(See my other Author Interviews) – I read and reviewed the very good thriller Our Trespasses in the fall of 2021. Earlier this year I reached out to the author Michael Cordell for an interview. He graciously accepted my request.
Myself: When did you first realize that you wanted to become a writer?
Cordell: I don’t know when I realized that I wanted to “become” a writer, but I’ve always felt that I was a writer. My career was almost always in something other than writing, but I always thought of myself first and foremost as a writer.
Myself: What is the first piece that you remember writing?
Cordell: I wrote a poem in the fourth grade (I came out strongly against pollution). My grade school teacher read the poem out loud to the class and said I should submit it to Weekly Reader. I wrote her years (decades) later to tell her she was the first person I remember complimenting my writing, and it meant a great deal to me.
Myself: I’m sure that meant a great deal to that teacher! What was your favorite class in High School?
Cordell: English/Creative Writing
Myself: What is your academic and work background?
Cordell: My undergraduate degree is in Journalism, and a Master’s degree in Healthcare Administration. I worked most of my career in the healthcare field (marketing and communications).
Myself: With that background, I am a bit surprised that your novels haven’t been more healthcare related. What part of the world do you currently live in?
Cordell: I live in Charlottesville, Virginia (a beautiful area)
Myself: The area is very nice. I passed through there in the mid 70s after driving down Skyline Drive. Do you think that living there has affected your writing?
Cordell: I started out writing screenplays, and I think I benefited from not being in a place (i.e. L.A.) where everyone talked about what the next hot genre was and what type of stories studios were now looking for. Instead, I simply wrote what interested me, and I think that helped set me apart from a lot of the other writers who were often following the trends.
Myself: Which of your screenplays might people be familiar with?
Cordell: While I was fortunate enough to have sold three screenplays to Hollywood, only one of them was produced into a movie. It used to be that studios only made about 8 – 10% of the screenplays they purchased, so I was lucky to have had even one turned into a movie. The movie was called “Beeper”, starring Harvey Keitel, and it went directly to DVD. I’d be a little surprised if anyone was familiar with this movie, although for whatever reason, it seems to play from time to time on Spanish-language stations and internationally, so perhaps there’s someone who has come across it. But the odds are dramatically against anyone knowing anything about my screenplays.
Myself: How do you relax? What are your hobbies?
Cordell: Like a lot of writers, I enjoy reading. I also like movies, going to concerts, sitting at a Virginia winery and enjoying a glass (or two) of wine while sitting out in the sun.
Myself: Did you read much growing up?
Cordell: I read quite a bit. I remember as a young kid, the librarian at our small town library mentioned to my mother that I appeared to have an interest in all sorts of types of books. Rather than just going directly to one or two sections of the library, I checked out books from all around the library.
Myself: I hope that libraries today are having as much of an impact on youth as it did for you and I. What book that you read as a child stands out in your memory?
Cordell: The Sherlock Holmes mysteries were always of great interest to me.
Myself: I enjoyed those as well. What have you read recently?
Cordell: The Lincoln Highway; Red Comet (biography of Sylvia Platt); anything and everything by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
Myself: What is your favorite genre? book? character? author?
Cordell: I honestly don’t know that I have a favorite genre. I read a wide range of things, fiction and nonfiction. A couple of my favorite books are Constellation of Vital Phenomena and The Dog Star.
Myself: Where is your favorite place to read?
Cordell: In my upstairs reading room next to a large window that looks out onto the woods. It’s especially great when it’s snowing hard and I have a drink on the side table next to me. That is pretty much heaven to me.
Myself: That does sound like the ideal place to read. Do you prefer paper or eBooks? Do you listen to audiobooks?
Cordell: If I’m traveling, or if it’s a large book (i.e. 800+ pages) then sometimes an eBooks is easier. I often read while I eat, so being able to turn the page of a huge book with just the click of a finger makes it easier for me. Most of the books I read aren’t eBooks, but I have no bias against them. I feel like a good story will carry me away, regardless of the format.
Myself: What books do you recommend to others? Give as gifts?
Cordell: It depends totally on the person. Giving the perfect book to a friend or family member is so personal. I don’t know that there’s a one-size-fits-all book that I turn to. Instead, I love trying to give it a lot of thought and then giving a book that I think will resonate with that particular individual.
Myself: Was it difficult to transition from screenwriting?
Cordell: The biggest challenge for me is that screenwriting is such an economy of language. I work hard to take a sentence with ten words and try to say it in six or eight words. Descriptions are exceptionally short and tight, so when I first tried writing a novel, all of my chapters were about a page long. It took me a while to learn how to use a lot more description and to be able to say what a character was feeling or thinking (things you can’t do in a screenplay). I do now enjoy the luxury that one gets when taking your time to set up a scene.
Myself: I had never thought of that challenge for screenwriters. What makes you sit down and want to share your stories?
Cordell: I just enjoy writing (except when it’s a struggle). There is a bit of arrogance involved in thinking that someone will want to read what I’ve written, so mostly I just want to be sure that I enjoy what I’ve written. Seeing other people respond positively has been wonderful (and a little surprising).
Myself: What are your ambitions for your writing career?
Cordell: I’d just like to keep writing, and to put out something that I am overwhelming proud of. I’m happy with the things I’ve written so far, but I’d love to write something that I think is absolutely terrific. Still working on that.
