Featured Friday! Miles Watson
Miles Watson was born in Evanston, Illinois. The son of a prominent Chicago journalist, he took an early interest in writing and published his first short story at 17. He holds undergraduate degrees in Criminal Justice and History and served as a enforcement officer for nearly ten years before moving to Los Angeles, where he achieved a lifelong ambition of working in film and television. A martial artist since his teens, he holds a black belt in White Tiger Taekwondo. In 2012 he graduated from Seton Hill University with an Master of Fine Arts in Writing Popular Fiction, and was the recipient of that program’s first-ever Endowed Scholarship. He is the author of Cage Life, Knuckle Down and Devils You Know.
What’s your favourite part of the lifestyle of an Author?
Writing is not a glamorous profession – as the old saying goes, all you do is sit at the typewriter and bleed. For me personally, though, there is a lot of satisfaction in creating something from nothing. It’s like that Peter Gabriel lyric, “All of the buildings/all of the cars/ were once just a dream/in somebody’s head.” In this case, the somebody is you. The idea you had while driving or flying or standing in line at the grocery store, triggered by nothing more significant than a song lyric or a snatch of overheard conversation – a few months or a year later it’s 350 pages of manuscript, an entire world full of characters who seem (if you did your job) absolutely real, and who will go on existing even after you die. That’s amazing. It’s magical. I will never tire of the feeling of creating worlds and setting them into orbit where others can see them.
What made you start writing?
My parents were both journalists, so I suppose writing came to me naturally through the blood. But they also kept many books in the house, and all those bookshelves full of novels and history books and encyclopedias and what-not piqued my interest. At a certain age you’re only looking at the pictures; later you read the flyleaves and the captions; later still you actually dig into the books, and for the first time see the power of the written word – its ability to evoke images and sensations within your mind. Books have the power to transport you anywhere and anywhen, including places that never existed. That’s an awesome power and it attracted me at a very, very young age. That, and the actual beauty of the English language when it is used to its full potential. There were books that belonged to my father and older brother that had passages that were so evocative I felt as if I were physically inside the pages I was reading. I wanted that power for myself.
Is there an Author that you consider your inspiration?
This is a tough question because I have so many inspirations. But if I had to pick one, Derek Robinson might be it. I read Piece of Cake when I was in my teens and it blew my mind. It was the first really epic story I’d read that wasn’t either melodramatic, sappy or deeply serious. Here was a man writing about one of the key events in the history of the U.K., the Battle of Britain, and he was doing it in this cynical, black-comic vein that took this cherished myth and utterly destroyed it without ever seeming to slander the men involved. He paid those pilots the compliment of treating them like the reckless and often half-crazy 21 year-old youngsters they were, rather than glittering icons. It took tremendous guts to write a book so realistic; but more than guts, I was impressed with his prose style, which was different than anything I’d encountered before. Americans are pretty loud, direct people: with the British there is more of an emphasis on stinging sarcasm and subtle yet devastating byplay. An American writer would crush someone with a torrent of abuse; Robinson did it with half a dozen words uttered in an ordinary tone of voice. I’d never really seen that before. On top of all of this, there was the atmosphere he establishes in all of his novels, which comes down to, “No one is safe.” There is a trend nowadays on television to be ruthless with characters and kill them off at a great rate – witness The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones. Robinson was doing this decades ago, and doing it in print. I’m currently writing a three-book series on WW2, and I’ve tried to adopt his merciless attitude toward characters, so that the audience can never entirely relax.
What’s your number one tip for an aspiring Author?
Finish what you start. For the first ten or fifteen years I was writing I produced only a tiny handful of finished pieces. I either got bored, lost my inspiration, couldn’t figure out the ending or just plain procrastinated. “I’ll finish it tomorrow/next week/month.” Eventually I came to realize that the main difference between a professional and an amateur is the ability to get across the finish line. There is no piece so bad that it can’t be improved in the drafting process, but to get to that process you have to close the deal and type that last and final period. It seems like my whole life, and especially since I moved to Los Angeles, I’ve encountered people who say they have a novel or a screenplay that’s “half-finished.” You meet them again five years later and lo, it’s still “half-finished.” I used to be that guy, and it’s a path to nowhere. So my advice is, don’t be that guy. If you have to chain yourself to the bloody typewriter, do it, but finish the story.
What type of book do you like to read and does this differ from the genre that you prefer to write?
History books are probably my favorite, with a good, well-written biography or autobiography a close second. I find them fascinating but also a terrific source of inspiration for novels, because truth is always stranger than fiction. It’s true I don’t read enough novels myself, and in recent years I’ve tried to increase the amount of fiction I read, particularly by authors I’ve never read before. I write mainly in the crime and historical fiction genres, but I read horror, science-fiction and literary works as well. The truth is I’m mainly interested in story and don’t care much about labels. Tell me a good story and I’m yours, and never mind the genre.
Which one of your characters would you most like to spend time with?
