A Bequia Mystery
Michael W. Smart
Publication Date: August 1, 2014
MICHAEL W SMART is a mystery and science fiction author. A native New Yorker, he is an experienced blue water sailor and airplane pilot, two passions the protagonists in his novels also share.The Bequia Mysteries are set in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, a tropical archipelago in the eastern Caribbean where Michael lived and sailed for many years. He draws on these experiences to create intimate and lively portraits of the islands and people surrounding these compelling stories of mystery, adventure and romance.
All Books in the Series:
Hi Micheal, thanks so much for joining us today!
Firstly can you tell us about yourself?
I’m of Jamaican and British ancestry, born in New York City but lived until age 16 in various parts of Europe and the West Indies. Probably where I acquired the travel bug, but I think I actually inherited it from my adventurous mother. My passions include flying, blue water sailing, reading, and of course writing. I retired from the work-a-day world for the first time in my late twenties to bum around the world, and I spent years sailing around the Caribbean. Returned to the work-a-day world to raise two extraordinary kids, and retired again as soon as they were off on their own. Now I write fulltime, mysteries and science fiction, and anywhere I happen to hang my hat for the moment is home.
How long have you been writing?
I’ve been writing since age 13, but only as a hobby. It’s only in the last 5 years I’ve been writing seriously as a full time vocation.
What inspired you to start writing novels for your chosen genre?
My inspiration to write and tell stories began with the books and authors I grew up reading. Writers like Raymond Chandler, Dashiel Hammett, John D. MacDonald, Arthur Conan Doyle, Leslie Charteris with the great Simon Templar Saint series, John Creasey’s The Toff, and Dick Francis among many others. And of course sci-fi greats like Clarke, Wells, Bradbury, Heinlein, Herbert, Verne, Asimov to name just a few. I was fascinated by those stories, the characters, and the power of human imagination. That triggered my own imagination and my desire to write and tell stories, and those are the genres I write in, mystery and science fiction.
Are there any other genres you’ve written?
So far I’ve only written mysteries and science fiction. I refrain from using the word ‘never’ but I’m don’t have any interest in writing magical fantasy or stories involving werewolves, vampires or zombies.
Have you published any other novels, if so can you share the details?
The novels published so far are the first 2 titles in the Bequia Mysteries series, Dead Reckoning and Deadeye. The third title, Deadlight, which completes a trilogy introducing the series, is scheduled for release close to Christmas. I’ve also completed a science fiction title which is now in the production process, but I’m not sure of the publication date.
Are you working on anything new right now and can you tell us more?
I’m currently juggling a few projects. I’m writing the fourth novel in the Bequia Mysteries and I’m about half way through it. It will introduce a new protagonist character from Gage’s past who will be a major surprise to the people in his life. At the same time I’m researching and making notes for a fifth Bequia Mysteries title, a non-Bequia Mystery, and 2 science fiction novels. Other than the fourth Bequia Mystery there isn’t much to tell since I’m only in the initial stages and I have no idea what direction they’ll eventually take.
What motivates and inspires you to write?
I have difficulty pinning down and qualifying the motivation. I simply have this desire to create and write stories. It’s the first thought in my mind upon waking, and the last thought before I fall asleep. Even when I’m not writing, but occupied by some other activity, stories and characters are always on my mind. I carry my characters with me always, and I interact with them and listen to them and find objects in the spaces around me, or the activities around me, to enliven them and tell their stories. Much of my inspiration comes from everyday occurrences around me, people watching, current events, a television show or film, a novel. One small nugget, or germ of an idea might turn into a full-fledged story.
Can you offer any advice to the fledgling authors, just starting out?
I get this question quite a lot, and my answer every time is the advice I’ve heard from every writer who is serious about their work, and I pass it on. It is to write, and write, and write, everyday. It doesn’t matter what you write, just write. Practice, practice and keep practicing. And the other tip, perhaps as important, is to learn the craft. How to do more than just string words and sentences together, but how to manipulate language. Often what’s going on in one’s imagination doesn’t get translated to the page. And it doesn’t happen by itself or by accident. Doesn’t mean you need to take writing courses or get a degree in creative writing, although those will teach you the craft. But I think one of the best ways to learn the craft is to read, read and read, especially in the genre you enjoy and you want to create in. And while you’re reading pay attention to the language, how words are strung together to create a scene, or produce an emotion, or make you visualize what the author is imagining.
What is/are your all-time favorite novel/s?
That’s a really difficult question for me because it’s hard for me to rank my favorites. I love them all for different reasons. I’d have to say among my favorites as the Travis McGee novels by John D. MacDonald, the Saint novels by Leslie Charteris, the Dirk Pitt novels by Clive Cussler, anything by Robert B. Parker, and the Aubrey Maturin series by Patrick O’Brian. And I haven’t even mentioned the sci-fi favorites.
