Mike Leach is a graduate of Guilford College and UNC Greensboro. After a career with AT&T, Mike turned to writing and has just published his first novel, Lords of Circumstance. He lives with his wife, has two lovely daughters, and a trio of grandchildren. Mike is one of the unfortunate High Country Writers who must divide his time between summers in Boone and winters in Florida. Mike recently took the time to answer a few questions about his recent book.Can you give us a brief rundown on your recently published debut novel, “Lords of Circumstance”?
“Lords of Circumstance” is a mainstream, action-adventure novel, set at the close of the Vietnam War. It is a story of tragedy and redemption that spans two generations, extraordinarily connected by the whims of fate. Between the Korean War and the killing fields of Vietnam, the Cold War Era becomes a proving ground for increasingly complex, engineered viruses. While the world focuses on nuclear threats, our enemies are rapidly developing alternative methods of achieving world domination. This book focuses on the lives of two young men who face difficult circumstances early in life, but survive to become key defenders of our nation. Reunited as adults in pursuit of a common goal, best friends Matt Garrett and Bill Hunter are swept up in a global effort to locate the ultimate biological weapon, developed by a Russian scientist whose research was decades ahead of its time.
Your novel is garnering incredible reviews from readers, with over 30 Amazon reviews and almost all of them 5-star. Can you say something about how gratifying these reviews are to read?
“Humbling” is the word. As a debut writer, you certainly appreciate feedback from people that you know. But, there’s something very different about reading the opinions of complete strangers. It’s simultaneously intimidating and wonderful. All of your insecurities are awakened, then, hopefully, put to rest.
Quite a few reviews praise the unpredictable plot twists in your novel, and the fact that your story kept surprising them. How much of this plotting do you do in advance, and how much comes from the characters responding naturally in ways you yourself didn’t foresee?
Embarrassingly, I’ve had to reveal the fact that this book was a “pantzer” – the industry term used to describe a book that is “written by the seat of your pants.” I woke up each morning, reviewed the previous day’s chapter, then plowed forward at whatever rate my imagination afforded. In short, I never knew where things were going in advance — I just wrote. Unpredictable plots come from unpredictable people.
Readers have compared you to some mighty big names, including DeMille, Flynn, and Patterson. Are there any authors you read that inspire your own writing?
You have to be careful about letting such comments go to your head. Those readers were probably just relieved to discover that their money wasn’t wasted. Or, perhaps they’re just referring to stylistic elements in my writing. I have read books by each of those authors and loved them, but to include me in their company is quite a stretch, to say the least. Three modern writers have had a strong influence on me – Ken Follet (in particular, Pillars of the Earth and World Without End), Charles Frazier (Cold Mountain), and William Forstchen (One Second After). But, I also read a lot of Clive Cussler, Dale Brown, W.E.B. Griffin, Richard Preston and Tom Clancy. I live vicariously through their action-adventure stories.
I’ve read elsewhere that you’re already hard at work on the sequel. What makes writing a second book easier? Is there anything more difficult in crafting a sequel that you didn’t expect?
When you reach the end of Lords of Circumstance, you realize that it demands a sequel. I’m six chapters into it. Based upon the success of the first book, I think I’ll stick with the same process. (See “pantzer” above.) So, I try not to think about whether it will be easy or difficult. In my head, it will just “become”, and then readers will judge its quality.
Where do you enjoy doing your writing, and how much of your day/week do you devote to it?
I love to write in The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. The atmosphere is inspiring. But, in the winter months, I must return to Central Florida, lacking the mental and physical toughness required to survive the cold weather at those altitudes. Wherever I am, though, I try to write some daily, with varying degrees of success. Some days, I rack my brain to come up with a single chapter. Others days, multiple chapters spill out, typed at breakneck speeds, which usually require extensive editing later.
“Lords of Circumstance” took you over two years to write and polish. What did you learn that you would like to tell other writers struggling with their first manuscript?
a.) Take it easy on yourself – writing should be fun, or why bother?
b.) Research is good — the best stories both entertain and educate.
c.) Edit your work for months before approaching a publisher. When you’re sure it’s perfect, read it again!
d.) Know what you’re getting into. Nationally, the average self-published book sells 100-150 copies.
e.) The real work begins after your book is published (marketing, sales, interviews, signings, etc.) If you don’t plan to do the work, don’t expect a particularly successful outcome.
Besides a sequel, what else can we expect from you in the future?
Occasionally, I toy with poetry. But, that’s such a vast, yawning void. It’s easy to get lost in and end up spewing a bunch of psycho-babble that no one really wants to read. On the other hand, it’s a great way to sharpen your focus, since compression is such an important element in quality poetry. My ultimate goal is to write a piece of poetry one day that Bill Kaiser admits to liking.