Welcome back again for another fun interview. Today, we’ve got Michael Lynes from Madison, New Jersey in to visit with us.
Michael, can you start us off with a little about yourself and where you are from?
- I was born and raised in Madison, New Jersey, USA – originally grew up in the suburbs but Margaret and I have lived in Sussex County NJ, the New Jersey Skylands region, for the last 30 years.
- I am a child of the early sixties, the tail end of the ‘boomer’ generation. I am the oldest of five, with three sisters and a brother. We all grew up in the town of Madison NJ, renamed after the President of the same name, the ‘Author of the Constitution’ James Madison. (Bottle Hill – the original name from the early 1700’s – had seemingly become less appropriate after the Revolution…)My parents, Marie and Dennis, were both well educated. My mother Marie holds a BA degree in English and my father majored in Electrical Engineering. I took after my dad in my choice of a career, studying to become an engineer at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken NJ.
While attending Stevens I met Margaret, who became my best friend, partner and wife of over 30 years. We have four sons, Ian Eric, Christopher Aaron, Devon Eagan and Caelan David (we like interesting names), and the life of Christopher is the subject of our book, “There is a Reaper”.
What inspired you to write, with a history in electrical engineering?
- I am sure it comes both from my extensive reading habits as well as from the influence of my mom, who encouraged all of us to read and write from an early age. I received so much pleasure from reading I found myself wanting to write, so as to give the reader a similar experience when my own work would be read.
- I have always been an avid reader, consuming everything from epic fiction to historical and political texts to the classics, (and all the genres in-between). Over the years I have written many articles, some scholarly, some more for pleasure or for my own consumption. I have always had an eye, and an ear, for the construction of the written word, able to see into the bones of a text and pick out the plot points and the warp and weft of the author’s craft. I do believe however that I would never have ventured to be an author myself, had it not been for the prompting I received thru the desire to memorialize my son Christopher and the experience of helping him on his journey.
- The life and the death of my son Christopher Aaron…but to say it like that is to encapsulate a twenty year effort in a scant decade of words.Almost three years ago I first sat down in front of my computer in my office, driven to somehow find a way to honor the memory and life of my son Christopher Aaron. I thought I would write a few words, something to try and capture some of the memories, some of his spirit, before they became too far removed from memory and distorted by time.
I sat there, really just lost, and unable to find a way to begin. Touching back into those memories was like opening a long shut door, reentering a place of fear and failure and pain that I was not sure I would be able to handle.
I typed a few words, and discarded them. And then I typed a few more, with the same result. I realized that, in order to tell this story I would have to face my fear, and my failure; my fear of the pain that this re-exploration would dredge up; my failure to prevent or find some way to cure him of his deadly affliction. These two overarching forces combined to hold me impotent. In all likelihood, left to my own preferences, this project would have been abandoned, stillborn…but…there was a third force.
As I sat there, blank page before me, paralyzed by my own doubt, my own fear, my selfish craven indulgence….it was Chris, clear and sharp and powerful, who appeared in my mind’s eye. I realized that he wanted his story told, that it needed to be out there.
The feeling had grown, imperceptibly…a wish, then a whisper…then a calling and now an unfulfilled duty. He had given us time, time to heal, but now he was calling me, back to myself and to my unfulfilled duty. I owed him this – and my debt was due.
I nodded my head, silently signing my unspoken contract… There were many false starts, and many, many days when I laid aside my task, exhausted by the anguish and emptied of tears. Despite all, the promise I made to Chris and to myself that day drove me onward.
I’m guessing, then that this book has quite a bit of realism and personal experiences included in it.
- All of the events in “There is a Reaper” are taken from actual life and are realistic. In order to make a readable narrative we of course had to streamline and choose events that drove the arc of the tale forward, but every experience and scene in the book is from actual events.
- Yes – as we explained above “There is a Reaper” is based on the events surrounding the life and death of my son Christopher Aaron.
Is there a message in There is a Reaper you hope your readers pick up on?
- There is a message of hope, healing and forgiveness in Christopher’s story. It is the story of a boy coming to young manhood in the most difficult of circumstances. He has to face what we all fear, death, and he has to face it before in some ways he has even begun to live… I wrote this story in many ways for myself, for selfish reasons, but as I wrote it, it became far more than a simple story of a boy fighting a deadly disease. Chris’s story becomes that of an Everyman, an unlikely hero, thrust into extraordinary circumstances thru no choice of his own, forced to grow and find new strengths and powers within himself even as his challenges grow ever more difficult.
Did you have a particular writing style in mind when you started the work, or did it develop on its own?
- For this effort I was writing in the first person narrative style, as this worked best for a memoir. These were personal experiences and true events, recalled to memory and then written down and woven into a cogent story. I believe this is the most consistent style to use for this type of story.
Question:How did you come up with the title?There is a Reaper… is the first line from the famous poem by Longfellow, “The Reaper and the Flowers…” The poem provided us not only the title of the story but I actually used lines from the poem as chapter headings throughout the text.
We chose Longfellow because over the course of Chris’s illness the poems had become important to him. During the course of Chris’s illness he had transformed. He was still a child in body but he became a man in spirit. The arc of the poem, in which the Reaper grieves for the flowers that he must cut down, and the way in which the mother gives the flowers, despite how much she will miss them, intrigued and fascinated him. It also spoke to us, and we used this poem at his funeral mass. When it came time to write his memoir, this was among the first things that came to me, as a vehicle for his story, and it became the perfect way to title the work.
With such a heartfelt, and difficult work, did you have any support outside the family?
- My family was a constant support – but beyond them no one else was even aware that I was writing until I was nearly finished. I did rely on friends to read the MS and provide feedback and comments. Lastly I found tremendous support from our editor, Mr. Barry Sheinkoph of BookShapers.com – he was a terrific resource and provided both deep insight as well as professional guidance throughout the publishing process.
