The Writing Life with Trial Lawyer and Political Thriller Author Michael Bowen

After graduating from Harvard Law School, Michael Bowen worked as a trial lawyer for almost forty years.  His published fiction goes back to 1987’s Can’t Miss, a “gently feminist” (St. Louis Post Dispatch) novel about the first woman to play major league baseball, and has continued since then through nineteen mysteries and one political satire.  His most recent crime story, False Flag in Autumn, follows up on Damage Control, which introduced the irrepressible Josie Kendall in 2016 (“ . . . consistently delightful . . . . Bowen’s ebullient antidote to election season blues” – Kirkus Reviews).  He has also published numerous articles on legal and political issues, and is co-author of the Wisconsin State Bar treatise on the Wisconsin Fair Dealership Law (paperback and movie rights still available).  His legal career focused on distribution and franchise disputes, but included participation in representing the Milwaukee Brewers baseball team in complex litigation over proposed siting of a maximum security prison next to County Stadium and representation of numerous pro bono clients, including on who had been sentenced to death.  He lives in Fox Point, Wisconsin, a suburb of Milwaukee, with his wife, Sara – also a Harvard Law School graduate and a published lecturer on Jane Austen and another English author, Angela Thirkel.
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What got you into writing?
Baseball.  I loved the game when I was growing up, but I wasn’t as good at it as most of my playmates.  I realized that if I wrote about playing baseball I could have my heroes make the catches that I flubbed, and hit the pitches that I swung at and missed.  My first stories were baseball stories, written in longhand on loose-leaf paper.  From that point, I was hooked.

What do you like best about being an author?
This will sound insufferably egotistical, but it’s the truth.  What I like best is reading the stories I have written – especially those moments when I can’t help turning another page, even though I know what’s coming next, because I’m enjoying the writing so much.

What do you hate about it?
Finding typos and (worse) substantive mistakes that I’ve overlooked during the editorial process and that I discover only after the book is in print, when it’s too late to correct them.

What is a regular writing day like for you?
I’ve never experienced a regular writing day.  When I was practicing law I  wrote where and when I could, including on planes, in hotel rooms, and in the passenger seats of cars.  Now that I’m retired, I still have lots of things going on in my life that preclude setting aside three or four hours at a regular time each day just to write.

Do you think authors have big egos?
Yep, no question.  Maybe it’s the psychological effect of having powers of life and death over characters.  I have encountered Supreme Court justices and holders of high elective offices who didn’t display anything approaching the level of self-importance that I’ve seen in writers with two or three published books.

How do you handle negative reviews?
It depends.  Most bad reviews just mean that my story didn’t work for that particular reader, and I treat those philosophically.  You can’t please everyone.  Sometimes, though, bad reviews result from sheer laziness.  The reviewer reads two or three chapters and then bases a review on that sample plus the jacket copy, missing details such as the revelation in the second-last chapter that the actual victim of the murder wasn’t who everyone thought he was.  I handle those contemptuously.  Finally, a handful of bad reviews are the product of sheer envy.  The reviewer hasn’t been able to get his own book-length work published, and in his heart knows that he couldn’t write his way out of jury duty, and so he takes out his resentment on writers who have managed to find publishers.  I handle those with amusement, reminding myself that envy is the defining sin of the mediocre, and the two most common things in the universe are hydrogen and mediocrity.

How do you handle positive reviews?
With elation.  It is so thrilling to discover that there is one more thoughtful, sensitive, insightful genius in the world.  When I find out about the reviews in timely fashion, I try to get a thank-you note off to the reviewer, and those notes are sincere.  To paraphrase George Bernard Shaw, there is nothing more sincere than the sincerity of ego.

What is the usual response when you tell a new acquaintance that you’re an author?
“Really?  Do you write under your own name?”  That is a bracing and helpful reminder that I’m not as well known as I’d like to be.  This is generally followed by comments to the effect that, because I have published so many books, I must be a millionaire.  I try to let them down gently.

