Interview with Paul Michael Peters, author of Killing the Devil
16 Aug 2017
What can you tell us about your new release, Killing the Devil?
Killing the Devil is a collection of short stories. In each story, we see how people face evil daily. You likely have days that are rough, you feel alone, or are life is just difficult. We all see those days. We delight in reading about others who are facing the ultimate evil and how they survive.
There are five short stories in this collection. Three are about Tex Bryant, who discovers a little-known rule that if you kill the devil you take his place. Another of the short stories takes place during the depression. In 1934 a widow returns to her small depressed town of Hickory. She’s inherited millions from her dead husband and wants to help the place she used to call home, under one condition. Finally, there’s a story of a young man in Japan who survived the earthquake and lost his family. Now living with his uncle, he grows up under the influence of adults he would not have otherwise met.
What’s on your top 5 list for the best books you’ve ever read?
I’ve had to cheat a little bit and go to my Goodreads page (please follow me there) to make sure I get this right.
There’s a book I have nearly finished that is phenomenal. It’s called Moose by Robert B. Sherman. Sherman, you may recall is part of the duo used to write musicals for Disney. His story of being in World War II is captured in Moose and is a wonderful quick read. If you like biographies that are well written, this one should be on your reading list.
Recently I went to writers conference in Indiana and on my drive there I listen to a book on audio. It was highly recommended by a close friend who I respect. I found myself driving slower and slower to make sure I didn’t miss any good parts. The title is called We are Legion (We Are Bob), it’s book number one in the Bobiverse. I stayed up very late that night to finish. The next day I purchased the sequel, We Are Many (We Are Bob) and listened to that on the entire trip home. Needless to say, I preordered the third book when I got home. Dennis Taylor does a wonderful job in keeping the interest of the reader between chapters and sequences. I really enjoyed the way he was able to use modern references in a futuristic setting, that remain highly believable in the situation. I would compare it to Ready Player One which has gotten a lot of attention, and I also enjoyed thoroughly, but Taylor’s writing seems a little bit more mature, and that is not saying Ready Player One is bad by any means, I enjoyed that book as well but; wow. Bob.
If you haven’t read Bird Box you are missing out. Josh Malerman is also from Michigan. He describes a horrific series of incidents that captures the reader from the start and never lets go. I’m not one for horror, but this was a phenomenal effort and would be enjoyed to those who love horror, or those who have not explored that genera. Thinking back on Bird Box makes me want to read it again. I don’t want to spoil anything, but the roller coaster of emotions that one goes through in reading that work, really deserves more attention from readers. In fact, everyone who asks me for a book recommendation, that’s the first book I say Bird Box by Josh Malerman.
There was a time in my life when I would read nothing but W. Somerset Maugham. I know I’m a big nerd, who reads turn-of-the-century drama? There are some wonderful things to read there. His short stories are brilliant, The Painted Veil, The Moon and Sixpence, Up at the Villa, The Razors Edge, they are all wonderful. For me Of Human Bondage is the best of his work. I read it every two years. In an almost semi-autobiographical experience, the author takes us on a journey struggling to stay alive after a life of semi privilege. If you read this first you’ll see a series of connections to his later works that are rewarding.
How many books is that four?
These top five list can be tough, and no one does that better than Nick Hornby in High Fidelity, which could easily make it in my top five list but I find that I would just be obvious. I really enjoyed High Fidelity. One of my favorite things by Nick Hornby did was on National Public Radio a decade ago when he read one of his short stories about living in the smallest country on the planet and playing on a football team (in the US soccer) where everybody had to play to make the team because the country was so small. But when it comes the top five list, Gone with the Wind has got to be on that list. Two of my best friends met each other in an English class reading that book and they have been married for years having taken a class together. So there’s a little bit of sentimentality to it. Margaret Mitchell produced just an amazing piece of literature that takes a perspective of those who did not win the Civil War. After reading the book I finally watch the movie and hated the movie. It made me love the book even more.
Say you’re the host of a literary talk show. Who would be your first guest? What would you want to ask?
Alright based on the question I’m going to assume some rules for my literary talk show. It’s my talk show after all. And I don’t just get one guest at a time, because on my talk show we have a panel of guests. Three guests and we’re just going talk about writing and books.
Our first guest is going to be Steve Martin. Steve Martin more recently has written his life story called Born Standing Up a Comics Life, but he’s also written things such as Shop Girl, The Pleasure of My Company and in the 80s he wrote books like Cruel Shoes and Pure Dribble. There’s a phrase in Cruel Shoes that has stuck with me my entire life about the impossible turn of the toe in a shoe – Brilliant! He’s written plays he is starting comedies and written some wonderful books. To be this good at comedy in so many different venues needs to be talked about.
