authors. That’s essential. Julie Hyzy and I were in the same writing group. We each had Chicago-based series going and decided to write Dead Ringer together. It worked out great, with me writing one chapter and her writing the next one. She’s a fabulous writer.
I also did two books with Richard Belzer, whom I consider a creative genius. He started out as a stand-up comic and has a razor-sharp wit. When we met at the Algonquin Hotel in New York City we discovered we both shared a love of animals. He brought two of his dogs with him and they wandered around the restaurant greeting all the patrons. He’s a real gentleman. We did I Am Not a Cop and I Am Not a Psychic together.
You make it sound so easy–switching chapters between authors! Takes a certain talent, I think. Next, I just had to ask you, why did you write Tank: The M1A1 Abrams (High-Tech
Military Weapons? I’ve already marveled that your writing covers so many fronts, but who was your target audience for Tank? A military request, a lifelong interest? I’m guessing your reason is interesting.
That was my first book. It was geared for young males in high school who were reluctant readers. They tried to pick topics that would be interesting to them and encourage literacy. The sad part was that even though the target audience was high school youths, the books had to be written on the fourth and fifth grade reading level. It was strictly write-for-hire, but I was very interested in any project that would get kids reading.
I believe a professional writer should be able to write anything, and should always make it the best effort possible.
I certainly admire those sentiments–though there are many topics I doubt I could ever write about. So, still on the same topic, there’s also your Volunteering to Help Kids (High Interest Books) What’s the back story for writing this book?
That was for the same publisher. The editor was so impressed that I turned the Abrams book in on time, he called and asked if I could do a second one. Figuring I’d found a niche, I quickly agreed. Then he told me he needed a book on service learning in four weeks. I cranked out Volunteering to Help Kids just under the deadline and the editor loved it. I called about a month later asking if he had any more projects for me, and found out he’d left the publishing house. That was the end of my association with them.
Then, Mike, on yet another writing front, there’s The Incredible Adventures of Doc Atlas. I gather it’s five novellas originally published in small press magazines. I read some of the back story of this project on Amazon, but I’d love to hear the story in your own words. Sounds really interesting…
Doc Atlas is a pastiche of the Doc Savage character. My buddy, Ray Lovato, and I came up with the characters years ago. He and I have been friends since we met on top of a dirt hill at a construction site when he was five and I was six. As a surprise birthday present for me one year, he wrote the opening chapter of a Doc Atlas story. I responded by writing a Doc novel, Melody of Vengeance. It’s a pastiche of two popular pulp characters from the 1940’s.
I always felt the novel had legs, and it eventually got published. You’re right, the five novellas in The Incredible Adventures of Doc Atlas were originally published in small press pulp magazines. A couple of years ago Ray and I decided to revise them and collect all of the stories in an anthology. My buddy, Geof Darrow, who’s a world renowned comic book and graphic artist, did the cover.
Amazing, I think you have worked so well with so many other professionals. Alas, I still can’t imagine! But moving on, I love all the pictures on your website [v]. Kick boxing, and especially love the picture with the punching bag and you in “action.” Hope you don’t mind I used one as your head shot! I have included another one a little later. How important is that to your life, and what influence has boxing had on your writing and writing life? (I’m guessing this is where Ron Shade comes in. Great character names grab me (and Ron Shade and Frank Leal sure fit that category.)
I was always the youngest kid in my class and was continually bullied in grammar school. Punks would wait for me to show up and push me around, stealing my lunch money and using me as a punching bag. My father, who’d done some boxing in the navy, taught me the rudiments of the sweet science and enrolled me in judo classes when I was eleven or twelve.
When I graduated from grammar school my parents bought me a set of weights and stressed that I had to learn to stand up for myself. I became more developed physically, but lacked the courage to fight back. It all came to a head late in my freshman year of high school when this big upper classman began pushing me around in front of all my friends. All the rage that had been building up through the years exploded and I beat the hell out of him, using the judo skills and strength I’d developed. After that, no one ever bothered me again.
It has remained an important part of my life ever since, and I like to incorporate those things into my writing as well. My buddy, Mike McNamara, was a world class professional kick boxer and he and I used to spar. The characters of Shade and Leal are both involved in similar pursuits. I guess you tend to write what you know to a certain extent. Incidentally, I got those two names from guys I served with in the army, although I modified them slightly.