What do you on days when you don’t feel like writing?  Do you force it or take a break?
Seriously, I’ve never had a day like that.  Maybe if I’d written fiction in order to pay the rent instead of as an avocation, and had had to take assignments that didn’t truly engage me, I would have had days when I just couldn’t face the keyboard.  I’ve been lucky, though:  that wasn’t the way things worked out for me.  Rarely, but occasionally, I had days like that in legal practice, when I was working on a brief or an opinion letter.  When that happened, I just sucked it up and went to work anyway.  The Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure specify several grounds for getting an extension of the deadline for a brief.  “The muse didn’t sing today” isn’t one of them.

Any writing quirks?
Not really, to tell the truth.  I prefer composing at a keyboard to writing longhand because I can type faster than I can write and composition comes quickly for me.  Because Sara and I raised five children, I didn’t have the luxury of eccentricity.  I couldn’t insist on total quiet, or on having only jazz or classical music playing, or on having the light come only from my left or my right, or any of that stuff.

What would you do if people around you didn’t take your writing seriously or saw it as a hobby?
That’s where ego comes in.  My writing is about me.  As far as I’m concerned, I’m the only one it has to please.  It’s wonderful if other people enjoy it, but it’s essential that I enjoy it.  So I wouldn’t do anything differently.

Some authors seem to have a love-hate relationship to writing.  Can you relate?
Nope.  None of us got drafted into the writing life.  We asked for the job.  If you have days when you’re so frustrated or unfulfilled or blocked or unappreciated that you just don’t see how you can handle it, then look into retail shoe sales as a career.  You’ll feel much better about being a writer after you do.

What’s on the horizon for you?
I have at least seven books that I’d like to write, some fiction and some non-fiction.  Most of them are commercially implausible, but so what?  I’ll dabble in them.  When I find that one of them grabs me so hard that I turn off the Packers game because I simply have to get back to that project, I’ll know which one to focus on.

Leave us with some words of wisdom about the writing process or about being a writer.
Always stop work on a given day before you want to.  Then you’ll be itching to get back to it as soon as you can.  If you keep typing until you physically collapse over the keyboard, it might take you two weeks to get back in the saddle.
Also, remember Taillefer.  He was what we writers today are:  a storyteller.  He was a minstrel in the court of William the Conqueror back when that guy was just William the Bastard because he hadn’t conquered anything yet.  At the Battle of Hastings, Taillefer asked for the boon of being allowed to strike the first blow against the Anglo-Saxon army.  This was granted.  He rode forward, ahead of the Norman troops, charged into the enemy lines, and was promptly killed.  Why did he do this?  Because he really believed in the stories he told.  He really believed that a man could ask for no finer fate than to die for his liege lord with his sword in his hand and his war horse between his legs.  So, like Taillefer, believe in the stories you tell.        

Title: False Flag

Genre: Political Thriller
Author: Michael Bowen              
Publisher: Farragut Square Publications

Find out more on Amazon

About the Book:  

Josie Kendall is an ambitious political apparatchik whose memoirs will not be titled Nancy Drew Goes to Washington.  Josie has no objection to the truth—but she doesn’t let it push her around.  When a rogue White House aide tries to use her as an unwitting pawn in a plot for a spectacular October surprise before the 2018 mid-term elections, Josie calls on her D.C.-insider husband, her edgy uncle, and colorful denizens of the Louisiana demi-monde to help her out-hustle the hustlers.  But then Josie finds herself facing an even more daunting question:  is there a false-flag attack planned in order to influence the 2020 presidential election?  Josie will be forced to decide whether to venture out of the Beltway cocoon—where the weapons are leaks, winks, nudges, and spin—into a darker world where the weapons are actual weapons.  Josie will end up on the side of the angels even if, Josie begin Josie, the angels play a little dirty. 

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