In Part One of Our Conversation with author Michael Phelps, we learned about why this man was the only man that could write about his friend the TV Icon, the original Fugitive, David Janssen. Today we learn more from Mike about that friendship and about Mike Walsh, the other Mike in Mike’s life. Let’s get into Part Two of . . .
Author of David Janssen-Our Conversations Books 1 and 2
RW: Mike, you spent four years working on David Janssen-My Fugitive with Ellie Janssen, her biography of David, what happened next?
MIKE: Based on the success of the book, I took early retirement from the law firm and chose to embark on the challenging career of being an Author. I promised I would NEVER co-author a book again, especially with an ex-wife of a friend, who happened to be a celebrity.
RW: You then created the Mike Walsh Detective Novels. How was that writing experience compared to the memoir experience with Ellie Janssen and those four years?
MIKE: BOY . . . what a difference! I chose to write about something I know well; police procedurals, detective novels and court cases based on actual crimes.
RW: How did Mike Walsh come to be?
MIKE: My debut novel, THE EXECUTION OF JUSTICE, in which I created the “Mike Walsh Detective Novels” series is based on the murder of a close friend and one-time mentor of mine; Detective Sergeant Jack R. Ohrberg of the Indianapolis Police Department.
After I left Indianapolis, Jack went on from uniform patrol officer to become a Burglary Detective, then Auto-Theft and finally to the elite Robbery & Homicide Unit. He was murdered on 11 December 1980 at 5:05 AM as he kicked in the door of a duplex where a vicious gang of armed robbery and murder suspects were hiding. I inserted myself as his rookie partner, Mike Walsh, and related cases ‘we’ worked on leading up to his murder. It took me almost thirteen years to write. I went to Indianapolis and researched his murder through talks with officers we knew, police and court files and local newspaper archives.
RW: Then there was the next one, also based on a true story?
MIKE: THE JOCKEY’S JUSTICE is based on a case I worked as Chief Investigator for a prominent Miami law firm. A highly respected horse racing jockey was brutally murdered on the last day of the racing season at a Kentucky race course. Eight years later, his widow and son-in-law, living in the Miami area, were arrested and charged with the crime. They hired our law firm. My assistant and I were dispatched to Kentucky to investigate the very cold case. I take my readers on a harrowing, rollercoaster ride into the sleazy underbelly of the fast and colorful ‘Sport of Kings’.
RW: Two fiction books after a memoir. I know you said you wanted to write fiction but how did you become a writer of fiction?
MIKE: I have always been a fan of detective novels. The murder of my friend, Jack Ohrberg is what inspired me to write HIS story. I decided to create the series and write novels based on the two, high profile murder cases I worked on for the law firm.
RW: You ran into a situation that I am certain many authors do when basing a book on a true story, would you tell us about that?
MIKE: In THE EXECUTION OF JUSTICE, I thought I had changed all the names, but after its release, Sergeant Bob Givans, who had been the SWAT Commander that tragic morning called me.
One of Jack’s daughters had sent him the book and he noted I had not changed HIS name. He promised not to sue me, said my depiction of the chaotic scene was “right on point”. One of Jack’s daughters sent me a nice e-mail, thanking me for the way I portrayed her father.
RW: Your writing style is very polished and easy to read. You were in the military, then the police, then an investigator. I am wondering where the writing background came from.
MIKE: I don’t usually blush, but you sure sparked a good one. I have written police reports, and while working with the law firm, I was charged with writing investigation reports and even legal motions, which my boss (the Attorney) would then review. I became very proficient with the legal motions, he seldom made a change. In working with Ellie, the book was edited and over one hundred pages were cut. Some reviews said it was “poorly written”. That did not give me any spurt of self-confidence. In my debut novel, The Execution of Justice, I had a lot of repetitions of how the protagonist dressed each day, what he and his wife had for breakfast and dinner, his two German Shepherds, but what I was attempting to do was show readers the PERSONAL side of a dedicated police officer’s life, that the men and women who serve and protect their communities are just ordinary people. I don’t think I’ll be writing any more memoirs. My next “Mike Walsh Detective Novel” is based on a double homicide case I worked
on for the law firm. It occurred in Miami Beach in 1993. The State was seeking the death penalty. Two trials, they did not get the death penalty.
RW: When can we expect this next Mike Walsh novel to come out?
MIKE: As soon as the marketing obligations of Dave’s books ease up some, I will start writing “INSANE JUSTICE“. I literally lived and breathed that case for over two years, so it will be very easy and fast to write. I hope to have it ready for release by the summer of 2015.
RW: Let’s switch gears a little. You write, but there is another step to the book process – the editing. I know you have a great editor behind you. Tell us a little about Norma Budden and how the two of you became associated.