Also on our panel is the wonderful Donna Tartt. Please read the Little Friend, The Secret History, and the Goldfinch. You will thank yourself for finding the time. If you’ve never done an audiobook Donna Tartt has one of the most wonderful readings available in audio today. Her audiobook of True Grit is perfection. There is no person better suited or fit to read that book. You will thank me when you’re done.
Finally were going to invite to our roundtable David Sedaris, because who doesn’t like David Sedaris. I have heard an interview with David Sedaris us where he talks about a woman in line waiting for his autograph, and answering his question saying, “oh no with my bras off I’m in for the night”. That needs to be in a talkshow. We need more David Sedaris in our life.
What is a typical day like for you?
I work for a living so my daily life is not going to be interesting for you. But I will tell you about my weekends.
Every Saturday and Sunday morning I wake up bright and early and go to the world’s greatest coffee shop. Please keep in mind that in my day job I travel the world extensively and have tasted thousands of different types of coffee, and when I say this is truly the best coffee in the world, I mean it.
So, I snuggled into my little table with my cup of hot coffee and a bottle of soda water and I will sit there for 6 to 8 hours every Saturday and Sunday. People frequently ask where do I find time to write? You don’t find time. You make it. If writing wasn’t so important to me I would be married, have children, exercise, and all those other fun things people do. I don’t do those. I write. I drink coffee. When my hands get sore, when I start losing my train of thought, I stop and start taking notes for the next day. When I’m not writing, I’m thinking about writing, I’m thinking about plot and character and motivation. Many call it day dreaming. I wish I were interested in sports. Life would be easier if I were interested in sports. There would be so many more to people to talk about sports with.
Where is your happy place? Why does it bring you joy?
For many years my happy place used to be Hawaii. I would travel for my job 40 weeks a year and collect hotel points, frequent flyer miles, and the like. There’s a week between Thanksgiving and Christmas where you can maximize your miles and points and go to Hawaii. Every year I would visit a new island in Hawaii. As happy as that place is for me, still I am looking for new happy place. A few years ago I thought it might be Spain. The good people of Spain treated me very well for two weeks and I’ve always wanted to go back and visit them. I’ve enjoyed my time in Paris. Dublin was one of the most magical trips I’ve ever taken (in 72 hours). I hope to visit the good people of Australia and New Zealand because I hear it is wonderful.
I am not sure if you have seen this, but there is a trend on YouTube about sailing. I am totally fascinated by it. Young people in their 20s and 30s decide to buy sailing vessels. They fix up old boats, they sail around the world, and the whole time they are recording this and posting this on YouTube. The women are beautiful, the men are handsome, and I am very jealous.
I believe that my happy place just might be on one of those sailing ships. I belong under the starry skies of the Southern Cross with a beautiful woman drinking an exotic beverage between ports I will write. Unfortunately, I know that this will never happen. My lovely sister tells me I’m allergic to going outside. Not only is she observant, smart, and beautiful… she’s also right. Outdoors looks good from a patio in Hawaii or on a video on YouTube; but sadly, my place is in front of the computer fantasizing through the written word and books that transport me to distant locations.
What scene in Killing the Devil was your favorite to write?
If you like twists and turns, if you like Lombard Street in San Francisco, and love to sit at the edge of your seat guessing what the outcome will be, you will enjoy Killing the Devil.
Because Killing the Devil is a collection of short stories, I can’t give too much away. There are parts that will sneak up on you.
The funny thing about writing it is that there are parts that are fun and easy to write that are inspired. Then there’re parts of writing that are hard and you can’t get over the hump. Still, you must write, you must continue. At the end of the process, you look back and review your work. I will take time, sometimes weeks sometimes as much as a year, where I will sit down with my work before I pick it back up for editing. And you can’t tell the hard parts from the easy parts anymore. It’s just part of the story. Sometimes I can be a little too honest with myself. Sometimes I believe my own lies. In my editing process I just try, I just try to find the truth of the character.
I will tell you there is one sentence that starts one of the short stories that I have rewritten a dozen times. That sentence leads to a paragraph. In that paragraph, I mentioned something my editor had never heard of. So, I wrote it again, and I clarified, and I wrote again. She and I must’ve gone back and forth five times just to get that one sentence right. By no means was it my favorite parts to write, but it was most memorable. Readers will be better for having gone through that process. It’s much cleaner and much more understandable.
Do you have a motto, quote or philosophy you live by?
I once read that a man without vices is in danger of making vices of his virtues. I don’t have a philosophy but most of my characters do. If they don’t have a philosophy they’re certainly going to have one by the end of the story, or die.
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