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the Philosophy of Suspense

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Michael Shockey
(Photo courtesy of Michael Shockey)

When you think of college professors, you think of textbooks, not the white-knuckled page-turning tales of suspense, adventure, deceit, conspiracy and murder written by new mystery author Michael Shockey. But when you start reading the writer as well as the books, you see the visceral reality of his plots and characters flows naturally from a career that includes stints as TV host, probation officer and pastor, as well as philosophy professor. 

Movie credits may soon be added to that varied list. Hollywood is eyeing Shockey's soon-to-be-published second book, Ravager, for big screen production. With that in mind, Crescent Blues decided to quiz the teacher on his plans and philosophy -- of fiction. 

Crescent Blues: Your bio mentions a variety of careers, including probation officer. What was that like to work as a probation officer? Did it prepare you in any way to write mysteries? 

Michael Shockey: Being a probation officer can be deeply disheartening. When you are serious about your job, you want to see people's lives improve, but unfortunately, you often see them decline. The whole experience certainly helped me to see the many sides of human nature and prepared me to deepen my work on characterization and the sometimes unusual arenas of human interaction. It also placed me in a position to reexamine the meaning of despair.  

Crescent Blues: Was Seized your first novel or your first published novel? How many other novels did you write before you were published? 

Book: Michael Shockey, SeizedMichael Shockey: Seized was my first published novel. I wrote four others prior to beginning work on Seized. Each of my previous works gave me the opportunity to develop the writer's discipline that I needed and to examine aspects of writing that are not taught in a classroom -- such as exploring a character's multi-leveled system of motivation. I decided after serious reflection that [those earlier novels] were not worthy of serious publication efforts.  

Crescent Blues: How would you describe the type of mystery you wrote -- an amateur detective, psychological thriller? Why did you pick that genre? Is it a favorite? 

Michael Shockey: Seized is a psychological mystery thriller, and I chose this genre because of my absolute fascination with human nature. This is definitely a favorite [genre] of mine due to the fact that it makes me study people and their reactions in much greater depth. 

Crescent Blues: In you novel Seized you have one of your characters suffering from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)? Can you tell our readers something about this disorder and why you chose to focus on it? 

Michael Shockey: OCD is thought to be caused by a biochemical imbalance. The sufferer has obsessions in the form of terribly upsetting thoughts, then goes through compulsions which are ritualistic behaviors performed to remove the horrible fears associated with the obsession. Having had contact with many people who were afflicted, I realized the importance of exploring this dark world through fiction. 

Crescent Blues: Did you have any particular model for the book's main characters, Mark and Rhonda Colter? Did you create the characters first, then decide to use OCD. Or did the disorder drive the character development? 

Michael Shockey: There were no specific models for the psychological dimensions of the characters. Rhonda's physical characteristics were modeled after someone I dated while still in college. Actually, the illness drove the darker side of the characters as the story was being written, but the more positive aspects were based on both experiences with other people and observations about life itself. 

Crescent Blues: Why give one of your major characters this kind of illness? Was it to get reader sympathy, or give the character depth or some other reason? 

Michael Shockey: I was interested I helping people who have the disorder realize that they are not alone. I deeply care about people and their pain, and I know that isolation can make internal pain and agony deeper and more desperate. I was also interested in helping other people who do not have the disorder more fully understand its enormous impact -- an impact possibly being felt by someone they deeply love. 

Crescent Blues: Why did you decide to write mysteries? In addition to being a probation officer I see that you are also a college professor, why not non-fiction? 

Michael Shockey: I absolutely love mysteries and thrillers. It is my belief that through fiction you can transport a reader into another world with new experiences and the opportunities to meet other people. If the reader is truly transported and deeply involved, then it is easy to place before him or her new ideas and new dimensions which he or she might not have considered if they had to be found in a stale college textbook. 

Crescent Blues: Do you see your book, Seized, as a why of educating people about obsessive compulsive disorders? 

Michael Shockey: Yes I do. People come up to me at book signings and explain that they have the disorder and Seized has helped them realize that they are not alone and that the situation is not hopeless. I have others say they can't even imagine such a dark psychological world, but they know someone who has it and from Seized they have learned more. Therefore, people are being education -- both those who have the disorder and those who wish they knew more about it. 

Crescent Blues: What is your second book, Ravager, about? Are Mark and Rhonda back? 

Michael Shockey: Ravager is mystery/adventure thriller which deals with blackmail, murder, deceit and cultish activities. A professor is thrust into a world of murder and conspiracy when she's forced into her office by a psychopath only moments after one of her colleagues is killed. The psychopath reveals things that make her a marked woman and force her into a world of fear and agony as she goes about trying to stay one step ahead of her enemies. Unfortunately, Mark and Rhonda are not in this book, but they will return in a later book because of the number of people who have asked for [a sequel to Siezed]. 

Crescent Blues: What is ahead for you? Are you working on a third book?  

Michael Shockey: Yes, I am. The title is Pendulum. It deals with a woman who returns home to help her father run the family business. [There she discovers] family secrets that may well cost both her father and her their lives. It delves into the emotional separation that parents and children experience while trying to find the common ground of understanding and love. It, too, is an action packed thriller forged under a shadow of conspiracy and mystery. 

Crescent Blues: Do you draw from real life any of your plots?  

Michael Shockey: Real life gives me the stimulus for the development of plot, and creativity takes over from there. Sometimes taking a creative view of things helps to redefine what one may see in real life. It is an exciting, process and often one that helps me clarify the difference between what I see in life from the writer's perspective and what I see from a more personal perspective. 

Crescent Blues: What do you think is the most important element in your writing? 

Michael Shockey: Without a doubt I believe it is the characters. When you have good characters who are deeply involved in many aspects of a fictional life, other things seem to flow.  

Crescent Blues: Using 20/20 hindsight, is there anything you would do differently if you were doing any one of your books over? 

Michael Shockey: I might decide to write more boldly, being less concerned about whether the topic was suitable or the circumstances in which the characters found themselves were particularly acceptable. I mean this more in regard to the unpublished novel which preceded Seized. I was so worried about fitting into the limited ideas that I thought were acceptable that I prevented myself from growing and learning as a free thinking writer. 

Crescent Blues: Do you have a particular type of person you are writing for? 

Michael Shockey: Honestly, I am just writing for the reader who is willing to share thoughts and ideas with me and who, hopefully, will enjoy the trip we take together through the world of fiction. 

Susan Yonts-Shepard

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