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Interview with Michael Garrett

While researching for this interview, a familiar name jumped from the page... Stephen King. Yep, that Stephen King. Read on to find out his connection with Michael Garrett. Michael has come face to face with a poisonous snake, been chased off the road in a car chase, saved someone's life, and got lost in a deep cave and is alive to tell about it. With plenty of real life drama, it's no wonder Michael is a suspense writer.
I've read the reviews for Over the Edge. "...this book will deprive you of sleep." "Skillful storytelling." I'm not normally a suspense/thriller reader because quite frankly, the genre scares me. But your book is now on my to-be-read pile due to positive reviews, which makes me wonder, do you read your reviews? Why or why not?
I'm flattered! I hope it doesn't disappoint. I do read my reviews. Authors can't learn from praise; only from criticism. I recognize that there's room for improvement in my work.

It is said we write what we know. Does any part of Over the Edge come from real life experience?
I agree that we all write what we know; otherwise, we have a ton of research to do. In Over the Edge, the isolated lakehouse is one that I owned about thirty years ago. I've traveled I-40 cross-country numerous times, so I'm quite familiar with it and with southwestern scenery. And I was once involved in a car chase wherein someone tried to run me off the road. I never knew who it was or what their motive might have been.

You've stated, "I write in the style that I love to read...a strong opening line with fast pacing throughout." Makes me think of the line associated with Ernest Hemingway: "For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn." Any first lines come to mind that made you continue turning pages?
My favorite opening line comes from Harlan Coben's No Second Chance: "When the first bullet hit my chest, I thought of my daughter." What a powerful brief line that's packed with information. Someone survived multiple gunshots and is a devoted parent. I was immediately hooked.

The opening line of my upcoming Christian suspense novel Captive is: "He couldn't divert his attention from the crusted blood on the passenger-side floorboard, annoyed that in his fall from grace he hadn’t cleaned it before it dried."

Ira Levin's 1953 novel A Kiss Before Dying has been a huge influence on you. How so?
It's the only novel I've ever read in just one sitting. I couldn't put it down. It's written in a lean style without extraneous detail. I've largely patterned my own writing after it.

You have lived a more than average life than some, including being an editor for Stephen King. What was that like?
Stephen King and I were high school pen pals. We used to trade items through the mail. He was incredibly talented at a young age. I wish I had held onto the original typewritten manuscripts he sent me.

Some of us have read On Writing by Stephen King. Any thoughts you have on his advice on writing?
There are some pearls of wisdom there, but I disagree with his stand against outlines. I personally need a general idea of some kind before I begin. And I'm not talking about a formal outline like we were taught in school. For me an outline can be a general idea of what will occur, stored in my brain. If I wrote without a hint of the direction I'm going my work would ramble needlessly while I'm trying to establish a story and I'm afraid it would bore my reader. Also, outlines are not restrictive. They can be changed at any time the author decides to go in a different direction. Similarly, I'm not a fan of novels that ramble. Every paragraph must lead to the next and contribute to the story for me to enjoy it.

What advice would you give to writers?
Writers are entertainers. They perform on pages rather than stage or screen. And like any entertainers, they must keep their audience in mind. I write for my readers, not for myself. I adapt the old business axiom "The customer is always right" to "The reader is always right."

Have you always lived in Alabama? What do you like about that part of the country?
I've never lived farther than ten miles from my birthplace. I love to travel, particularly west, but it's always great to get back home. The best thing about Alabama, and the South, is its people. Southern hospitality still prevails to some extent. When I travel and someone lets a door slam in my face I'm quickly reminded that I'm not in Alabama anymore. We hold doors open for everyone. It's engrained in us.

What's your favorite Bible verse?
I love The Lord's Prayer. I say it to myself at least twice daily, first thing when I wake up and the last thing before I fall asleep. And by the way, my favorite hymn is "Amazing Grace." I personally think it's the best song ever written. Imagine writing something so powerful and true that it will be sang forever.

What do you want readers to take away from reading Over The Edge?
It's a David and Goliath story, and its message is that faith trumps everything. In Over the Edge, the odds couldn't be more heavily stacked against Larissa, but the Lord is with her. There have certainly been moments in my life--not life-threatening, but hugely important just the same--when I felt the Lord's presence and immediately knew that everything would be okay. I try to convey that in Over the Edge.

What is your writing routine?
I really don't have a set routine. I can't force an idea; it has to come to me. As a result, I can go months without writing. When I am involved in writing a novel, though, I do it sort of piecemeal; I don't write the chapters in order. I start out by writing those that I'm most excited about, then write the remaining chapters around them.

Tell us about the life you saved?
I was a teenager at a beach swimming pool. The only other person in the pool was an adult woman who couldn't swim. She somehow got into the deep end over her head. I almost drowned saving her because she was so scared that she kicked and wrestled with me as I tried to save her. The only way I could get her out was to hold her the best I could as I bounced from the bottom of the pool with my feet and inched our way toward shallow water. It wasn't a pretty sight, but it worked.

What is the story about coming face to face with a poisonous snake?
Also as a teenager, I was walking around a lake in high grass when a cottonmouth raised up in my face and hissed. I was terrified and frozen in place. I literally couldn't move, but that's probably what saved me. A cousin was nearby, and he threw a large stick to the side of the snake away from me, which distracted the snake long enough for me to get away.

How did you find your way out of a cave you were lost in?
My fellow explorers and I were trying to rescue a couple of other injured guys who were lost deeper in the cave. By the time we found them, we were lost too. I happened to be the skinniest spelunker, and it was up to me to crawl into narrow holes to see if I could spot sunlight leaking through an opening. After a couple of hours I finally found one. God was definitely with us. We never panicked, but got pretty close to it.

How do your faith and spiritual life play into the picture and affect your storytelling?
As I look back over my life, I see God's handiwork far more clearly than I did at the time. His blessings are obvious throughout my life. What fascinates me is that we don't always realize there's a miracle taking place. For instance, the day I met my wife in Sunday School changed the rest of my life forever. It seemed like an ordinary Sunday at the time, yet it was God's greatest blessing of my entire life. I like to explore such thoughts in my fiction.
Gail Helgeson writes split-time fiction with a passion for leaving the legacy of a well-steeped life. She is a member of ACFW. Gail loves (okay, obsesses) all things England and can be found every afternoon sipping a cup of English Breakfast tea and nibbling on a biscuit. She and her husband share an empty nest in Wisconsin. You can find more information about her at

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