As we both know, many members of PSWA, and conference attendees have law enforcement backgrounds. (I’m not one, I’m there to soak up what everyone has to say!) Hope you don’t mind that I’m showing a picture of you as a starting out policeman. I think it’s a great picture! And my next question is more personal, and I think a difficult one, but I’m very much interested in how your professional law enforcement career has influenced you and your writing. I’m thinking experiences, perspective on life…those kind of things.
That’s one of the great things about the PSWA—you don’t have to have a public safety background to be a part of it, and that’s how it should be. I’ve learned a lot from the non-law enforcement members, such as yourself, as well. But getting back to police work, it’s been said that once it gets into your blood you never want to do anything else. I couldn’t agree more.
I got a taste of it in the army as an MP and then entered civilian law enforcement. The psychologist who did my initial psychological entrance interview suggested that I’d fallen
into police work through “serendipity,” but I answered back that my favorite part about the job was being able to help people. That remained my calling for my entire police career. Being there for someone in their time of need, even if it was something as simple as comforting them during a traffic accident, was the most gratifying part for me. Sure, I enjoyed catching the bad guys and putting them in jail. I enjoyed the excitement and thrills, too. But for me, being able to help someone was always the best part.
Plus, it’s given me a unique understanding of human nature, which I try to use in my writing. I’ve met a lot of fascinating people, as well. The character of Cleveland Gunn in Hostile Takeovers, my second Leal and Hart novel, was based on a guy I once arrested.
To a policeman outsider, a character based on someone you once arrested is very interesting– and unique, maybe? I also read you’re doing another series under another name! Amazing. How do you find time? Really! Which leads me to my last question before you go—would love to know, what are you working on now? A new book? A new short story?
I recently read a blog by our fellow PSWA member, Marilyn Meredith, on writing. She mentioned the best advice for being a productive writer was simple: “don’t procrastinate.” I totally agree. Now that I’ve retired from the force, I’ve been able to write full-time. It’s a matter of sitting down and turning out the pages every day. I like to write in the mornings, take a brief lunch break, and then either head to the gym or go for a run in the afternoon.
Well, I am teaching a couple of writing classes at a local junior college in the evenings, too. I’m writing the Executioner novels under the house name of the original author, Don Pendleton. I read those novels many years ago. When I was in basic training, one of the other GIs in the barracks was reading one. I never dreamed I’d be writing them one day. Although Mr. Pendleton passed away, I am honored to be continuing the series and try to write novels he would have approved of and liked. My first one, Sleeping Dragons, came out last October. I wrote three more during the last calendar year, which was a challenge. I’m hoping to do more.
I’ve also got a thriller, Chimes at Midnight, coming out under my own name in May. I like to knock out short stories in between novel projects as a way to relax. I have four short stories coming out in various anthologies this year, and I’m working on finishing a new novel about bounty hunters right now. My working title is The Other Side of Hell.
Jeez, I’m tired just listening to all you accomplish (smile). Truth is, Mike, our chat has really energized me, refocused me, and pointed out how much more I could be doing. Thank you! Great conversation, it’s been a pleasure!
[i] Michael A. Black is the author of 20 books and over 100 short stories and articles. He has a BA in English from Northern Illinois University and a MFA in Fiction Writing from Columbia College Chicago. He was a police officer in the south suburbs of Chicago for over thirty years and worked in various capacities in police work including patrol supervisor, SWAT team leader, investigations, and tactical operations.
His Ron Shade series, featuring the Chicago-based kickboxing private eye, has won several awards, as has his police procedural series featuring Frank Leal and Olivia Hart. He has also written two novels with television star Richard Belzer of Law & Order SUV. His hobbies include the martial arts, running, and weight lifting.
In addition to his own novels, Black is currently writing novels in a highly popular adventure series, Mack Bolan, the Executioner under the name of the original creator, Don Pendleton. His first novel in this series, Sleeping Dragons, was released in October 2013.
Mike’s newest novel is Chimes at Midnight, a stand-alone thriller set in Washington, D.C. Other recent books include, SACRIFICIAL OFFERINGS, THE INCREDIBLE ADVENTURES OF DOC ATLAS (with Ray Lovato), THE HEIST and FREEZE ME, TENDER (think: Frozen Elvis)which are now available as e-books and trade paperbacks on available from Crossroad Press and on Amazon.com. Michael also does a regular blog on The Ladykillers.
[ii] I also attended Mike’s alma mater, Northern Illinois University, a couple years.
[iii] Including Richard Belzer of Law & Order SUV.