Novelist Michael Loyd Gray is here today to give a glimpse into his young adult novel King Biscuit.
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Michael Loyd Gray was born in Jonesboro, Arkansas, but grew up in Champaign, Illinois. He earned an MFA in English from Western Michigan University and has taught at colleges and universities in upstate New York, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Texas. He graduated from the University of Illinois with a Journalism degree and was a newspaper staff writer in Arizona and Illinois for ten years, conducting the last interview with novelist Erskine Caldwell.
He is the winner of the 2005 Alligator Juniper Fiction Prize and the 2005 The Writers Place Award for Fiction. Gray’s novel Well Deserved won the 2008 Sol Books Prose Series Prize. His novel Not Famous Anymore was awarded a grant by the Elizabeth George Foundation and was released by Three Towers Press (2012). His novel December's Children was a finalist for the 2006 Sol Books Prose Series Prize and was also released in 2012 by Tempest books (an imprint of Sol Books) as the young adult novel King Biscuit. He has written a sequel to Well Deserved called The Last Stop, and another four novels entitled: Fast Eddie, Blue Sparta, The Salt Meadows and The Canary.
Whereas in his first novels Michael focuses very much on Argus and the Midwest, he ventures out into other parts of the world in his last three novels. A lifelong Chicago Bears and Rolling Stones fan, he lives in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and teaches as full-time online English faculty Professor for South University, where he is one of the founding editors of the student literary journal Asynchronous and sponsor of an online readings series featuring fiction and poetry. Michael is represented by Vilain Innovations – Literary Agency in The Netherlands
Welcome, Michael. Please tell us about your current release.
My new novel, King Biscuit, begins in 1966 and it’s about Billy Ray Fleener, a 17-year-old living in the stifling and fictional small town of Argus, Illinois, who yearns to see the wider world. Billy Ray sets off on a road trip of sorts, sparked by the desire to visit the grave of his Uncle Milt (killed in Vietnam) in Helena, Arkansas. Along the way Billy Ray’s adventures bring him in contact with Elvis Presley, President Lyndon Johnson, some militant nuns, a con man, and a rock band called Gravy is Groovy. He visits New Orleans, too, as his travels inch him closer to maturity and an identity. Certainly it’s a coming of age story.
What inspired you to write this book?
I guess I wrote King Biscuit in part because I am fond of the 1960s – especially the great rock music from those days. The Rolling Stones are part of the novel’s background – they are emblematic of changing times and certainly Billy Ray is drawn to their music as an antidote to conservative Argus and his even more conservative father. Argus is a burg with a quaint town square and Billy Ray’s father owns the local hardware store – Fleener Hardware. Argus would be east of Bloomington-Normal, Illinois, on a map, for example.
What exciting story are you working on next?
I just finished a new novel, The Canary, about the last days of Amelia Earhart. Earlier this year I wrote a novel called The Salt Meadows, which takes place partly during the 1985 Haitian Revolution.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I started reading at a pretty early age and always loved it. I can’t say exactly when I wanted to be a writer, or thought I would be, but it was not until after high school. I earned a journalism degree from the University of Illinois and spent ten years writing for newspapers. But journalism was too limiting – too stifling, as was Argus for Billy Ray. I quit newspaper work for graduate school in English and it was there that I became serious about writing fiction.
Do you write full-time? If so, what's your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
I teach full-time for a university, but when I am writing a novel I tend to do it every day until done. That way it’s much easier to keep a firm grip on the narrative thread of the story and extend it to the end.
What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
My writing quirk—I want a novel’s title before I commit to writing it. Once I get what I feel sure is the title, I am able and ready to learn what story will blossom from that.
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
As a child I wanted to be a football coach and later I thought about becoming an oceanographer, but I’m no good at science and math and so English is where I ended up and it’s what I do best.
Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
My advice to readers is to not give up on your writing. Keep at it and you can improve. It gets easier the more you do it.
Author’s page on Amazon
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