Please welcome Michael Kardos to the blog! His new book, Before He Finds Her, just came out, and he kindly answered a few of my questions about it, and more!
Congrats on the new book! Will you tell us a bit about Before He Finds Her and what inspired you to write it?
Before He Finds Her is about a 17-year-old woman, Melanie, who grew up in the Witness Protection Program and returns to her hometown to track down her father, who killed her mother 15 years earlier and is still at large. The father in the story, Ramsey, was in my head for a number of years. He believes the world is going to end with a cataclysmic planetary event—he’s a doomsdayer, in other words—and it so happens that an apocalypse would conveniently take care of his personal troubles as well. So the question I had as a writer was, What happens when doomsday doesn’t come, and his troubles are still there? Will he cause an apocalypse of his own?
Tell us more about Melanie and what you think makes her a compelling character?
Melanie has lived her whole life in hiding and pretty much off the grid: no internet, no friends, no traveling, etc. Now she’s pregnant and doesn’t want her own child to grow up the way she has, so she makes the bold (or maybe foolish?) choice to hunt down a man who’s eluded all the authorities for over a decade. She’s by no means a skilled investigator, but she has intelligence and perseverance. She also has to overcome a whole lot of fear. I can’t speak for the reader, but one thing I found compelling in writing her character is that almost everything is new to her because of her extremely protective upbringing.
What kind of research did you do for this book?
My two main characters are a long-haul trucker and a pregnant teenager. I am neither. So I did a lot of reading, asked a lot of people a lot of questions. I’m also fortunate to have a retired police officer in the family, plus a couple of physicians. So that helped a lot with police and hospital procedure. (They are probably tired of my questions by now.)
In a great interview with Gregg Hurwitz, you mentioned that you’ve never liked “evil for the sake of being evil” in fiction. What are a few standout characters for you that show how someone that doesn’t start out bad can go down a dark path?
Don Corleone comes to mind from The Godfather, or maybe Michael Corleone is a better example. Certainly Mr. White from the show Breaking Bad is a classic example of a man going down a dark path. I tell my fiction writing students at Mississippi State that compelling, complex villains never believe they are villains. Rather, they believe that they are the misunderstood and beleaguered heroes of their own stories. (The same as all of us?) Humbert Humbert (from Lolita) sure is desperate to explain away his bad behavior. Or Hank Mitchell, the main character of Scott Smith’s novel A Simple Plan.
You’ve got an M.F.A. in Fiction and you teach English and creative writing, so I’m guessing it’s safe to say writing has always been an ultimate goal of yours? What’s one of the first things you can remember writing?
Actually, music was my first love—I played the drums since the age of nine, majored in music composition in college, and drummed professionally for a number of years before going back for my MFA in creative writing. But it’s true that I always wrote stories, and I always read a lot. (My mother is a retired high school English teacher—I’m sure that had something to do with it.) The first story I remember writing—I think I was twelve—was about a drug dealer who drops a live lobster into a pot of boiling water and cooks it up for dinner, and when it’s done, the lobster jumps off the dinner plate and attacks and kills the drug dealer. It was quite a morality play.
What authors or books have made the most impression on you?
That’s sort of an ever-changing list that depends on my mood, what I’m currently working on, etc. But here’s my current take on the question:
The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien
Beloved, Toni Morrison
High Fidelity, Nick Hornby
The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Alex Haley and Malcolm X
Bel Canto, Ann Patchett
City of Thieves, David Benioff
Revolutionary Road, Richard Yates
Clockers, Richard Price
The Girls of Peculiar, Catherine Pierce
Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov
The Fan Man, William Kotzwinkle
The Mezzanine, Nicholson Baker
If you could experience one book again for the first time, which one would it be?
Wow—some question. I’m going with A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle. That one blew my mind when I first read it as a kid.
What are you currently reading?
- A Few Seconds of Radiant Filmstrip: A Memoir of Seventh Grade, Kevin Brockmeier (I’ve loved every last thing that Brockmeier has written so far.)
- The Time Machine, H.G. Wells (For an apocalyptic literature course I’m currently teaching.)
- The Black Lizard Big Book of Locked Room Mysteries – Otto Penzler (Ed.) (Locked-room mysteries have always fascinated me, and this BIG BOOK contains the classics of the genre.)
What’s next for you?
I’m at the beginning stage of a couple of books—one for adults, and one for young adults. I don’t mean to be coy, but I can’t say much more about them, because whenever I talk too much about a project at too early a stage, the project seems to lose energy. And when working on a first draft, energy is everything.
About Before He Finds Her:
Everyone in the quiet Jersey Shore town of Silver Bay knows the story: on a Sunday evening in September 1991, Ramsey Miller threw a blowout block party, then murdered his beautiful wife and three-year-old daughter.
But everyone is wrong. The daughter got away. Now she is nearly eighteen and tired of living in secrecy. Under the name Melanie Denison, she has spent the last fifteen years in small-town West Virginia as part of the Witness Protection Program. She has never been allowed to travel, go to a school dance, or even have internet at home. Precautions must be taken at every turn, because Ramsey Miller was never caught and might still be looking for his daughter. Yet despite strict house rules, Melanie has entered into a relationship with a young teacher at the local high school and is now ten weeks pregnant. She doesn’t want her child to live in hiding as she has had to. Defying her guardians and taking matters into her own hands, Melanie returns to Silver Bay in hopes of doing what the authorities have failed to do: find her father before he finds her. Weaving in Ramsey’s story in the three days leading up to the brutal crime, Before He Finds Her is a stirring novel about love and faith and fear—and how the most important things can become terribly distorted when we cling to them too fiercely.