Posted by: Natalie Hatch | June 23, 2009

Author Interview – Michael Gerard Bauer

My guest author today is the incredibly talented Michael Gerard Bauer michael g bauer(no relation to the lead character in the TV series 24). Michael has several books under his belt, including ‘The Running Man’ and ‘Don’t Call Me Ishmael’. A teacher in a former life, Michael regularly visits schools to encourage kids to try their hands at writing. His publishers website has more details if you wish to get in contact (to say nice things, rude messages will be written down and used in a future story somehow).

  • What drew you to writing? Were you always interested or is it something that happened later on in life?

I never thought of being a writer when I was as school. Back then the only thing I can ever remember really wanting to be was a Samurai warrior, but that’s another story. My dreams of writing came later when I was at Uni. I did a lot of English literature subjects and I loved the power of words to create real emotions and to take you into other people’s worlds. I was also a big music fan and had a secret desire to be a singer-songwriter and the next Bob Dylan. (Still working on that!)

While I was at Uni I made my first attempts at writing. I sent a comedy sketch to a TV show and some poems to a magazine. Looking back the replies I received were encouraging and said that what I had written was quite good. However neither pieces were accepted.

I stopped sending things away after that because to me those letters were saying what I had believed in my heart all along – “You’re not a writer. Only other people are writers.” Today when I go to schools I tell students not to be as pathetic as I was back then and not to give up so easily on their dreams the way I did. I tell them not to just follow their dreams but to stalk their dreams. (Of course I also point out that stalking dreams is fine but that stalking people is bad, and as I found out, very time consuming, so they shouldn’t do that!)

  • Do you create your characters based on people you’ve met? Have you ever had someone tell you that you have based it on them?

I’m sure every character I’ve created has bits of people I’ve met (and me) wrapped up in them somewhere. In The Running Man for example the title character was based on a real man who used to run around Ashgrove when I was a boy. I was frightened of him and I called him the running man because that’s all I knew about him. Also the father in the book who works away from home and only returns for a few weeks at Christmas each year was based on my father’s work situation when I was growing up. In the Ishmael books James Scobie is the one character who came most directly from a real boy I’d taught. The others are more ‘types’ of boys or personalities I’d come across in my years of teaching.

But I think it’s important for people to understand that the characters in the stories never end up being the people who may have initially inspired them. They become a unique identity and I always see them as real people rather than characters I’ve made up.

No, I’ve never had anyone see themselves in my characters but one lady who lived in Ashgrove where The Running Man is set told me she loved the book and not only that she’d worked out who all the people in it really were! This was probably my fault because I used the names of some people who actually lived in Ashgrove many years ago because when I was writing the book I didn’t really think anyone would ever read it anyway. I did convince that lady that the characters were fictional but she still insisted that the ‘nosey-neighbour’ character lived in her street!

  • Where do you get your inspiration for all these great stories?

Well, for inspiration I generally work myself up into a trance-like state by spinning around on the spot and then as I repeat my secret mantra I … … no? Ok the real answer is probably ‘I’m not sure’ but what amazes me is how stories that end up as novels usually start from tiny things that aren’t really stories at all. The Running Man for example started with a simple childhood memory I had of looking for silkworms in the mulberry tree in our back yard and it grew from there. Don’t Call Me Ishmael! and the sequel started because I had a picture stuck on my noticeboard of Gregory Peck as Captain Ahab in the film version of Moby Dick. I looked at the picture one day and thought of Moby Dick’s famous opening line “Call Me Ishmael.” For some reason I then imagined a boy’s voice saying the opposite – “Don’t call me Ishmael!” I wondered who he was and why he would say that. Two books came from that one little thought. So I think inspiration can come from anything – even little things like a picture, a comment, a thought, an experience, a feeling – anything that intrigues you, makes you wonder and raises questions in your mind. I guess writers are just people who are willing to drive themselves half crazy to work out the answers to those questions and fill in all the blanks.

Oh, I should add that for me, going for long walks and just letting my mind do a bit of wandering as well, often results in inspiration for a new story idea or helps me discover more of a story I’m already working on. For some reason I ‘see’ things more clearly when I’m walking.

