Author Michael Prelee is a graduate of Youngstown State University and resides in Northeast Ohio with his family. Please welcome him to No Wasted Ink.
Hello, my name is Michael Prelee and I write in two genres, science fiction and crime fiction. My first novel was the scifi crime story, Milky Way Repo, published in 2015 by EDGE Science Fiction & Fantasy. I followed it up with the second book in the series, Bad Rock Beat Down in 2017. Also in 2017, my first contemporary crime novel, Murder in the Heart of It All, was published by Northstar Press. I live in Northeast Ohio with my family and that setting has influenced my work a great deal. The area I live in has a history of organized crime and corrupt government, both of which are seen as themes in my work.
When and why did you begin writing?
I’ve been interested in writing as far back as I can remember. I remember reading Encyclopedia Brown mysteries and the Mad Scientist Club books in elementary school. In junior high I discovered Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov and the true crime genre. Our school library had copies of the Bloodletters and Bad Men books and I read all of them in 6th or 7th grade. I like to think we had a really cool librarian. As I got older, I realized I had my own stories to tell and discovered that if I just stopped depending on regular sleep I could find the time to pursue writing.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I thought I accomplished something when I got the first letter of interest from EDGE Science Fiction & Fantasy for Milky Way Repo. They were the first people, aside from my beautiful wife, to say they enjoyed my story about starship repo men and thought we could turn it into a successful book. Up to that point, I had been collecting rejection letters like baseball cards, but you know, even those have value. You can’t get a rejection letter until you’ve completed your work and have a finished manuscript to be evaluated. You’re successful once you accomplish the goal of finishing your story. Anyone who has ever done it knows the feeling of joy you get when you complete it and think you can’t make it any better.
Can you share a little about your current book with us?
My latest work is Murder in the Heart of It All. It’s a crime story set in the small town of Hogan, Ohio. The residents there are plagued by personalized, anonymous letters revealing dark secrets better left hidden. Tim Abernathy is a young reporter tasked with investigating who is sending them. As Tim closes in, the letter writer becomes desperate to protect his identity and murder ensues.
This book explores themes that impact so much of the country. Tim is a Millenial having trouble finding a job in his field, someone in the story is struggling with opioid addiction, others are older and have to deal with the hardships that follow plant closings and underfunded pensions. The story is an examination of the problems currently facing people in the Midwest, Appalachia and other parts of the country.
What inspired you to write this book?
I’d like to have a really deep and thoughtful answer to this question, but I’m going to be honest instead. I’m a true crime junkie and I really enjoyed the Unsolved Mysteries series. There was nothing scarier than Robert Stack telling you something terrible had happened and no one had been caught. One of the crimes profiled was that of the Circleville Letter Writer. In the 1970s and 1980s, this person sent crude, hand-written notes to people in Circleville, OH threatening to expose their secrets. No one was ever identified or convicted for sending those letters. This story percolated in my mind for a few years and then all the pieces began falling into place. I was able to take the area I live in for a setting and use this crime as a framework to build my story.
Do you have a specific writing style?
I enjoy writing in third person omniscient style. It allows me to present various points of view, including the antagonists. Elmore Leonard once said “the bad guys are the fun guys”, and he was right. Villains are fun to write and I need to write in a style that allows me to express the viewpoint of all the characters in the story who have something to say.
How did you come up with the title of this book?
See, no one ever asks that so I’m glad you did. A while back the State of Ohio’s motto was “The Heart of it All”, so I swiped it and incorporated into the title.
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
I think so and it would be “Life is tough”. When you’re young, sometimes you think older people have it easier because they’ve beat down the problems you have. You think people in their fifties have their career established and they’re better off financially because they had time to earn and save. What you don’t know, and probably won’t understand until you get near retirement age, is how quickly all that security can be stolen from you because someone in management makes a decision that eliminates your job. Everything you’ve worked for your whole life can be yanked from under your feet and it has nothing to do with how hard you worked or how well you did your job. The economy is always good when you have a job and it’s terrible when you don’t, no matter how old you are. Our area is struggling through this again because General Motors just closed the GM Lordstown plant.
Are experiences in this book based on someone you know or events in your own life?
The setting in my book is an amalgamation of all the small towns I live in growing up in Ohio and Pennsylvania. My family is very blue collar and they shaped my view of the world growing up, so it’s their fears, anger, and victories I’m sharing with these characters.
What authors have most influenced your life? What about them do you find inspiring?
Now this is a great question! Stephen King was the first writer who made me realize how important characters were to a story. It didn’t matter if it was a young girl starting fires with her mind, a young teacher who could glimpse the future at a touch, or a band of survivors walking across flu ravaged America, I wanted to know what happened to them next. That’s what kept me reading. Will Charlie McGhee make it? What will Johnny Smith do with this flash he’s seen? Will Fran and Stu make it to Las Vegas? I just couldn’t stop turning the page. I also love Elmore Leonard for the way he writes dialogue and the way he plots stories. There are times I read his novels and get so lost in the way the characters speak that the plot kind of sneaks up on me. I think I like their writing because they enjoyed putting words on paper. That mad joy of expressing themselves comes across in their writing
Who designed the cover of your book? Why did you select this illustrator?
The covers for my books are made by the publishers, and they do a fantastic job. EDGE Science Fiction and Fantasy has terrific people doing the covers for the Milky Way Repo series and North Star Press has similarly talented people putting forth a fantastic effort. I love the way that typewriter looks on the cover of Murder in the Heart of It All.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
My only advice is that there are no shortcuts. Writers sit down and put words on the page. You can be an expert in literature, understand how to break a story, and daydream fantastic ideas, but until you put in the hours actually writing you haven’t accomplished anything. Next, read as many books by as many writers in as many genres as you can. You can’t write well if you don’t read. Finally, seek out sources on writing to see how others have done it. They’re willing to teach, so be willing to learn. I recommend the following:
* Elmore Leonard’s Ten Rules of Writing
* On Writing by Stephen King
* Save the Cat! Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody
Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
First, I’m still at the stage of my career where I get to meet many readers face to face as I try to sell them books at ComiCons, book fairs, and farmer’s markets, so let me just say, “Thank you!”. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for speaking with me, listening to my pitch, and buying my books. You can’t imagine the thrill of someone buying something you created. It means everything to go into a book store and see there are fewer copies on the shelves because someone took a chance on me. It feels great.
Second, please leave a review on Amazon and Goodreads. Reviews are everything to writers. They help us with exposure, marketing, and selling more books. It doesn’t have to be anything long, just a simple rating or a few words saying you enjoyed the work. Honestly, a review is the best thing you can give an author.
Near Youngstown, Ohio
Milky Way Repo
Publisher: EDGE Science Fiction & Fantasy