Smashwords Interview:  Nine Questions
Smashwords is an ebook distribution company that allows authors to represent themselves on its website, including an opportunity to be interviewed. Smashwords throws out the questions, and you type in your answers. This interview is also available on
Q:  Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up in a blue collar town in southern New Jersey with pretty easy access to Philadelphia. This was in the Sixties. Everyone was white and married, with the dads going to work and the moms staying at home and running the households. My mother was a widow, and that made us the closest thing to a broken family on our block. It was a safe community to grow up in, but it didn’t teach you much about the world.
My first post-college job was doing financial aid for a small for-profit school in Philadelphia, and that's where I finally discovered how rough and complicated life could be, and how many desperate and hurting people were in the world. The school I worked for was striving to help these same people to better their lives. It was the most potent message I ever received about the true purpose of education.

Q:  Who are your favorite authors?
Favorite authors are too many to count. Names that come to mind quickly are Charles Dickens, John Updike, John Steinbeck, Margaret Mitchell, Armistead Maupin, Cormac McCarthy. Herman Wouk in his war novels could tell incredible stories with vivid description, dialogue, and inventive situations. His prose was rarely poetic, but he was a master of language, and his gift for well-developed characters and plot invention in The Caine Mutiny and The Winds of War is brilliant. 
Books impact me more than authors, and that can mix things up. I would never list Michael Crichton as a favorite author, but he wrote a brilliant novel in THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN and deserves mention for it. I’m not a hardcore fan of Stephen King's work and would never consider any of his books a personal favorite, yet he knows how to place you in a hotel and make you feel every ghost within it, and that's talent. As much as I love John Updike, he has written several books that I know I’ll never get through. So it varies.
Q:  Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
My mother once showed me something I wrote when I guess I was six. It was about ten lines long, written in crayon on construction paper, and all I can remember is that it involved an elephant who, at the end of the story, flew away. Possibly a Dr. Seuss influence there.
Most of my early stories were about monsters, ghouls, robots, and such. The 1933 King Kong was a big influence on my childhood. Then at age fourteen I read John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men and discovered what literature is really about. I’ve not written a monster story since.
Q:  Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
I seem to have always wanted to write, even when I was very young. But at age fourteen I developed a crush on a girl (she was thirteen) who was reading John Steinbeck. I didn’t know who he was. I went to the high school library and started going through the Steinbeck shelf. I read Of Mice and Men by sheer chance and the heartbreak of that story blindsided me. I sat at the study hall table shaking from that story. I had been writing stories all my life, but that was the moment when I decided I wanted to write well.
Q:  What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
Coffee. It should always be capitalized.
Q:  What's the story behind your books?
The Gospel of Catherine Deare (2018) imagines Jesus returning to earth not for the Second Coming, but just to check up on us, and manages to time his visit with the 9/11 terror attacks. Setting Jesus in a novel gave me the opportunity to explore the Son of God with a complexity that you won't experience reading the Gospels or even the most scrupulously-researched theological tome. That said, the story really belongs to Catherine, whose love for Jesus draws forth the qualities of a man who is both god and human, superior and vulnerable. They are both changed by the story's end. 
Career School (2015) was inspired by my early years in college administration, working for a liberal arts college that was also a high quality secretarial school. The novel explores what happens when even good colleges suffer a drop in enrollment, how a loss in revenue causes standards of quality that were once taken for granted to erode. Within the small microcosm of the Burr College of Business is a very full world, of bosses, secretaries, teachers, students, heroes and scoundrels, office romances, scandals, and opportunities to improve the world, one student at a time. It is far more entertaining than its subject matter suggests.
Q:  How do you approach cover design?

A book's cover has to catch the eye and be thematically appropriate. For Career School I also wanted sex appeal, because sex is one of the driving influences in the story.

For The Gospel of Catherine Deare I was fortunate to enlist a wonderful graphic design artist, Audrey Thompson, whose arresting cover compliments perfectly the book's mysterious spirituality.
Q:  What are you working on next?
I am between books right now, and looking for inspiration. The possibility of a sequel to Gospel plays in my head, but I’m not sure yet if that is worth pursuing. I prefer novels that are not sequels, and the books I love the most tend to be stand-alone novels. I'll think of something.
Q:  When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
I still work in college administration, currently at Haverford College, and consider myself blessed. My wife is terrific, and our two children outshine us both, which is exactly what you want them to do. Each day there is something in my house that amazes me.

Republished 2018-09-15.

Copyright by Mike Colahan