Interview with Michelle Black – Part 3

Welcome back as we conclude our talk with Michelle Black, author of An Uncommon Enemy and The Second Glass of Absinthe.

Part 1 of the interview can be read here.

Part 2 of the interview can be read here.


AA: Last time you were telling us about Victoria Woodhull. Her story is so amazing, and I have to say that if Victoria had been covered in my school’s history classes, they would have been far more interesting! Along the lines of Victoria, you were ahead of the curve by at least 10 years when you started using the Rocket ebook in 1998. What did you think of that pioneering device and what reaction did you get from other people? How do you both have evolved since then?

MB: I was a serious early adopter. <laughs> And part of it was because the very first publisher I ever sold a novel to was an electronic publisher. It was called Hard Shell Word Factory and was run by a woman named Mary Wolf. She was a visionary. She saw the digital future of books long before any of her counterparts in New York.

The same year my first novel was published, the Rocket ebook was introduced. I just had to have one. It actually looked and read a lot like the Kindle. The only difference was the battery weight. The Rocket was much heavier, even though it was about the same size as the Kindle. Plus it was expensive. If I recall, it was about $500. This was in the late ‘90s, so that was even more money than it sounds like now. Still, I think it was a great device.

Digital reading is a classic example of an activity that was developed, but waited on another invention to make it effective and ultimately popular. It’s like how building skyscrapers was possible but not practical until they invented a reliable elevator.

Reading books on a computer was possible for years, but just wasn’t an enjoyable experience. Being able to read on a hand held device made all the difference.  And we’ve only begun to scratch the surface of the new possibilities that digital books will create—just the interactivity alone will revolutionize what we think of as a “book.”


AA: You re-published your first book, An Uncommon Enemy, as an ebook – what kind of journey has that been? There was reversion of rights, formatting, republishing, marketing, doing it all yourself.

MB: Yes, I call that my “craft project.” That was lots of fun.  And with an unexpected conclusion. An Uncommon Enemy came out as a hardcover the week of Sep 11th, 2001.  A very sad week. And a really sad week to be on a book tour, I can tell you. Although the book eventually went into a second printing, I never felt it really found its audience.

The years went by and the rights reverted back to me from Macmillan, so that I could do anything I wanted with the book. I got the idea I would digitally re-publish it on Kindle and other formats too. I taught myself how to format the document, through trial and error, but it wasn’t that hard. I would advise anyone to give it a try.  It’s a lot of fun and it costs nothing.

In August, 2010, I published An Uncommon Enemy as a Kindle edition. A few weeks after it came out, a Kindle blogger reviewed it and liked it, and within a couple of hours of that review being posted An Uncommon Enemy started rising on the Amazon rankings— from 124,000th in ranking to 127th.  I couldn’t believe my eyes. By the next morning it was #1 for western novels, across all formats, paper or pixel, and stayed there for several weeks.

I had found overnight success—if by overnight you mean nine years! <Laugh> It  was a lot of fun to think that a project I had started as a lark ended up producing my first bestseller.


AA: Nine years is a pretty long night! With several published books and more on the way, what lessons have you learned along the way about interactions and benefits of an agent and an editor?

MB: You can learn a lot from both. Working with people who have been in the publishing field all their lives, either as agents or editors, (and often those agents have been editors at some point in their careers), have knowledge and insight into the publishing world that is hard to duplicate just from reading books or blogs about it.  Having their advice and counsel is excellent. Finding an agent who sincerely wants to help a writer build a career (as opposed to simply publishing one book) would be the best situation.

I can’t say enough about working with a good editor. One can fine tune your work amazingly.  The gentleman I worked with at Tor Forge was wonderful. He is retired now, but we are still friends and email constantly.

He was formerly the Editor in Chief of a large university press and was definitely old school in his style.  He would go through every single line of every page with his editor’s pen. His work was so thorough he used to joke that he left nothing for the copyeditor to do! (The copyeditor’s job is to spot the typos and inconsistencies in a manuscript after it has been edited for content.)

Once you’ve worked with a really good editor, you learn to self-edit as you write with much more precision.


AA: For self publishing an ebook, what are your words of advice (Kindle and Smashwords charge nothing to publish, Smashwords tools, Write beware, etc)

MB: I frequently speak on this issue at writers’ conferences. In June, I will participate in e-publishing panels at the Historical Novel Society’s Conference in San Diego and at the Western Writers of America Conference in Bismarck, ND.

I have a workshop handout available on my blog: that gives a brief overview of self-publishing options to help authors decide if this is a step they might want to take. The handout contains links to a number of helpful sites on the web.

I have had good experiences dealing directly with Amazon for Kindle publishing and for Print on Demand through their CreateSpace subsidiary. Smashwords is also an option. None of these sites charge any fees for publishing.

The most crucial advice I would offer any author, whether self-publishing or looking for a traditional publisher, is to consult the Writers Beware site offered at This is an excellent watchdog site to warn writers away from  questionable or even downright sleazy business practices among agents, publishers, and some so-called self-publishing companies (that are actually exploitive vanity presses in disguise).


AA: You’ve been on quite the circuit since I last saw you at Steamcon II. You have a blog, there was an article in True West Magazine, you’ve been to more conventions and done other interviews, and I see you in the Twitter #steampunkchat on Friday nights. What else is on your schedule coming up for 2011?

MB: I plan to return to Steamcon III. My husband and I have attended the previous two and had a fantastic time.

I now have two blogs that keep me busy: where I write about a number of issues, usually related to Steampunk or writing in general. My newly launched Absinthe Victoriana ( focuses narrowly on the topic of absinthe—its history and culture. I also have a full color brochure on this topic to hand out at conferences where I am speaking on the subject.

I had great fun writing a feature article on Western Steampunk for True West Magazine this spring. Now I can add the title of “Steampunk journalist” to my resume.


AA: Séance in Sepia is scheduled to be published in hard cover by Five Star Mysteries in October – what teasers can you share with us about this Victorian suspense story?

MB: Séance in Sepia is a mystery novel revolving around a Victorian “spirit photograph.”  Some 19th Century photographers claimed they could photograph the departed during a séance. A woman in the present day buys such a photo at an estate sale. She starts researching it and learns that the three people in the picture were at the center of a notorious murder trial in 1875 Chicago. A young architect was accused of murdering his wife and his best friend in what the local press dubbed “The Free Love Murders.”

The story emerges through trial transcripts, a diary by one of the victims, and the notes of a jailhouse interview that Victoria Woodhull conducted with the accused husband.  Was it a double murder, as the prosecution claims; a double suicide, as the distraught husband fears; or a murder-suicide, and if so, who killed whom?

As Victoria Woodhull probes deeper into the story, she becomes entangled in a web of fraud and deceit that will take much more than a séance to unravel.


AA: Thank you so much for taking the time to share your stories with us, Michelle! Are there any final thoughts you’d like to share with our readers?

MB: Follow your dreams! You can’t imagine where they might take you and you’ll never know unless you try.


Until Séance in Sepia is released, visit Michelle’s website for more news and  information.

Published in: on June 12, 2011 at 8:13 am  Comments (1)  
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  1. Your book sounds absolutely great, Michelle. I’m going over to Barnes & Noble to see if it’s available for my Nook reader. See you in Bismarck at WWA: I look forward to your panel there.

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