MIKE: NORMA BUDDEN is an extraordinary Author in her own right. I first learned of her work by purchasing, reading and posting a Review of “COMING UNGLUED: A Mother’s Journey Into Hell“. This book dealt with domestic violence. I ended up buying a second Paperback copy for a lady friend I knew was the victim of domestic violence. She read it, then read parts to her abuser, who then read the book himself. The abuse stopped, almost instantly. He stopped drinking and they are like high school sweethearts again. I related the story in e-mails to Norma. I then read her other books; romance novels with some suspense interwoven. We became friends. I mentioned Dave’s books and that I was looking for a new Editor. She said she was an Editor as well. We struck a deal, and I could not be happier. Not only is she an Editor, she also completely re-designed my personal website and converted my manuscript for uploading to Amazon Kindle. We have become close friends over the past three years. She resides in Canada, but will be visiting me in Miami in April, 2015. You can see all of her books on Amazon. Her “FREEDOM IN LOVE” series has three books so far, and I highly recommend them.
RW: How much editing went into David Janssen-Our Conversations?
MIKE: VERY LITTLE. The only restriction I placed on Norma Budden, as my Editor was that NOT a single word of any conversation could be deleted, altered or changed in any way.
RW: That’s understandable. The conversations are what you know. So I get that. Speaking of those memories, was it difficult to go through those after all these years?
MIKE: Yes and no. Yes, in recalling conversations where Dave was going through mental hell during the protracted divorce proceedings with Ellie, and later the volatile relationship with his second wife. And then NO, during our conversations where he was excited at a new film role, a new Made-for-Television Movie, a new series. I can still hear his voice and see him just as if he were still alive. He was an extraordinary guy and he lived his life to the fullest, unfortunately for everyone who knew him personally, and his millions of devoted fans, his personal habits of
smoking and drinking may have contributed to cutting his life way too short.
RW: I think this is a good place for you to explain to our readers about your fascination with German Shepherds and why I probably am bringing that up.
MIKE: As a boy growing up, we had a Cocker Spaniel. When I enlisted in the Air Force and went through Military Police training, I became fascinated at how big, strong, super-smart and obedient our German Shepherds are. I have had one ever since, sometimes two at a time, male and female. Shortly after I relocated to New York City, I travelled to New Jersey and bought a German Shepherd puppy from a breeder. I named him Baron der Hunter. Dave came to New York and we had dinner at a restaurant close to my apartment. I assume you mention this because I invited Dave to my apartment to meet “The Bear” as I sometimes called Baron. He loved Baron and Baron loved him. Dave gave him a bite of his (prime rib) treat, and actually got down on the floor, with his very expensive suit on and played with Baron for close to an hour. It was hilarious to watch. Dave loved dogs, but Ellie was allergic to dogs and cats and aside from that with his schedule, he just couldn’t have one.
RW: What’s your writing environment like, your writing space? I was speaking to a young lady recently and she was on her couch writing on her laptop with her office only steps away. I somehow don’t see you hunched over on the couch with a cushion as a desk.
MIKE: I have a home office, approximately 12 X 12. I have a two large cherry wood book (Barrister) cases with glass doors, full of books I’ve read. I have my desk with hutch where I have police memorabilia and Eagles figurines and more books, with my HP TouchSmart All-In-One desktop computer. On the other side of the room I have another desk with another desktop computer, a cherry red lateral file drawer with an HP Officejet 8600 Pro printer-fax-scanner-copier. I have a small TV which is usually turned to Fox News channel, but I am usually too concentrated on work I don’t pay attention. I am up with my first cup of coffee at four o’clock each morning, check and respond to e-mails and then WRITE. I take the dogs to the park for their morning run at daybreak, an hour later I am back home, shower, shave, more coffee, orange juice and back on the computer. I usually finish work by about eight o’clock, sometimes later at night and in bed by midnight.
RW: You get almost less sleep than I do it seems. You appear to be a healthy man. What do you do to stay healthy?
MIKE: I actually am in great health, for a man turning 72 next September. I was diagnosed with Bladder Cancer just over a year ago and have been receiving treatment at the Veterans Medical Center of Miami. I have had three aortic aneurysms requiring surgery, and just learned I have a new one in my right femoral artery, where I had a femoral-to-femoral bypass surgery in November of 2010. So, I have an upcoming surgery . . . but I wanted to do this Interview first. Aside from that, I stopped smoking a couple of years ago and seldom imbibe in my favorite J & B Scotch. I think I am in good shape, and feel like I’m still in my forties.
RW: When are we going to see a memoir of a TV Icon’s “Shoulder to cry on” come out?
