Mike Artell, the author of SKULLS is featured today and you are in for a genuine treat! Mike is an author, illustrator, and cartoonist with over forty books published. Despite his humble claim that he's not profound you will find some wonderful nuggets of encouragement while you're entertained by his sense of humor. Enjoy!!!
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I’m not sure. I’ve always enjoyed making people laugh and that led to me writing jokes for magazines. Those jokes morphed into simple panel cartoons for trade journals and that evolved into part-time freelance writing/drawing for greeting card companies. One of the greeting card companies had a children’s book division and the art director saw some of my greeting card work and asked me to illustrate a book. After I did that, I asked if they’d be interested in seeing some of my children’s book ideas. They did, liked what they saw and gave me a contract for six books. That’s how I went from class clown to children’s book author/illustrator.
What do you learn about yourself in the process of writing?
Hmmm…I dunno. Nothing profound. I guess the greatest insight I’ve gotten is that if I don’t stand up and get away from the computer every couple of hours my hamstrings get tight. Is that deep enough?
How does your career as a writer influence other areas of your life and vice versa?
Wow. Another deep question. Let’s see…my career success directly influences my income which affects my ability to buy tickets to New Orleans Saints football games.
What do you do when you are not writing?
I play music. I’ve been playing in bands since I was a teenager.
What led you to write Skulls?
My personal interest in the subject and my awareness that young readers (especially boys) like “edgy” non-fiction.
What would you like readers to take from it?
A receipt from the bookstore where they bought it. Yes! Writers do share that goal!
What are your current/future projects?
I’m working on a funny graphic novel and a how-to-draw book about military aircraft.
What motivates you?
I’m a little embarrassed to answer questions like this because I know the question is sincere but I swear to you, I just don’t take myself this seriously. The truth is I just like to make people (especially kids) laugh and I’ve found a way to do it by creating funny words and pictures. It’s my job – it’s not a hobby or an avocation – it’s my job. I treat it like a job. I try to create wonderful books, but I want to create wonderful books that SELL. What motivates me is creating a book that kids love that sells well. Sorry if that sounds unromantic or mercenary, but I think most aspiring authors/illustrators fail because they never understand that publishing is a BUSINESS.
What is your writing process? Do you follow a regular routine?
I really don’t have a “process” as most people think of it. I’m working on a half-dozen projects at any time and I jump from one to another. When I get deep into a project I may put everything else down for a while and concentrate on it for a couple of weeks, but I do so much traveling that I’m almost never able to work on a single project uninterrupted for more than that. No special routine except that I tend to do my best writing/illustrating in the morning.
How long does it take you to complete a book?
Humor books and drawing books typically take 4 -6 months. Drawing books a little longer. Non-fiction science books and fiction books take 1 – 3 years depending on how much research I have to do.
What challenges did you face in getting your first book published?
Same as anyone else – publishers receive thousands of manuscripts every year but they can only publish a few dozen books. I had to learn to write something that was “different” yet appealed to a broad market. That’s something all writers have to learn. And ultimately writers have to find a way to get noticed. It’s tricky. My background in sales and marketing was immensely valuable when I started out because I understood that I was trying to market a product (my book) to a customer (the publisher). I understood how to “pitch” an idea and how to promote it once it was accepted.
What book(s)/author(s) have influenced your writing and how?
My biggest influences were comic book writers/illustrators and newspaper comics writers/illustrators. I’ve never been a big novel reader and still mostly read non-fiction. I’m a student of wordplay so most of the “book” writers I enjoyed were humorists such as Ogden Nash.
What are the most important elements of good writing?
Whew. I understand the question and why you ask it, but I’m not the guy to ask. I’m convinced that most aspiring writers don’t simply want to be good writers. What they REALLY want is to be published. And if they have not been published they assume it’s because they need to improve their writing skills. I just don’t think that’s true. Again…publishing is a business. It doesn’t matter how wonderful your writing is if you’re sending your work to the wrong publisher at the wrong time and you’re marketing it in the wrong way. I don’t know much about how to be a good writer, but I’ve had more than 40 books published so I do know something about how to be a published writer. And I’ve sold a lot of books so I guess people think my writing is pretty good.
Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? If so, what do you do about it?
Nope. Really has never been much of a problem for me.
What's one additional piece of advice about writing or publishing you'd like to pass on to aspiring writers?
Finish your book, send it to a publisher and start a new book. Stop massaging it, tweaking it, fine-tuning it or polishing it. You’re doing all that to avoid sending it to a publisher and risking rejection. I get it; I know the feeling, but publishers NEVER come to your house. You have to send your work to them. And please stop showing your work to your friends and relatives. They will ALWAYS tell you that what you’ve written is wonderful, even if it’s not. When it comes to getting published, the publisher’s opinion is really the only one that matters.
Anything else you'd like readers to know about you and/or your book(s)?
I have the cutest grandkids in the world. Please don’t doubt me on this. I have photographic proof.