About Me

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Mike Mehalek writes fast-paced lyrical books that can be enjoyed with one reading but have enough substance for re-reading. He brings stories to life that demand to be told, regardless of the hopes/dreams/fears/desires of his characters--the Story first--always the Story.

In 2008 Mike earned his masters degree in writing popular fiction from Seton Hill University

Visit Mike on twitter @mikemehalek

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Hey Kids, Look, There's Big Ben Again: A Real-Life Griswold's Account of His European Vacation (Part III)

Flash forward to our second day in Germany, which included a stop in a tiny town called Mechernich (I think I got the name right).

The reason for our brief stop there was because in Mechernich in a field in the middle of what seemed like nowhere (I'm serious I could smell cow manure as we walked) there's a little known structure designed by architect Peter Zumthor.  Known as the Brother Claus Field Chapel, it is one of a few chaples that he has created.

The triangular-door itself is made of lead, the outside very industrial--concrete, straight lines, funky angles, something you might see when a child is first learning to draw 3D perspective. internally, the chapel feels organic, almost as if it were a naturally occurring phenomenon. The open ceiling and glass baubles plastered into the corrugated walls created an eerie effect.  Added to its remote location, I would almost believe you if you said it was an alien structure.  Here are a few pix.  

Crazy right?
How can I not set a story there?

Saturday, June 23, 2012

MANY GENRES writing guide takes silver at the Book of the Year Awards today in L.A.

Many congrats to Heidi Ruby Miller, Michael A. Arnzen, and Headline Books www.headlinebooks.com for their second place finish of Many Genres, One Craft (MGOC) http://manygenres.blogspot.com/ today at the Book of the Year Awards in L.A.

MGOC is a collection of essays on writing as a craft, a genre, and publishing in the industry.  It features many talented authors (humbly including yours truly--featured here with Bella).  

MGOC offers advice and encouragement that new and experienced writers face daily in a the changing world of publishing.

Heidi and Mike did a great job on this and deserve so much credit.  Today we celebrate their success for all of the hours that they dedicated to this project.



Friday, June 22, 2012

Writing Like a Magician: The Secret’s in the Telling

Shhh, I have a secret for you.  I think it’s a good one.  It has to do with writing, a writer’s realization that I stumbled onto today as I was reading Ansen Dibell’s Plot on my way into the office one morning, and I think it has the potential to take my writing to the next level.  I’m serious; it was that big of a deal to me, and I thought I’d share it with you, just as other writers have passed on their secrets to me.

It started while I was reading about exposition.  Dibell was explaining ways to incorporate exposition into our tales by using a character to drop the information in.  “Or parts of the exposition can come out, a little at a time, in a discussion among several characters, maybe spread across several scenes.”  As the meaning of those words fluttered to my brain by way of my optic nerve, every book I have read seemed to have opened up, assaulting my thoughts with every last detail of their plots, and I don’t even know how to explain what happened next.  Somehow my thirty-something mind analyzed them all and sent an epiphany to my consciousness, and somehow I blundered into a key idea in fiction that I don’t think is ever talked about, at least not specifically in the terms that I will address. 

Are you ready for it?

It’s a secret.

Or more appropriately, secrecy is the secret.

The things whispered to characters behind another’s back.  Things characters keep from themselves (and therefore the reader) until a crucial plot point.

To Kill a Mockingbird, The Road, Bag of Bones, The Brothers Bishop, A Tale of Two Cities, World War Z, A Game of Thrones, Odd Thomas, Curtain, Hyperion, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter--all of them seem to hold secrets within its covers.  In fact, I can’t think of a story that I consider a good read that doesn’t have secrets.  I can’t say that all books with secrets are good, but I can honestly say that I haven’t read a story or book that doesn’t have secrets that I have enjoyed.

By their very nature, secrets seem to “allow” many other essential elements to happen almost automatically without as much work by the author to introduce those elements.  I’ll describe two but as you absorb this, I’m sure others will present themselves.

Donald Maas’ Writing the Breakout Novel for example urges the aspiring writer to put tension on every page.  In popular fiction, readers are even less tolerant of a lack of tension than literary readers.  Imagine two people sitting in a coffee shop, a man and a woman, who are discussing an upcoming (insert favorite sport team) game.  The scene is important only to move the plot because these two will end up meeting (insert your favorite player for previously named favorite sports team).  Dull, dull, dull.  It needs tension.  Now imagine that the man has had a crush on this woman but she is married to his best friend. Or, if you prefer, pretend the man found out he has terminal cancer and only has months to live, but being very private has vowed not to tell anyone.  Or that the woman is a serial killer.  Or maybe they are a couple and she is unhappy and planning on breaking up after the game.  The very fact that the secret is there, can ramp up the tension for the reader.

