Interview with mystery author Mike Nemeth

Author Mike Nemeth is here today and we’re
chatting about his new crime thriller, The
Undiscovered Country.
Mike Nemeth was born and raised in Appleton, Wisconsin
and is a die-hard Badger and Packer fan. A Vietnam-era Army veteran, he raised
a daughter as a single parent while pursuing a career in high technology that
took him from Atlanta to Texas, Colorado, Tennessee, and Florida before
returning to Atlanta. He holds a private pilot’s license, once coached a state
champion AAU basketball team, and is a golfer and motor-boating enthusiast.
In addition to his two novels, Mike has published two
nonfiction works about sports: 128
Billion to 1
, why no one can predict the outcome of the NCAA Basketball
Tournament; and Lies, Damned Lies
and Statistics
, why the selection committee always chooses the wrong teams
to play the college football National Championship. He also wrote “The
Missing Ingredient,” an article published in The New York Times that
explained why college football rankings are always wrong.
Welcome, Mike. Please tell us about your
current release.
The Undiscovered Country is a southern family (dysfunctional)
drama overlaid on a thriller/mystery plot with the mystery plot delivered
upside down (or backward). There is a murder, but the characters (and readers)
don’t know it happened until it is solved in the climax. Mystery writers
compete with one another for ingenious methods of murder and in this case the
“weapon” is unique in literature.
What happens in
the story: Three siblings gather at the bedside of their critically ill mother.
The eldest, Randle, is the protagonist, and he’s relentless in uncovering the
secrets surrounding his mother, his own identity, and his broader family. He
unravels layers of mystery concerning his mother’s medical care, her estate, a
wealthy man who claims to be his birth father, and plots to embezzle the
wealthy man’s estate. These secrets lead to the biggest secret about the
What it’s
about: The indignity of aging and dying, the need for a sense of identity, and
what it means to be a southerner.
What inspired you to write this book?
My mother
experienced a medical emergency similar to that of Randle’s mother. It was an
agonizing experience that fortunately ended well. The situation provoked many
heartbreaking, anger-inducing, and confusing episodes of behavior from various
family members. It struck me that we do not do end-of-life well.
Excerpt from The Undiscovered Country:
As Shelby wiped a drop of water from Mom’s chin and I read the Wikipedia
entry, an army of medical practitioners crowded into the room. Metzger, the
cardiologist, led the invasion followed by Ms. Schmidt, who peeled off and
leaned against the wall next to the door. Kaplan, looking sheepish, entered
with a tall, bespectacled doctor I assumed to be Nieman, the ophthalmologist.
Trailing behind was a fortyish doctor with patchy black hair. That had to be
Rosenberg, the neurologist. At the last moment, Harrison, the immunologist,
ducked in the door, completing the team.
Ms. Schmidt crossed her arms and adopted a haughty expression like that
teacher you hated in fourth grade. Metzger spoke for the group, which was
uniformly tense. “We don’t think you understand your mother’s prognosis, Mr.
Marks. We’re all here to answer your questions, but I’ll summarize for you: The
heart attack damaged her heart, and it’s barely pumping. She has a faulty
mitral valve that will undoubtedly trigger another attack, and she won’t
survive it. She’s blind, and that’s a very scary situation for her. She’s had
several stokes, and they were likely connected to the heart attack.”
I glanced at Rosenberg and he cocked his head as though to say,
Metzger resumed his summation. “The fluid that had built up in her legs
has now found its way to her lungs. If that isn’t reversed, we won’t have to
wait for another A-fib episode—the pneumonia will end her life. And we’ve just
discovered she has a strep infection that could be fatal.”
I glanced at Harrison. He shrugged.
Metzger was going to continue, but I cut him off. “I know she’s sick,
“She’s very, very sick, Mr. Marks, and we can’t operate. The best thing
would be to move her to a hospice where she can be cared for, a place where the
family can make her last days comfortable.”
Metzger was fortunate I wasn’t holding a weapon. He saw my fury and held
up a hand. “Sign the DNR, Mr. Marks. Save yourself the agony of life support
and decisions about pulling the plug.” He gestured to Ms. Schmidt, who nodded.
She had obviously organized this lynch party.
I waited for my body to return to a normal temperature. The group
probably thought I was considering Metzger’s recommendation. I was not. As the
tallest person in the room, I had a perch from which to deliver my response.
“That is a living, breathing, thinking, and feeling human being,” I
said, pointing to my mother. “Assuming God has a plan, we’re all tools for His
purposes. Your role as skilled tools is to heal that human being until His will
overrides your skill. It’s not your prerogative to make decisions for Him, and
it’s sure as hell not my job either.”
I heard intakes of breath and shuffling. Ms. Schmidt’s face contorted
into an angry mask. “Let me remind you,” I continued, “that you all took the
Hippocratic Oath and spoke aloud the words, ‘Above all, I must not play at
God.’ I looked it up.”
Now the doctors gave one another embarrassed looks. I had them on the
run. “I also looked up B streptococcus in the Wiki.” I waved my cell phone at
them. “I learned that most people contract it in hospitals. Since my mother’s
case wasn’t discovered until she had been here for thirty hours, I’d guess she
contracted the infection right here in your hospital.”
Harrison turned scarlet. The other doctors avoided eye contact.
“If she dies of the infection, you can expect a lawsuit.”
Ms. Schmidt’s mouth formed a large “O.” Metzger inched toward me,
invading my space. “See here, Marks, there’s no need to threaten us. We’re all
trying to do what’s best.”
“Good. Then let’s get back to work.” I turned directly to Kaplan, the
hospitalist. “If we can clear up the peripheral problems—infections and
blindness—my mother can gain strength so Dr. Metzger can fix her heart. I am
not going to let her die for lack of attention and neither are you.”
Metzger shook his head. “Believe me, Marks, there’s nothing I can do.”
He muscled his way through the crowd toward the door. Before exiting, he said,
“The rest of you can do what you want.”
What exciting story are you working on
Randle, my
enduring protagonist, takes a job in the high tech industry and faces the
replacement of middle class American workers by outsourcing, automation,
artificial intelligence and robotics. That circumstance serves as backdrop to
Randle’s continuing search for identity while his past continues to haunt and
torment him. (“In the south, the past is never past.”)
When did you first consider yourself a
I think a
writer is born a writer. It’s not a vocation one chooses; it’s an inbred compulsion
to express thoughts and feelings. This was confirmed relatively late in my life
with the publication of my first novel, Defiled.
Do you write full-time? If so, what’s
your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find
time to write?
I do write
every day, starting at 7:00am and continuing until I have a minimum of 1000
words or reach my target of 1500 words. However, once a writer is published,
s/he becomes a small business person in the business of selling books and suddenly
promotional work competes with writing time.
What would you say is your interesting
writing quirk?
I focus best
amid chaos. Some of my best work has been produced on airplanes, at beaches, in
hotel rooms and waiting rooms. As a substitute I plug in my headphones and
listen to, and sing along with, rock-n-roll. My wife offered to ship me to a
remote mountain cabin to concentrate, but I’m not sure that would work for me.
It might be nice for her, though.
As a child, what did you want to be when
you grew up?
A lawyer.
Still do. My father thought I should be a politician since I lied so glibly and
convincingly as a child. Now I lie on paper.
Anything additional you want to share
with the readers?
I love
interacting with readers and I’m thick-skinned, so I welcome all comments and
Thanks for joining me today, Mike.

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