Probably Megan Mullaney. She’s the protagonist of a literary-erotica novel I wrote that I’ve yet to publish, but which I sort of consider my masterpiece. Megan is the character I created who came closest to self-inventing. What I mean by that is that from the very first page she just seemed to speak with her own voice and have her own distinct personality. I couldn’t get the character to do anything that she didn’t want to do. It was as if I had no say in the process. She was telling her own story. Megan is very troubled but extremely deep. I liken her to a matryoska doll – one of those Russian dolls that has an almost infinite number of smaller dolls nesting within it. Whenever you think there’s nothing else to discover – bingo, you find another layer. I could never be bored talking to Megan.
That’s a tough one. I have a sort of hard core of novels I consider to be indispensable. But it’s possible that Howard Fast’s Spartacus is my must-read of all time. It’s written in a throwback style that would never fly today, and it’s told from multiple points of view and in complete disregard of chronology; and on top of all that it makes hash of history, but damn is it a good book. I remember years ago, Sting said that he would not write any more political songs, because political songs become dated, whereas songs about emotions never do. Spartacus is set over 2,000 years ago, but the issues dealt with in the story are timeless.
What’s been the hardest edit that you’ve had to make? Why did you want to keep the
I wrote a prologue to my first novel that I considered one of the finest things I’d ever done, but subsequent re-writes changed the outcome of the story and necessitated that it be cut. I tried desperately to find a way to keep it in because as a writer, you know when you strike out and you know when you hit the ball out of the park, and I’d hit it out of the park with that prologue. But there was no way to salvage it: it just didn’t make sense within the context of the novel. However, I’m a stubborn SOB sometimes and I decided to rewrite it slightly and peddle it as a short story, and in fact it ended up being published under the title “Unfinished Business” in a magazine called Eye Contact. On top of that, I put it in a collection of short stories I just released called Devils You Know, and it’s also available as a 99 cent Kindle download on Amazon. So in the end it did see the light of day. Like I said: I’m stubborn.
Probably Frank Herbert’s Dune, because if you’re going to live in a book, it may as well be science-fiction or fantasy, and Dune is both. Herbert called the world-building that sci-fi/fantasy authors engage in “the creative surround” and his creative surround for that book is positively awe-inspiring. He didn’t just tell a story; he designed and built an entire universe in which the story could reside, and he didn’t make the mistake, so common to authors in his genre, of showing everything that he came up with. Hemingway said that the dignity of an iceberg lay in the fact that nine-tenths of it lay beneath the surface, and I think this holds true in nearly all fiction. The audience doesn’t need to know every detail; it’s enough for you to know.
If you could pick an Author to write your biography, who would it be?
Ernie Pyle. He was a travel correspondent of the 30s and 40s who became a war correspondent when WW2 broke out and was killed in action in 1945 in the Pacific. Ernie had a way with words that allowed him to write with tremendous honesty about his subjects, yet at the same time give you the impression that he was not judging them one way or the other – even when he was. It takes real literary talent, not to mention a sense of self-effacement, to pull something like that off. Plus, he had a great and slightly subversive sense of humor. You’d need that to write my biography, believe me.
We all know the phrase “the book is always better than the film.” Which film would you like to see remade as a book?
Do you remember the 80s Western Silverado, with Kevin Kline, Scott Glenn, Kevin Costner, Danny Glover, John Cleese and Brian Dennehy? I always thought that could have made quite a good novel, if you could tinker a little with the fate of some of the hero-characters and put less of a Hollywood stamp on the ending. I seem to remember, when I was in my teens, watching snatches of the film and then novelizing them, just to practice my craft, and I came up with some really good stuff. That’s a compliment to the writer of the screenplay, not to me: it’s easy to riff on good material.
Can you sum up your life story in ten words or less?
I was born. I grew up. Now I write.
What’s exciting you about your next project?
I co-wrote a horror screenplay and am now turning it into a novel. I’ve never done anything like this before – never novelized a screenplay or written a horror novel — and those two things, for me, are major attractions in and of themselves. In life, fear generally gets the best of us, or at least guides our actions toward the conservative. But when we are really good at something, fear, within that context, is not intimidating – it’s exciting, stimulating. It drives us to greater efforts and greater heights. There’s an old saying that “a feeling of anxiety is a sure sign that you are on the right track.” I believe that 100%. The whole reason I went indie as an author was not for lack of traditional publishing opportunities: it was because I refused to be pegged into one genre. People don’t read only one genre, why should I have to write in only one genre, just to “build a brand?” My brand is writing fiction. That’s the only brand I want.
And finally, you have one quote to be remembered by, what is it?
In Chicago, where I was born, they have a saying: “Don’t make no waves, don’t back no losers.” I’d like to reverse that and say, “Make waves and back losers.” It may not look inspiring on a tombstone, but any good author will make waves just by writing honestly, and in life, as in history, it’s generally the losers who deserved to be backed anyway.
My thanks to Miles for taking part, check out some more about him on the links below: