Thursday, December 1, 2011

Debut Author Spotlight ... Michael Berrier

by Michael Berrier

My dreams at first had nothing to do with writing books. I wanted to be a secret agent making the world safe for democracy. Or a cowboy intent on living a quiet life on the range, roped into a struggle against outlaws or greedy ranchers. Or a downed fighter pilot in enemy territory.

You get the picture. Like a lot of other kids, I was a daydreamer. A junior Walter Mitty, for you film buffs. If other kids wanted to be outside running around tackling one another, maybe I’d join them, but while I did I was imagining what might happen between tackles.

By the time I got to college, I’d written up a few of my daydreams. At USC I met my first real live author (T.C. Boyle), and after working with him for a few semesters I was pretty sure I knew what I wanted my life’s work to be. And for me, the path would be easy. It would go like this: I would write a novel, send it off to universal acclaim as a work of poetic genius, and then I would settle into a quiet life of luxury, fame, and the rewarding toil of the world of letters—in that order.

As you can see, the junior Walter Mitty lived on.

What actually happened was, I finished my first novel before graduating from college (check), and sent it off (check), and nothing came of it (no check!). Since I needed a check from someone, I interviewed for a bank job called “technical writer” and was hired to write policies, procedures, and official memoranda. As enthralling as that work was, the career path was going to peter out quickly, so I entered the bank’s management training program and emerged eighteen months later as a banker ready to take my spot in the great machine of American capitalism. Also working that machine in Beverly Hills was my dream girl, and a few years later I married her, so life was good.

I didn’t start writing again until the recession of the early ’90s, when Citibank decided I wasn’t needed by their Private Bank anymore. I had some time before my money ran out so I wrote another novel. I’d read a lot of them since college, so surely this one would do the trick. I checked the boxes of finishing the manuscript and sending it off, but again, nothing came of it (no check!). Since our family now included a newborn who was probably going to need braces if his screaming mouth ever sprouted teeth, I interviewed for another banking job and set aside writing again. When my son was old enough to like stories, I wrote a few for him and his friends and got good reviews from the honest little listeners, so the old dream of being a novelist came on again.

I began working on a series of novels for kids and attended my first Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference in the early 2000s. There I learned that getting published involved more than sitting at your desk picking the right verbs. You had to actually talk to people. You had to find out about the market. You had to know who published what, how editors wanted to be approached if you could approach them at all, and what they were looking for in a writer. And it didn’t hurt if you weren’t completely wrapped up in yourself and your own fame and fortune.

Imagine my surprise.

Over the years attending the annual conference at Mount Hermon I moved on from children’s stories into novels for grown-ups—suspense. I made friends at the conferences, cheered them on and was more delighted by their success than I ever imagined I could be. I also paid close attention to the teachers and did everything I could to grow as a writer. James Scott Bell was on faculty, and Randy Ingermanson, Angela Hunt, and Brandilyn Collins. Rounding out the faculty were editors representing publishing houses that might consider putting my words into print. To get to these editors at the conference you didn’t have to go through a gatekeeper and your manuscript didn’t have to rise to the top of a slush pile. You could sit at a table and break bread with them, look them in the eye if you dared, and sometimes… most of the time… they would come right out and—get this—ask you about your writing. And they expected an answer!

But it wasn’t a conversation at a table in the dining hall at Mount Hermon where I got together with Tyndale House. Here’s what happened. A good friend I met at Mount Hermon is author Shawn Grady. Shawn and Kathryn Cushman and I had been sharing drafts of our work for a few years, and when Shawn read the first chapters of my Cash Burn manuscript he got the wild idea of sending it to his agent without telling me. He didn’t even tell me afterward until he heard from her that she was interested in reading more. Then he fessed up to what he’d done and asked if I wanted to be introduced to Janet Grant.

From Mount Hermon I had a sense for Janet’s reputation. I couldn’t answer Shawn’s e-mail fast enough with a yes. The only problem was, I hadn’t finished the Cash Burn manuscript. I sent Janet as much as I had, and she responded that she liked what she read but needed to see the complete manuscript before she could sign me as a client.

It took me a few months to check the box of completing and polishing the manuscript. Janet liked the way I ended the story, and soon I was the newest client of the Books & Such Literary Agency.

Another surprise e-mail came out of the blue this year. Janet informed me that Tyndale House was looking for new authors to publish electronically, and the editor at Tyndale, Jan Stob, wanted to launch Cash Burn as an e-book. This would bypass the typical delays of print runs and accelerate the launch process. Cash Burn could be released in only about 90 days with the endorsement of a venerable publisher, versus a launch date more like eighteen months out for a book released through the typical paper & ink process.

So suddenly, thirty years after completion of my first novel, I had a contract.

I’ll wrap this up with something I heard Ted Dekker say at the first writers’ conference I attended. It kept me going many times. I hope it strikes a chord with someone who has the calling to write, and inspires them to keep writing:

“Writers don’t fail, they quit.”

by Michael Berrier
Tyndale House, June 2011

Billions of dollars flow through Jason Dunn’s banking office each year. When he suffers a series of career setbacks and his marriage begins to crumble, he and his attractive new assistant devise a plan to disappear with a slice of the bank’s cash flow. The unwelcome appearance of his brother on the scene, just released from prison, threatens to sidetrack Jason’s plans. But Jason’s brother “Flip” has his own problems with a parole officer who isn’t fooled by this dangerous parolee. In the race to the jackpot between Jason and Flip, and the unwinding of their troubled history, the question soon becomes, Who will get burned?

Michael Berrier is a novelist and businessman with a special interest in ethical capitalism. To learn more about him, visit his website and blog here.


  1. awesome story Mike. As someone who has known you in your "other" life as a banker, it's cool to hear how your writing career has blossomed over the years. Loved Cash Burn and hope to read more of your work in the future.

  2. Michael - thank you for sharing your journey here today. I love that you never gave up--it's an inspiration for all of us who are working toward that publication contract.

    I pray God will bless this new journey.


  3. So thrilled with how things turned out, Michael!

  4. What Mike didn't mention is that I was pretty upset to find out, after reading the opening chapters of Cash Burn, that the rest of the book didn't exist yet. I wanted to read more NOW!!! I'm so pleased to be a part of your writing journey, Mike.

  5. Mike, you are hands down one of the best writers I've read. Here's to seeing more of your work published!