Today our Featured Pennwriters Member is Robert Michalsky of Area 6. Robert is our current candidate for the next Pennwriters Area 6 Representative, and I thought this would be a great opportunity to help us all get to know him better.
Robert, thank you for joining us today and sharing a little about yourself!
JB: First off, when I read your bio I perked up at the technical articles – personally, I have this strange love for structured writing. Tell us a little about your career background in IT, engineering, and technical documentation.
RM: Hi Jade. Thank you so much for giving me this opportunity to provide a brief insight into my background. I find the world of Information Technology (IT) endlessly fascinating and hope others will also.
First off, I have spent way too much time near Universities. I have an undergrad degree in mathematics, a Master’s in Computer Science and then threw in an MBA to confuse myself even further. My professional life focuses on that point where business and technology intersect. I am currently a senior staff engineer at Lockheed Martin supporting Federal Government system developments.
A large portion of my IT career has been in an analysis role and that has kept me writing. White papers, proposals, IT conference papers, research summations, you name it and I wrote it. Along the way, I published nine technical articles about the software development process and the performance analysis of computer systems.
JB: I’m guessing that you share a least some of my affinity for highly-organization documentation. Why don’t you tell us about your creative writing pursuits? I understand you’ve taken a strong interest in fiction.
RM: A few years back, I desired to break free of the constraints of my non-fiction world and began to write a novel. It is said write what you know and hence I set my story in a software firm and based the plot on something often heard in the news: identify theft.
As anyone who attempts to write a novel will realize, there is a unique mix of art and science involved. I was able to outline a story and generate 100,000 words, but realized the story arc, scene exposition and character development required work. Since then, I have attended nine writing conferences and have built a personal library on novel writing.
I have just re-polished my first identity theft manuscript and am in search of an agent. I also have a second manuscript complete on a blackjack card counting team and am at work on my third novel.
I am drawn to the long form of the novel and while I have thought about magazine articles or short stories, I continue to study the novel writing process. I am currently reading “13 Ways of Looking at the Novel” by Jane Smiley. She provides a historical context and gives me a deep appreciation of all those that came before our contemporary authors.
JB: I’d like to know more about your two completed manuscripts, could you give us a couple of synopses?
RM: My first is called ‘Trust and Betrayal’ and it features a female protagonist who is accused of stealing funds during software testing. Our heroine Christine struggles to regain her dignity, her sense of identity and her life. The company thinks the case is closed, but financial losses continue.
The CEO is a hard-driving woman who has known only success in her career and sees the pending merger as her crowning business achievement. The pressure mounts on the Information Security Manager who must find out who has infiltrated his previously secure computing environment – or else.
My second is called ‘A Loss of Innocence’ and it is a coming of age story about four college seniors who form a blackjack team under the tutelage of their statistics professor, who shows them that the game can be beat. Early success draws them closer to the game and to each other.
Upon graduation, the team loses contact with Alex. The professor taps into his network of contacts to probe what has happened to him. As it turns out, Alex is now living the life of a high stakes player with dubious underground connections. Steve has become employed by a Las Vegas based casino and must wrestle with the personal dilemma of monitoring and investigating his former friend.
JB: Secret agents, identity theft, blackjack… Tell us, are you one of Fleming’s 007 fans? In all seriousness though, it looks like you’re drawn to intrigue and mystery: where you do you like to go for “research” on these kinds of subjects?
RM: While I am a fan of 007 and Sherlock Holmes and detectives in general, I find myself drawn to the world of technology and the stories which are sometimes called ‘caper’s in movies and thrillers in writing.
One of the hardest lessons I learned through my agent interactions is that you have to be able to deliver an ‘elevator pitch’ – a thirty second description of your work and that always starts with the genre in which you are writing.
Another helpful item is to compare your writing to others. My two best examples are probably Tom Clancy and Michael Crichton. Clancy excelled in the world of military systems and hardware and Crichton in the world of medicine and emerging technologies such as nano-technology, a world of super small entities. I hope to do the same for computer technologies.
