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A Well-Crafted Mystery

The Tampa Bay Times calls HOW IT HAPPENED a “a well-crafted mystery” and says of Michael:
“He’s adept at using setting to frame a story, whether it’s the steamy Florida coast (The Cypress House) or chilly Indiana caves (So Cold the River). In How It Happened, the landscape and waters of the Maine coast are important elements.”
Read the full review (contains plot details):
HOW IT HAPPENED is available May 15 in stores,  or pre-order now:

Meet Bob Hammel

I had the special privilege of introducing Bob Hammel at a library dedication in his honor last night, which gave me the chance to reflect on a lot of history as I approach the release of my 13th book – none of which would have happened without Bob’s generosity and teaching. My first book, Tonight I Said Goodbye, was dedicated to him, but they all should be, really. When people ask “How do you get published?” I really have no answer other than “Meet Bob Hammel.” For me, that’s about how it worked.  The picture above was taken in Bob’s newspaper office when I was 20 and had just received my first publishing contract. About, oh, two or three decades earlier than it might have happened without him.

I began to work with Bob shortly after he’d retired as sports editor of the Bloomington Herald-Times. My neighbor, Michael Hefron, (like Bob, a mentor and friend) was the newspaper’s general manager. Mike knew I wanted to be a writer. Mike is the type of person who prefers seeing effort to hearing goals, and so he encouraged me to meet with Bob to talk about writing, if indeed I was serious about the endeavor. I might have made a mistake right then. I might have said something along the lines of, “But I don’t want to be a sports writer; I want to write novels.” As I recall, the air around us turned a little blue, and I was left with the firm – and accurate – understanding that good writing was good writing, and I’d better figure that out real fast.

And so I found myself in Bob’s basement lair at the Herald-Times, a room with which he took some issues from time to time due to a few leaky pipes and the tendency for people to turn the lights out when he was still in his office, but a room that was immediately appealing to me, and now remains in mind as an all-time cherished spot. So many books! Shelves and shelves of books, from sports to politics to the writer’s art. I loved that room. Until the day I helped him move out of it. Then his decision to archive approximately forty years of Swimming World magazine seemed a lot less impressive.

By the time I left that first meeting, two things had become crystal clear:

  • Bob Hammel knew one heck of a lot about the craft of writing.
  • My writing was going to need to get one heck of a lot better, fast.

When I returned for our next session, I received the first of what Bob called, somehow with a straight face, “a little bit of editing” to my story. There was so much red ink on the pages I thought he’d surely nicked an artery with his letter-opener.  When I’d dropped off the story, I’d placed a thank-you note on top, and I now observed, with an uneasy sense of what was to come, that Bob had edited even that. Bob doesn’t remember doing this, but I have the evidence to prove it, because that initial edit and lesson in writing meant so much to me that I saved the story – and the thank-you note. Red ink on all of it.

He walked me through the massacre like an evidence technician recreating a crime scene, explaining what each blood splatter meant, how so many of the blood splatters shared fundamental root causes, how the blood splatters built upon one another to create a real mess, and how adherence to some basic principles could avert such bloodshed in the future.

Then he told me he thought it was a very good piece of work.

It was a bewildering summation considering he’d found only a few pronouns that didn’t demand a swift strike of the red pen.

Bob doesn’t like to hear it, but I think his willingness to teach his craft, to share the lessons of Strunk & White and William Zinsser and others, gave me an incredible head start on my life’s dream of becoming a novelist. That’s the how it happened of my career.