Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Interview with Mike Thomas, author of 'The Mysterious Treasuer of Jerry Lee Thorton'


What does a guy do when his best friend starts doing things that are completely out of character? In the case of Luke McAllister, you can’t do anything - until you figure out exactly what it is that is different. The fact that his best friend is a girl complicates matters a heap. Nothing makes sense when RaeNell Stephens, the girl that has “the best curve ball he’s ever seen”, starts blushing and acting like a durned female. All of this at the beginning of the ‘summer to end all summers’ too. This is the summer that Luke, RaeNell, and their friend Farley Midkiff set out to locate, and cash in on a rogue Civil War soldier’s stolen one million dollar Union payroll. Undaunted by thousands of scholars and fortune seekers having looked unsuccessfully for the treasure for a hundred years, the three twelve-year-old friends search diligently for themselves. What they find is an adventure that leads them on a spiraling path of discovery. They discover newness in themselves, their families, and the closeness of a small southern community in the process. Luke wrestles with his morality, ethics, and his slowly emerging awareness of the difference between boys and girls. He also discovers that his late father left him an incredibly large legacy of duty, fidelity and caring for those around him. The telling of the story takes place in imaginary New Caledonia County, NC in 1966. The deep rural traditions, vernacular, and ways of life of the region and community are portrayed in great detail as the story unfolds. This is an adventure story, but it is also a story about making good decisions whether you want to or not... It is also a story of relationships. Family and community are underscored, but there is an underlying theme of male/female relationships. It's really okay for boys and girls to be buddies without always having to be boyfriends and girlfriends. It is also a story about innocence. NOT innocence lost, but innocence maintained. Purchase at: barnes and nobleamazon  
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What are you most proud of accomplishing so far in your life? 

I have the rare honor of having doing pretty much everything I have wanted to do in life. I have traveled extensively, been involved intimately with many other people’s lives, seen the beauty of the world, and had plenty of ugly to compare it to. I can truly say “been there – done that” and really mean it.

How has your upbringing influenced your writing?

I grew up in the great state of North Carolina. I was born in Mt. Airy, in Surry County. Mt. Airy was the pattern for the ‘Andy Griffith Show’ back in the sixties. Andy grew up there, and used a lot of local stuff in the show. I’ve gotten a lot of good eye-rolling looks from people when I told them I was literally from Mayberry. Then the family moved around for a few years, and we wound up in Yadkinville, NC over in Yadkin County, right next door from where we started. I did farm work and retail work while doing what teenagers usually do. In perfect retrospect, I guess it was an idyllic childhood. But, when you’re doing the growing up you didn’t think of it as idyllic. It just was. Yadkinville, where I spent most of my youth, is almost cliché southern. It has a courthouse square with clusters of businesses all around it, and half a mile away, in every direction from the square, it’s all farmland. It was tobacco everywhere in those days. The main thing is that the people there are the salt of the earth sorts, and you get a real strong sense of family. It’s a “You cut one of us and all of us bleed” type mentality. These things are the heart of my stories, my inspiration, and my locales. The eccentric folks I grew up around are fodder for my books’ characters.

When and why did you begin writing? 

I had an English instructor back in college that shot me down in flames over a creative writing piece. I don’t even remember the title or topic, but I for sure recall the comment scribbled on the top of the paper. It said, “I do not believe you have the innate talents or abilities to become a writer.” Now, some forty years later I recall my reaction to that. I don’t know if I had ever even considered writing as a career up until that point, but his comment cut me to the bone. How dare he suppose my talents based on a hundred word piece of fluff? What kind of instructor would suck all hope from a nineteen-year-old’s potential? That I even cared what he thought surprised me. It didn’t make me stare off into the future to see great things in spite of him, but I suddenly realized that I DID care about writing. I cared about it enough to begin to hone my craft. I still thought he was a horse’s patootie, but he triggered something deep within me. Writing did matter.

Do you recall how your interest in writing originated? 

