Mike Dellosso writes novels of suspense for both the mind and the soul. He writes to both entertain and challenge.
Explain the changes you've recently made in your writing career...
Kelly, it started after I finished my treatment for colon cancer. I still had to write but just didn’t feel like writing. I was emotionally drained and physically and mentally weary. A lot of soul-searching happened then. Something like cancer tends to change the way you look at life, the way you see not only yourself but the world and those in it. I’d changed. My focus had changed. My priorities. My motivations. I found myself wanting to write stories that really mattered, stories that dealt with real people in the real world, dealing with real issues.
I wrote Darlington Woods then and poured my heart into it. Yes, it’s suspense and supernatural but it has my heart all over it. It’s such a symbolic story. Darkness Follows came after that, then Frantic, and I found myself spending more time on the characters in my stories, on bringing them to life and dealing with their struggles and hurts and ultimate triumphs. I enjoyed the way my writing was going but there was still something missing, a part of me I felt was being untapped.
There’s a side of me few people see. I’m a hopeless sentimental. I love my family more than anything. I’m a homebody. I love the simple life. And I wanted to write about that. I wanted to touch people on an entirely different level.
There was a problem, though. I’d spent a lot of time and energy building my brand of suspense. To switch gears on my readers now would be unfair. So I ran the idea by my agent and pitched it to my publisher and they all agreed it would be okay to write a contemporary drama under a pseudonym: Michael King.
In an industry which promotes focus and platforms, why are you choosing to make this change?
It’s more an addition than a change. I’ll continue to write suspense as Mike Dellosso. I have a lot of readers who really enjoy my brand of storytelling and want to continue writing for them. The Michael King drama will give me a chance to tap into another part of my mind and heart, to satisfy an itch that’s been there for three years now.
I know how important brands and platforms are and don’t want to do anything to confuse or disappoint readers. I think the pseudonym will work well. I’m not keeping anything a secret, no hidden identities or anything. I don’t think it’s a crime when an author adds a genre to his repertoire, I just think it needs to be done in a clear way so the reader knows what he or she is purchasing.
What are you doing differently in this go around, marketing as a published author who is choosing to "start over" with another genre?
With this new genre it’s a little different than starting fresh as a new, unknown author. My current readers all know Michael King is Mike Dellosso and many of them will follow me over to the new genre, they’re excited about it just as I am. I think it’s a misguided assumption that readers only read in one genre. Many readers enjoy books across a spectrum of genres.
For the release of my first drama, A Thousand Sleepless Nights, I started early building a brand and platform. I created a blog where I post regularly about matters of faith and family and relationships and life. Since the story is about a woman and a family battling cancer I contacted many of the cancer awareness groups and organizations and promoted the book to them. I used Facebook early on to spread the word. And many of my writer friends played a big role in helping get the word out there. Also, and importantly, my Darlington Society really came through, getting behind the project and my new persona and pushing it to the forefront on many social networking sites.
Do you feel like changing directions is more difficult or easier than the process of getting published for the first time?
That’s kind of crazy because I feel like the actual process is easier because I’ve had some experience with all this marketing and promoting stuff, with social networking and grass roots efforts. And I have a built-in readership.
It’s as difficult as the first time because there is still the unknown there, the pressure of the first book, the uncertainty of how the book will go over with readers, in the marketplace. Early on I told my wife that this new genre will either be the best thing I ever did or the worst. I don’t see a middle ground here. Maybe I’m wrong, maybe I’m not. All I can do is the best I can do, give it my all, and the rest is up to God on where he wants to take it. I’m okay with it either way. It was an addition I felt I had to make and a risk worth taking.
Why the pen name? Other authors have chosen to branch into other genres and keep their names on the cover, is there a reason you changed things up? You've got smart readers, they could figure it out and forgive if the new stuff isn't their cup of tea, right?
I don’t think the pen name is an issue of whether readers are smart enough to figure out that Michael King is Mike Dellosso or not. I chose to go with the pen name because of the branding and marketing involved in planting yourself in one genre. When my readers hear a new Mike Dellosso book is coming out they immediately know what they’ll be getting, or at least have a pretty good idea: fast-paced storytelling, interesting characters, strong faith message. My publisher knows how to place the book, how to promote it, market it, and so on. I’ve worked hard on that end of it.
