Charlene Ratcliff: Good Morning Mike! I’m happy to be to feature you, and your book, on my blog today!
Thank you for the opportunity to spend a few minutes with you and answer some questions.
To start out, why don’t you tell us about yourself. As a child, where did you grow up? What was it like? Did you enjoy where you lived? And — what activities did you do for fun?
I grew up in Southern Oregon. Born in Klamath Falls; spent my childhood years in a town called Dairy, OR with a population of 50. There was a gas station/feed store, a small market with a post office, an auto shop-owned by my grandfather and father, and the Dairy Cafe. Grade school was 7 miles away in Bonanza, OR. (I am not making those names up — Google them).
My high school years were spent in Grants Pass, OR — where I fell in love with the Rogue River. Grants Pass and the Rogue River was a fantastic place to grow up. More than a few things to do for someone who loves the outdoors: hiking and fishing, river rafting, cliff diving and more. I did a fair amount of fishing for fun on the Klamath River, Illinois River and Rogue River. I loved camping and hiking on the Rogue River (with my Yellow Lab, Colonel) in particular, at a place called Mule Creek that was a long drive back into the wild rogue wilderness area. Pretty remote with no amenities. Great fun.
In your website bio, you mentioned that you “learned photography as a freshman in high school” – what was it that initially prompted your interest? Any funny ‘just learning photography’ stories to share?
I had a little 110 pocket camera as a kid and took photos wherever we traveled. I was always fascinated with the outdoors and trying to capture it on film. I had a project in Junior High where I made a pinhole camera out of cardboard and was hooked from then on.
When I found out that Klamath Union High School had photography available to freshman I jumped at the opportunity. It was easily one of my favorite classes in high school. One of my favorite things to do didn’t even entail using a camera. The class sliced up vegetables really thin, used leaves, anything organic and placed on photographic paper and then exposed in light to make a lumen print. They looked fantastic and helped me early on understand what light could do when mixing with photo paper.
Can you explain how the transition from a freshman photographer to an Air Force photographer came about? What was your most moving and/or memorable shot you ever recorded while in this particular role?
I wanted to go into the Air Force to get financial help to finish my college degree. I scored high on the Armed Services Aptitude Battery exam and was told by the recruiter I could select any of the Air Force jobs I wanted based on availability for the time frame I wanted to go in. I had a good friend who enlisted a year before and he was nice enough to tell me to enter only with a guaranteed job. I liked cooking and photography and was fortunate enough to lock up a guaranteed photo slot.
231×2 was the Air Force designation at the time, 1987. It was a fantastic 4 years with one of the best jobs an enlisted person could have in the Air Force. And yes I was able to finish my Bachelors degree in Marketing/Management while I was in which was the main goal at the time.
My most memorable jobs while I was in were photographing the 1988 Team Spirit deployment exercise in South Korea which was a joint exercise with U.S. and Korean forces. It was my first duty station near the small South Korean town of Kunsan City – – – Kunsan Air Force Base. I was fresh out of training school at Lowry AFB in Denver, CO and had a photo selected from the exercise for an Air Force national publication.
Another memorable job was being part of the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks – – – S.T.A.R.T. and having to photograph very high level Russian officers examining missile sights in North Dakota and Vandenberg Air Force Bases in the same day.
Starting in North Dakota at Grand Forks Air Force Base, taking a lot of photos and then flying out to Vandenberg Air Force Base in the jump seat of a Air Force Transport plane, taking more photos and then heading back to Grand Forks AFB all in the same day. I was the photographer tasked with taking photos of as many military faces as I could. This is all I can talk about. LOL.
*chuckle* Well, I appreciate your sharing of what you are able to talk about!
Today, you’re a Director of Marketing and Graphics at Auto-Graphics, Inc., a company that makes software for various libraries. How did you wind up there?
I went from the Air Force and within a year of separation started working at Noritsu America Corporation — at that time the world’s largest manufacturer of photographic processing machines as a field service technician. It was a good fit and kept me in the photo field.
Anyhow, after 16 years moving up through various positions I relocated from Northern Virginia to corporate headquarters in Southern California. Another 7 years there and I just felt it was time to change. The photo industry as I grew up with was dying due to the new digital photo age. I didn’t like the direction that Noritsu was trying to go, so I started looking to branch out.
One day I came across a job posting for a small software company in Ontario, California for a Director of Marketing position. I had some volunteer experience with libraries, so I knew a little of the lingo; and the company was looking to bring someone in from outside their industry to try and bring a new perspective. They took a chance on me and I am still here — quickly approaching the 2 year mark.
Talking about libraries makes me think about books, which of course brings me to yours: The Outlaw River Wilde. I chuckled when I read that the idea for your Science Fiction novel was spawned while watching Ancient Aliens on the history channel. And I have to ask, what was the scene and/or character interaction that connected the dots between a History channel show, your love of Native American culture – and writing a book? Did the idea that you had in that specific moment come to fruition the way you initially anticipated?
This is a great question that has me thinking. I have always been fascinated with space and the possibility that there is more out there than just little old Earth.
Growing up in a very conservative and very religious home stifled my open-mind and choked off a lot of my critical thinking skills. After I went into the Air Force and got away from the confines of a passive judgmental family — I really started to explore possibilities.
My ex-wife pursued her master’s degree in writing so I got exposed in ways I had never been before in terms of putting words down on paper in a serious way. As I thought about the possibilities I started dreaming in my head about writing my own novel.