With the release of your first book, do you feel that writing has become your career?
- It is certainly a career that can be very rewarding as well as extremely challenging. For myself I see writing as something that I both enjoy and that I find I am passably good at. If I could make enough money to pay all of my bills by writing alone I would love to make it my next career.
Do you have a moment in time you can look at, point to and say: “There. That’s when I became a writer.”?
- I am not sure that I do now! I am still amazed at the reviews that we have received and continue to receive for “There is a Reaper”. I wrote this story, never believing that anyone would find it compelling or inspirational or powerful or heart-wrenching. I wrote it, as I state in the forward, “Entirely for myself…” in memoriam of my son and his life. I remain truly humbled by the way Chris’s life and his story have touched the lives of so many others. Perhaps by that measure I am a writer…though mine was by far the easier road and task.
With your reading, both as a young man, and from your more recent reads, do you have any books that have influenced you, or that you feel have influenced your life?
- Some of my favorite books and authors are fantasy and science fiction writers. J.R.R. Tolkien and his wonderful series of books on Middle Earth, “The Hobbit”, “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy and the “Silmarilion” are among my favorites.
Do you have any favorite authors you return to time and again or consider to be a mentor figure for you?
- J.R.R. Tolkien is my favorite author, and his mastery and imagery are among the best I have ever experienced in the written word.
- I love the way Keith Laumer writes; his imagery and his dialog are spot on point and very evocative. Robert Heinlein is also one of my favorite fiction writers, with so many wonderful worlds and universes that he has created.Of all of the authors I perhaps would choose Isaac Asimov as a mentor. He has a clear point of view, a compelling command of narrative and dialog as well as a concise way of describing a character and a scene that does not get in the way of the reader and yet lays out a very clear picture of the world the character is moving within. I really enjoy his work.
Do you have any authors who have recently caught your attention?
- I want to read many of the new authors who have been featured on both Books Go Social and goodreads. No one specific author comes to mind but there are certainly a lot of interesting titles being published lately.
Any specific that you’re reading now, or does someone else hold that place of honor for you at the moment?
- None at the moment; I just finished “A Canticle for Leibowitz” by Walter M. Miller.
Have you started a new project? If so, are you at a point where you can share from it yet?
- The unexpectedly successful debut of our first published work, “There is a Reaper”, remains our latest news, though I could bore your readers with the minutiae of our rather hum-drum, day-to-day lives.
- I am in the beginning stages (plotting and character development) for my next published work. I plan to make it a work of fiction, and possibly a strong character that can carry a series of books forward. The project is early days however and I’m not ready to talk about it publically.
- [I am not yet ready to share from the new project.] Not right now – but stay tuned!
From your first book, if you had to start again with the knowledge you have now, would you change anything about it?
- No – it really is a complete work. In some ways I do regret the amount of writing that had to be cut, our first major edit dropped nearly 30,000 words from the MS, but we had to streamline and make the story work in about 100,000 words. In the end the resulting story flows very well, and though I as the author know where the edits were most extensive, I think the reader will be unaware and have a better experience absorbing the story due to the clear and precise cuts.
Did you face any challenges while you were writing? If so, can you share any of the lessons you learned?
- Yes – especially with Christopher’s memoir, it was very emotional to write and very draining. I also had trouble making edits and doing the many re-writes and proof-reads that any good work requires. Some days I would be up nearly all night – re-reading and revising a specific chapter or set of paragraphs. Getting the timeline right and the consistency of the narrative flow was also a challenge.
- Dredging up the memories of Chris and all that he and we went through, that was hard. Re-experiencing the feelings of loss and sadness associated with his passing. All these things made writing his memoir difficult for us.
- I learned that despite the passing of time, and all of the changes that we have experienced since Chris died; the birth of his youngest brother and of our two grandchildren; our relationship with him and his relationship with the present world has grown. He is not a part of our distant past, but rather still here in the living present, and in some ways even more so since the public release of his memoir.
For There is a Reaper, who designed the cover?
- Our cover art was created by Ms. Samantha McLaughlin (www.meenist.com ), a very talented artist. Initially we had planned to use the image of the two putti that appear in Raphael’s iconic fresco, La Madonna di San Sisto. When it turned out that that image was not available we still wanted to bring it into the cover. It was Sam’s suggestion to redraw the image of Christopher as one of the two putti and when she sent us the first sketch we were floored at how well it came out, how much life there was in Christopher’s eyes and expression. It looked to us as though he were gazing out directly from the canvas, and we never considered another change. The cover you see on “There is a Reaper” is Christopher, his mischievous grin and all…
And, the million dollar question: What advice would you give to other new, or up-and-coming authors?
- Just keep writing, no matter what. Try new things, don’t be afraid to fail. Be your own worst critic, but don’t stop.
Before we wrap up, do you have anything you’d like to say to our readers?
- I want to thank each and every person who reads “There is a Reaper” and thru it gets to know Chris and his life and story. I hope he can in some way touch them and perhaps help them thru a difficult challenge in their own lives.
Michael, thank you so much for coming over today. It has been a real pleasure getting to know you, and your book(s) a little better.
For those who enjoyed the interview, and wish to connect with Michael, you can find him on his Facebook page dedicated to Chris and to other children afflicted by life changing disease. You can also find him on Twitter, Goodreads, Amazon, and the BooksGoSocial pages.
If you enjoyed the interview, and wish me to host one for you, please stop by my Offered Services page and send me a submission. I’ll be happy to get in touch with you soonest to discuss details. (Warning, as of October 2015, I’m a bit backed up for interviews, but will be glad to add you to the list.)