Interview With Author Michael Smorenburg

Please introduce yourself and your book(s)!

Born in 1964 and a serial entrepreneur, I dress facts up as fiction. I write adventure stories, historical dramas, and contemporary thrillers.

What is/are the real-life story(ies) behind your book(s)?

I find interesting, lesser-known, but important historical, anthropological, or other scientific facts and weave them into compelling stories.

What inspires/inspired your creativity?

I want a reader to periodically stop reading to ponder something that is said, or put the book aside and go online to check out the veracity or tone within my stories. I want folks to come away from my books fascinated and with their interests piqued to know more about the subject at hand.

How do you deal with creative block?

I don’t fight it… I only write when I’m inspired; and, unless inspired, I find something else to do.

What are the biggest mistakes you can make in a book?

Because what I write is based on fact, I am terrified of ever getting caught out with an error—so I scrupulously research every little detail. That said, in fiction, there is room for artistic license, providing the deviations from fact are noted and not attempts to pass fancy off as fact. In my historical novels, I sometimes compress time or sequences of events to make my narrative work. In my books that have science in them, I take liberties that sound plausible even though they are perhaps a stretch. As I say – when someone is done with the book, I want them to be interested enough to pick up an actual history or science book and dig deeper into the real facts.

Do you have tips on choosing titles and covers?

A book on the shelf or a thumbnail on a screen has a nanosecond to win a prospective reader’s attention. The only way to do this is through striking (and genre-appropriate) covers and catchy names. I don’t skimp on this. Perhaps upward of 70% of success will derive from just getting noticed (it’s obvious that if your cover is amateurish, the reader will presume everything between the covers is amateurish too). Spend the money and get a pro to edit and design.

How do bad reviews and negative feedback affect you and how do you deal with them?

It’s tough. There’s no getting around it that something you write becomes entangle with your ego… a criticism of it strikes to the heart because it is a criticism of you. Where I’ve had negative feedback, I try to learn from it. Years after criticism, when I re-read the crit, I generally agree that it was valid. And that’s the thing. What changed? Why did I think something was ready for release, but years later, I can see that it wasn’t?

I think what changed is that I actively avoided becoming emotionally consumed by criticism. I forced myself to listen and learn. Once I’d learned what was wrong, I could see what was wrong and learn that lesson.

How has your creation process improved over time?

I’m a facts guy. There is nothing I like more than learning something new—especially if it destroys some golden-calf of belief I’d held up to that point, and especially- especially  if it causes me to then to dig deeper into that whole category of understandings I’d harbored, to see how the new puzzle piece fits into the entire picture I have of some aspect of life. 

As a startup writer, I used fiction to smuggle these ideas into the reader’s heads. It made for great stories—nothing wrong with that.

Like all things, though, with experience, I began to understand that humans want to read about humans. It is the emotional journey that keeps readers turning pages long after they should turn out the light. Learning these things and growing from them is a fantastic journey to be on.

What were the best, worst and most surprising things you encountered during the entire process of completing your book(s)?

My life is very full of business, social engagements, family, friends and sport.

Do you tend towards personal satisfaction or aim to serve your readers? Do you balance the two and how?

I’m an average person with average tastes — by which I mean that I enjoy mainstream stories. It’s a long way of saying that I write what I would like to read… and being ‘average,’ it turns out that it’s pretty much what a lot of people want to read.

So, my first draft is for me to enjoy. Then begins the process of editing — nips and tucks to give it broader appeal.

What role do emotions play in creativity?

Personally, I have to be inspired to write — it seems that when I’m down and negative, I get a lift out of writing positive stories that provide an alternative world I can live in for a while. When I’m up and positive, I want to share it; and the result is communicative stories that aim to reveal some aspect of life that brings hope and growth. In between those two states of emotion, I find it reasonably hard to ‘fake it.’ When I write during a bland phase of emotions, I find the results come out as contrived with weak presentation. I don’t even try to write unless there is emotion in it.

Do you have any creativity tricks?

Well… I don’t smoke, drink or do drugs — so sometimes it’s a waiting game for creativity to strike, and it always seems to strike at the wrong moment, like precisely when I’m in the middle of business or vacation. Ie. When things are going well, and I’m ‘up’ or when I’m relaxed, and my mind catches my brain being non-productive. Sigh! The surest inducement is for me to read some exciting period of history or fanatical study in science and anthropology. Something will always get me asking the ‘what-if’ question of myself; “what if a character was in such-and-such a situation?” Before you know it I’m down the rabbit hole chasing a story.

What are your plans for future books?

One of my stories involved my finding of a shipwreck that turned out to be the first and only slave ship in history ever found anywhere in the world. During that story, I leap back across almost 230 years to take the reader aboard the fated ship. When that story ended, readers badgered me to write a sequel detailing what became of that slave. Both were novellas. Turns out agents don’t like novella — so I’m thinking of rewriting the two books as one with a lot of back story that will reveal the ‘supply’ side of the slave trade in Africa… how slaves came to be captured and then sold to ships.

Another story I’m tinkering with is a 2015 DNA study that found up to 12% European genes in the local San (Bushmen) people of Southern Africa (who are the oldest population on earth, having been a distinct group from the rest of humanity for >100,000 years). The European genes entered their genome between 1,000 and 2,000 years ago… which is staggering. I have a story based on some historical finds and interpretations that may explain that. I’m also working on a story that explores mind manipulation in this brave new age of virtual reality and artificial intelligence; it is packed with intrigue and cover-up.

Tell us some quirky facts about yourself

I refuse to wear any swimwear besides a speedo. It’s comfortable. I grew up and still live on one of the world’s most beautiful beaches, and I’m not there for a fashion show or anyone else’s benefit; I put my comfort above all else. My wife has threatened to brain me if I continue to do so after things get too saggy. So many things are quirky about me, though. Not dangerously so, you understand, just interestingly. 



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