Published, EAC Communiqué, Summer 1999
-ichael Hale is known to many as a published author and a member of the community who is dedicated to promoting the arts. He will be a featured reader in the Elora Writers Festival sponsored by the EAC. (Sunday, July 4,’99, 1:00-4:00 PM at the Gorge Cinema in Elora.) Most people would think that this is a remarkable accomplishment, one on which to rest his laurels, but Michael thinks of his creative life as an open-ended journey. With “A Fold in the Tent of the Sky” as one of his signposts, this begs the obvious questions: where did Michael begin, what stops did he make along the way and where is he going from here?
Michael Hale was born in Liverpool, and moved to Montreal at the age of seven. He settled in Aurora, Ontario where he spent his later school years. He enjoyed art, painting and comics. In spite of describing himself as “slow to read,” it was during his teenage years that he discovered science fiction — and then books of all kinds. American novelist John Updike became one of his favourite authors, and has become a major influence; Updike’s attention to detail became a benchmark to which he aspires. In high school, Michael played guitar in a rock band; he came to revere, among other great guitarists, Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton.
A guidance class test suggested that he pursue his aptitude for writing. This prompted him to study English at the University of Toronto. But music, art and verbal abilities all ranked high among his talents; so from there, he eventually went to The New School of Art and spent three years studying painting, drawing and sculpture in a hands-on apprenticeship program. It was his intention to be a full-time painter and he was successful in several group shows. His painting, like his writing, is filled with intricate detail that appeals to people on many levels. Summer employment at a Toronto publishing company gave him the flexibility to work in the warehouse part time (moving books!) and still paint three days a week. Before long, he was involved in typeset-ting and graphic design, textbook illustration and writing copy for ads. It was only a matter of time before he formed his own graphic design business, M. J. Hale Graphics. In this age of pre-computer art, many of his clients were publishers.
When asked to explain the connection between music, art and writing, Michael believes that nature doesn’t discriminate amongst the arts. “It all comes out of the same impulse to express yourself.” He has always kept a journal – a hardbound notebook of ideas. It was the follow-through of some of these ideas that led to his first novel. It was short-listed for the 1984 Seal Books First Novel Contest (under the title “Wakings”). Through a friend who had just started a literary agency, he sold this techno-thriller, about computers and reincarnation, to Avon Books in New York. It was published as “The Other Child” in 1986.
His second novel (1992) remains unpublished. It has a non-traditional plot that is difficult to pigeonhole. Recognizing that an artist needs someone to open doors, Michael speaks highly of his current agent. Like a coach-athlete relationship, “an agent must steer you in the right direction without controlling you.” A good agent must possess a good sense of the market and the competition. It is important to be able to “take criticism and act upon it,” says Michael. His third book, “A Fold in the Tent of the Sky” (William Morrow, 1998) is a suspense thriller with elements of the supernatural.
The common thread running through his fiction is speculation. He uses the concept of “what if?” to extrapolate to the next level of possibility. It is the job of a good author to create believable, loveable characters who “make you hang on for the ride”. Michael believes that the characters dictate the outcome. “If I knew how every chapter turns out, I wouldn’t be interested. To Michael writing is like “daydreaming with a goal in mind”. A good author creates a “fictive dream” for the reader, purging the writing of anything that gets in the way of that dream state.
Michael has spent much of the last five years on the road, accompanying his wife, singer Esther Farrell, as she performed in Minneapolis, Vancouver, Los Angeles, Denver, St. Louis, and Germany. He has found travelling a stimulating experience, but loves to return to Elora. “It is a good, quiet, and peaceful environment for working.” While he believes that he could work any-where, Michael prefers to have absolute quiet (he often wears headphones or earplugs) —and that fine balance between lots of coffee and a good night’s sleep.
When asked if he has any advice for young authors, Michael says, “Just do it (write) as often as you can, every day, if possible.” He knows it is a luxury to be in a receptive position; one must discipline oneself to put creativity ahead of dealing with urgent matters such as phone calls. He reads indiscriminately, being open rather than selective. “Interesting characters and plots can come out of anything,” he says. “You never know what’s going to trigger a connection to something meaningful in your work.” Michael’s fourth book has a psychic detective as one of the characters. He sees his writing career as a stop on the expressive pathway to other creative ventures. As well as working on his current book, Michael is collaborating with English composer Clement Ishmael on an opera. This is not the first time he has had his words set to music, and Michael is very enthusiastic about the project. What does the future hold for this creative mind? Perhaps a screenplay. Given that he once wanted to be a great guitar player, it would not be surprising to see Michael Hale’s creativity come full circle and embrace the performing arts.
by Patricia Reimer, Summer 1999
UPDATE – 2005
Along with pursuing various writing projects, in recent years Michael has enjoyed sharing what he has learned about the craft of writing. Every summer since 2001 he has taught week-long courses at Centauri Creative Writing and Fine Arts Retreat, in Bethany, Ontario. (“The Plot’s the Thing” in 2001; “Genre-Specific Fiction: Writing for Millions to Read” and “Writing Longer Fiction” in 2002; ‘Writing out of this World: The Art of Science Fiction’ in 2003; and “Writer’s Block and Other Excuses” in 2004.)
Michael has also revived his passion for the guitar and has been performing electric blues with various combinations of musicians in and around Toronto. And the circle keeps turning: his latest novel is about Nazi Germany and the early blues of the Mississippi Delta.