Michael Bowen is a retired trial lawyer and graduate of Harvard Law School who has published nineteen mysteries, ranging from Washington crime stories to plucky couple puzzle mysteries (and sometimes both at the same time). Visit his website at www.michaelbowenmysteries.com.
Mayra Calvani: Please tell us about False Flag in Autumn and what compelled you to write it?
Mike Bowen: Why wasn’t there a head-grabbing, script-flipping October surprise before the 2018 midterm elections? Will there be an October – or perhaps a June or July – surprise in 2020? Josie Kendall, introduced in 2016’s Damage Control (“ . . . consistently delightful. Bowen’s ebullient antidote to election season blues . . . . ” – Kirkus Reviews), finds herself mixed up in those provocative questions when a rogue White House aide tries to use her as an unwitting pawn in the 2018 surprise that didn’t happen. A deft political apparatchik, Josie outhustles the hustler in 2018, but the stakes are much higher in 2020, and the weapons involved aren’t just spin, winks, and leaks but, well, actual weapons. I wrote this story because I became convinced that there’s something going on politically in the United States that only story-telling can get at properly – because, after all, fiction is truth liberated from the tyranny of fact.
M.C.: What is your book about?
Mike: False Flag in Autumn is about redemption. Josie Kendall isn’t an earnest, idealistic policy wonk. She is a manipulative D.C. operator who will cheerfully (and skillfully) gin up confected news to change a political narrative that is inconvenient for one of the clients of her employer, Majority Values Coalition. When innocent lives are at stake, will she take substantial risks and deploy her skills to try to save them – or will she curl up in bed and hope that the victims die quickly and without too much pain?
M.C.: What themes do you explore in False Flag in Autumn?
Mike: Integrity, redemption, and the willingness to know yourself – to look in the mirror finally and see something that you’re not particularly comfortable with.
M.C.: Why do you write?
Mike: God has given me the gift of being able to tell stories that engage the interest and emotions of other people. To borrow a line from the movie Chariots of Fire, when I use that gift I can feel His pleasure.
M.C.: When do you feel most creative?
Mike: When I see something – e.g., a computer bag going through the luggage screener at an airport, that could be switched with an identical bag with neither the owner nor anyone else being any the wiser – and realize that no one else looking at exactly the same scene has seen what I just saw. And when I wonder What if? What if someone threatens to kill you unless you stop sleeping with his wife, and you’re not sleeping with anyone else’s wife?
M.C.: How picky are you with language?
Mike: I’m an unapologetic, old-school pedant. I’ve tried – hard – to check my tendency to correct grammar and diction in conversation, but I still yell corrections at my television screen: “fewer, not less, to her and me, not to her and I, supine, not prone, espionage, not treason, you semi-literate cretin.” In a deposition once, an expert witness referred three times to his “mythology.” I finally said, “I think you mean ‘methodology.’ ‘Mythology’ is what I’d call it if we had a jury here.” Opposing counsel once told me in a letter that he found one of my statements “incredulous.” I replied that I thought he meant “incredible.” He peevishly responded, “Please don’t correct my grammar.” I wrote back, “I wasn’t correcting your grammar, I was correcting your diction.”
M.C.: When you write, do you sometimes feel as though you are being manipulated from afar?
Mike: Nope. The internal logic of plot or character can take me in unanticipated and even surprising directions, but that’s because I haven’t thought things through thoroughly enough before I started to write – not because a muse is playing head-games with me.
M.C.: What is your worst time as a writer?
Mike: Spotting a typo – or, even worse, a substantive factual error – when I’m reading the printed book and it’s too late to make a correction.
M.C.: Your best?
Mike: When I’m reading something I’ve written and I know the story perfectly well, but I want to go on reading even so simply because I’m enjoying the prose and the way the story is playing out.
M.C.: Is there anything that would stop you from writing?
Mike: No. If someone threatened to disclose my most embarrassing secret unless I promised never to write another word, I’d say, “You’re too late. I’ve already revealed it in at least three stories.”
M.C.: What’s the happiest moment you’ve lived as an author?
Mike: When I realized that you could lock a snap-lock on the inside of a room by blocking the latch with an ice cube and then stepping outside and closing the door, so that the lock would snap shut when the ice cube melted; and then verified with a lock I bought and installed expressly for the purpose, and an ice cube and a camera, that the trick would actually work.
M.C.: Is writing an obsession to you?
Mike: Absolutely. If the apocalypse comes before I die, I’ll probably be typing right up until an angel on a green horse gallops up to let me know what my fate is.
M.C.: Are the stories you create connected to you in some way?
Mike: Sure. My protagonists have strengths and weaknesses (and good habits and bad habits) that I don’t have, and they tend to lead more interesting lives (especially now that I’ve retired from practicing law), but every emotion, every desire, every conflict of conscience, every resistance to or acquiescence in temptation that I write about is an extrapolation of something that I have felt or experienced or imagined.
M.C.: Ray Bradbury once said, “You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.” Thoughts?
Mike: Bradbury has a far more sensitive soul than I do. I practiced law for thirty-nine years. What does a lawyer do when he has secured a not guilty verdict for a client he knows perfectly well was as guilty as Judas Iscariot? I’ll tell you what he does. He goes home; loosens his tie and unbuttons the top button on his shirt; puts jazz on his CD player; pours two fingers of scotch; listens to Miles Davis or John Coltrane until he falls asleep; then gets up the next morning and goes back to work. Reality doesn’t stand a chance.
M.C.: Do you have a website or blog where readers can find out more about you and your work?Mike: www.michaelbowenmysteries.com