Who is/are your all-time favourite author/s?
All the authors I’ve mentioned elsewhere in this interview would be on that list.
Can you tell us who your favourite indie author/s is/are?
I’ve only recently begun to discover some truly amazing indie authors and I can’t say yet any are favorites, but I’m begining to discover and read more of them.
What are you reading at the moment & would you recommend it to us?
Right now I’m reading most of my own work because I have projects at various stages going back and forth to my editor, and most of my other reading is research. I try to put weekends aside for pleasure reading, but that has to compete for attention with all the other non-writing activities I cram into the weekend, especially since I like to finish a novel in one sitting. When a book really grabs me I won’t want to put it down. Last month I finished His Kidnapper’s Shoes by indie author Maggie James. A fantastic read. I really loved it.
If you could Time Travel - what year would you visit and why?
Wow, that’s a fascinating question. Future or past? I think I’d opt for the future, a time when interstellar travel was routine and humans had established colonies on other worlds, and after we’d made contact with an extraterrestrial species.
Do you have a favourite quote, if so what is it?
I have a few of them, especially about the sea and sky, where I spend a lot of time. But I think the one which sums me up as a writer is John Milton’s “The mind is its own place.”
If you could be any character in any novel, who would it be and why?
Jack Aubrey, captain of HMS Surprise, second only to being captain of a Federation Starship.
How do you come up with the Titles for your novels?
I usually look to the themes in my stories to suggest the tile. For the Bequia Mysteries series I wanted titles which would identify and tie together all the novels in the series. Since the novels are set in a chain of Caribbean islands with sailing passages in the stories, and a staysail schooner as a prominent feature, essentially another character, I looked to nautical terms for the titles. The first 3 title in the series are Dead Reckoning, Deadeye and Deadlight. It's intriguing how many nautical terms include the word "Dead".
Do you decide on your book title first, or do you write the book and then the title is decided later?
I may have an idea of what I want the title to be. As I’ve mentioned I usually create a title which reflects one or more themes in the story. But they are only working titles until I finish the story and make a final decision.
When working on your current novel, were there any moments when you thought:- OMG what am I doing with this plot line? Or: Who are these people I created? etc…
To the first part of the question I’m there right now with the fourth novel of the Bequia Mysteries. I’m hoping my characters can help me through it. I seldom have a problem with Characters, requiring maybe just a tweak of a personality trait or bit of history. I’m usually familiar with my characters by the time I put them into the story, and with the Bequia Mysteries, they’ve lived in my head for so long and I interact with them so often, they sometimes help in deciding which direction a scene or plot should take.
Do you have a day job, other than writing – if so can you share?
I retired from the work-a-day world as soon as I’d decided I wanted to devote full time to wandering and writing.
What is your preferred method of writing:- The plot pre-planned from day one, or just go with the flow and see what happens next?
I’m a plotter. I usually construct the story around the plot, but I’m not always certain of the twists and turns the plot may take when I begin writing. I outline to a certain extent, but I don’t need a completed outline to begin writing. My outlines are more like short storyboards setting up scenes for how and where the story will progress. Then I’ll expand these scene notes into chapter notes, and I’ll create a day to day calendar of the story’s timeline. Sometimes the story idea will come to me first, at other times the character will come first and I think of the circumstances such a character might find themselves in. In the Bequia Mysteries the Gage character came first. It was a time in my life when I was considering returning to the Grenadines to write. But I knew it wouldn’t be the same as when I lived there, some things I wouldn’t be able to still do. Too much time had passed, my perspective and my body had changed. And I wondered what it’d be like living there now. As I thought about those things the character developed, and also the themes. So Gage arrives in the Grenadines with an entirely new perspective than he had in his past life, and he has to cope with reinventing himself at an older stage in life.
Are there any little tips or tricks you use to get to know your characters better?
The very first thing I do is find an image of a person who resembles the physical characteristics of the character I have in my mind. I use this image as a reference when I’m describing the physical features of my characters. I call this my casting notes. Then I develop the character’s profile, including personality and back story, taking into account the circumstances they’ll encounter in the plot, and how they’ll react and what motivates them in those circumstances.
If you don’t like a character you’re writing about, what do you do?
Kill them off instantly; Get over it and learn to like them; Give them a whole new personality; or something else – do tell?! Please!
I create characters to fit a role I need them to play in the story and plot, including the unlikable characters. I’ve killed characters expectedly because it provided a necessary plot twist or threw another element into the plot I hadn’t imagined at the start of the story, not because I didn’t like the characterization.
