By day, he’s your “Star Wars” loving English professor, but by night, he is “The Spider in the Laurel” author, Michael Pogach.
The dystopian thriller follows a bookish, action hero named professor Rafael “Rafe” Ward. In the future, religion has been outlawed and people are required to have military training. Ward gets caught up with the hardcore heroine MacKenzie and finds himself caught up in his own share of trouble.
After four years of writing, “The Spider in the Laurel” was published in 2015.
“I think I was working on it in my head for a long time,” Pogach said. “I’ve heard people say the first book you write, you’ve been writing your whole life.”
The novel has received positive reviews for its pacing, motion and overall Indiana Jones-inspired story line.
“There’s been interesting criticisms as well, which I make notes of,” he said. “If I ever get to do a second edition, I will change a few things here and there. I probably wouldn’t rework the whole book. It is what it is. I’m going to evolve as an author from that.”
Pogach is currently writing the sequel to “The Spider in the Laurel” and plans for it to come out at the end of the year.
The sequel will take place two years after the first book. The main characters, Rafe and MacKenzie, have gone their separate ways. After Rafe becomes the most hunted person in the country, he settles into a homeless community in the Southwest.
“He’s done some things in the end of ‘The Spider in the Laurel’ that aren’t sitting well with him. Plus, his own personal history, that he has trouble resolving,” Pogach said. “He’s perfectly happy to disappear.”
He explained that Rafe gets recognized accidentally by a young girl named Sam, who is about to graduate high school and go into her own mandatory military service.
“All of a sudden, she’s in danger because of it and he can’t let himself have any more blood on his hands,” he said. “Basically, he gets pulled right back in. Now he’s back on the grid and back on the radar, so that draws MacKenzie back in. He ends up pulled back into her revolution.”
Unlike the third person point of view of the first novel, the sequel will break up into the three main characters’ perspectives.
“Everybody knows the standard love triangle. Like Luke, Han, and Leia. I’ve flipped it, so you have Sam, MacKenzie, and Rafe. But, it’s not a love triangle. He looks at her more as a daughter than anything else,” Pogach said.
“He’s about 15 years older than her, but you have that dynamic of ownership. So, when MacKenzie wants for Rafe for this, but Sam wants Rafe for this – and it’s not a secret, Rafe is infatuated with MacKenzie, but he has to protect Sam – He’s completely torn.”
Pogach said he struggled to write 18-year-old Sam at first, but once he focused on the aspect of age over gender, he found inspiration for a new character in a separate novel. On top of the next book in “The Spider of the Laurel” series, he is also currently working on a contemporary thriller.
In terms of tone, pacing and tension, the side project is a cross between “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and “The Girl on the Train”.
The story features a 21-year-old named Byron who works in a garage as a mechanic. Although her University of Pennsylvania professor father wants her to grow up pursuing a similar future, Byron enjoys welding sculptures with metal that she finds.
“It’s just her and her dad. They don’t get along very well,” Pogach said. “She discovers that her mother who died in child birth, didn’t die in childbirth. Dad’s been keeping mom a secret and [she] is tucked away in a mental hospital for her whole life. When she discovers that, it leads to a series of other discoveries.”
Pogach mentioned that all of his characters have a piece of himself in them. He recalled being a mechanic in his past until 2001 when he went back to school and how after 9/11, everything in the world was thrown into chaos.
“Byron grows up the flip of that. Her dad is a literary scholar and wants her to follow in his footsteps. She wants to be a mechanic and welder. He basically disowns her for it. In some ways, it’s inspired by my own path, but it’s a flip of it. She’s a strong character and person. Probably more than anybody else I’ve written. It takes a little while to come out but you see glimpses of it here and there.”
When asked if he was always interested in writing, he said, “My mom likes to say I’ve written stories as long as I could write and everyone in them always died. Yeah. On and off, there were a lot of years that I always had a notebook with me. Always writing and sketching out ideas and characters.”
After attending grad school, Pogach met the head of his program, Dr. Richard Wertime, whose name inspired his first novel’s main character’s name, professor Rafael Ward’s. Although, he started as a short story writer, he found his path to novelist.
“He pushed me hard to try writing. Not sit down with a notebook, smoke a cigarette, and drink a coffee at a coffee shop and look like a writer – actually learn how stories work and try it.”
Now Pogach has a creative writing class on campus, one successful novel under his belt, two coming out in the next year and plans for more novels in the future.
“I think I discovered my structure an author for novels,” he said. “Basically, write the first draft over the school year, revise during the summer and get it out by October of the following year. I have a couple other projects percolating on the back burner in my head.”
Pogach’s Words of Wisdom for Aspiring Authors: (Use as side panel)
Revise, reread, revise again:
“I would work short stories to death. Literally, to where I wanted to kill them. When I hated them so much because I had been working on them so long that I couldn’t look at it – That’s when I knew when it was done. The cool thing about a novel is, by the time I go back to the beginning to revise it, it’s been ten months to a year or two and it’s new to me again. That’s when I can revise it 3-5 times in a 6-month period until it’s ready for the professionals to see.”
“Read everything you can get your hands on. Finish the manuscript. You can look up as many memes or advice columns as you want, they’re all going to say the same thing. Read a ton and finish the manuscript. The vast majority of people who start writing a novel never finish the thing. If you finish it, there you are. Then, the next step, and this is harder than finishing the novel, is revise it until it’s good. Your first draft is not good. It’s just not. Period. End of discussion.”
“Read poetry, read short stories, read novels, read everything. A lot of people say don’t watch movies – I disagree. I say watch movies too. Watch your favorite television show. Don’t just binge watch it. Watch an episode that really hits you in the feels to see the structure of how it works and make notes on those things. Every angle, every facet you can find. Make notes on it and figure out how to take ownership on that to make it your own. Then, you’re on to something.”
Get a writer’s group:
“People that will tell you, ‘This part sucks.’ If they won’t say that, they’re no good for you. If all you ever hear is good feedback, they’re no good for you. You’re not that good. Nobody’s drafts are that good until someone else critiques them. Nobody. When you find a good writers group that works for you, hold on to it. Whatever you have to do. I’ve been with mine for ten years. I could not do what I do without them. Not even a little bit.”