I want the same reaction for the books Michael King writes. I want readers to know what they’re getting: a compelling story about real people dealing with real issues and finding hope in the midst of the storms of life.
It was a strategic decision to not mix the two, to keep the two personas separate.
Are there marketing avenues that worked well with your first book that you'll repeat this go around?
I’ve always enjoyed social networking and interacting with readers on my blog and Facebook. I’ll definitely continue that and hopefully build a community of readers on Michael King’s blog. And The Darlington Society, my group of focused and loyal supporters, continues to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. These folks are wonderful and such an encouragement to me.
What is your drive/passion/message when you write suspense?
I’ve always wanted to tell a compelling story with deep spiritual implications. With my suspense I find myself focusing a lot on the contrast between darkness and light and how no matter how thick and foreboding the darkness is, no matter how endless it may seem, there is always hope, the Light will always shine.
My characters are mostly flawed people struggling to find their way in this world and up against odds that seem insurmountable.
I write supernatural suspense so there is always that twist to the stories, that “other level” that takes it out of the realm of the natural and into the realm of the supernatural.
How has that changed after your brush with mortality?
Well, I still want to tell a compelling story but since my showdown with cancer I’ve been itching to write a story from a more sentimental angle. A story about real people in the real world dealing with real crises. Not that I don’t write about that in my suspense, but let’s face it, how many of us ever find ourselves on the run from a maniacal serial killer? We’re much more likely to deal with a terminal illness or the loss of a spouse. That’s what I want to deal with in my drama stories. What do we do when life throws us a major curve ball? When nothing makes sense anymore and it seems hope is lost?
Still, there is a message of hope, of course there is. As long as God is on the throne there is always hope.
Did you ever consider letting writing go? Did it become more or less important to you as you fought cancer? Why?
I contemplated giving up writing a lot during that year of surgery and chemo. I had absolutely no desire to write. Writing is an emotional undertaking and I was so emotionally spent from the cancer that I couldn’t even think about writing. Even after my treatment was completed I had a difficult time getting back into the creative groove to write and create stories again.
Cancer has a way of showing you the difference between the things in life that seem like they matter and the things that really do matter. After taking some time off and really doing some soul searching I concluded that for me writing was one of the things that matter. God has given me the ability and the opportunity to craft stories for others to read and I don’t want to take that lightly. It matters, sure it does. It matters a lot. And as long as I have the opportunity and the ability I want to continue writing stories that inspire and encourage and maybe even convict. But mostly, stories that point the way to hope . . . to the Light.
How do you deal with criticism now? I read one of your blog entries about a free Kindle download and the 1-Star reviews complaining about the over-the-top Christian message -- does criticism cut like a knife after undergoing cancer treatment and facing the reality that life is indeed short?
There are two types of criticism. Criticism aimed at building you up and criticism aimed at tearing you down. Obviously the former should be listened to and paid attention to because it can only do us good, make us better writers. The latter used to bother me a lot, get under my skin and fester there. But since cancer I’ve decided that’s one of those things in life that don’t matter.
I’d be lying, though, if I said those negative reviews didn’t sting even a little. They do. Of course they do. But the sting doesn’t last. I’ve learned to shrug it off and move on. I write to please God and as long as I know in my heart that I’m doing my best to write the stories in my heart then I need to focus on that and not on a few occasional negative comments.
Yes, there have been those who say my stories get preachy, that I shouldn’t be so spiritually heavy on the message. I don’t want to sound ignorant here but I just don’t care anymore. There will always be naysayers, those who gripe and criticize or think they know what you should or shouldn’t be doing. And that’s fine, they can have their opinions and have their say, but I need to know that I’m doing what I believe God wants me to do. I need to be able to look at myself in the mirror and be comfortable with who I am.
What practical suggestions do you have for our readers on the importance of living and writing one day at a time?
There are a lot of things in life that compete for our attention, a lot of things to get stressed about or fret over, a lot of things to waste our time on . . . but few of those things really matter. Your family matters. Making an impact of the lives of others matters. Fulfilling the calling God has on your life and living in such a way that pleases him matters. Find that thing that God has called you to do and pour yourself into it. If it’s writing, don’t worry about the audience you have, be the best writer you can be to those God has placed before you. It may be for 50,000 readers spread across the world or for 50 readers in your local church. The size of the audience doesn’t matter; how you impact that audience does.