Michael Reilly graduated from Yale with a bachelor’s degree in history and went on to Columbia University to pursue a master’s degree in journalism. Not only an author, he is also the founder and CEO of FitDivs Inc., a company that he started to promote and reward healthy living. He lives in Charlottesville, VA. with his wife and four children. Fresh Heir is his first novel.
You have degrees from two of the most acclaimed universities in the US. And they are complete opposites. What made you choose history first, and then switch to journalism?
Actually I believe the two degrees are very much related. I majored in history at Yale mostly because I loved to read, research and write. Not many other majors require more lengthy writing assignments than history. When it comes to journalism, you are tasked with writing about a current event, but rarely ever do those events take place without some historical context. Anyone can go out and describe what is happening right before their eyes. What often makes a journalistic piece shine is the author’s understanding of the historical context in which a current event is taking place.
Does your history degree reflect in your writing?
I believe it does. Similar to my first answer, I think a knowledge and an understanding of history — and how it plays into current events — can significantly contribute to the success of a fictional story. And I’m not just talking about historical fiction. Some of my favorite novels of all time could not be told without the author’s skilled presentation of the historical setting. Two that come to mind are Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and The Grapes of Wrath.
Can you please tell us a little more about FitDivs? What made you decide to start an organization like this?
I’d worked in a more traditional corporate setting for many years, and it just wasn’t for me. There was no opportunity for creativity. Starting a company is all about creativity… discovering a problem and coming up with a solution. It takes perseverance and thick skin, and in many ways is similar to writing. That’s why I enjoy doing both. FitDivs is still in its very early stages. We are still creating the technical backbone and seeking funding. But I am excited about it because I believe it will help improve our society’s incorrigible health problems. It’s an issue I am very passionate about.
How much of the book is realistic?
I hope my readers will be able to relate to much of what’s in the story. It’s targeted mostly to parents, but I have had some young adults give me positive feedback as well. I don’t believe there is any aspect to the content that hasn’t happened, or couldn’t happen in a parent-child relationship, particularly in a relationship where the child is gifted and the parent is obsessed with making sure the child succeeds, which is the underlying theme of the story.
Have you included a lot of your life experiences, even friends and family, in the plot?
Almost each and every scene in the book is extrapolated from some event I have witnessed or experienced as a parent. While the story and its characters are fictional, I can attest that very little has been imagined from “thin air.” I can also genuinely say that each bit of content in the book was carefully considered for its relevance and symbolism. This is important, I believe, particularly when a writer is attempting humor. The risk is it can come across as corny or gratuitous. For example, in my book there is a scene at the end, where the family’s cross-country journey is slowed by an unusual accident. A man has been killed when the porta-potty he’s using on the side of a highway that’s under construction is broad-sided by a Mack truck. Yes, that did happen to someone I know, and I didn’t put it in there just for the heck of it. The scene is meant to illustrate the frustrations and angst we often feel in life when stupid impediments pop up in the way of our goals. How we handle those impediments makes all the difference in our ultimate success.
Did writing this book teach you anything? If so, what was it?
Yes, definitely. I think it taught me to remind myself when I might be pushing my kids instead of guiding them. After all, one of the reasons I set out to write the book in the first place was because of the pressure I felt as a parent in this competitive world we’re in. My wife and I have four kids, and so naturally our lives are packed with running from this practice to that practice, from this rehearsal to that camp, etc., etc. And yet, with all that running around I sometimes feel the stress of wondering whether we’re doing enough. And so the temptation is to force your kids to do more…more…more. Because that sure as heck seems like what the family across the street is doing. So when I find myself tempted to force my kids to “perform” so we can all be so wonderfully successful, that’s when I remind myself about my book. And that’s when I say, it’s time for the kids to just go out and ride their bikes…or play in the leaves. These are the kinds of things that kids don’t seem to do much of anymore. And yet, I wonder if they might be more important to a child’s “success” than that 365-day-a-year travel soccer team they’re on with all the other little super-duper future Pelés of the world.
Do you intend to make writing a career?
I’m not sure anyone who has gone so far as to actually finish writing a book, and perhaps even getting it into print, would not like to make writing a career. I’d love to! But I do also like being an entrepreneur, and so I hope, because they are so similar, I can continue to pursue both paths.
What is your greatest strength as a writer?
I think I’m a skillful observer of people. Sometimes to the point where I drive myself crazy…I can’t resist the temptation to watch people…how they act, who they are, what they do. I know this is a foreign concept to some people who are content to be locked into their own world, and that’s fine. But if you are going to write, and imagine, and create characters, you have to observe and be intrigued by other people.
Have you ever had writer’s block? If so, what do you do about it?
My writer’s block, per se, tends to occur at the beginning of the process. I will write first chapters over and over and send them to the trash bin. I will feel stuck for weeks on end. Then something will click and things just seem to flow. When I was writing Fresh Heir, I never really had true writer’s block, as in the stereotype of sitting in front of the computer with nothing happening. I wrote most of the story “on the fly.” Because I am so busy, I would write down elements of the story anywhere and everywhere…grocery stores, meetings, soccer games. My computer time — usually very early in the morning — was mostly just about typing in what I had already created someplace else.
Is there anything else you want to share?
I just really appreciate the opportunity to do this interview and am grateful for anyone who takes the time to read my book.
To find out more about Michael and his work you can visit his website at www.freshheirnovel.com