Author Interview with Michael Januska

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Author Interview with Michael Januska

Posted on May 13 by Michael Januska
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This week our social media theme is mysteries, and to kick us off we've got an interview with Michael Januska, author of Grey Cup Century, and his new release (and first mystery) Riverside Drive. Michael was born in Windsor, Ontario. He has worked with books his whole life, both as a bookseller and for several book publishing companies. He is also an award-winning crime fiction writer. His stories focus mainly on the history of his hometown.

Today Michael tells us about his first book in the Border City Blues series, what the hardest thing he found about writing was, and his new project.

Caitlyn: Tell us about your book.

Michael: Riverside Drive is the first book in my Border City Blues series of crime fiction tales set in the Windsor area between the post-war period and 1935. The story takes place during the early days of Prohibition. These were complicated times, and I’ve tried to embody them in my protagonist, Jack McCloskey. When Jack gets back from the war he learns that his mother has fallen victim to the flu pandemic. He is also confronted with an economic recession, unemployment, and food and energy shortages. Looming is a prohibition on alcohol. To a family now damaged and desperate, but already acquainted with cross-border smuggling, this could be either their shining moment or their complete undoing.

In sharp contrast to this storyline is that of a young librarian, Vera Maude Maguire, who longs for freedom and independence as well as a seat at a café on the Left Bank. Her problem is she’s stuck in a rut and can’t figure her first move.

Riverside Drive is a time and place where worlds collide and the outcome, on every scale, is anyone’s guess. As a writer and a reader, I kind of like that.

Caitlyn: What was the creative process like for you?

Michael: It starts either of two ways: with a character or a situation. When it’s a character, first I’ll need to know their name. Next I need to know something about them: how they grew up, what they do, and where they live. Often I begin my research in an old city directory. Once I have a thumbnail sketch, I let the character start talking so they can tell me a bit more about themselves. Then I might drop them into a situation and see how they react. If it’s working and they’re coming to life, I’ll let them keep talking and have them interact with other characters. This goes for pretty much all of my characters, major and minor; just because someone has only one line of dialogue doesn’t mean that I haven’t imagined some kind of life for them.

A situation is usually a set piece. Similarly, not everything makes it onto the page. I believe the fiction writer engages his audience by leaving gaps that can be filled by a reader’s imagination, informed or otherwise. The last thing I want to do is spoon-feed.

The enjoyment comes in writing a story for which I don’t already have an ending. I prefer to let the characters suggest how it wraps up. And that might not happen until I write the last sentence. I prefer it that way. There’s no fun in writing a story where there can only be one logical ending. I want to be engaged too, and I think that makes for better results.

Caitlyn: What was the hardest part of writing your book?

Michael: Maintaining historical accuracies. Oftentimes I would want to make reference to a particular song or movie, or the attributes of an automobile or a simple household item only to learn that it wasn’t around yet or not widely available. I learned a lot about this period as a result. It may have been the 1920’s but it wasn’t quite roaring yet. My research however made the subject even more interesting to write about. This period was more complicated, more nuanced than I had expected, and there are so many layers to it.

Caitlyn: In your own work, which character are you most attached to and why?

Michael: I had been doing some genealogical research at the time and came across a mention of a death listed in a family bible — there was no obituary. Initially I just loved the name: Vera Maude. And then I got to wondering what kind of life this girl, barely three years old when she died in 1894, could have had. I immediately imagined her to be some sort of rebel, the black sheep of the family. As soon as I started writing her, she seemed to jump off the page. She doesn’t figure as largely as the protagonist but she has been a favourite among early readers who have said they want to get to know her better. She’s a real spark plug.

Caitlyn: What is your new project?

Michael: My new project is Maiden Lane, the follow-up to Riverside Drive and the next book in the series. It’s difficult to discuss because there are a lot of (intentional) loose ends in Riverside Drive, and many of them get picked up in Maiden Lane. I can say that in Maiden Lane, Detective Campbell and Dr. Laforet, two characters from my short stories, will be worked in (www.bordercitystories.com). It’s kind of exciting introducing established characters to each other. It’s sort of like of like hosting a dinner party. Maiden Lane will have the same flavour and still have Prohibition as the backdrop, but will explore some themes not uncommon to crime fiction in the 1920’s.

Michael Januska

Posted by Dundurn Guest on October 30, 2014
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Michael Januska

Michael Januska has worked with books his whole life, both as a bookseller and for several publishing companies. Stories from Januska’s Prohibition-era Border City Blues novels have won two consecutive Scene of the Crime short story prizes. He is also the author of Grey Cup Century. He lives in Toronto.