An interview with Mike Witzgall

407I’m delighted to introduce you to Mike Witzgall (if you don’t know him yet) or to share this news with those of you who’ve known him for a while. Many first met him when he and his wife Shelly handled the mock crime scenes for us at our Criminal Pursuits conferences. You know that he’s full of information and probably a few other things, and that’s he’s loads of fun. But you might not have known what a great writer he is! A very pleasant surprise. Enjoy!

PJ: How long have you been writing?

MW: Starting in 1992 I started writing technical articles about law enforcement training – specifically, SWAT and Special Operations. Since then, I have written 15 published articles and 8 SWAT training manuals. I started writing fiction about 5 years ago.

I got interested in writing fiction over a period of several years – during those years; I was a guest speaker at several mystery writer’s conferences. I spoke on everything from police shoot outs to knife and bullet wounds. I loved it! What I learned at those conferences was (a) everyone has a story to tell including me and; (b) if you are not writing your story, someone else is!  

PJ: What types of things have you written?

MW: To this point, mostly technical articles. Sentinel’s Choice is my first shot at fiction.

PJ: At what point did you reach a place where you felt successful as a writer?

MW: I’ll have to let you know one this one!

PJ: Is the writing life what you expected when you started out? If not, how is it different?

MW: It is and it isn’t! I love the time I spend writing and creating a story. But I was surprised at how long and in depth the editing would be.

PJ: The general public seems to think authors are relatively wealthy. Without prying too much, has your writing income lived up to expectations?SC front cover

MW: Most writers ‘write’ because it’s a passion they have. Very few actually make a living at it. Since I am new to all this, I haven’t made much – but there is always tomorrow!

PJ: How did your work as a police officer prepare you or enable you to write mystery? Give an example if possible.

MW: One thing we teach rookies in the academies is that every crime committed is actually a mystery waiting to be solved. Sometimes there is an element of a thriller to it and sometimes not. Look at the Beltway Sniper incident (circa 2002). I was not remotely involved in the investigation, but as a citizen and a cop, I followed the story/investigation closely. Looking back on it, it had all the elements of murder mystery/thriller. It had the murders of innocent people, it had (in this case media induced) false leads, it had the confusion that almost all investigations have, etc. The end (the motive) was nothing like any of us thought it would be. It was about insurance!

My honest belief is that darn near every cop in America could be a mystery/thriller writer if they just took the time to do so.

PJ: Are you able to use real situations as inspiration? Can you share any with us?

MW: Almost everything that happened in the book (with the exception of the actual story line) to the protagonist happened to me or officers that I worked with at some point in my career.  Real life situational inspiration is easy to find in a law enforcement career. My best story (that I used) was when Ren and Tex are clearing a house alone. As they make entry they realize that the house is incredibly hot inside – every heating unit that can be on is turned up full blast (including the fire place, oven and space heaters). This greatly accelerated the decomposition of the murdered victim.

PJ: You and Shelly were huge assets to us when we were hosting Criminal Pursuits conferences for writers. How do you think the examination of the mock crime scenes most helped crime writers?

MW: Our hope was that we taught the writers some things about murder investigations and how difficult it is to investigate one.

PJ: Writing new material, rewriting, submitting new work, waiting, promoting published work…the list is large. How do you manage to divvy up your time to give adequate attention to all needed areas?

MW: Actually very poorly, but I am learning! I actually have had to write out a daily itinerary that I follow.

PJ: What is the single most exciting thing that’s happened to you as a writer?

MW: Getting the work finally published and out on the market!

PJ: What is the single most disappointing thing that happened to you as a writer?

MW: That things took so long. Nobody’s fault – it just took longer than I had expected.

PJ: What’s the most memorable thing (good or bad) that’s happened to you while promoting your work?

MW: Well, it hasn’t happened yet… but I have a book signing on February 1st that I am really pumped about. Even if only one person shows up, I’ll be jazzed.

PJ: With more books being released each month now than ever before, what do you believe sets your work apart from the others?

MW: Accuracy of location and police and investigative procedures. More than anything else, it’s a good story.

PJ: What would you like to share with writers who haven’t reached the point of publication yet?

MW: Keep going! Don’t give up.

PJ: What do you feel is your most effective tool for promoting your published work?

MW: Having a good editor, publicist and friends that will review your work and keep you on track.

PJ: What area of book promotion is the most challenging to you?

MW: Since I am still learning… I’ll have to let ya know on this.

If you haven’t already done so, pick up a copy of Sentinel’s Choice – you’ll want to be in on Mike’s new career from the beginning! And do stop in Barnes & Noble in Cedar Hill TX on Saturday Feb. 1 at 2pm – there’ll be a party going on!