Friday, June 28, 2013

Please Welcome Mystery Author Michael Bigham

Omnimystery News: Guest Post by Michael Bigham
with Michael Bigham

We are delighted to welcome mystery author Michael Bigham to Omnimystery News today, courtesy of Pump Up Your Book Promotion, which is coordinating his current book tour.

Michael's debut mystery is Harkness (Muskrat Press; October 2012 trade paperback and ebook formats) introducing Sheriff Matt Harkness and set in the early 1950s in the high desert region of Oregon.

We asked Michael to tell us a little more about Harkness and how he developed the characters for the time period and setting of the book.

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Michael Bigham
Photo provided courtesy of
Michael Bigham

What the heck is "voice"? If you've participated in writer's workshops, you've heard someone mention narrative voice. The first time someone discussed my voice in a story, I had no clue what they were talking about. When I got home, I opened up my well-thumbed copy of Janet Burroway's seminal text, Writing Fiction. Nothing there. Nada. Now that I've been around the block more than once in critique groups, I understand the meaning. They're talking about your style and tone as a writer. Perhaps a couple of examples from Dashiell Hammett will help:

 Spade's tinny alarm-clock said three-forty when he turned on the light in the suspended bowl again. He dropped his hat and overcoat on the bed and went into his kitchen, returning to the bedroom with a wineglass and a tall bottle of Bacardi. He poured a drink and drank it standing. He put bottle and glass on the table, sat on the side of the bed facing them, and rolled a cigarette. He had drunk his third glass of Bacardi and was lighting his fifth cigarette when the street-door-bell rang. The hands of the alarm-clock registered four-thirty. Spade sighed, rose from the bed, and went to the telephone-box beside his bathroom door. He pressed the button that released the street-door-lock. He muttered, "Damn her," and stood scowling at the black telephone-box, breathing irregularly while a dull flush grew in his cheeks.

Dashiell Hammet — The Maltese Falcon

Here the third person narrative is dark, heavy on description and sparse on dialog. Examine the word choice, Sam Spade's alarm clock is tinny, he mutters and stands scowling. The tone is heavy, somber. Spade is a solitary, almost tragic figure.

Hammet's portrayal of Nick Charles in The Thin Man is much lighter:

 You're so damned pig-headed," she complained. "Well, it's only five o'clock. Lie down till it's time to dress."
 I made myself comfortable on the living-room sofa. We had the afternoon papers sent up. Morelli, it seemed, had shot me-twice for one of the papers and three times for another-when I tried to arrest him for Julia Wolf's murder, and I was too near death to see anybody or to be moved to a hospital. There were pictures of Morelli and a thirteen-year-old one of me in a pretty funny-looking hat, taken, I remembered, when I was working on the Wall Street explosion. Most of the follow-up stories on the murder of Julia Wolf were rather vague. We were reading them when our little constant visitor, Dorothy Wynant, arrived.
 I could hear her at the door when Nora opened it: "They wouldn't send my name up, so I sneaked up. Please don't send me away. I can help you nurse Nick. I'll do anything. Please, Nora."
 Nora had a chance then to say: "Come on in."
 Dorothy came in. She goggled at me. "B-but the papers said you-"
 "Do I look like I'm dying? What's happened to you?" Her lower lip was swollen and cut near one corner, there was a bruise on one cheek-bane and two fingernail scratches down the other cheek, and her eyes were red and swollen.

Dashiell Hammet — The Thin Man

The tone here is much lighter, almost flip, the dialog is snappier and there is much more of it. Dorothy goggles and Nora describes Nick as "pig-headed" in an affectionate way.

Spade is dark, almost primal, he drinks rum straight, but Nick and Nora Charles, are urban sophisticates, martini drinkers. Same author, but the voice of each passage is different. We see that voice is tone, pacing and word selection, but it is more than that. It's the opinion you as an author hold about your character, the setting and the plot.

Your voice must fit your character. In my novel, Harkness: A High Desert Mystery, I wanted to present my protagonist as a hard man of the west, stoic to others, but with inner conflicts.