Myself: Why do you write? What makes you sit down and want to share your stories?
Cordell: I’m not sure. It’s probably in part because I enjoy it (most of the time) and because I can create my own world and have whatever I want to have happen in that world, happen. I can work through feelings or thoughts in my writing, or just have fun writing it.
Myself: Is there anyone who has influenced your writing?
Cordell: I’m sure a lot of the authors I’ve read have influenced my writing. I’ve had teachers who influenced me, mostly through their encouragement.
Myself: How did you pick the genres of your stories?
Cordell: I mostly just come up with a “what if” situation that interests me and that makes me want to explore it further, and I figure out what the best fit would be for that “what if” genre-wise. I don’t really seek out certain genres to write as much as I come up with an idea for a story and it usually lends itself to one genre or another.
Myself: Where do your story ideas come from?
Cordell: Again, I just think of a “what if” question that makes me want to try to answer it. For example, what if identical twins had an unbreakable psychic connection and when one of the twins dies, the surviving twin realizes that the connection is still intact…and his brother is in hell. I couldn’t tell you where that “what if” came from, but when I came up with that question, I thought it’d be fun to say, “yeah…what if???”
Myself: That particular “what if” made for a very good novel. Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer just to see where an idea takes you?
Cordell: I’m very much an outliner, to the extreme. I hear some people say that doing that takes away the surprises that come if you just see where an idea takes you, but those surprises simply come to me during the planning phase. The first screenplay I sold started out being a comedy, and ended up being a kidnapping action movie. That was definitely a surprise to me, but it came out during the planning phase.
Myself: Do you ever find yourself ‘becoming’ one of your characters as you write?
Cordell: I find myself empathizing with the characters strongly, which I guess means I sort of become them, in a way. But I try to do that with most of my characters, including the antagonist. If I’m not representing them during the writing, then I think they are more likely to turn out to be two-dimensional (or even one-dimensional).
Myself: Where do you do your writing? Why there?
Cordell: Either at home at my dining room table, or at a local social club that has tables and a fireplace and people roaming around (I sort of enjoy the occasional distraction).
Myself: What is your schedule like when you are writing?
Cordell: Mostly I try writing from around 9:00 a.m. until around 11:30 or 12:00 every weekday. Once I get a first draft done, then it’s more likely I’ll read through it at all sorts of points of the day and night as I work to tighten and improve it. But mostly I try to stick with my morning routine.
Myself: About how long does it take you to complete the first draft? How long do your revisions take?
Cordell: It probably takes me four or more months just to plan out my story, then it will be another four or five months (or more) to write up the first draft. I do so much planning and preparation upfront that I don’t spend nearly as much time rewriting as a lot of other writers do. It may be that we spend the same total amount of time working on our novels, but mine is spent upfront, and their time may be spend doing more rewriting. Whatever works for each writer.
Myself: How much research do you put into a novel?
Cordell: Very little, although Google certainly does make it easier to do research than used to be the case.
Myself: What tools (software?) do you use in your writing?
Cordell: For my novels, I use Scrivener. I heard so many writers raving it about it years ago, so I bought it, but just never took the time to learn it. Then I heard more writers rave about it so I decided to actually make an effort with it and I have to say I’m now one of those people who rave about it. It works terrifically for the way in which I write my novels.
Myself: What are the hardest and easiest things about writing?
Cordell: I think one of the hardest things for a lot of authors is to simply write what you want to write (or write what you want to read). Don’t get so caught up in the hot genres or what you think you’re “supposed” to be writing, or using some other author’s voice. Write how you want to write. The easiest thing about writing is you can just sit down and start writing. You don’t need anything more than a pen and paper (or a computer, or whatever).
Myself: What advice would you give to an aspiring author?
Cordell: Persistence, and recognizing that it’s the writing that teaches you. I tell my screenwriting students that one reason I had a modicum of success in screenwriting is because I outlasted a lot of the competition. If you’re going to be discouraged because you don’t sell your first book or because you didn’t get many reviews, then you probably should think about doing something else. The more you write, the better you get. The other piece of advice I’d give is that you don’t have to be different to be good; being good is usually different enough.
Myself: What novels/works have you published?
Cordell: A legal thriller called Contempt and a paranormal thriller called Our Trespasses. I’ve also finished the second draft of a sequel to Contempt.
Myself: What are you currently working on?
Cordell: As mentioned above, I’ve just finished a draft of a sequel to my legal thriller which has far exceeded my expectations (the first book; too soon to tell whether or not the sequel will exceed my expectations). It’s now ready to be sent to my publisher for their review/editing. In the meantime, I’m just now starting a new action novel that involves the witness protection program (although I literally just started exploring this idea in the past week, so it’s too early to know for sure whether or not it will stick, but I usually have a pretty good sense about what story ideas will work out for me.).
Myself: What else would you like to share?
Cordell: I’ve greatly appreciated all of the very positive reviews and kind words I’ve received about my novels. It was far more than I expected, and I appreciate how readers take the time to say kind words (or not-so-kind, as the case may be).
Myself: How should your fans follow you or get in touch?
Cordell: The best way to reach me is through my website michaelJcordell.com, or to simply email me directly at michaelJcordell@gmail.com (I only capitalize the J because a lot of times people don’t notice it and, therefore, leave it out). I respond to all emails, and appreciate the dialogue.