Thursday, June 19, 2008

An Interview with Texas Rangers Author Mike Cox

Mike Cox is the author of thirteen nonfiction books including a study of Texas disasters, three books on the Texas Rangers, one collection historical stories, one true crime story, a biography, a memoir and three local histories, as well as numerous magazine articles, essays and introductions for other books. He has been an elected member of the Texas Institute of Letters since 1993.

Mike’s latest work, The Texas Rangers: Wearing the Cinco Peso, 1821-1900, is the first of a two-volume comprehensive history of the Rangers published by Forge in March, 2008 (496 pages, $25.95). The second volume will release in 2009.

Writers in the Sky is pleased to host the following interview with Mike Cox, author of The Texas Rangers: Wearing the Cinco Peso, 1821-1900.

When did you decide you wanted to become an author?
My late grandfather was a freelance writer, my late father and my late mother also were writers. Naturally, I grew up thinking that ever kid aspired to be a writer. And now, I’m proud to say my youngest daughter has shown an interest – and talent – at writing.

Do you have another job besides writing?
I’ve been a writer for more than 40 years, but during most of that time, like most freelancers, I had to have a day job. For nearly 20 years, I wrote for Texas newspapers. Then I was spokesman for the Texas Department of Public Safety, which includes the modern Texas Rangers. I retired from the Texas Department of Transportation, where I was communication manager, in the fall of 2007.

Were you an avid reader as a child?
Absolutely. I still am as an adult. My only complaint is that I don’t seem to have enough time to read everything I’d like.

What type of books did you enjoy reading?
History, biography, science fiction, historical fiction, murder mysteries.

Tell us a bit about your latest book and what inspired you to write such a story.
In a way, I’ve been working toward The Texas Rangers: Wearing the Cinco Peso, 1821-1900 all my life. I grew up hearing stories about some of the old-time rangers from my granddad, L.A. Wilke. Then, as a newspaper reporter, I met a fair number of rangers. Finally, as spokesman for the DPS, I dealt with many rangers over a 15-year period. Most of the rangers would sooner be in a gunfight than do a media interview, so I had good job security.
I had written a children’s history of the rangers in 1990, following up in the late 90s with two collections of nonfiction stories about the rangers. In 1999, I signed the contract to do this book, which I hope will stand for a long time as the definitive history.

From the moment you conceived the idea for the story, to the published book, how long did it take?
Much longer than I anticipated. Fortunately, in Bob Gleason with Forge Books, I had a very patient editor.

Describe your working environment.
I work at home in a book-and-memorabilia-filled office. Probably could use a little Feng Shui work!

Are you a disciplined writer?
Yep, pretty much. I love to fish, hunt and camp, but I try to write at least something every day. I don’t miss many days out of the week.

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?
Rarely. Don’t have the time. And as a newspaperman, I quickly learned to write no matter how I felt because I had to if I wanted to stay employed.

How was your experience in looking for a publisher?
I was already an established author, so it wasn’t too hard. Interestingly enough, I’ve never sold anything through an agent, though I have had several.

What words of advice would you offer those novice authors who are in search of one?
Join a good writer’s group like the Writers’ League of Texas, read books on writing and attend workshops. Oh, and just start writing.

What type of book promotion seems to work best for you?
I’m still trying to figure that out. I have a publicist who has done some good things to get my book noticed and would certainly recommend her.

What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
My dad constantly told me “show, don’t tell” and my mother finally taught me to write in active voice.

Do you have a website/blog where readers may learn more about you and your work?

Do you have another book in the works?
I’m putting the finishing touches on the second volume of the Texas Rangers book.

Would you like to tell readers about your current or future projects?
I haven’t decided yet…well, I am at work on a book about Texas UFO stories. Let me hasten to stress that I don’t believe in little green men – or women, for that matter – but I do believe in good folklore.

Anything else you’d like to say about yourself or your work?
If you read my book on the rangers and like it, spread the word. If you’re interested in a writing career, I highly recommend it and wish you the best of luck.

More about Mike Cox:
Since 2000, Mike has written a syndicated weekly newspaper column called “Texas Tales” on interesting, little-known incidents in Texas history. In 1982, he began writing “Texana,” a Texas book review column for the Austin American-Statesman. He has written travel articles for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and for more than two years wrote a weekly column on legislative and statewide news for the Texas Press Association.

His byline regularly appears in a number of national and statewide magazines, including Texas Highways, Texas Parks and Wildlife Magazine and Texas Sportsman. In addition, he has written articles and monographs for a wide variety of Texas historical associations, museums and non-profit organizations.

Mike is also an accomplished and experienced public speaker, on such topics as the Texas Rangers, free-lance writing, leadership, and media relations.

He retired in the fall of 2007 as Communication Manager for the Texas Department of Transportation, where he handled media and internal relations on highways and other transportation issues.

Prior to that, he spent more than 15 years with the Texas Department of Public Safety as Chief of Media Relations and Public Information Officer. In between, he was Director of Member Services for the Texas Press Association. Earlier, he was an award-winning newspaper reporter for nearly 20 years, most of that time with the Austin American-Statesman.

Mike lives in Austin, Texas with his wife Linda, 14-year old daughter Hallie, one dog (Abby) and one cat (Amy). He and Linda own Saddlebag Books and specialize in selling used and rare Texana and Western Americana.

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