 The almost-new Ford police car spun down Grimes Flat Road, straight between two section lines, at a hundred and thirty miles per, siren wailing, coyotes and mama Herefords leaping away across pasture and field, and me and Tony smoking cigarettes and tipping back a bottle of Four Roses, laughing and whooping like high school boys out for their first drunk. The sense of danger set my stomach to quivering like I'd never gone fast before.
 Telephone poles flipped by in a blur. The road was dark, dangerous, and with no white line to help guide the way. "There's a sharp corner up here," I warned. Tony told me he knew, but the yellow forty-five mph sign jumped up at us much too fast. The Ford squealed into the corner, the car's backend broke free, and I worried that Kate might not have believed me when I told her I loved her. Then Tony fought the wheel, and we were around the corner and off again, and I hoped that she hadn't believed me because I wasn't sure of what I wanted myself. Why hadn't she waited for me after the war? Hell, I was just hanging out in San Francisco for a while, only a year or two, then she up and married the Judge.

I try to achieve the western focus with language selection, "coyotes and mama Herefords leaping away across pasture and field." Matthew Harkness' self doubt is illuminated by his private thoughts. "I worried that Kate might not have believed me when I told her I loved her. Then Tony fought the wheel, and we were around the corner and off again, and I hoped that she hadn't believed me because I wasn't sure of what I wanted myself."

If you're writing a novel with multiple points of view (POV), vary your voice with each narrator. If you don't, then your reader won't accept the voice as genuine. In my novel in progress, Thunderhead, I experiment with another point of view character, Donnie Bradshaw; a young man that Harkness has taken under his wing:

 Pines transitioned into junipers as Donnie descended down to the Crooked River. Fields were lush and green with the first cutting of alfalfa. Along the road, the sagebrush held its spring colors, the new growth bright green contrasting against the old. Donnie loved this time of year, the desert recovering from the browns of winter. Soon the alfalfa would dry to gold and the sage would fade to olive gray.
 The Model A putted along the gravel road up the Niles Sawyer's ranch, but Donnie enjoyed the slow pace. A black Plymouth business coupe, slid around a corner up ahead. Fools didn't know how to drive on gravel roads.
 Shadows lengthened as afternoon stretched. A coyote loped through a potato field. She must have pups, Donnie thought, to be out before the sun went down.

Donnie's perception is fresh and open. The landscape is the same, but his view of it is less cynical than that of Harkness. Different POV characters require you to shift your thinking about them. They will perceive the world differently, not only their vision, but with taste, smell and hearing. Their thoughts will be unique. You need to put yourself in their heads and vary the tone, pacing and word selection and authorial distance. Your opinion of them will be different and that should be evident to your readers through your voice.

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Raised in the mill town of Prineville in Central Oregon beneath blue skies and rimrocks, Michael Bigham attended the University of Oregon and during his collegiate summers, fought range fires on the Oregon high desert for the Bureau of Land Management. He worked as a police officer with the Port of Portland and after leaving police work, obtained an MFA degree in Creative Writing from Vermont College. Michael lives in Portland, Oregon with his wife and daughter.

To learn more about Michael and his book, visit his website at You can also find him on Twitter and Goodreads.

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Harkness by Michael Bigham

Michael Bigham
A High Desert Mystery

Harkness isn't your typical Western sheriff. Cowboy boots make his arches ache, he's got a serious case of horse-phobia, and his faithful companion, Addison, is a wiener dog. It's 1952 in the Oregon High Desert, and until now, the worst crime Harkness has had to contend with is two cowboys playing quickdraw in an alley behind a bar. His easygoing life explodes when a star-crossed teenage couple disappears, sparking an investigation that threatens to expose the slimy underbelly the lurks beneath his small town, Barnesville.

Harkness has always been the keeper of secrets in the town. Now, to solve the crime, he must decide which secrets to expose. One secret involves Judge Barnes, the county's most powerful man. Unfortunately, Harkness has a secret of his own: he's in love with the judge's wife. How much is Harkness willing to risk to catch a murderer? Print/Kindle Format(s) Print/Nook Format(s)


  1. Thanks for hosting Michael today. Great interview. The reviews for Harkness have been superb. I hope your readers get a chance to check it out.

  2. It really is an honor to be featured here. OmniMystery News is one of my favorite blogs. Thanks.


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