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Friday, May 14, 2010

Author Michael Cogdill ~ Interviewed

Author Bio: Michael Cogdill is blessed as one of the most honored television storytellers in America. His cache of awards includes 24 Emmys and the National Edward R. Murrow for a broad range of achievement, from live reporting to long-form storytelling. His television credits as a journalist include CNN, CNBC, MSNBC, and The Today Show, and Michael’s interview history crosses a wide horizon: The Reverend Billy Graham, Dr. Mehmet Oz of Oprah fame, Dr. Henry Kissinger, Abby Hoffman, Senator Hillary Clinton, Senator John McCain, Howard K. Smith, James Brown, Keith Lockhart of the Boston Pops and many other newsmakers. His coverage credits include Presidents and Vice Presidents of the United States.

Michael spent ten years writing She-Rain, letting it evolve into a world of fiction drawn from his upbringing in Western North Carolina but reaching far beyond. His other writing credits are Cracker the Crab and the Sideways Afternoon – a collaboration with his wife, Jill, and available at Michael makes his home in South Carolina with his wife, Jill (a publishing entrepreneur), and their second-generation golden retriever, Maggie. He’s currently working on his second novel, working title, The Belles of Honeysuckle Road.

She-Rain, by definition: Scraps of fog adrift on the ridges of Appalachia. It appears as lacy mist blown off the clouds of a high-mountain rainy day. The expression comes from the lexicon of folklore. I heard it during my early boyhood from my grandmother, Dovie Ella Crowe Keys, who adored and seemed to draw peace from the sight of it. To this day, it reminds me, beautifully, of her.

What two or three things would you do differently if you were starting your publishing career today?

I would spend more time in the joy of writing and far less time worrying about how to publish it. The latter is truly a waste of imagination.

What one issue makes you struggle the most as an author? How do you handle it?

Simply finding more time to write. I get many an idea while I'm out for a run, but I devote too little time to writing them down to measure their worth! My solution is to scribble on pieces of paper that scatter all over my life. My wife, Jill, endures this with grace. Pray for her!

Though I have to say that process worked well on my children's title, Cracker the Crab and the Sideways Afternoon. I started that book on a cardboard box in the garage. Such a process proves this: Write where you are!! Snatch that idea and get it down before it evaporates!

What is the best writing (or life) advice you have ever heard or wished you had followed? Why?

E.F. -- Entertain First!!! I learned this devotion from Tom Wolfe, and it inspired me to write She-Rain -- my novel launching March 31, 2010 -- in a way that entertained me. Writing should reward the writer with some meaning and fun. When that happens, both are bound to become a contagion to the reader.

What one issue ignites your passion? Does your passion fuel your writing? What would you do with your life if you didn't write?

I want people to stop underestimating themselves. I want them to live up to their greatness that's possible, rather than living down to the world of negativity that tends to surround all of us. Defy your critics, prove doubters wrong, live according to the high callings of your legacy, not the nattering of people who want to pull you down.

In She-Rain, I've written characters who begin as the chronically underestimated but who end with a greatness no one sees coming. It contains a love triangle that proves the beauty of human life when it rises to meet real and sacrificial love. She-Rain reveals what's possible when we refuse to fall on swords of our worst longings.

Tell us a bit about your current project.

She-Rain is a Southern novel about radical love. I spent ten years in the world of it and enjoyed every moment. I miss the characters even now. Knowing I can't expand on them frustrates me, but I'm thrilled that all readers can welcome them into their unique imaginations. Readers tend to pick up where we writers leave off at "The End." It's a beautiful dynamic of literature.

We are all about journeys...unique ones at that. How convoluted was your path to your first published book? Share some highlights or lowlights from your path to publication.

I dealt with one agent who vowed to get the deal done on She-Rain in a matter of months. That agent over-promised and under-delivered, even while praising the manuscript and telling me it was drawing such praise as, "This is the best thing I've read in nearly twenty years." Don't get me wrong, there are many wonderful and caring agents out there, and I salute them all. But my first experience was not the best. Yet I persisted. I believed in She-Rain. That belief is paying off.

Do you still experience self-doubts regarding your work, or struggle in a particular area such as writers block or angst driven head-banging against walls? Please share some helpful overcoming hints that you’ve discovered.

I believe every writer MUST work in some self doubt. Only from that well do we draw our best work, edit our prose into a distillation that's fit to read. Re-writing is part of the joy in discovery of the tale.

To overcome writer's block, I tend to go out to lay some rockin' music into the headphones and go out for a run, or go for a workout that's akin to bodily harm. Movement gets my imagination moving.

What mistakes have you made while seeking publication? Or to narrow it down further what’s something you wish you’d known earlier that might have saved you some time/frustration in the publishing business?

For a while, I believed some of the naysayers and rejections we received on She-Rain. That's the greatest mistake of my publishing career. Fortunately, that mistake corrects itself through tenacity and a commitment to getting better by the word -- especially the words I cut!

What is your favorite source for finding story ideas?

I heard that Pat Conroy advises writers to focus on what's weird in their lives. I say dwell on what's meaningful -- the good and the bad. My fiction rises from what Faulkner talked about when he said humankind will not merely survive, humankind will prevail! Seeing people transcend the worst of their times inspires me. I'm determined to explore the depths and the high successes of life as I see it.

Have you ever had one of those awkward writer moments you’d like to share with us, the ones wherein you get “the look” from the normals? Example, you stand at a knife display at the sporting goods store and ask the clerk which would be the best to use to disembowel a six foot man…please do tell.

Into She-Rain, I've written a sermon -- though it's not a religious novel -- and I guarantee that sermon will stay with the reader because of one key word. I won't reveal it here, but I promise it's a word you might least expect from any minister's mouth, especially at a funeral. That word leads to a beautiful conclusion about boundless love. When you see it, get in touch on my web presence and we'll discuss!!