Do you like to write while listening to music and if so, does your book have particular playlist you’d like to share?
Sometimes I do write listening to music, usually a classical piece or movie soundtracks. Debussy’s La Mer and soundtrack composers like Lisa Gerrard, Hans Zimmer and Trevor Jones would definitely be on that playlist.
Which type of book do you prefer to read? ebook; paperback; hardback; None – I listen to audiobooks!
I’d don’t have a preference. I enjoy ebooks for their portability, especially if I’m standing in line, and I want a physical paperback or hardcover when I’m in my hammock.
Do you have any weird writing rituals? (Such as, you can only start writing after you’ve scoffed all the choc-chip cookies and drank 3 cups of full-caff coffee? Or only after you’ve listened to a certain song or playlist? etc… do share)
This one had me laughing out loud. Do writers really do that? No, I don’t have any rituals, wierd or otherwise.
Do you have any input in the Cover design of your novel?
Yes. I have a great, talented cover designer and we collaborate closely. Not on the design details, like color and fonts, positioning and scale. Her creations usually knock me off my feet when I first see them. My input is to provide conceptualization behind the story and the characters, an overall mood I might have in mind, or themes I’d want to see reflected in the cover.
What is the very best thing about writing for you?
The writing itself. Constructing an awesome sentence or phrase, or finding the perfect word for just the right place, and making a scene or character come alive.
Which of the following suits you best? Thrill Seeker; Mildly Meek; Totally Chilled; All of the above.
Apart from writing, do you have any other hobbies that you’d like to share with us?
Apart from writing and reading, my passions are blue water sailing and flying.
Are you a morning person or a night owl or an inbetweener?
Definitely a night owl. Until the last position I held just before retiring to write fulltime every job I ever had started at midnight. And now I write until 3 or 4 in the morning, many times I’ll pull all-nighters if the juices are flowing.
What’s your least favourite part of the writing process?
Having to set it aside because of another commitment, or being too tired to think and see the keyboard properly.
How long does it typically take for you to write a novel?
The first novel in the Bequia Mysteries took me 2 years. I was still learning the craft. I’m still always learning, but I’m better at it now. The other titles in the series took about 8 months. By then I knew my characters intimately, I just needed to construct the plots. My first science fiction novel was also fairly quick. I first had the idea for the story and began writing it when I was 16. I recently pulled it out of an old file I’ve kept of my early ramblings, and laughed at how unsophisticated my writing was, but the story idea and characters and themes were all there. I just needed to rewrite it and flesh it out.
How many hours a day do you dedicate to your writing?
I schedule around 10 hours a day to work on my writing. That includes marketing, research, revisions and notes in addition to writing new material. Many times I’ll blow right through the schedule and continue working. I’m not even aware of the time, or sometimes what day of the week it is. Since I write when most everyone else is asleep, there isn’t much to distract or interrupt me.
What is the one book you can’t live without?
A thesaurus. I call it Theo.
Are you a: Laptop Writer; Desktop Writer; iPad Writer; Pen and Paper Writer
Laptop mostly, and pen and paper when I’m researching and making notes.
If you didn’t write or you went through a dry spell (aka a bit of writers block), what would you do to fill the creative void instead?
I’ve been land bound for a while now and I no longer own a sailboat, so I rent a airplane for an hour and head for the sky. Thing is the moment I’m in the air inspiration returns like a tap being turned on, if not for the project I’m working on, then some new story idea or character.
If you could go anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?
I usually travel to and wander around the places I want to set my stories in.
Who would be your dream cast if your novel was made into a movie?
Great question. In physical shape and size Dennis Haysbert or Idris Elba are close to Gage. The closest in physical appearance to Jolene is Leila Arcieri, but I could see Indira Varma in the role too. And Richard Roundtree as Mike Daniels.
If you had a choice – a dream come true - which would be your preference: Your books serialised - a weekly show or made into movies?
Wow, that’s another tough one. Too many books don’t fare well when adapted to either the large or small screen, and the author usually ends up disappointed. But I think I’d be giddy besides myself and floating on cloud nine if someone actually offered to buy the movie or television rights to my novel.
Can you tell us why you think we’d love to read your novel?
Exciting yet touching stories of danger and romance, set in an exotic location which adds color and spice to the stories.
Finally, what 7 words best sum up your novel?
A scrumptiously spiced and seasoned soufflé. That’s six, but seven turns out to be an odd number, pun intended.
Many thanks to Michael for joining us today with his latest novel, and for such a fabulous interview!
I'll be back on Friday, so until then
Keep Calm and Eat Bourneville