I recently caught up with Michael Sears, the author of Saving Jason, about his books, his Wall Street career and his stint as a soap opera extra. Here's what he had to say.
One of the things I love most about your books is your protagonist's relationship with his autistic son. What made you decide to create an autistic character? How do you go about your research for that character?
Thank you. The father and son relationship is my favorite part to write. The decision to use autism came from two directions. I am familiar with some people on the spectrum -- both in my extended family and friends' families and have had a fascination about it for some time. I have done extensive reading, mostly from the parents' points of view, but also books by Temple Grandin and others. I claim no medical or scientific expertise and refuse to join in any of the political debates (other than to say that I am thoroughly convinced that vaccines have nothing to do with it). But I do understand the challenges of parenting such a child. Not only the day-to-day trials, but the fears for the future. Many fans have approached me at signings with tales of their children, grandchildren, students, etc. I am always touched by their gratitude for compassionately bringing their troubles to light.
The other direction was a character device. Jason, in his past life as a Wall Street hotshot, is notably lacking in heart. Very much a loner, he cannot see how this holds him back as a person. I needed to provide him with a challenge to his humanity, to his ability to love. For all those who have taken on the challenge of loving an ASD child, I have the greatest respect. You understand the meaning of love.
You used to work on Wall Street, now you write about it. What drove you to make this transition? How does it inform your writing? How long does it take you to write a book?
I have always liked writing and knew that I was good at it. But the idea of writing for a living, supporting a family, and saving for retirement on the meager proceeds from a writing career frightened me. I am not a fast writer. I am not a plotter. I enjoy wallowing in the process too much to hammer out two or three books a year, along with articles, essays, etc. I admire those who can -- Isaac Asimov, Charles Dickens, Henry Fielding, and a long list of modern writers who have become friends -- but I work at a different pace. These days, takes me about a year to write a book.
My first book, BLACK FRIDAYS, grew out of an experience I have talked about before. I picked up the Wall Street Journal one morning and read a story about a giant conspiracy in the foreign exchange markets. I knew some of those names from my very first job downtown. I vowed to write a story about it someday -- having to do with the conflicts of temptation and guilt. Knowing myself well enough to realize that I was never going to be very good at non-fiction, I began playing around with the idea of a novel. The project got shelved any number of times, but eventually, with the help of a terrific workshop, great agent, and world's greatest editor, Jason and the Kid came to print.
You’ve published three books in this series. Which of the three was the hardest to write and why?
SAVING JASON was the toughest. The three previous books became progressively harder as I set my goals higher. In SJ I wanted to begin exploring more personal issues with Jason, specifically his growing responsibilities to his son and to Skeli. Somehow I lost my way. After ten months (and a very generous extension of my deadline) I had to throw it all out and start over. But nothing is ever truly lost (thanks to the Cloud!) and I saw the book I wanted to write quite clearly. I wrote it in five months, and while my BLACK FRIDAYS is my first born, and thus my favorite, I think that SAVING JASON is a far superior book.
Your bio says that in your former life you were a professional actor and you appeared in every single soap opera on the air in the course of one year. Can you tell us which soap operas and which was your favorite experience?
I don't think that this was a unique claim for actors working in New York in the mid-to-late seventies. Kojak had shut down and Law & Order was still far in the future. There were many fun moments, and a lot of boredom, too. All My Children was always fun because of the crowd of fans that was always outside. The stars were smart. They waited until the crowd thinned out before heading home. Extras, and day players, on the other hand, could walk out and be treated like stars! Other highlights? I was an extra one day in a restaurant scene and realized that the strolling musician was Bucky Pizzarelli, one of my favorite jazz guitarists. Then there was the time I played a cop and had to stay in uniform all day. I rode the elevator down to the cafeteria, used the men's room, read a paperback while waiting -- all the normal things I would have done on any other work day. Only everyone I ran into stared at me like I was there to put them in cuffs and take them away.
What are you working on right now? When will we see the next Jason Stafford novel?
I am working on a one-off (a non-financial thriller, but featuring the same domestic reality that I try to bring to the Jason books) that I have to get out of my system and then I will get right back to Jason and the Kid. There will certainly be more stories from them.
You can read an excerpt of Saving Jason here. And you can see my review of the book here.