INTERVIEW: With Paul Michel | Houdini Pie

Interview with Paul Michel, author of Houdini Pie
Conducted by Sassy Brit

SB: What would you say is the best reason to recommend someone to read Houdini Pie?
PM:  That's a hard question for a writer--of course we want everyone to read our works just like we want everyone to love our kids.  But if I can rely a little on what others have told me I'd say because it's "a book you don't read every day--" a remarkable story that you just couldn't make up, entertaining characters, a "good read," and at some level (hopefully) an oblique nod to our own current economic and social circumstances, which, not unlike the 1930s, create both desperation and extreme responses.  Also, because I said "please."

SB: What served as the primary inspiration for the book?
PM:  I was Googling something; I don't even remember what, and I stumbled on a 1996 article from the LA Times about the historical treasure hunt.  It seemed to me at the time about the zaniest thing I'd ever heard--uniquely American, perhaps uniquely southern-Californian.  I began reading as much as I could find out about it, including on a trip to Los Angeles to peruse newspaper archives.  Soon I was hooked--I knew I needed to write something about it.  A novel gave me the flexibility to stay true to the outlines of the historical tale and let my imagination fill in the rest.

SB: Your mother was raised in a big Irish family, the Cullinans, in (mostly) Cambridge , Ohio in the 1920s and ‘30s. There were eleven children, one of whom died in infancy. Is this where you got the idea to bring Halley's little sister, Sarah, into the story? A very sad part of the book.
PM: I hadn't made that connection consciously, but who knows what motivates a writer in the attics and basements of his imagination?  I did a great deal of period reading, from 1910 through the Depression, to get a sense of the popular imagination.  I wanted a special bond between Hal and Vera, and there was no way to ignore the impact of the Influenza, so...

SB: Do you have a funny tale to tell our AR readers with regard to the research you made for this book?
PM: I don't know if it's funny or simply disturbing, but I did discover early on that any investigation into the mythology of Lizard People was going to rub up against a modern-day fringe cult obsession, sort of like the "Chariots of the Gods" craze of the 1970s, about how the world is ruled by alien lizards who morph into humans and pursue an epic intergalactic struggle between "blues" and "grays"--different lizard types, I guess; it all spins off into a whacko, paranoid anti-Semetic, xenophobic sort of conspiracy muddle, but apparently its inventors have gotten thousands of people to go along with it.  I mentioned to a writer friend how I needed to be careful to steer clear of the whole weird mess, and she remarked casually something like, "oh yeah, the blue and gray lizards, my brother is into that stuff."  So I guess it's not just Internet babble.  So far no one has shown up at my door with a long scaly tail demanding a retraction.  So far.

SB: Ha! So blasé! Of course, we have a couple of those living nextdoor. Lizard people, huh? You never know when they are going to turn up.  
So, did the real mining engineer, G Warren Shufelt actually find the buried gold of the Lizard people with his "subterranean sonar"?
PM: The "real" story according to the Times is that the shaft was closed suddenly by the City due to water intrusion, and that Shufelt disappeared and never was heard from again.  Actually he turned up a few years later trying to peddle his X-Ray machine to the LA Police to use in missing person cases--the Times even ran a story in their Sunday magazine about it.  But I didn't think I needed to "go there."

SB: Are the tunnels closed off to the public by the government or were you able to visit them to research Houdini Pie?
PM:  There are in fact "famous" tunnels here and there in LA that figure in fact and folklore about bootleggers, organized crime, subterranean communities and so on, but they're not related to the Shufelt story.  The neighborhood where the real dig happened is very much changed from what it was in the '30s.  So no, I didn't go underground.

SB: Oh, such a shame! 
Right, what can you tell our readers about crystal radios?
PM: They were a huge fad all during the first half of the 20th century.  They didn't need power to run--the crystals were passive receivers, and once you had one you could make the radio from bits and pieces of household stuff--an oatmeal box, for example, was a popular core for winding a coil.  Even after amplification came in during the '20s, crystal sets were an awful lot cheaper to own.  They stayed popular through and well beyond the Depression--I remember making them in the 1960s.

SB: In addition to being an author, you are also a musician. Can you please explain what instrument(s) you play and the music you like?
PM: Mostly I play fiddle, mandolin and guitar--I grew up playing rock 'n' roll and fold music, and gravitated gradually to all sorts of traditional music, mostly old-time Appalachian fiddle tunes and songs, Piedmont blues, bluegrass, that sort of thing.  I lived in Ireland for a while, playing dance music in County Clare.  For about ten years I performed Croatian and Bosnian music here in Seattle.  These days I play in a bluegrass band, an Irish Ceilidh band and in a string band for square dances. 

SB: WOW! You definitely are musical. 
What are your future writing goals and aspirations?
PM: I'm just now finishing up a "final first draft" for my agent of a novel provisionally called "The GEM of Egypt," about both a mid-19th century murder and 20th century strip mining, both in rural eastern Ohio.  I have plans for another novel to follow, but I'd like to step back into short story writing for a while.  I've got a collection I might try to market, or perhaps set the whole marketing thing aside for a while and just write!

SB: Sounds fun! 
As this interview draws to a close what one question would you have liked me to ask you? Please share your answer.
PM:  Gee, that itself is a good question.  I suppose if I were interviewing the writer of Houdini Pie I might be curious about how the writer did or didn't follow the first-novelist trend of writing essentially autobiographically.  Most debut novels I read seem to me thinly disguised, if disguised at all, stories about their authors.  And my answer would be that perhaps I got that out of my system through years of writing short fiction--there really isn't anything overtly autobiographical at all in the novel, except perhaps on some subconscious, metaphorical level of which I'm completely unaware. 

SB: Fabulous! Great answer. Where can our readers find you?
PM: In the flesh in Seattle, and digitally at, where I blog infrequently.  Also on Facebook, as Paul Michel.  

SB: There are quite a few Paul Michel's so I added your link. 

Any final parting words of encouragement for any aspiring writers?

PM:  Yes:  the story is the boss; you're just the scribe.  Get your ego out of the way and let it be told. 

SB: Fantastic. Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions. It's been an absolute pleasure to meet with you and read your work. Good luck with The Gem of Egypt!
PM:  And thanks to you!

Have you got an Author Interview to Share? Add it here! This Linky will last a whole month - so feel free to come back and add more author interviews.

Direct Links to Giveaways!
JULY 2010 - Please welcome VIVIANE BRENTANOS our Author in the Spotlight!
Giveaways are open to all unless otherwise stated!
  • July 26th (GA ends) - Roxana Shirazi's - *The Last Living Slut* giveaway!
  • Aug 3rd (GA ends) - Ali Atwood's *Celestial Heat* giveaway!
  • Aug 5th (GA ends) - Carol Gambill's *Once Wild* or Serranto's Redemption!
  • Four [4] free eBooks when you join the *AR Yahoo group*!
    *Need help?* Contact me!


    1. Great interview!

      Lol, I do like Däniken, such a funny guy, must read his Lizard men therories

    2. Yes, me too! I'm really curious now. LOL


    Thanks for taking the time to leave a sassy comment. It's truly appreciated. I aim to get back to you as soon as possible -- Sassy :)