Anyhow fast-forward a number of years, and starved for post X-Files science fiction TV, I came across Ancient Aliens and was hooked. I love the tie in with Southwestern Native American culture that A.A. has brought up on a number of shows over the years.
My adopted brother lives in Prescott, AZ (hold on this is going somewhere), and my son and I took a trip from Northern Virginia in 2003. We visited Sedona, AZ with my brother and sister-in-law where I came across a shop that sold Kachina dolls. I loved them, so I bought one called a Wolf Kachina. This purchase, combined with my fascination of Ancient Aliens, started my thought process about a ‘what if’ scenario having to do with Ancient Alien astronauts, Native Americans, and Kachinas.
A couple of seasons into the show I sat down one day and came up with the main character, Mitch Wilde, who lived in the fictitious town of Outlaw River, OR – – – loosely based on Rogue River, OR. The story was born and two years later I published the novel.
As far as coming to life the way I expected, I have to say that I had no expectation. The writing was fun for me as the characters and story literally developed while I wrote. I had no firm idea of what I wanted; where the characters, or the story would go. I figured if I enjoyed reading it than a few others would as well.
For readers who are not yet familiar with your debut novel – could you provide a short ‘about?’
The main character of the novel, Mitch Wilde, is an outdoor photographer and madly in love with his wife Mabey who is a physical therapist. They live comfortably in the small Pacific Northwest town of Outlaw River. Mitch is clipped, narrowly missed, by a strange arrow while riding his mountain bicycle one day.
Later on the same day, at an annual barbecue, the Wilde’s host, his best friend and next door neighbor, Jack, is shot in the shoulder with an arrow. The arrow dissolves and sends Jack into a convulsive state. His wound heals instantly and he is up and about minutes later and checks out okay to paramedics that have arrived.
The following days there are strange appearances of Native Americans on horseback appearing to Mitch, his wife Mabey, and a few others in town. A sighting of something crashing into lakes, no one is sure what exactly, occurs. Mitch happens to film something coming out of one of the lakes which also appears as if being tracked by Native Americans on horseback.
Mitch has a loner friend, affectionately known as Old-Man Jasper to Outlaw River residents, who is also a big conspiratorialist and happens to have a theory as to what is going on. Mitch and Jasper start spending time together, Mitch is watching his best friend Jack, who starts acting very strange after the arrow incident, carefully and one event leads to another. Mitch and Jack end up at Crater Lake, OR in the novel’s final chapters where an out-of-the-ordinary event impacts them.
You’re currently working on a sequel: Still Wilde in the Outlaw River. Is this book a continuation of The Outlaw River Wilde, featuring the same characters and storyline – or will it branch into previously uncharted territory?
Still Wilde in the Outlaw River picks up where T.O.R.W. ends. I couldn’t get the story finished to my satisfaction in book one, so a second book was the obvious conclusion. Events get ramped up a bit and there are several crises going on with most of the main characters.
There is an introduction of one new main character who will play an integral role moving forward and all the other players are still there.
I am not sure yet if this will end after Still Wilde or if it will need a third book in the series. I am halfway through the first write of Still Wilde and nowhere near done. However, as I write — the story unfolds, so it could get wrapped up in the second half.
This is one of the main reasons I enjoy the process so much. I get to find out what happens as I write.
*smile* As an author who writes in much the same manner, I completely understand that last statement.
Lastly, as we wrap up this interview, I noticed that in your spare time you volunteer at the Westside German Shepard Rescue. Is there anything you’d like to share with people regarding dog ownership, dog adoptions, and/or dog care? Or would you simply prefer to echo Bob Barker’s infamous line: “And remember folks…always spay or neuter your pets.”
I was initially invited along with a friend to join her as she walks and plays with the dogs; getting them out of their cages and noisy environment for a short time. She asked if I would mind taking photos of the dogs that can be used to place on social media in hopes of attracting new adopters who see the dogs, get interested, and ultimately visit Westside and adopt.
I have always loved dogs, and having the opportunity to spend time with my lady-friend, photograph the dogs, and get to know them was, and is, a treat. The dogs are so special and just need an opportunity with people to find their ‘Forever’ homes.
One of the main reasons I find it so rewarding is the dogs ability to shake things off. They can be growling one minute at another dog that walks too close, or spooks them for some reason, and within a matter of steps they shake it off and are happy to be out of their cage and walking with someone who cares enough about them to spend some of their time with them.
These dogs are absolutely horrific and tragic looking animals that come in abused. Westside, and its volunteers, get them nursed back to health, trained, and ready to find new homes. There are so many wonderful stories online both at their website,http://www.sheprescue.org/, and Facebook page,https://www.facebook.com/WGSRescue. It is inspiring to see the recoveries and wonderful stories of these animals that are looking for an opportunity to have a human friend or two, and a chance at a loving life.
I like Barker’s line; hadn’t heard it until now. I suppose my line would be: spay and neuter yes, but if you are looking for a pet, don’t go to a breeder — instead go to your local rescue shelter and adopt a dog that has been abandoned. They are wonderful animals that will be loyal beyond belief if you rescue them and provide them a loving home.
Mike, thank you for sharing as much as you have. This interview has been extremely fun and I certainly enjoyed learning all that I did!
Thanks very much for the fun questions.