Secrets can also drive characterization.  If we look at this same scene, we can see that the types of secrets someone holds can say a great deal about that person’s character.  It speaks to the character’s moral code, their beliefs and which of those beliefs are not appropriate to share.  Does the man secretly love Lifetime movies?  Is the woman a cousin to the man’s ex?

Secrets can also allow the plot to develop.  If the man in the previous scenario is in love with the woman who is married to her best friend, how will introducing the dashing (re-insert sport’s celebrity) who seems to like the woman affect the man, and therefore the plot?   I think you see where I’m going.

Admittedly there are some times where the secret may be unknown to the reader.  Very true.  Dashboard Confessional’s song, “The Secret’s in the Telling” from which I’ve taken as the title of this entry tell of two people in a secret romantic relationship. Listeners never learn who these people are and why their relationship is a secret is never explained.  As a writer don’t feel compelled to have to reveal all secrets, but by all means hint at them, deliver them through subtext. Behavior such as an overreaction to a smile or a car speeding off can hint that there is more going on here than meets the eye or something is not quite right.

In “The Secret’s in the Telling” many great examples of observable behavior exist that a clever writer could subtly employ in his or her own story in order to show something sneaky is happening. (Aside: Notice how secrets also lend to showing rather than telling.)

This concept is similar to what thriller writers know as the McGuffin.  The classic example, brought to us by Hitchcock goes something like this.  A spy is after a roll of film.  The audience never needs to ever know what is on the film, just that what is on there is so volatile it could have global ramifications.

For along time, I have wondered what is missing when someone critiquing my work would say, it’s all there, it’s story but it doesn’t feel like a book.  There is a fine distinction that I cannot define which makes a story “feel” like a book.  Having reviewed some of my own stories, I now suspect that this phantom element, which ironically was a secret to me until I uncovered this concept, turns out to be secrecy.  I’m curious, if after reading this, other people will feel the same way.  Maybe it’s just me. 

I’m not suggesting that this is a 100% absolute hard-and-fast rule--I can’t think of any rule in storytelling that has not or cannot be broken if carefully planned.  And as much as I think this is an innovative approach, it is in no way new--think twist ending, think every murder mystery--just a new way of looking at my own and others writing.  At least it’s a new to me.

So there you have it, part one of what will hopefully be a series on writing like a magician.  I’d tell you what’s next except…
…well you know.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Hey Kids, Look, There's Big Ben Again: A Real-Life Griswold's Account of His European Vacation (Part II)


So as I've started trying to compile my vacation into blog entries, I've realized it will probably jump a bit from country to country and from topic to topic in a random kind of order.  There are for several reasons.  One of which (the key reason as it were), is that so much of my writing is job-related to the office job and what I write there I "have" to write.   Even my fiction writing, which is far more enjoyable, still has limits on my "freedom" of writing.  For example, if I worked on every novel I wanted to write, I'd have 50 started and would never complete any of them (and you thought George R R Martin was bad).

My blog is my rebellion, my outlet to write what I want when I want to write it--I guess though that's the purpose of a blog though, perhaps making the disclaimer unnecessary.  But it's what I wanted to write, and so here it is.

So summing up: My Griswold vacation to Europe included three days in Paris, a day (less actually) in Amsterdam, and 3 days in Cologne.

Today's vacation whisks us underground to the 

Catacumbas de Paris

Day Two in Paris, was much like everyday I spent in Paris--ten degrees colder (Fahrenheit) than anticipated, windy, overcast, and rainy, torrential at times.

On Day Two Rob and I met with a few of our friends whose vacation to Paris happened to overlap our time there.

They met us at our hotel that morning, where we found a nice little cafe that offered two breakfast choices, one of which was an American breakfast.  This was the exact same as the traditional breakfast of breads, cheeses, and jam, with the addition of omelets and potatoes, i.e. a breakfast that only a fat-@$$ American could enjoy--and I did :)

From there we made our way to the Catacumbas de Paris and waited two and a half hours in the rain...

