Finding Out What Makes M. L. Buchman Tick: An Interview

USA Today and Amazon #1 Bestseller M. L. “Matt” Buchman has 70+ action-adventure thriller and military romance novels, 100 short stories, and lotsa audiobooks. PW says: “Tom Clancy fans open to a strong female lead will clamor for more.” Booklist declared: “3X Top 10 of the Year.” A project manager with a geophysics degree, he’s designed and built houses, flown and jumped out of planes, solo-sailed a 50’ sailboat, and bicycled solo around the world…and he quilts. More at: www.mlbuchman.com.

Please briefly describe White Top—can you give us a synopsis?

White Top is book #8 in my Miranda Chase geopolitical technothriller series. (It may be read completely stand-alone or in a series.) The whole series is based on the genius air-crash investigator, Miranda Chase, who also has autism. She and her team end up in the most complex of geopolitical crises while investigating crashes and White Top is no exception.

The real-world “White Tops” are the helicopters used by the Marines to transport the President (“Marine One” when he’s aboard), the Vice President (“Marine Two”), and other select VVIPs. But when a conspiracy targets the Vice President’s flight, all suspects are on the table, and Miranda and her team must solve it before they become the target themselves.

Miranda Chase is a unique protagonist. What went into creating her?

As with each of my worlds and series, they start from a single character. I wanted to write a character who would challenge me, yet could walk in the world I wanted to write. I’m fascinated by geopolitics and the technical side of aircraft. I wanted a heroine who was not complete in herself. She would need a team of outcasts and outsiders, pulling together for a common cause.

My kid studied autism in school and has since become a specialist in working with 2-6 year old children in an effort to shift them from mid-functioning to high-functioning individuals. I placed Miranda firmly on the spectrum of ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder), and began to study. Even though my kid had been bringing knowledge into the house for over a decade, it required over a year of research before I was comfortable writing Miranda and bringing her to life.

What sparked the idea to place air crashes at the center of the series?

My dream as a kid was to become an airline pilot. I was through my private license and well into my instrument rating before it was discovered that I was partially color blind. Not too much to fly, but probably too much to make a career of flying the big jets. So, I hung up my license. But my geeky fascination with aircraft never went away. A good friend’s father was a crash investigator for the NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) and, whenever he visited, we’d talk for hours about his job. That fascination as a pilot with a mechanical bent has never gone away.

Would you recommend that new readers start with White Top, or go back and read Drone and the rest of the series first?

With any series, Book #1 is the best place to start. That said, every Miranda Chase adventure (every one of the seventy-odd books I’ve written so far) can be read stand-alone. The characters will evolve and grow to fulfill the series arc of the story, but their actions, changes, etc. are complete within the arc of each novel.

How has your background influenced your writing? To what extent does your own life influence your writing?

I once heard Norman Mailer say that a character must be at least 5% of the author to come to life. I think his number is low, I’d place it 15-25%. Not that I’m on the spectrum like Miranda, a former Australian special ops soldier like her assistant Holly, or a former con-man like Michael. (I am quite a bit like her young assistant Jeremy though, always a little too excited by ideas and machines.) However, there are aspects of them that are definitely in me or my experience. By exploring the logical extrapolation of those (or sometimes the illogical), I can find a depth to the character that hopefully engages the reader.

Can you take us through the process of writing a book? What do you do first?

I’ll do anywhere from 1-2 years of noodling around an idea. I’ll start reading books and articles on a topic (maybe without even realizing that’s what or why I’m doing so). Then I start with a character name and a sentence. Hopefully it is a sentence that gives some idea about the character, and puts them in trouble. I often don’t know any more than that. I’m a discovery writer. Sometimes I know what’s in the next chapter, but more often I don’t know what’s in the next sentence. I’ve tried many methods from outlines to whiteboards, but mostly I sit down with the character and start writing to see who they are.

What is the most challenging part of writing a book?

Finding the time. Now that I’m a full-time writer, my fans expect me to produce books on a regular schedule. But there are a thousand distractions: research, marketing (like this), education (like the talk I gave 2 nights ago), self-education (conferences and networking), business operations, websites, even fan mail. I barely do social media. I’m sure that I’ve missed many fantastic marketing opportunities. By far the hardest thing to do is to close the door and write.

You’ve written over 70 novels, from thrillers, to romance, to science fiction. Is there anything that you think unites your work?

Absolutely. My voice. Seriously, our voice is our author brand. First and foremost that’s what makes a fan a superfan who will read everything I’ve ever written. But what’s behind that voice, other than my experiences? My beliefs. My writing motto is simple: Adventures that champion the human spirit. Even in my thrillers, filled with agendas, machinations, and even betrayals, I uphold that idea that a good person with good intentions has the ability to triumph. We need that in this world and it is true of every story I’ve ever written.

What other books and authors have inspired you?

The most recent one. Honestly. I love whatever I’ve just finished. Part of my personal policy is to make every book I write somehow better than the one I wrote before. Favorite characters? I have two main one that I can’t seem to stop writing about: Miranda Chase and Emily Beale from the Night Stalkers series (she launched the 42-book military romantic suspense universe with The Night Is Mine). But there are other characters that I got right and I’m very pleased with for one reason or another.

At the moment I’m deep into Miranda Chase #10, Lightning, and I’m having a fantastic time. It already feels as if my writing has taken another leap forward. I’m sure it too will become my favorite (once I’m done wrestling it onto the page).

Discover M.L. Buchman’s books here