After a career in medicine, Mike Houtz succumbed to the call to hang up his stethoscope and pursue his other passion as a writer of fast-paced thrillers. A rabid fan of authors such as Clancy, Mark Greaney, Vince Flynn, and Brad Thor, Mike loves series writing with strong characters, fast pacing and international locations, all of which explode into action in his debut novel, a 2017 Zebulon Award winner. When not at the keyboard, he can be found on the firing range, traveling for research across the globe, or trying out the latest dry-fly pattern on a Gold Medal trout stream.
He lives at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado.
His latest book is the thriller/international/action novel, Dark Spiral Down.
Q: Welcome! Can you tell us a little bit about your writing background?
Wonderful to join you. Well, it’s a short story! Actually, my earliest memories of writing goes back to grade school. Somewhere in a box in the basement, I have a writeup from an early grade-school teacher asking where I’d come up with such a wild story on a prompt she gave the class. Most of the kids offered a three or four sentence response. Mine was nearly four pages. I dabbled here and there until my mid-twenties. I halted those desires for my medical career. I’ve been purposefully writing, after I took an early retirement, for three or four years now. I’m not ever winning any literary awards, but that same vivid imagination never left me. I’m trying to become the writer my imagination deserves.
Q: What fact about yourself that would really surprise people?
I’m a picture of contrasts. I suppose folks who don’t know me would form an opinion on my personality based on my practicing medicine and writing—cerebral endeavors largely populated by people of culture enjoying wine tastings. I ended my martial arts career undefeated in 5 years of combat competition. I have National titles in wrestling and represented our country in the sport. I’m a slightly polished knuckle dragger.
Q: How do you define success in regards to writing and publishing books?
This is the most important question I’ve seen in all my interviews. Bravo. I tackled this subject on the first day I considered writing as a career. I also pose this very subject to every new writer I interact with. My answer, and everyone should have their own, started as a bucket list item. I wanted to check off that line stating I’d traditionally published a book. One. On day number two, I changed my mind. My current definition is I want to entertain and create emotional responses in readers. Nothing is more satisfying to me than when someone tells me in an excited voice about something in the story that shocked them or created an adrenalin rush for them. That’s my success.
Q: Can you tell us about your new book? What’s it about and why did you write it?
How many pages do I get?
The protagonist, Cole Haufner, is a twenty-six-year old professional mixed martial arts superstar. Considered the best pound-for-pound fighter in the sport’s history he holds a unique attitude with his career—he HATES fighting. Growing up in a Shaolin temple in Southeast China, he carries a serene spirit and calm outward persona. Planning to attend medical school, his plans abruptly change when his newborn son suffers a congenital heart condition and requires extensive medical care. He turns to the one skill that can provide for his son—the employment of his renowned martial arts skill. At the peak of his success in the octagon, tragedy strikes and he’s left alone in the world save for his brother, an American Delta Force operator who goes missing on a mission. Cole follows a clue back to his childhood home and becomes embroiled in a desperate fight between the remnants of his brother’s Delta unit and North Korean commandos hell bent on acquiring a stolen device capable of changing the world or destroying it depending on who manages to escape with this invention.
A few years ago, I retired early from a career in medicine. No surprise, my first writing effort started with a medical thriller. I felt, and still do, the story has a strong premise and has the potential to do well. Somewhere around that same time, I read an appalling account of a child whisked away from his father to South America by his ex-wife. The courts in that part of the world were manipulated by the new boyfriend, an attorney, and the father struggled mightily against unsympathetic ears. From all accounts on subsequent research, I discovered the dad was a good guy with no history of violence, and he’d been a loving father to his son. His journey for the return of his son spanned years. Imagine dropping off your child with a spouse for visitation and never seeing them again. Having two sons around the same age, the account really hit me hard. I imagined someone rescuing the boy and bringing him back to the only home he’d known. I woke up one morning, shoved the medical thriller in a drawer, and let the anger and sympathy pour out into the novel. From that spark, my own personal life mission changed too.
Q: When you are not writing, how do you relax?
With my two sons, I don’t know how to relax. When not writing, I’m shuttling my kids to practices or traveling for their competitions, getting in a workout, or working with my German Shepard, Saber. Sometimes I can sneak in time at the shooting range or hit a Colorado stream for native trout. It’s a fast and furious life, but I’m grateful for all of it.
