You might not think of chess as an exciting story element–though anyone who remembers Wizard’s Chess from Harry Potter might think differently–but Michael Weitz’s novels, Even Dead Men Play Chess and The Grandmaster’s King are sure to prove you wrong.
Today he’s going to tell you more about his novels, how he wrote them and how he’s found success with Musa. Please give him a warm welcome.
1. Can you tell us a bit about your novels?
Both of my books are mysteries and feature former cop Ray Gordon who is now a chess teacher. He’s kind of a smart-aleck, has a better relationship with his dog than he does with most people and he has commitment issues, but not the typical kind.
I made my main character a chess teacher and incorporate real games into the story because I’ve always been a fan of the game. The chess games are not necessarily part of the mystery itself, but since chess is a major part of Ray’s life, the games are part of his story. But I know not everyone plays chess so I make it easy for non-players to understand what’s going on. In fact, I’ve had several readers tell me they used to find chess very intimidating but after reading my books they thought it seemed very interesting and fun and decided to learn to play. I’m very proud of that.
2. When did you decide you wanted to pursue writing as more than a hobby?
I think I probably fit in with most writers in that I’ve always had that dream of wanting to make a living writing books. I probably became more serious about it after my first short story was published. I think all writers would like to be able to say their craft is more than a hobby. There’s that famous saying, “Find a job doing what you love and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.” That would be great, right? Fiction though, is very subjective, as is any art and it can be difficult to break out of obscurity and into the public consciousness, so most of us still have “real” jobs to pay the bills. If we’re lucky, those jobs allow us to write in one form or another.
3. How did you start your career writing for television?
My original intention when I went to college was to major in journalism. Then, during a Mass Communication class, the head of the video production department gave a small talk and demonstration. I was hooked! It was a very creative field that included writing as well as visual elements such as videography, lighting, editing and directing. It was exciting stuff and I switched my major as soon as I could. After graduation I landed a job at a small TV station as a production assistant and offered to write everything I could. I wrote commercials, wrote and proofread corporate material and then graduated to longer video projects, documentaries and anything else I could write.
4. What did writing for television teach you about writing novels?
Conciseness. Television is a precision medium, every second counts, so when I wrote a thirty second commercial, I had a finite amount of space to tell a story, sell a product or get an idea across to the viewer. On one hand being able to write very concisely is good since I don’t have to cut away much of what I wrote. On the other hand, sometimes I don’t write enough detail and end up going back to add material! Regardless, the most important thing is the telling of the story, getting the most important ideas across to the reader.
5. You’ve written pretty much everything. When and how did you realize your true passion is novel writing?
I’ve been reading for as long as I can remember and always had a pretty active imagination. I started playing Dungeons & Dragons in junior high and wrote many adventures for our group and I really enjoyed creating those scenarios. With that kind of background you’d think I’d write fantasies but I’ve always really enjoyed the mystery genre, which writing D&D scenarios really helped me with because you’re always thinking, and then what happens?
I started writing short stories in high school and became a little more serious about it in college and received some positive feedback from my instructors. But it wasn’t until I’d had a few short stories published that I thought I wanted to write something bigger. I challenged myself to see if I could sustain a story and a group of characters for the length of a novel. When I finished my first manuscript the feeling was extraordinary! I really enjoyed the process of creating a believable group of characters, giving them a set of circumstances and seeing what happens. Now, every time I’m struck with an idea, I wonder what else can happen.
6. Can you give us a brief rundown of your novel writing process?
It begins with the spark of an idea. Sometimes I’ll see a news headline or overhear something that makes wonder what would happen if that event or situation was taken further. I’ll write it down and let the idea germinate for a while. I tend to figure out the beginning and the end first and let the events in between unfold as I write. When I’m ready to write I get a couple of new notebooks and a pen and get to work. I write everything on paper first because I can’t type as fast as I can scribble. Pen to paper just works better for me in the first stage and when I finish a chapter, I’ll type it into the computer and do some light editing at that point. I’ll then print the manuscript, read it carefully and make any obvious corrections or changes I thought of. Then I ask my wife to read it to get some fresh perspective. I’ll do three or four drafts like that before I think it’s ready to be sent to my publisher.
The fun thing for me is when something unexpected happens or one of my characters does something I hadn’t thought about. It’s odd to think that something I’m writing can suddenly veer in a direction I didn’t plan, but it happens and when it does, those are some of the best moments in the story.
7. What’s your take on writer’s block? Does it exist, and if it does, how can you cure it?
I think writer’s block takes many different forms depending on the person experiencing it. As with anything, people get burned out. Writing is tough and takes a great deal of mental energy. Writers need to take a break and recharge, just like we do in other activities. So there’s one version, the other is when nothing is happening, the creativity just isn’t flowing and your story is adrift. This has happened to me and I think I simply became distracted by something else and didn’t stick to my regimen of writing everyday. Writing is like exercise, it’s very easy not to do and the longer you don’t do it, the worse shape you, or in this case your story, gets into. Pretty soon you forget the fantastic plot lines you were going to write until the whole story fades from memory.
The cure for writer’s block is another case-by-case situation. For me, reading a book or two helps, or watching a movie. Anything that makes me wonder how I might do something differently. Would I have had that character say that? Would I have the bad guy blow up that building? Then it’s a matter of pulling that notebook out, sitting down and not getting up again until there are new words on the page.
8. What methods have you found most successful for marketing your work?
Honestly, I’m not sure I have! I write mysteries and that’s a pretty saturated genre with a very loyal reader base. It can be tough for a relative unknown to wedge their way into the crowd. But my main character is a chess player and the mysteries tend to revolve, somehow anyway, around the world of chess. So I decided to market heavily toward the chess-playing crowd. I’ve been interviewed and reviewed in chess magazines and market my books on as many chess playing web sites as I can find. In fact, my second novel, The Grandmaster’s King, was awarded the 2014 Chess Book of the Year (Fiction) by Chess Club Live, a facebook chess club with over 100,000 fans worldwide. Readers have so much to choose from these days, I think the key is to find an unexplored, or at least minimally mined, niche and focus on it.
9. If you could give an aspiring writer only one piece of advice, what would it be?
Read everything you can, particularly what’s new in your genre. It will keep you current on styles and what kinds of subjects are being published. And write your story. Don’t get side tracked because it’s always easier to stop writing. Once you stop it can be very difficult to get back in the groove. Keep writing, every day and finish your manuscript. Then you can take a break.
10. What are you working on now that readers can look forward to?
I’m working on two books right now. One of them is the third mystery in the Ray Gordon series and the second book is outside of the mystery genre but the idea for it really stuck with me and I’m enjoying the writing process and seeing where it goes.
Michael Weitz is an award-winning writer of television commercials, documentaries and various video projects along with his novels and short stories. He is an avid chess player and student of the game, and has an eclectic mix of other hobbies and interests including bicycling, photography, pool and astronomy. Michael lives in the Pacific Northwest with his wife and dog.
You can purchase your copies of Michael Weitz’s novels here.