By Amber E. Box
New author Mike Hancock began writing as a young child, a passion he says was instilled in him by his mother who always encouraged reading and writing. Despite the many paths his career has taken over the years, Hancock credits his seven-year stint as a wilderness guide, in addition to his love of African adventure writers, for leading him to eventually write his novel. Despite his success with his first novel, “Fallen,” Hancock has remained fully engaged in his community, continuing to teach multiple classes at the local high school and even co-hosting an annual literary fair. He is also an adjunct faculty member at Southern New Hampshire University, teaching classes in English Composition and Creative Writing.
Hancock will be heading out on his first book tour, which kicks off in Texas this month. To learn more about Mike Hancock and “Fallen,” visit www.AuthorMikeHancock.com.
Have you always written?
Pretty much. I didn’t begin any intensive writing, however, until I first went to college and began writing a series of short stories that I’d now be horrified to read. Later, when I was a wilderness guide, I kept a journal, and enjoyed writing in it at night in camp. I picked up fiction again when I started back with my undergraduate studies after a seven-year…sabbatical, we’ll call it.
What’s your process in developing your storyline and your characters?
Both with the short stories and the one novel to date, the process is very nonlinear and simplistic, sometimes starting with just a single image. For example, my mother has a friend whose son passed away at the age of thirty-eight after a hard life, including a prison stint and several drug rehab stays. One day, my mom spoke of him, and said that even as a baby, he had “old eyes.” That observation intrigued me, and after changing the protagonist to female, it morphed into the story, “Clarity.” Later, I recycled that same character, Ivey, for three chapters in “Fallen,” my novel.
What challenges do you face in your writing, and how do you overcome them?
Time management, no doubt. When working on a project, I have to self-impose a daily word count to stay on track. Typically this is 250-ish words per day, or about a page. It doesn’t seem like much, but I tend to edit as I go, and it adds up.
What has the road to publication been like for you?
It’s been a labyrinth, with plenty of false starts and cliffs into the abyss. I enjoyed a bit of success with the literary journals, and once the novel was complete, I almost hit one out of the park with the interest of New York literary agent Jack Scovil. I was in the process of adding additional material for the novel, per his suggestion, when he passed away from a sudden illness. To borrow from Rick Carey, I was in a “cold place,” to be sure. After dozens of attempts to secure a second agent, I eventually began querying small presses directly. Novels like “Fallen” are difficult to market, as it’s a bit of a hybrid and structurally unconventional. However, several presses showed interest, and I wound up with two contracts, with Black Rose Writing out of Castroville, Texas, being the clear winner.
How do you market your work?
As aggressively as I can while teaching full-time. I’m fairly prominent on social media, with an active Facebook and Twitter account, and I try to update my website on a regular basis. Once a month starting in October, I’ll be doing live readings in various cities: Dallas, then Lubbock in October. In November, I’m hosting a literary festival featuring various authors and poets, and I’ll read there as well. Beyond that, I’m broadening my territory quite a bit, and will be coming to New England, in addition to a couple of stops out west in Montana and Colorado. It’s important to entertain at these events: bring music, pictures, video. Practice your delivery. Be funny. None of that stuffy, author-nose-in-a-book reading in monotone stuff!
Who are the writers that have inspired you most, and how have they inspired you?
While I found inspiration early on with the Modernists, I’m now drawn to simplicity: to be able to tell a compact, profound story that endures. Conrad Richter’s “The Light in the Forest” springs to mind, as does William H. Armstrong’s “Sounder.” Contrasting that, I’m also drawn to urban, edgy writers like John Edgar Wideman. He really taught me to push myself with diction, syntax, figurative language…to keep the readers guessing and off-balance.
If you could keep just three books in your library, which three would you choose and why?
Yikes. That’s a sinister thing to ask an avid reader. Think I’ll cheat and pretend I can only choose from the books shelved in front of me now. Warning, one’s a complete cop-out:
“A Good Scent From a Strange Mountain” by Robert Olen Butler – Perhaps the finest collection of short stories I own, all with a connective thread tied to Vietnam.
“Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Bronte – Just beautifully done…and timeless.
“The Norton Anthology of English Literature: The Twentieth Century” – I know, I know…but these are stories that I could revisit over and over, from the likes of Hardy, Woolf, Orwell, Munro…who wouldn’t pack that thing along?
To order Hancock’s novel, or to learn more about him, visit http://www.AuthorMikeHancock.com