Q: Please tell us why we should read your book?
If for no other reason, you’re joining a growing group of people providing support to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children network. My mission is to bring light to the horrible crime committed upon children by an adult unlawfully removing them from their home and taking them to a country that does not recognize our laws on child custody. Every book sold supports that effort both financially as well as creating awareness.
Plus, if you’re anything like me, seeing a character employ a really nasty skill set in these horrible situations is very satisfying. When the courts fail, Cole begins his brand of justice.
Q: What kind of advice would you give other authors just getting their feet wet?
First, answer question three. How will you “know” when you’re successful. Everyone will have a different answer. Why are you spending hours, day in and day out, for years, writing? Is it a fun hobby or are you shooting for Bestseller status. Your answer will likely change over time, but you should have an initial idea.
Secondly, any timeline you’re giving yourself just double it. There are so many different factors to publishing out of your control. The industry moves like a glacier. I had one of the fastest turnarounds I’m aware of from the first sentence to book release, and it took nearly three years. If you’re a relatively unknown, prepare for a long haul.
Finally, the difference between published authors and those who don’t reach that mark is those published writers never quit. Take all the “no” responses and collect all the rejections into a nice big ball, because you will get them, and vow to shove it up their rear ends. Never surrender to other people’s failures projected onto you.
About the Book:
COLE HAUFNER is a reluctant superstar in the professional mixed martial arts world. After his latest fight, his wife and child perish in a car crash. His grief deepens when his brother, BUTCH, a Delta Force operator, is absent from the funeral and reported missing by two furtive strangers who show up unannounced at the burial. Despairing, and acting on a tip, Cole travels to his childhood home in southeast China, looking for his brother.
Butch and his teammate, HAMMER, are the sole American survivors of a gun battle between their unit and North Korean commandos, both sides fighting over possession of a stolen suitcase containing a miniaturized fusion device that could either provide unlimited clean energy or be converted to an undetectable bomb seven times more powerful than a nuclear explosion. Leading the North Koreans is the sociopath, Commander PARK. Pressed into helping the Koreans is a disgraced former CIA operative, BARRETT JENNINGS.
Cole meets with the uncle who raised him, MASTER LI, and is warned to stop his search for Butch. Barrett discovers Cole’s identity (with the help of a genius computer hacker, LILLY), which opens a twenty-year-old wound when Barrett was blamed for the disappearance of Cole’s father, along with the man’s invention. Barrett enlists the 14K organized crime syndicate to help capture Cole. Hammer, separated from Butch during the fight for the device, thwarts the gang’s attempt to kidnap Cole, and the two then set off to find Butch and the device. All parties converge on the city library where Butch, now disguised as a monk, is attempting to communicate with the Pentagon. Barrett and Park capture Butch, while the 14K gang nabs Cole.
Danger mounts as Chinese authorities begin investigating foul play within their borders. Cole fights his way free of the gang and reunites with Hammer. Both men find Barrett’s apartment and discover Lilly (the man’s stepdaughter), who divulges Barrett’s identity and plan. Cole clashes with Hammer, who is willing to sacrifice Butch in order to recover the fusion device. Lilly offers her help in exchange for her and Barrett’s rescue from Park’s grip. Meanwhile, Barrett discovers the true nature of the case the North Koreans are pursuing and, sensing he and Lilly are to be assassinated by Park once he has the device, frees Butch. Butch, trusting Barrett was sent to rescue him, leads the turncoat to the site where he hid the device. Barrett, hoping to make a quick fortune selling it, shoots Butch before escaping with the case.
Cole, along with Hammer and Lilly, arrives at the location of Butch and finds him gravely wounded. Butch fingers Barrett for shooting him and for stealing the case. Cole wants only to save his brother but Butch makes him promise to kill Barrett and recover their dad’s invention. The revelation that the device is his father’s scientific discovery propels Cole forward to fulfill his brother’s mission. Cole is forced to abandon Butch at a hospital. Cole pursues Barrett to a remote dock where the ex-CIA man is planning to escape China by boat. With the Chinese military now actively looking for Cole, Cole confronts Barrett and Park sparking a gunfight. Barrett kills Park. As Barrett turns the gun on Cole, Hammer kills Barrett. Cole, Hammer and Lilly escape via the boat, and the fusion device is safely returned.