Just in Time for Love is a young adult romance/coming of age story told from the boy’s point of view. It’s garnered strong positive reviews and was selected as a “Book To Live By” by the Dubai Scholars Private School, Dubai, U.A.E.
"I’m proud of Just in Time for Love because it tells the story of a young boy learning about different kinds of love—his first relationship with a girl, his father’s first relationship after the death of his mother, and his relationship with an elderly woman in the mobile home park his father manages—and how he deals with the conflicting emotions these relationships cause," he explained.
All White Girls, on the other hand, is a hardboiled crime story about a private eye searching for a missing girl. It’s sexual and violent, clearly intended for an adult audience, and has also garnered strong positive reviews.
"What the two novels have in common," he said, "is that, in both cases, they were the best writing I could do at the time I wrote them and they both achieved exactly what I set out to achieve."
Michael told me that he doesn't specifically write for young readers—his goal is just to tell a good story.
"Some of them just happen to feature young protagonists and are appropriate for young readers," he said
When Michael was a child, his favorite books were the Freddie the Pig books written by Walter R. Brooks. As he grew older, he read a lot of science fiction—Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein. In his late teens and early 20s, Judy Blume was his author of choice. Now, he reads mostly mysteries and crime fiction. His favorite authors include Carl Hiaasen—both his adult and young adult novels—and James Lee Burke.
Michael told me that he knew in the 8th grade that he wanted to be a writer.
"I wrote a story titled 'The 1812 Battle at Two Rocks,' showed it to my mother, and told her I was going to be a writer. Of course, this followed proclamations about my desire to be a fireman, astronaut, and cowboy, so she had every reason to think it was a passing fancy. Instead, she gave me my first two typewriters and encouraged me," he remembered.
"But I suspect my mother was shaping my future as a writer long before the day I wrote 'The 1812 Battle at Two Rocks'. She was a single mother in the early 1960s when that wasn’t common and we moved quite often. The first thing we did after we settled into our new home was find the local library and get library cards. There wasn’t a television in our home until I was in the third grade and by then I had found all the adventure and entertainment I could ever want in the written word."
His first published piece appeared in his junior high school's literary magazine when he was in the 9th grade. While he was in high school, he wrote for the school newspaper, the school literary magazine, and an underground newspaper distributed to high school students. He and his best friend published an amateur science fiction magazine containing their own stories and stories written by their friends.
"I was collecting rejection slips from professional magazines while other guys my age were catching touchdown passes, and I made my first professional sale while I was still a teenager," he said.
"If you weren't a writer, what would you be?" I asked.
"I’ve worked in and around printing and publishing my entire life, so I don’t really know anything else. I’ve done almost every task involved in publishing, from writing copy to taking photos and drawing illustrations on through editing, typesetting, and page layout. I’ve operated high-end and low-end scanners, operated printing presses and worked in the bindery. I suspect if I wasn’t writing, I’d be editing or working for a printing company. Somehow, someway, I’d be involved with words and getting them to readers."
Michael is primarily a short story writer, having sold more than 800 of them over the years.
"I write and sell an average of one short story each week, and have had one or more stories published every month for the past 86 months with contracts for stories scheduled for publication on into next year. So I’m always working on something, and often I’m working on several things at the same time," he told me.
He admitted that his working environment is always messier than he wants it to be—he blames that on his cats.
"Every time I straighten my desktop, my cats come in and rearrange everything," he said.
He uses two bedrooms in his home for his writing.
"The larger room has several windows, two desks, bookcases with reference material, family photos, and trinkets that amuse me or hold some significance to me. I also have a CD player and a healthy collection of CDs because I often play music while I write.
"I have two computers. One is on my main desk where I do most of my writing and the other is a laptop that has a wireless connection to my main computer so that I can carry it around the house and write in other rooms if I tired of being in my office.
"The other room is primarily a filing room where I keep copies of all my published work and all my office supplies."
"How much of your writing is based on your own experience as a child or teenager?" I asked.
"I’m certain that every story I’ve ever written is based in some small way on my experiences, but some stories are more obvious that others. My first professionally published short story, “The Magic Stone” (Young World, November, 1978) was based on something from my childhood: For extra money my mother spent Saturdays cleaning the home of an elderly neighbor. I extrapolated from that to write a story about a young boy who has the opportunity to have one wish granted.
"Just in Time for Love is less obvious, perhaps, but the protagonist is the new kid at school—something I had experienced many times—and he lives in a mobile home park—which I did as a teenager and was doing as an adult when I first wrote the story."
Finally, I asked Michael for the best piece of advice he'd ever received about writing.
"Write. Submit," he said. "It’s pretty basic advice, but many beginning writers struggle to do these basic tasks. You have to write. You have to finish what you write. You have to submit your work to an editor. You have to keep submitting your work until somebody buys it."
His father writes confessions and jokes, and the biggest joke of all is his name—Justin Tyme. But Jay, as he prefers to be called, hasn’t had much to laugh about in the years since his mother died. His father retreats into an alcohol-hazed world of denial and self-pity, reversing their care-giver roles, and forcing Jay to grow up virtually on his own.
Then, the move to O’Shea, where his father manages a mobile home park, and Jay begins yet another year as the “new kid” in school. He has a lot to learn—about life, his father, and himself, but most of all, about love. And it all begins the day Jay meets Cindy Hamilton.