Back in the summer of 1965 I read two books back-to-back that would pretty much change my life. The first was Diamonds Are Forever, and the second was Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. One, a hard-hitting, woman-loving story in the James Bond Series. The other, a whimsical story about a car that flies, floats and even thinks. Both were written by the late Ian Fleming. I determined right then, that if someone could tell such disparate tales, in essentially the same voice, then I wanted to do so too. I was in the fifth grade.

When did you first know you could be a writer? 

I never doubted I could be a writer eventually. Then, I wrote a full radio newscast, and the news director said, “Not too shabby for a first attempt.” I was twenty years old, and I was off and running.

What inspires you to write and why?

I go to malls, parks, and other places and watch people. In my “other job” I deal with every walk of life, and work with people of every intellect, type, and manner. I frequently see people at their worst - and their best. These people inspire me by their actions, thoughts and somewhat heroic ideals. I can watch a mother/child interaction, and say, “that’s interesting”. Eventually that interchange will show up in a story somewhere.

What genre are you most comfortable writing? 

No question there. I have written detective novels, sci-fi, spy stories with cool gee-whiz gadgets and the like, but I am most comfortable writing young adult, slice of life type stuff with adventure. I love to portray easy, casual, but true friendships. One critic called The Mysterious Treasure of Jerry Lee Thorton a primer on growing up. I liked that a lot. It’s the essence of what I was trying to do.

What inspired you to write your first book? 

The simple answer is Writer’s Block. I was having difficulty with a detective novel I was writing. I keep a writer’s block notebook in my computer’s tray to jot notes, or anything else that comes up while working on a project. During the process I wrote a line in the block notebook that said: “My whole life changed the summer that RaeNell Stephens started growing up.” It was just a line that really didn’t mean much at the time. As the days went by, the detective novel became more difficult. I would pull up the block notebook and add a line or two to that original line about growing up. There were a number of empty paragraphs in the block notebook just sitting there minding their own business, when suddenly one afternoon RaeNell woke up, and a storyline blossomed. In a rush of inspiration, I wrote The Mysterious Treasure of Jerry Lee Thorton, finishing banging out the forty-thousand words in a bit over forty-eight hours. To this day I couldn’t accurately tell you where the storyline came from. It wasn’t written, as much as it just coalesced.

Who or what influenced your writing once you began? 

I have always enjoyed southern writing, but more especially, I have enjoyed southern humor. Usually the odder the humor, the more I liked it. I love the easy storytelling voice of Mark Twain, the sincerity of Eudora Welty, the joyful irreverence of Flannery O’Conner, and the narrative voice and syntax of William Faulkner. I also have been touched by the writings of such non-southern folks as James Thurber. I certainly don’t pretend to be in this group’s august circle, but they inspire me.

What do you consider the most challenging about writing a novel, or about writing in general? 

Certainly the most challenging part of any writing, whether it be novel, speech or whatever, is GETTING IT ON PAPER. When I really get going, I have thousands of ideas whizzing around, trying to compete for attention. I start in one direction, and the story suddenly takes off and goes somewhere else. I scribble notes constantly in order not to forget little thoughts and ideas as they crop up. Eventually things take shape, but people who don’t write never understand the process. It’s something you have to experience over and over for a while. Sometimes I get almost overwhelmed. I just can’t seem to get it all written fast enough. My fingers are certainly slower than my head. The beautiful part of writing is getting it all sorted out once you’ve written it. That’s the love part of writing for me.

Did writing this book teach you anything and what was it? 

I learned the ugliness of getting a book read. Agents don’t have time, publishers don’t do anything without an agent, and agents won’t read most of the submissions. It’s an endless circle like a dog chasing his tail. It never ends. Without belief in your work you will fail. It takes monstrous effort and unwavering concentration to get a book published. There is certainly nothing casual about the publication process.

Do you intend to make writing a career? 

I consider writing a career now. It doesn’t pay very many bills, so I have “another job” to support the writing. I have made a fair living writing for the past forty years, but it has to be supplemented.

Have you developed a specific writing style?

