I met Texas-bred author Michael Pool when he lived in Seattle and invited me to participate in the local chapter of the loosely related, national live reading “franchise,” Noir at the Bar, a couple of years ago. After he moved back to Colorado last year, I took over the reins from Noir at the Bar Seattle’s founder, who is now the organizer of Noir at the Bar Denver. Michael also asked me to contribute a forward and an original story to his anthology Fast Women and Neon Lights: Eighties Inspired Neon Noir, for his own press, Short Stack Books. He is also the publisher and editor of the short fiction magazine, Crime Syndicate.
But it’s as a writer, not as editor, that Michael’s innate talents truly shine. His prose is pristine in terms of both construction and style, his voice authentic and accessible, resonating with the common man’s (and woman’s) experiences, but giving them a poetic sense of purpose, despite or even due to the pain, that is often lacking in our workaday lives.
Though he self-identifies as a crime author, Michael is branching out quickly beyond the perimeters of this genre. I’ve always considered his sensibilities to be quite “literary,” regardless of whichever field he chooses.
This conversation will shed some light into a very busy, brilliant brain that belongs to one of the fastest rising reputations in the indie lit community:
Does your martial arts training inform your imagination as well as your regimen as a writer, and how do you integrate the two disparate passions into your workaday lifestyle?
It definitely informs the way I write conflict and fight scenes in general to a massive degree. In terms of integrating the two of them into my lifestyle, they’re both activities I enjoy more than anything else, and so this in and of itself makes them pretty easy to focus on. Right now, I’m working as a private investigator, and so a big part of that work informs one passion, writing, and directly involves my other passion, martial arts, in terms of self-defense. My schedules with both tend to be sporadic, I’m just not one of those disciplined people who keeps to schedules well, though I do try to stay as busy as possible with both endeavors.
You are quite accomplished as both an author and an editor. What are the significant distinctions (and challenges) vis a vis requisite talents, abilities and overall focus for each?
I don’t know about accomplished, but I’m certainly trying! I think my best skill as an editor is just a good feel for story and what drives a plotline, and I try to bring that to all my editoral work in terms of trying to help the author make their story the best it can be. That’s very important to me, just helping them whittle all the edges into a masterpiece.
Like most writers I am far from the best copyeditor, and I feel like that is a very distinct skill from creative writing and content editing. It’s just so left brained, as where storytelling is very right brained and a little looser with the details, at least at first. Both require very specific talents, and the two talents are not necessarily interchangeable. It’s why we need content editors as well as copy editors, and both play an integral part of getting the writer’s work to market. A good content editor and a good copy editor are a writer’s two best friends, no question.
You are a native Texan who now lives in Colorado, after spending some time in Seattle. Do you see any particular distinctions between each region in terms of both “locally bred" literature and literary communities?
Actually, as of this week, I am a native Texan living back in Dallas, Texas (by way of Denver, CO)! Life is crazy and there are a ton of twists and turns, that’s the most I can say by way of explanation. But I am really doing the best writing of my short career right now, at least. I have spent the majority of the last seventeen years in Colorado, so I’m expecting some bumps in the transition.
I’m getting remarried after losing a marriage during the time I spent in Seattle, so that feels great to be moving on and having someone to love and depend on who understands me. It has been one of the biggest two-year transitions of my life, but I’m really moving through it with more grace than ever at this point, with forty on the not-too-distant horizon. I’ve also now got two little stepsons to think about, so that is a huge part of the equation these days and I have been learning how to manage the time I want to spend with them alongside the time I want to spend writing and training.
But to answer the question more directly, every region of the United States is extremely different, and every region is also distinctly American and thus the same. With all the political vitriol these days I think people really forget that, we’re all one culture, and it is undeniable after you live in a few different regions as I have.
Obviously, there are trends in each, Seattle being pretty far to the left politically and culturally, Texas pretty far to the right on the same terms, and Denver being a really solid mix of the two in almost every way. But I often feel like they are all a lot more alike than different, with their own distinct flavors and quirks, obviously.
In Denver and Texas, the writing has more of a “western” and “rural” bend on the whole (with exceptions), as where Seattle is decidedly West Coast and city-focused in the writing’s feel (again with major exceptions). There are writers either native to or living in each region who I really love, yourself as a good example out in Seattle, Benjamin Whitmer and Jon Bassoff in Denver, and people like Joe Lansdale and Eryk Pruitt who are native Texans and writing some great rural noir, among other things. People should definitely go buy books from all of them, as they are some of the best contemporary writers I can think of, and I say that as a person who loves to read more than almost anything else.
What are some of your influences, literary or otherwise?
I mean, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu informs and affects every aspect of my life, because it does. It’s a part of who I am now in a very real way that is hard to separate from the rest of me. I got into writing because of people like Hunter S. Thompson. I just felt a kinship with their fearless outspokenness and it’s something I try to hold as a dear value every day, even when it might be more convenient to keep quiet. I moved into fiction after reading guys like Raymond Carver and Ernest Hemingway, and I love that barebones, no-nonsense style to this day.
I see the world as a huge, complex network of ideas and feelings all bumping into each other, and I feel driven to contribute my two cents to that, as well as to always be working to inform my own perspective with others’, in addition to reading a lot. I have to admit that my values and opinions continue to shift in ways that surprise even me and that books are a big part of that, and often my ideas and values even run up to the edge of contradicting each other. I think that’s a good thing, life is too complex to take sides.
In terms of fiction, I have A TON of influences, but I’m going to focus on writers currently writing, rather than the classic crime writer answers such as Ross MacDonald, Elmore Leonard, etc. Lately I am obsessed with Walter Mosley. I just can’t get enough of the internal lives of his characters, and his voice is really original and even changes a bit from book to book while never losing the thing that makes it his. I just finished She Rides Shotgun by Jordan Harper, and holy smokes what a book. I WISH I could write like that, amazing style. Eryk Pruitt, my fellow Texan, also has a very distinct style and seems to be on the rise. Sam Wiebe and Dietrich Kalteis are two of the best crime writers on the planet, and also are two writers people in the US may not be as familiar with because of their location up in Vancouver. GO READ THOSE GUYS, I promise you won’t be disappointed. Dave Swinson’s Frank Marr series is absolutely incredible, again one of those series that makes me jealous to read. Benjamin Whitmer is crime’s heir apparent to Cormac Mccarthy, his books are dark and philosophical in a blue-collar way that really resonates with me. Plus, that dude can write. Cry Father is amazing, as is Pike.
What’s next for you?
My first full-length novel, Texas Two Step, will be released by Down and Out Books in April 2018. I have a related companion novel, Rose City, that Down and Out are taking a look at right now for April 2019. And I’m working on the first book in a new P.I. series featuring my protagonist Marcus McMasters as we speak, hoping to have it finished by the end of this year so I can start shopping it. Call it hardboiled high country noir, I suppose. The next book from there will likely be a thriller idea I’ve been working on about a girl being stalked by a mysterious, elusive psychopath at a rural home outside of Boulder, Colorado. I’m also planning to finish up a novella I’ve been at work on under the working title of “In the Jungle,” which is set in a miles-long homeless camp beneath an interstate bridge in modern times, but has a post-apocalyptic drug addict vibe to it. I hope people will consider checking one of these books out when they hit shelves, cheers!
Cheers, and congrats!
Visit Michael’s official website: http://www.michaelpool.net/
PHOTO: MICHAEL POOL