Michele May is the successful author of the Circle City mysteries. She took time out from writing her fifth novel in the series to chat with me today. The first book in her series, Perfidy, was the first I had read by Ms. May, but I am looking forward to more.
Thank you, Michele, for allowing us to get into your mind as a writer. It’s always fascinating…
Readers are always curious/interested in how an author became a writer. Was this something you always wanted to do? Was there a turning point in your life that enabled it to happen?
I’ve always had a very active imagination and loved making up stories. I also wrote very long letters to my siblings in the days before emails. However, holding down full time jobs and raising children didn’t give me much time to think along the lines of writing fiction. That came later. the turning point came about when my husband and his cousin took a motorcycle trip around Lake Michigan in the summer of 2008. He came back with a story of a woman they’d met in a bar and grill who was signing her first novel. She was my age and told them “you’re never to old to accomplish your dreams.” That hit a strong cord with me and after discussing it with my husband, I quit my dreary full time job and started writing.
When you began your Circle City series, did you know it would be a series?
I did envision this as a series. However, I wanted it to be unique. Instead of picking one or two detectives and having them be the main character throughout the series, I chose to create it around the police department. This simply means that I have a different protagonist in each book as there are different cases in each. The thing that strings them together and makes it a series is the personal and professional relationships that bind them. Although each novel can stand on its own, readers want to keep up with the characters’ lives.
The series appears to revolve around the police department rather than one or two recurring characters. That seems a clever way to proceed since it can include such a variety. There is no end to where it could take you for ideas between missing persons, homicide, etc. Do you plan to continue with the series?
As long as the readers want more, I will continue to write this series. There are now four novels in this series–Inconspicuous features a serial killer who’s had a break with reality, Ensconced features a missing persons cold case based on an actual case in Indianapolis, and Purged is about a serial killer who believes he’s an avenging angel.
So far, I’ve only read Perfidy, the first in the series. Do the main characters in it make appearances in future books? Will they overlap that way?
The top billed character in Perfidy is Mandy Stevenson whose father is the Captain and Commander of the Homicide and Robbery Division. You will hear about her, but not really see much of her in the future. However, you will see Captain Stevenson, Homicide Detectives Freeman and Barnes, and Missing Persons Detectives Mayhew and Jacobs. Even though romance is not the focus of these novels, you will see some office romances, you will see each of these detectives take the lead at some point, and meet other detectives, patrol officers, prosecutors, and experience how they interact.
Are you an outliner or does the story take its own path once it begins?
Perfidy took the longest because I had a lot to learn. I had a beginning and the climax, but I needed to learn to create that intricate maze in between. My second novel, Inconpsicuous, came to me from beginning to end. Number three, Ensconced, came to me on a train ride into Chicago. I sat there and wrote a short outline. Purged was another that flowed without organization. It’s crazy but true.
Congratulations on your new publication through Harlequin! A curiosity question if I may…When they pick up a book that has already been published, do they publish as is, or do they require changes/editing to suit them?
My editor at Harlequin asked that most of the profanity be removed. As I used profanity minimally, that wasn’t difficult to accomplish. Otherwise, they published as is.
Your background in behavioral sciences must give you plenty of ideas for plot lines. But do you find while you are writing, your characters or stories bring on a wealth of new ideas?
My background in behavioral sciences was especially beneficial in creating the serial killers featured in Inconspicuous and Purged. There must be more to a character than simply describing him/her. An author must develop that character and put them into circumstances that provide him or her with opportunities to change.
For example, Homicide Detective Brent Freeman grew up in a house with three sisters (one his twin), a mother, and a drunken father who was rarely around. In his determination to be the total opposite of his father, he often struggles in his relationships, which you will find as you continue to the series. Hopefully he’ll learn one day that there is a middle ground between abuse and total submission.
Are your ideas for future books more character driven or incident driven?
There has to be some interest for me in the criminal case for it to gel, but I also want to fit the incident to my characters. To hear my readers tell it, this series is character driven. I think as long as an author has an obligation to create interesting characters who grow and change from novel to novel, but the plot must be challenging for the reader in order for all to flow well.
What steps do you take to develop your characters? Do you know everything about them before you start or learn who they are as you write?
When I create a new character, especially one who will be seen again, I create his/her story first. I put that character’s description, background, and present personality in a spreadsheet where I can add incidents that may cause changes. This helps me to keep sight of each character’s uniqueness and how the past and future affect them. I must admit, however, that finding some of their strengths and weaknesses does occur during the writing process.
What sort of writing schedule to you maintain (or try to maintain) to help stay on task?
Now that I have retired from my part-time day job, I use those morning hours when I am freshest for the bulk of my writing. Since my husband is still employed, I continue to get up with him at 4:30 am, put together his lunch, and have breakfast with him. Then I take the dog for her morning walk before I get started. Establishing a routine is very important for me to prevent procrastination.
What do you find the hardest about writing a book?
Distractions. In today’s world, authors must adapt to several types of social media, maintaining a website, and public appearances. It’s very difficult to maintain that routine we just talked about when your time for writing is so taxed.
Who are your favorite authors?
I have several and so little time to tell you about them, so I’ll stick with the authors who’ve made the biggest impression on my. First of all, I must mention J. K. Rowling. As many others have done, I fell in love with the Harry Potter series via my eldest grandson. It amazed me how she could create this magical world and write seven books keeping all of the characters and incidents straight to wind them up at the end. Then I heard her personal story. She has been my inspiration in never giving up on my dream of writing.
I also admire Sue Grafton and thoroughly enjoy the Kinsey Milhone series. I am very impressed with how she has taken one character and kept her fresh through twenty-four novels. Two to go!
What are you working on now?
I am finishing my fifth novel in the series entitled Unscrupulous. It will take Sergeant Brent Freeman into the dark world of human trafficking–specifically trafficking of young children. My plan is to publish this novel in late October of this year.
Michele (M.E.) May attended Indiana University in Kokomo, Indiana, studying Social and Behavioral Sciences. Her interest in the psychology of humans sparked the curiosity to ask why they commit such heinous acts upon one another. Other interests in such areas as criminology and forensics have moved her to put her vast imagination to work writing crime fiction that is as accurate as possible. In doing so, she depicts societal struggles that pit those who understand humanity with those who are lost in a strange and dangerous world of their own making.
In creating the Circle City Mystery Series, she brings to life fictional characters who work diligently to bring justice to victims of crime in the city of Indianapolis. Michele also hopes her readers will witness through her eyes, the wonderful city she calls her hometown.