The catacombs were moved to their current location in the 1700s due to "leakage" which caused an infestation of rats in Paris at that time.  The bodies were move (quite meticulously it turns out) to a rock quarry that was used to build things such as Notre Dame

The catacombs has a disclaimer that it is not intended for people who have trouble with stairs (it was over 100 to the bottom), fear of enclosed spaces, or do not like the macabre.

I laughed at the third point.  As a horror writer and movie goer, what kind of macabre effect would a few bones have on me.  Turns out quite a bit.

The reason was twofold.  The first was the shear volume of bones that were displayed.  Every time you rounded a corner, I would think this is gotta be the end--nope ANOTHER graveyard of bones were labeled dated and stacked.  Let me say that again, a GRAVEYARD.  The catacombs had to be a dozen or more cemeteries that were moved.

The other cause of my mood was the reminder that each of those bodies were once a person, with hopes, dreams--no nothing but dust and bones.  It was unnerving.  I think we all have at least a little sense that we want to be remembered after we are gone--look at the extent man has always gone to to track who is in a tomb (before the pyramids to modern day).  But unless we are one of the elite, we will soon be forgotten.

Aside: My mother said to me recently that she went to her father's grave and was shocked at the lack of care at the sites.  I said it was because everyone those people know are dead, and she tended to agree.

This whole thought of being forgotten plays at the corners of my mind like an itch on some days and in fact at the day in the catacombs I stopped taking photos and almost deleted the ones I did take.

What I have I share with you.  


Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Hey Kids, Look, There's Big Ben Again: A Real-Life Griswold's Account of His European Vacation (Part I)


For April School Vacation week this year, Rob and I decided--well Rob decided and I cut him a check--to take our very own European vacation Griswold style--hey kids there's Big Ben and Parliament.  Until this trip, I had never been to Europe and the only time I'd been out of the US had been via a cruise ship, which everyone seems to vehemently state doesn't count as leaving the country.  I hadn't even ever been to Canada, so you can imagine how nervous and excited I was.

I don't want to say I was completely ignorant about Europe or anything un-American, but I was nervous because I didn't know nearly as much as I would have liked to (Until about three weeks before the trip, I didn't even realize that my phone had the capability to type a Euro symbol, I reserved that strange symbol for when my friends were being complete €====8s.

And So... 

with the disclaimer out of the way, I thought I'd post bits and pieces of the trip here for your consideration, and as a point of reference for when I'm old and senile and swear I've never been anywhere and stop hiding my stuff and my days as FDR's Secretary of State were the best years of my....but I digress

So Rob searched, planned, bought the tickets, booked the rooms, found our passports, made me pack some bags (the nerve of him), and before I knew it, as if by magic, I found myself at the airport, ticket in hand and ready to depart.

We made last minute calls and we were on our way.

Gettin' There's Half the Fun (Bullsh!t)

We took a night flight where instead of sleeping I, like a dumb-flunk, managed to watch The Dark Night and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows before a brief layover in Iceland--I'm still not sure what an Icelandic Kroner is worth--and then we were back in the air and headed to Paris.

This map shows Icelandair's flight which we saw while waiting in Reykjavik. When I saw it, delirious as I was from lack of sleep, I wasn't sure if it was my eyes or if the map really was all fun-house mirror looking.  Turns out the world is round and so this is how the Earth looks if you are from Iceland.  I particularly like how Boston looks due East of Florida, while Florida itself looks like it's situated itself in cold waters similar to Maine (that's a joke) 

Where did we go, what did we do after leaving Reykjavik  What did I learn, if anything?  Stay tuned.  More to come... 

Monday, June 11, 2012

We Need Mr. Boog E. Mann

What were my parents thinking?

That’s an assessment that we all make about our parents or guardians or caregivers at some point once we become adults (admittedly some of us sooner than others), and I’m not some special exception to this rule.  I’ve looked at my own life in these terms, of how my parents’ decisions, beliefs and in so many cases the permission they granted me to see, say, or do the things I wanted to that, on the surface, one might find it amazing that I am here now typing this and not up in the clouds plucking harp strings.  What never ceases to amaze me as I—honesty is key here—delve into my upbringing is how often the following words of Mark Twain come knock, knock, knocking like an unwelcome guest:
When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.
Let the wee hours of a Saturday morn set the stage for an experiment.  It’s a seemingly benign day, September 17, 1983, and this unassuming child, this innocent babe in footie pajamas, who in three days time will turn five, sits with his twin brother on the green carpeting of their parents’ living room floor and--as quiet as a whisper--turns on the old console television set, having been given permission to watch Saturday morning cartoons so long as they didn’t wake the house.