MIKE: You make me laugh, Ron. I never looked at our friendship as me being the one to have a shoulder for Dave to “cry on”. I always looked at our friendship as just two guys who became friends and could talk to each other about anything. I never boasted to anyone that; “Hey see ‘The Fugitive’ . . . that’s David Janssen . . . he’s a good friend of mine.”
When he began the “HARRY O” series, my then girlfriend and I would watch it at my apartment, sometimes we would host a few of our friends, but even they were not impressed that I had a TV-Movie Star as a friend. We would all critique the episodes and have a lot of fun doing it. Of course I would tell Dave all about it later.
RW: You mentioned when you heard about David Janssen’s passing and the thoughts that ran through your mind. Has it crossed your mind or have you given any thought to writing a Mike Walsh Detective Novels story based on anything like the loss of a beloved acting icon, tastefully as I think you would obviously handle it? More as a way to relieve your mind of all those thoughts as oppose to simply a creative process.
MIKE: To be honest, no. However, you have given me a great idea. When I first heard the news, I was totally shocked, in total disbelief. I had spoken with Dave just five days before he died. He called me to let me know he had just passed a very thorough physical examination for a large insurance policy required by the studio producing “Father Damien”, and they were to start filming two days later on Malibu Beach. He and Dani were again separated, and the location for the start of the film was only a few short miles from his home on Malibu Beach. He sounded extremely happy, anxious to start the film and I can say he was completely sober in our last conversation. HOW could he die of a massive heart attack just five days later? When Ellie and I went to Los Angeles to interview people close to them, we spoke with David’s mother, his housekeeper/cook Beatrice, Actor Stuart Whitman (his next door neighbor) a Paramedic Lieutenant, one of the first on the scene. A lot of SUSPICION of HOW he died was raised. A lot of unproven rumors centered around his second wife. Over the years I have come to accept he died of a massive heart attack. Rumors were widely circulated that “high levels of drugs (morphine and cocaine) and alcohol” were found in David’s body at autopsy. Ellie and I went to the L. A. Medical Examiner’s Office and viewed the Microfilm of his autopsy. NO DRUGS of any kind, and just a trace of alcohol.
I KNEW David was adamantly against illicit drugs and would NEVER engage in such, even for recreation. He had said to me many times, he had seen people in the “business” ruin their careers, even lose their lives accidently by overdosing on drugs. Dave always made sure he was in control of his faculties, even when he was close to being drunk. There were rumors he had three-way sex with a Playboy Bunny and a married woman the night before his death. All such rumors are preposterous. He had just finished a fourteen+ hours day filming. He came home, showered and made himself one drink. Beatrice was going to prepare his dinner, when Dani appeared, unexpected and uninvited and dismissed Beatrice for the day, telling her that SHE was making a “special” dinner for the two of them. Was Dani there in an attempt to reconcile? I’ll never know, but is it possible? I would have to say yes. A storyline for a Mike Walsh Detective novel? I’ll give that some thought. (LOL)
RW: One final thing, I have always asked authors to describe their book in one word. Instead I want to ask you to describe David Janssen in one word. Why the man and not the book, because I think that will also describe David Janssen-Our Conversations. And you can explain why if you like.
MIKE: EXTRAORDINARY! Why do I choose that word, you may ask? Because David Janssen was an extraordinary, multi-talented man; an extraordinary actor, a Poet, a Song writer, a Comedian, an animal lover, a man who helped complete strangers (especially single mothers in distress and he did so anonymously). He was truly a kind, sensitive, compassionate man who, aside from his celebrity status, was a really ‘down-to-earth’, ordinary guy.
Extraordinary describes my new friend Mike. I call him friend because that’s how he makes one feel after speaking with him just once or twice. I know why David Janssen called Michael Phelps at 1:15 that early morning back in 1965. If you don’t know by now, then read parts one and two of this interview again, my fellow book fiends. I always say to follow an author everywhere you can, and buy all their books. That’s a given. I think you want to after reading these two days of interviews. Something you don’t know about Mike? He’s an Indie Author’s friend. He roams the blogs and comments. He reads books and leaves reviews. He supports the Indie Authors. I didn’t ask him about that. I already knew. You see, he may have been an Investigator, but I was a Historian who still loves to do research.
Click any image to go and purchase one of Mike’s books. I’m in the middle of Conversations now and I hate that I had to break away to even post this interview, sorry Mike, but the book is just that good. And if you want an editor, go get Norma now. I tell you, Mike’s writing combined with Norma’s editing and you’ve got an excellent book. These are two books I will be reading again and again. I’m just like that. I can’t wait to get my eyes on Mike’s fiction work as well. Those are actually next on my to read list.
You can connect with Mike on Twitter
Acquire his books either on his Author site here or at Amazon here.
Much Respect to Mike, a new Friend,
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