  • I know that most of your stories are set in the modern day, but have you ever considered a cross genre historical/zombie/kung fu/space adventure?

Great question (particlarly because it will give me a chance for some shameless self-promotion!). I’m not a big fan of sci-fi/fantasy books I’d have to say although one of my favourite books growing up was Lord of the Rings and I also love the films. Vampires and zombies don’t really exite me. Ninjas and samurais still do, but I think my colleague, friend and wonderful writer Simon Higgins has that covered.

Strangely enough though my latest novel Dinosaur Knights is a bit of a prehistoric/medieval/sci-fi/action/adventure/time travel story that everyone should definitely read! (Actually it’s worth reading twice so make sure you buy two copies.) This book just started with the thought that dinosaurs and mythical dragons were similar and what if a dinosaur somehow turned up in the middgle ages. I had a lot of fun with it because I got to write action scenes which I haven’t done before. I didn’t think I’d ever write an adventure novel it was exciting and different for me (also challenging because I’m not that keen on research  –  seems a bit like hard work) plus I love the cover.

  • How long does it take you to write your books?

It’s really difficult to calculate the time it takes to write a book because I do a lot of school visits and quite a few Festivals and sometimes I’m inter-state for a number of weeks at a stretch, so I don’t get to write consistently everyday. Also I think about a story a long time before I ever type a single word of it. All writers work differently but I can’t start  physically writing any of a story until I’ve seen in my mind how it will end and I like that ending. So the best I can say in answer to that question is if I started a book at the beginning of a year, I would hope to have a manuscript ready to send to the publishers sometime before the end of the year. (The noise you’re hearing in the background is probably my publisher Dyan laughing hysterically)

  • Do you have any tips for teens who are trying to get their stories heard?

“Speak up!” But in a slightly more helpful way I’d say that there are lots more opportunities these days with the internet, blogs, zines etc for teens to get their stories out there and to practice their writing and to interact with fellow writers – so take advantage of the technology. Writing competitions are also be a good way to encourage and focus writing. Just don’t get too hung up on winning – it’s all good practice. Finally The Australian Writers Marketplace is a great publication to help you find a home for something you’ve written. The main thing I think is just to keep writing and even if no one is ‘hearing’ what you’re writing at the moment, keep listening to yourself, because the first and most important audience you will have, will always be you.

  • Your books deal with many issues teenage males face everyday, why do you think they’re so well received? (other than being brilliantly written of course 😉 )

Other than being brilliantly written? Gee that cuts down the options. :^)

It’s hard to answer a question like that. I hope it’s because they seem real even though they’re sometimes exaggerated for comic effect and that boys can relate to them. And I think boys appreciate humour and people not taking themselves too seriously even though there might be a more serious issue involved. But in truth I don’t really set out trying to appeal to any particular audience. I just try to write stories that appeal to me – ones that fascinate me or make me laugh or cry or leave me feeling good about myself and the world. I figure if I can do that then maybe there’s a chance other people might like them as well.

  • Some of the other authors I’ve interviewed have said they act out scenes such as fights etc so they can write better. Is this something you’ve done?

What other authors? Give me their names. They should be locked up! No in fact I have done this a bit. It helps you some times to find the right words if you make the expressions or do the actions of your character or say their dialogue out loud. Of course I can vouch from experience that you can look like a prize turkey if your wife walks in while you’re doing any of that! When I was writing Dinosaur Knights I didn’t have any dinosaurs on hand to fight so I used models of dinosaurs and action men figures to help me imagine what someone being attacked by a dinosaur might really look like and how the action might play out. Well, that was my excuse anyway.

  • What would be the best scene to act out from all of your books?

When I go to schools I often get students to help me act out the scene from Don’t Call Me Ishmael! where Ishmael has his first disastrous and humiliating attempt at debating. That’s always fun. Actually there’s a Youth Theatre group in Sydney who might be putting on a full stage production of DCM Ishmael sometime in the future. I’m really looking forward to seeing that.

  • What are you writing at the moment?