With the clarity of experience what advice would you offer up to the wet-behind-the-ears you if beginning this writing journey today?

Read and write for beauty. Reach for the music of language. There's too much of the mundane among us. Lyricism is still possible.

Then realize not everyone shares your taste in this music. Become a great you!

What event/person has most changed you as a writer? How?

Too many beautiful souls to mention inform me as a writer. From the teacher who believed in me when I was a shy 6th grade nothing of a kid to the attorney who kept kicking me in the pants, getting me to believe in myself during my upbringing in the small town of Weaverville, to my parents, who taught me love and forgiveness. There are so many more. Too many to list here.

What piece of writing have you done that you’re particularly proud of and why? (Doesn't have to be one of your books or even published.)

In Cracker the Crab, I love the feel of "and the sea was warm, and the spray was soft, and the air tasted very, very good." That piece of writing "talks." I've read it out loud to children countless times, and it never fails to bring a peace up into their eyes. In She-Rain, I loved the chance to describe a person or place in words of the least expected. Ezra Pound said, "Make it new." I love to strive for this and for a sentence that makes love to the breath given to speak it aloud.

Do you have a pet peeve having to do with this biz?

I wish laptops had batteries that lasted for days instead of hours!!!!

Share a dream or something you'd love to accomplish through your writing career.

The usual National Book Award, Pulitzer and Nobel Price dreams live in me, but during my final breaths, I hope I can rest in knowing I wrote stories that inspire as well as they entertain. I want them to endure in the reader. This is my calling as a television storyteller -- a journalist -- and as a fiction writer as well.

What gives you the greatest writer buzz, makes the trip worth the hassles (besides coffee or other substances, or course )?

A run on a scorching hot beach, then the Caribbean spread at my feet. That's my happy place. Some of my best work on She-Rain -- a book that begins in the North Carolina mountains -- got done on a hot day looking at the sea.

What is one of the more unique or strange life experiences that has really given you an extra oomph in your writing?

Falling in love with a beautiful woman, only to fall in love with her anew years later as she evolved. In She-Rain's love triangle, the two women of the love triangle rose from my wife, Jill.

Describe your special or favorite writing spot.

Again, that Caribbean springs to mind. Nothing steeps me in creative hope the that place can.

What aspect of writing was the most difficult for you to grasp/conquer? How did you overcome it?

Though I'm an entrepreneur at heart, I don't always relish the business of it. I try to write myself away from that necessity.

What is the first thing you do when you begin a new book?

Try to write a sentence that, to me, rings with beauty, sense of wonder, and the outrageous at once.

Writing rituals. Do you have to sit somewhere specific, complete a certain number of words, leave something undone to trigger creativity for the next session? Some other quirk you’d like to share?

Hemingway loved to quit before writing made him tired. It's great advice from a master!

Plot, seat of pants or combination?

Seat of pants, definitely. A story should evolve as life does -- unexpectedly.

What is the most difficult part of pulling together a book? Ex. Do you have saggy middles, soggy characters, soupy plots during your first drafts…if so, how do you shape it up?

Typos. I detest them, make them with great predictability, and can't spot them as an editor to save my bloody life.

Have you received a particularly memorable reader response or peer honor? Please share.

A reviewer recently compared She-Rain to Cold Mountain, which is a tremendous honor. But this review is stunning: I am really struggling to write this review, because everything I've tried putting down so far, seems so lame. There is no real way I can describe how beautifully written this book is. She-Rain was written with the most beautiful prose and has that rich Southern feel that makes this book amazing and one of the best, if not THE best story I've ever read.

Beautifully written, "She-Rain" captured my soul from the beginning. The story is about an abused boy, Frank Jr., who grew up in a mill town in the 1920's with an alcoholic and drug addicted father and a strong and hard working mother. The emotions are raw and real and cover all from anger, hatred, and rage, to love, hope and forgiveness. The characters are so very real, so real that I swear I've known some of them from my own childhood.

Although I finished this book a few days ago, I still am breathless by this most unforgettable novel. This is a book that I will be keeping in my permanent collection and will be read again and again. I honestly won't be surprised, if in years to come, it becomes a classic. It is truly a treasure that should not be missed. This is a must to add to this year's reading list.

Have you discovered any successful marketing/promo ideas that you'd share with us?

Hire a great publicist, then believe in your own work with tireless resolve!

Parting words? Anything you wish we would’ve asked because you’ve got the perfect answer?

A bad book is dreadfully wasteful. To its reading, people give portions of their lives they'll never get back. May we write with that sacred trust in mind. May we reach the heart and make a fine home there.

When teaching television storytelling, I begin with this: People will forget what you say, they'll forget what you do, but they never forget how you make them feel. I hope and pray I handle that trust with care. May She-Rain and everything I write make you feel authentically, and may it all, ultimately, bring you joy.


  1. Thanks for sharing your journey with us, Michael.

  2. Whoa. Sounds like a good one.

  3. This was such a great interview full of insightful and practical advice for aspiring writers. Thank you so much for posting it.

  4. Kelly, thank you for this great opportunity, and my thanks for the comments here. This interview was a joy.

    I'd like to add a shout out to it, if I can. This interview was done before I started working with Terra Chalberg, one FANTASTIC literary agent at the Susan Golomb Agency in New York. Terra has reached far beyond the agent's calling to care for my literary ventures. Terra has shown us the embrace of family. My wife, Jill, and I want to say -- THANK YOU, TERRA!! You are family to us! That's how we love you!

    Warmest peace to all who pass this way. Write as though your dreams depend on it!!


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