Way back when I started writing, a mentor suggested, “Don’t try to write. Just sit down and tell a story with your fingers.” The first person narrative style became my comfort zone. I try to make the voice a calm, dispassionate, but involved point of view.

What is your greatest strength as a writer? 

I have spent years of cranking out columns, news pieces, books, speeches, technical writing, and editing nearly any kind of writing you could imagine. As a result of nothing but pure experience, I am considered by most to be a “clean” writer. In other words most of the stuff I write doesn’t need a whole lot of editing when I submit it. I am well loved by editors. That isn’t really a talent, but is nothing more than a practiced skill. 

What is your favorite quality about yourself?

Humbleness, Humility, and being all things to all people.

What is your least favorite quality about yourself? 

Unbidden, sudden onset of scathing sarcasm. Some folks call it being a smart-ass. (See previous question)

What is your favorite quote, by whom, and why? 

In one of my older novels there is an ex-cop-cum-private-detective that made good investments and became fabulously wealthy. He builds a monster mansion, and on the front gate he has a huge shield made with crossed rifles, flying eagles and lots of heraldry decorations. The shield has the motto “Ut mos totus rhetoricus problemati terminus?” emblazoned across it. No one understands it much but the main character. It is the width and breadth of his sarcasm and cynicism for the world. Translated it simply says, “When will all the rhetorical questions end?”


Mike Thomas is a southern writer. He grew up in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina where he learned a lot about family, traditions, and the genteel lifestyle most southerners enjoy. The richly eccentric folks of his youth have become his characters in today's books and stories. Mike began as a newswriter, editor, columnist, reporter, and speechwriter before switching to the role of Critical Care Registered Nurse. He traveled nearly every corner of the world as a vagabond contract nurse before resettling in North Carolina a few years ago. He lives with Bobby, his desktop computer, and Rachel his laptop, in Halifax County, NC. "That's all I need," He says, "Just my computers and a bit of focus. Then we can make up worlds we could only have dreamed of last week." You can visit him at www.mikethomas-writer.com 



The Mysterious Treasure of Jerry Lee Thorton Virtual Book Publicity Tour Schedule

Monday, August 5 - Book featured at Margay Leah Justice
Wednesday, August 7 - Book featured at Between the Pages
Friday, August 9 - Book featured at Book Marketing Buzz
Tuesday, August 13 - Guest blogging at Beauty in Ruins
Wednesday, August 14 - Guest blogging at The Writer's Life
Friday, August 16 - Interviewed at Pump Up Your Book
Monday, August 19 - Book reviewed at Hezzi D's Books and Cooks
Tuesday, August 20 - Guest blogging at The Story Behind the Book
Wednesday, August 21 - Guest blogging at Literarily Speaking
Friday, August 23 - Interviewed at Literal Exposure
Monday, August 26 - Book featured at Plug Your Book
Tuesday, August 27 - 1st chapter reveal at As the Pages Turn
Wednesday, August 28 - Interviewed at Between the Covers
Friday, August 30 - Interviewed at Review From Here
Wednesday, September 4 - Interviewed at I'm Shelf-ish
Thursday, September 5 - Guest blogging at Between the Covers
Monday, September 9 - Interviewed at Broowaha
Wednesday, September 11 - Interviewed at Beyond the Books
Thursday, September 12 - Guest blogging at Straight From the Authors Mouth
Friday, September 13 - Guest blogging and 1st chapter reveal Queen of All She Reads
Monday, September 16 - Book reviewed at Create with Joy
Monday, September 16 - Book featured at My Book Addiction and More
Tuesday, September 17 - Guest blogging at She Writes
Thursday,September 19 - Interviewed at As the Pages Turn
Monday, September 23 - Guest blogging at Allvoices
Tuesday, September 24 - Interviewed at Blogher
Wednesday, September 25 - Book reviewed and interviewed at Authors and Readers Book Corner
Thursday, September 26 - Book featured at Cheryl's Book Nook
Friday, September 27 - Book reviewed at Blooming with Books
Monday, September 30 - Book featured at A Room Without Books is Empty
Pump Up Your Book


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