At the moment I’m writing what I refer to as ‘my dog story’. The narrator is a young boy around 11 yrs old. He is writing down the story of the family dog. I got interested in it because I wanted to try to write a story where I could only use fairly basic language (I’ve been known to use the odd metaphor or simile on occasions) and see if I could still make the story interesting and powerful as well as say or reveal more than the young narrator intended in the telling of his story. The idea for the story started when I went for walk (see it works!) and for some reason I thought of a name for a dog. At the moment I’m editing and rewriting the story. Some bits I like but I’m still trying to get it to sound like imagined it in my head.

  • You do many guest appearances at schools and writing festivals, what’s been a major highlight for you so far this year?

In general, the same as it is every year – meeting so many friendly, enthusiastic, positive and creative kids who inspire me and make me laugh and reaffirm my faith in humanity. But a particular highlight this year was being part of the Books and Bites production at Adelaide’s wonderful Come Out Festival. Books and Bites was a Spicks and Specks type game show where two panels of children’s authors competed against each other over three days in front of audiences of 3-400 school kids. It was so different and a lot of fun. The other authors on the panels were Narelle Oliver, DM Cornish, Phil Cummings, Isobelle Carmody, Duncan Ball and Deb Abela. Spending three days with those wonderful people was a joy.

  • Can you share with us a little bit of your call story?

When I finished the manuscript for The Running Man (then called In Dream Too Deep) I researched publishers through The Australian Writers Marketplace and made a list of ten publishers that I would love to have publish my work and who I thought might be interested in it if it was any good. I decided to start off with a multiple submission to the first four publishers on my list and work my way through the ten and when they all rejected me (which I was convinced they would) I was going to say ‘Well at least I tried’ and return to teaching.

The first reply I got was an acceptance. It was a phone call from Dyan Blacklock of Omnibus Books/Scholastic Australia. She rang at about 9.30pm on a Friday or Saturday night. She said she’d read my manuscript that day, loved it and wanted to publish it. She apologised for ringing me so late. I couldn’t believe it. I’d prepared myself so well for failure I think I was in shock. I told Dyan she could have rung me at 3.00 in the morning and it still would have been by far the best phonecall in my entire life.

When I woke up the next morning I had an awful sinking feeling that I had dreamt the whole thing. It wasn’t until I saw the notes I’d scribbled down from my conversation with Dyan the night before that I believed it was actually true. That phonecall changed my life. I still think of everything that has happened to me since as a miracle and I feel extremely fortunate.

Thanks to Nat and all the lovely folk at WeLoveYA for inviting me for an interview. It’s been great! Hope I didn’t rabbit on too much.


Michael is also a keen alternative history buff, if you get a chance to meet Michael ask him about Leonardo’s younger brothers especially Bernard. I for one will be looking forward to more samurai/historical/time travel stories from his neck of the woods.

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Responses

  1. This is definitely one of my favourite interviews. I love the dinosaurs and action men! Maybe I should use those next time too, instead of acting things out… ^_^

    I’m still waiting for that historical/zombie/kung fu/space adventure…

  2. He is such a funny guy to talk to. If you get a chance to go to one of his workshops/sessions do so. I do think a zombie/kung fu/space adventure would be awesome.

  3. […] have interviewed wonderful writers/agents, including: Michael Gerard Bauer, Melanie Nilles, Kim Miller, Richard Harland, Kirsty Eagar, Tania Roxborogh, Kathy Charles, Scott […]

  4. Ishmael And The Return Of The Dugongs, is the best book in the world.. well.. the best book ive ever read (:

  5. Such a lovely in-depth interview, Natalie. You found out things about Michael I never knew. 🙂 Good one, MGB!!

  6. I do trust all of the ideas you have presented to your post.
    They are really convincing and can certainly work. Still, the
    posts are too quick for novices. Could you please lengthen them a bit from next
    time? Thank you for the post.

  7. Hello there, just became alert to your blog through Google, and found that it is truly informative.
    I’m gonna watch out for brussels. I will appreciate if you continue this in future.
    Lots of people will be benefited from your writing.
    Cheers!

  8. how old are you gerard bauer


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