The first voice to greet the children as the volume comes up are spoken from a child as well.  “Hey! Look! The Dungeon’s And Dragons ride.”



What was this boy's parents thinking?

There are few defining moments in a person’s life.  For this unassuming child, this soon-to-be less innocent babe, Dungeons and Dragons was one of those moments.

Because that Dungeons and Dragon’s carnival ride, which started each show, whisks a group of children from their own world, abandoning them in a desolate place known as the Realm, a world full of bogs, sinkholes, volcanoes, and deserts with no way to get home.  It is a world of deadly creatures—it is a world without hope.

And it is on this nondescript, run of the mill morning, when this child realizes for the first time, that there are some pretty nasty characters out there, characters that he will one day face without his parents there to protect him.

And that is an important lesson for a child to learn.  Did my parents know that I learned this lesson on that fateful day?  Was it carefully crafted from the texts of Dr. Spock (not the Vulcan)?  I don’t know. 

Some might call this viewpoint a bit dark—if they are being nice about it—but I don’t think it is morbid.  Fantasy’s seed germinated, took root and flourished in children’s literature, and at least a part of its success is attributed to these lessons.

A healthy dose of mortality is in all likeliness the secondary, the indirect, lesson here.  What is more important--and here is the point where I ask myself did my parents, on at least a subconscious level know these lessons existed in the cartoons I loved as a kid--is that these children confront and defeat the denizens of this vile world with heroism, intelligence, and teamwork (okay luck too) over and over, on a weekly basis.

I’m reminded of George MacDonald’s The Princess and the Goblin and L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz where the adults of the stories are either too far removed or too inept or unable to confront the evil, leaving it to the children to be heroes. 

Was it important for this child on that particular Saturday morning to recognize the importance of self, community, and society before he could tie his shoes?  I think so.

Lessons regarding what it means to have valor and morality don’t work without villains.  We need the Boogeyman as much as we need Santa Claus; a being or ideal that is overwhelmingly evil, seemingly hopeless, where the best outcome is simply self-preservation, because one can not truly appreciate the questions posed by a storyteller without them.  Whether that Boogeyman is disease, an evil wizard, or a man-eating shark is irrelevant.  We gain insight about life, about human nature when we see the poignancy of a story.   In a world such as ours, this includes loss--the ultimate loss we experience is, of course, death.

Because of its villains, fantasy literature allows us to see what it is to be a hero (human?).  In a society where the newest generation seems to be one of entitlement, fantasy literature does the opposite.  It reminds us that we are only entitled to what we are willing to fight for—and ultimately, what we are willing to die for.  Regardless of current societal views, these stories endure.

In fact, often they don’t just endure.  Many thrive.  In J. K Rowling’s Harry Potter series, many characters selflessly lay down their lives to protect Harry, because Harry stands for something more valuable to the common good than one’s life.  How does this affect poor Harry?  He finds himself at odds with the powerful wizard of all time--and while Harry has many friends, he must confront and fight Voldemort alone.  Talk about BIG philosophical values. As a reader, I can only infer that there is some inner-truth in these values, or why else would a series suffer so much success, despite its existence in a society of entitlement?

And so we are back to that fateful day.  I--um, I mean that innocent babe--sits glassy-eyed as Tiamat, the five-headed dragon, guards the magical portal to Earth, the children’s home world.  by breathing fire, ice, electricity and poison gas at the ragtag band of teenagers, while a kid not much older than the babe watching safely from the green carpeting is left alone to face-off against “Venger, the force of evil” before he can hurt the boy’s friend Uni, a baby unicorn further.  There is a real chance that the entire clan is going to die, and the child, sitting next to his twin bother in footie pajamas knows this.  He isn’t quite terrified and he can’t look away.  He remembers the words of the kindly man who from time-to-time guides the children.

“Fear not…”

Somehow, against all odds, the children find a way defeat the Evil dragon and wizard but by doing so, the magic portal, their way home, closes and they remain trapped in the Realm.

The boy scratches at his toes through his footie pajamas as the end credits roll.  He thinks about how the big, bad world wants to get you but it’s not 100% scary, even if you can’t get everything you want from it, it’s not quite big and bad enough to conquer bravery and friendship.

What are those parents thinking anyway, letting their kids watch that show.
Are they daft?  Are they that ignorant?
What is it they know?