BookView Interview with Author Mike Nemeth

Welcome to BookView Interview, a conversation series where BookView talks to authors.

Recently, we interviewed author Mike Nemeth about his writing and his recently released, The Two Lives of Eddie Kovacs, a thoroughly engrossing and enjoyable mystery with relentless twists. (Read the review here.)

Mike Nemeth, a Vietnam veteran and former high-tech executive, writes mystery novels that deliver a message about America’s prevailing social ills. He is the author of three previous novels including award-winners Parker’s Choice and The Undiscovered Country (which inspired songwriter Mark Currey to compose the song Who I Am). His short pieces have appeared in The New York Times, Georgia Magazine, Augusta Magazine, Southern Writers’ Magazine, Deep South Magazine, and the Writers’ Voices anthology. Creative Loafing named him Atlanta’s Best Local Author for 2018. Mike lives in suburban Atlanta with his wife, Angie, and their rescue dog, Scout.


Twitter: @nemosnovels

Instagram: @nemosnovels

How often do you base your characters on real people?

All the time! Rarely is one of my characters based upon a single real person—a certain detective from The Wire did become the model for a detective in my novel Parker’s Choice—but the rest of my characters are admittedly a composite of the characteristics of real people. Call me Dr. Frankenstein. I take physical attributes, gestures and ticks, facial expressions, attitudes, morals, experiences, diction, and abilities from disparate people I have known or seen, and voila, we have Nemeth’s monsters. Writers are observant people and we collect these bits of information from the people around us and store them for use in our stories.

Do you try to be original or to deliver readers what they want?

I’m sure there are authors who identify a hot genre—hello romance and fantasy—and adopt a formula for writing that sort of story and those authors may make money doing it, but my mind is not that sort of factory machine. In that respect, my stories are original, and convey a life lesson, or expose a social issue, based upon my personal experiences. However, every author must give readers three things they want: immersion in the world of the book; relatable characters; and a satisfying ending.

How did you decide which form or genre was right for you?

When I published my first novel I had no idea that genre had rules. I thought of the story as a legal thriller but was told it didn’t qualify because neither lawyers nor judges were the protagonist. Hunh? I was told that the story fit the definition of Crime Fiction—an underdog protagonist (David/my defendant) battling the justice system (Goliath). Okay. My second novel was similar but my third novel best fit the romantic suspense category and I think my latest—The Two Lives of Eddie Kovacs—also is romantic suspense, although it contains a coming-of-age subplot. Over and above all of this, all my novels can be called detective stories (amateur and professional) because someone always dies and someone always gets caught.

What’s more important: characters or plot?

One answer is: it depends. Literary fiction tends to be character-driven and genre fiction tends to be plot-driven, but lines are crossed. But maybe you’re asking which comes first. For me, the most important element is theme—what do I want to say? What problem do I want to expose? Then I imagine a story that can make the point. This is the skeleton of a plot. Characters come last because they must fit the storyline (these are people who might experience this situation), and their motivations must make the plot points and twists believable. Basically, it’s like casting actors for a movie. So, that’s how the sausage is made.

Tell us a little about your writing style. What’s it like to read your books?

My first principle is that the story is not mine; it belongs to the characters and it’s their job to tell their story. So, you won’t find page after page of dense narrative in which the author tells the story as though you’re sitting next to them at a campfire. That approach is common among writers of literary fiction and is popular with New York publishers. In my books, I set the scene, may tell the reader what a character is thinking, and then let the characters take over with dialog and action sequences. The characters act out the story and the reader sees what is happening. As a result, my stories are fast reads, page-turners. I’ve been told that reading my books is like watching a movie.

What inspired the premise of your book?

Oh, boy. A premise of the story—not the only one—is that our definition of morality is constantly evolving. During my lifetime the definition of right and wrong has drifted away from the teachings of our priest, pastor, rabbi, or mullah, to what is legal or illegal according to the law. We’ve moved from religious morality to secular morality and much of the discord in America today is due to the fight between those two camps. Underlying all of this is the psychiatric theory that all behavior is contextual, meaning we tend to do what is selfishly good for us at the moment. In The Two Lives of Eddie Kovacs, Eddie faced a moral challenge as a young man and made the wrong choice. Years later he faces another moral challenge in a totally different time. The tagline for the novel is: When is the right thing the wrong thing to do? Moral conflict is an excellent tool for building suspense!

Tell us a little about how this story came to be. Did it start with an image, a voice, a concept, a dilemma, or something else?

There are two parts to this answer. Eddie is a detective undercover at a luxury condo complex seeking the purveyor of illegal opioids. What he’s really doing is trying to end his career in a blaze of glory to make up for a mistake he made as a Criminal Investigation officer in Vietnam. Everyone wants to forget Vietnam, but the point is that the war still influences Baby Boomer behavior.

The second part of the answer is that as I watched my parents experience end of life, I became fascinated by how we define a life well-lived. The winners were, or seemed to be, people who were healthy and wealthy into their old age. These people lived their last days in luxury, enjoying the fruits of their life’s labor. But, as Jim Morrison (of The Doors) said, “No one gets out alive.” Despite their advantages, these people are playing Russian roulette. Sooner or later the hammer will fall on a loaded chamber and that produces anxiety that influences behavior. So I set my “murder mystery” in a luxury condo community populated by successful Boomers. Eddie’s experience is completely unexpected as he falls in love with a resident and uncovers a “crime” that shakes his moral foundation and makes him question his role as an officer of the law.

What do you hope readers will take away from this story?

A different perspective on the Baby Boomer generation and a different perspective on end-of-life. But, most of all, the idea that the path to redemption isn’t always obvious.

What makes this book important right now?

In addition to the clash over morals, we are experiencing generational warfare like I’ve never seen before. Millennials, in particular, blame “old white men” for ruining the world and handing their generation impossible challenges. Boomers are quick to label Millennials as entitled, spoiled and lazy. Certainly some “old white men” have produced our current problems, but there are 69.6 million Boomers alive today who deserve a bit more credit and deserve to have someone tell their story.

What life experiences have shaped your writing most?

All of them! Hemingway is reputed to have said, “If you want to write about life, first you must live life.” His novels were all based upon his personal experiences and so are mine. Taken as an aggregate, my novels tell my life story (dramatized to make them much more exciting).


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s