Our next guest on the Crime Cafe podcast is Michael Zimecki, who’s providing this week’s guest post and book giveaway. And more! 🙂
Michael is offering digital copies of his novel DEATH SENTENCES to the first 10 people to email him. You can enter Michael’s giveaway for this book by emailing him at michael[dot]zimecki[at]gmail[dot]com. To win a copy, you need to be one of the first 10 people to enter, so email away. Soon! 🙂
If just can’t wait, you can buy a copy of DEATH SENTENCES for 99 cents from Sept. 21 – 22.
Also, Michael is offering a free PDF copy of a short story called “The Greatest Generation” to anyone who wants to read it and provide him with feedback. To get your copy, just email Michael at the above address.
With that said, here’s Michael Zimecki on the writing life.
A Writer’s Life
For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be a writer, and I am extremely fortunate to have been able to earn a living as a writer for most of my life. I didn’t do it by producing masterpieces. I did it by working as a “writer for hire,” churning out ad copy, press releases and publicity pieces on a deadline. For more than twenty years, I worked, in a succession of writing jobs, as a copywriter for an ad agency, as a marketing communications specialist for a tech firm, and as a senior writer and editor for a hospital. During that time, I wrote radio ads for weekly grocery specials for a supermarket chain, and produced catalog copy for products ranging from fire service and mine safety equipment to vacuum pump systems for semiconductor processing. I followed medical residents on their rounds, surgeons into operating rooms and researchers into labs. I shared anxious moments with patients waiting for transplants and other life-saving procedures, and interviewed some of the best and brightest minds in the world, including the late Thomas E. Starzl, the surgeon who performed the first liver transplant and became known as the “father of modern transplantation.”
It wasn’t the career I imagined or one I wanted. I had wanted an academic career as a teacher of creative writing and a writer-in-residence at a university. It didn’t work out as I planned. For a short period of time, I taught freshman composition as a teaching assistant and, later, as an instructor at a university, but I didn’t get reappointed. Then my first wife became desperately ill from the complications of Type 1 diabetes, complications that wasted her and slowly took her life, and I needed to put my unfinished doctoral dissertation aside and earn a real living, not the pittance I was paid as a T.A. or as an instructor.
Although I was hundreds of pages into it, I didn’t finish that dissertation. I didn’t get tenure, didn’t get close to it. Looking back on it, the demise of my academic career was the best thing that ever happened to me as a writer.
The great cathedrals weren’t built by people who thought they were making art. As a “writer for hire,” I worked under time pressure on problems of practical importance and produced pieces that were good enough for some purpose. I learned that form follows function. I developed a craft.
I also intersected with the lives of people who were different from those I had known in academia. I don’t mean to imply that they were different in a better way, just that they were different, although I encountered less pretense, pettiness and pomposity outside the hallowed halls of higher learning than I did inside them. My experience after I left teaching was broader, if not deeper, and I saw things and did things and heard things, including the stories of people engaged in life-and-death struggles, that I might never have seen, done, or heard if I had been granted tenure.
During the time I spent as a hospital-based medical writer, I took advantage of a generous tuition benefit and went to night school to study law. For four years, I worked a 40+-hours/week job, went to class every weeknight, and put my nose in a law book during my other waking hours. After graduating, I clerked for a judge and went to work for a firm. Instead of writing ad copy, or patient education pieces, I wrote law briefs. I think the skills I developed as a “writer for hire” were invaluable to my career as a lawyer.
I did more than write legal briefs, of course. I worked for a litigation firm. I tried cases. Although I always thought I was a better writer than an attorney, and less than superlative in my legal practice, I was named a Pennsylvania Super Lawyer a couple of times. Recognition is nice, but the very best thing about practicing law was the stories it gave me.
I still practice law, but I don’t do it full time anymore, and a couple of years ago I returned to my first calling and started writing again. I finished a historical novel that I had worked on sporadically for more than twenty-five years (it’s still in the drawer) and then I turned to crime. Crime writing that is.
My first venture into crime writing was my novel, Death Sentences. It’s about Peter “Pop” Popovich, a 22-year-old high school dropout imbued with a sense of white male privilege and entitlement. Trouble is Pop can’t keep a job. The Marines didn’t want him, and his girlfriend has left him. He lives with his mother, who criticizes and belittles him constantly (not that he doesn’t deserve it). Tensions build when one of Pop’s pit bulls takes a dump on his mother’s carpet. She calls 9-1-1 and asks the police to remove him from her home. When the law arrives, Pop is waiting at the door in body armor with a Mossberg Maverick shotgun in his hands and a .357 magnum tucked inside his belt. He also has an AK-47 hidden inside a closet.
I won’t give the plot away, although the title offers clues, and it doesn’t take a whole lot of imagination to figure out what happens. What makes the novel unique is an attempt to get inside the head of its main character, to try to figure out what makes him tick, and even humanize him a bit. I didn’t want a total stereotype. I wanted flesh and blood. I don’t expect readers to like Pop Popovich, but I do want them to understand him.
Death Sentences was written before the 2016 presidential election, and I think it’s prophetic. The novel explores the white male rage that catapulted Donald Trump into the White House (there’s a reason they call it that) and got us where we are today.
I was fortunate to find a home for Death Sentences at the indie publisher, Crime Wave Press, a Hong Kong based fiction imprint that endeavors to publish some of the best new crime novels from around the world. I’m grateful to its founders, Tom Vater and Hans Kemp, for getting Death Sentences into print. The novel is available as both an e-book and a paperback from Amazon or from the publisher at crimewavepress.com.
Lately, I’ve turned my hand to short stories and am putting together a collection. Each story focuses on a personal conflict, one between siblings, for example, a grandfather and his grandson, or a pair of lovers, where the conflict is set against the backdrop of some larger event, a world war, an airplane crash, a disaster at sea, or the death of members of an alpine climbing expedition on a lonely mountain peak.
One of those stories, “The Greatest Generation,” is about the impact of a distant crime on the relationship between two brothers who served in World War II and are nearing the end of their lives. It’s available as a PDF file to anyone who wants to read it and is willing to tell me what you think.
Michael Zimecki is an attorney-author and a recipient of a 2018 Golden Fedora Award for Poetry from Noir Nation, an international crime fiction journal. Born in inner city Detroit, he did turns as a steelworker, advertising copywriter, medical editor and teacher before practicing law.
Michael has written for Harper’s Magazine, The National Law Journal, College English, and The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, among other publications.
His novella, “The History of My Final Illness,” about the last five days in the life of Joseph Stalin, appeared in Eclectica Magazine. A play, Negative Velocity, about atom-bomb father J. Robert Oppenheimer, is a past winner of the New Playwright’s Competition of the Fremont Center Theatre, located in South Pasadena, California.
Michael lives in Pittsburgh with his wife, Susan. He enjoys swing jazz, fedoras, and hardboiled fiction.