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Between the pages, Past
A Mystery Column
By Dennis Collins

A Discussion with Mike Manno

      There are stories about authors who write their first book in six months and sell it to the first major publisher who looks at it. This is not that kind of story. I suspect that this is more typical of the way that it really goes.

I first met Mike Manno around seven or eight years ago when we were both attending our first writer’s conference, each of us with a manuscript in hand. And now in June of 2006, Mike’s book will become available through Five-Star.

Here is our discussion.

Dennis Collins: Your personal path to publication has certainly taken a zigzag pattern. Care to tell us about it?

Mike Manno: Yes, it has. I finished the original manuscript back in ’99 and began the marketing game. I started with query letters to agents, then editors, but after several months all I had for my efforts were enough rejection slips to paper one room in my house. I then found what I thought was a new publisher that was looking for manuscripts to publish POD (print on demand). That publisher accepted the manuscript and the book was published POD in late 2000. Unfortunately, the publisher was not a good fit for me, there was no editing, no promotion, and orders for the book were not being fulfilled on a timely basis. I managed to get that contract cancelled by early 2001 before more than a handful of the books had been sold.

That left me in a bind. The book was the first in a series, it explained how the three main characters met and charted the basis for their relationships. So I went back to the drawing boards. I had the original manuscript professionally edited and re-wrote large portions of it, filling in the back-story for one of my main characters, Stan, and re-titled it, Murder Most Holy.

That left me with the problem of how to explain the book’s history to a potential new publisher. I went to several mystery conferences and got the brush from several editors and agents. Finally, in 2005 I met the acquisition agent for Five Star, Thomson Gale at the Love Is Murder conference in Chicago. He asked a few questions about the book’s history and said he’d be willing to take a look. I submitted the re-written book and, as they say, the rest is history.


Dennis: Is this a story that you’ve had in mind for some time? Where did the idea come from?

Mike: Actually I have had the story in mind for some time, at least the general plot outline of a nun being killed and the police weren’t sure if she was the intended victim. I’m not sure where exactly the idea came from, but as a product of Catholic schools I can only guess that it may represent some repressed rage. Seriously, I do have great respect for the nuns and, if you check, you’ll find that not a bad word was said about my nun victim in the whole book.


Dennis: What about the characters? Are they based on real people?

Mike: The characters are rather quirky but are only loosely based on real people. I think it would be most accurate to say that they are composites of people I have known. I’ve given my main character, Parker, several of my dad’s traits, notably his distain for beer: “Anyone who drinks beer will steal.” There is probably a tad little bit of me in Stan, and Buffy is probably a little bit of every pretty girl I ever knew, including my wife.


Dennis: Your main character is an attorney. You’re a lawyer too, any connection?

Mike: Actually, in the first draft of the book he was a police inspector. I made him an attorney when I finally figured out that a seasoned, burned-out lawyer on a murder investigation could drive an insecure cop up a wall. That’s why I put Parker in the Attorney General’s office with a care-free attitude. It adds to the tension between the two main characters and lends itself to humorous situations.


Dennis: Are there plans for more stories? Will this be a series?

Mike: Yes to both. I have the next two manuscripts nearly finished. One of the reasons I put Stan with the state police and Parker with the Attorney General is so that I can change venue from book to book. The next book takes place in the state’s largest city where an ex-banker under investigation for embezzlement is gunned down. The following book takes place in a small college town where the dean is killed during spring break.


Dennis: Were there any authors that inspired you or that you try to emulate?

Mike: Doesn’t Agatha Christie always come up as an answer to this? I first started reading her books right out of college and I’ve built quite a collection over the years. I probably shouldn’t admit to this, but most of my reading is non-fiction, history, biography, etc., although I do try to read as many mystery authors as I can, usually only one or two of their books. Janet Evanovich and J. A. Konrath are the exceptions, as well as an author who wrote something about turning left at September…don’t remember his name right now.


Dennis: Any advice for aspiring writers?

Mike: That depends on why they write. If it is for personal enjoyment with no notion of publication, fine. But if they want to be published my advice would be fairly simple: keep working to sharpen your writing skills, keep submitting your work, and above all, attend writers’ conferences. But the hardest advice to follow is: do not be discouraged by rejection; that is simply part of the business.


Dennis: This is your space to say whatever you’d like.

Mike: I love to hear from readers. I’ve published a number of legal commentaries and the feed back is wonderful. So I look forward to hearing from readers. I can be contacted through my website

Thank you, Dennis. Oh, I think I just remembered the name of that “turn left” guy, is it McCoy?

2006 Past Columns

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