The technology may be interesting but you still have to tell a story in a compelling way with interesting characters. That has been my challenge.
JB: Do you have any other writing interests besides fiction (and technical documentation)?
RM: I read constantly and have used Amazon multiple times to find ‘out of print’ books that someone has recommended. I have looked at their Kindle and believe that reading devices such as that will become more and more prevalent over time.
As for writing, since I am immersed in e-mail at work, it can be hard to sit down evenings to write, but somehow once immersed in a fictional world, the words just fly. I don’t get the same enjoyment from non-fiction since it feels too much like work!
I find constant inspiration for fictional scenes in my daily IT newsletter perusal. Every day there are stories of new computer exploits and it is a short leap from the facts of a news story to a creative writing piece.
JB: Who/what are your greatest literary influences? Are there certain writers who stock your “top shelves?”
RM: I have mentioned Clancy and Crichton. Other contemporary authors I admire are Jodi Picoult, Jennifer Weiner and Stephen King. In fact King’s ‘On Writing’ may be the best single reference on how to write a novel.
Picoult has a beautiful fluency to her writing and her literary fiction never seems to lose her focus on story. Weiner draws great characters and I have laughed out loud at some of her scenes.
Weiner is local and another local gal who has a wonderful voice is Lisa Scottoline. I heard her speak at a Writers Conference at Penn a few years back and I’m looking forward to her keynote at this year’s Pennwriters Conference. She is a very motivational speaker and has a compelling personal story to tell when she began her writing career.
JB: What are your goals as a writer?
RM :I’m published in non-fiction but that means nothing to an agent. My goal as a novelist is simple, to generate a series of compelling stories centered on the people in and around information technologies and – oh yeah – to get them published!
My long range goal is to have a story be made into a movie and see that credit roll on by on the big screen. I’ve looked at screenplay writing but realize I have more than enough to work on with novels.
JB: We’re glad to have you as a Pennwriters member. Tell us, why did you join, and what are some of your favorite benefits from the organization?
RM: Pennwriters has made me serious about becoming a published novelist. I attended Susan Maiers’ Fiction writing workshop last year and heard first hand what it takes to become a professional writer. In addition, her comments on my second manuscript and how to approach editing 100,000 words has been invaluable in refining my editing process.
I have been to the last three conferences and have learned a wealth of solid, practical advice. Meeting and talking with agents has led to an appreciation for the unique difficulties of the publishing industry. Interacting with other writers has been encouraging in hearing their own stories of persistence.
At last years conference I met some local writers and that led to the creation of our West Chester PA Writers Group. They have been invaluable as writing commentators and they continue to allow me to bring my fiction writing craft to a higher and higher level.
JB: I am glad you’ve volunteered to run for the Area 6 Representative role. Want to take a moment to introduce yourself to our members and tell us what motivated you to volunteer for this position?
RM: I’ve lived in a closed professional environment for years, where company and government data often could not be shared. To become a published novelist, I realize I need to expand my boundaries and generate even more interactions with my writing brethren. I see becoming a rep as my chance to give something back to all those that have helped me along this writing road. I would like to assist those moving along their road to realize their own personal writing dreams.
JB: And now, the words of wisdom: what advice would you give other writers?
RM: Maintain your perseverance. I am currently going through the arduous task of seeking an agent. Rejections continue to mount. And yet, if my submissions cease, then indeed I will remain an unpublished novelist.
Foster personal interaction with other motivated writers. That is exactly what is needed to polish your writing craft and allow each writer to achieve his/her own writing goals.
Finally, Stephen King was right. To be a good writer, you need to be a good reader. Immerse yourself in other perspectives, to see how others craft scenes to watch how others create compelling characters. Writers should always be learning. Reading can be that avenue.
JB: Thank you again for joining us Robert! As our candidate in the running, I’m just going to go ahead and be presumptuous and say: we all look forward to working with you!