The Story Behind Harkness by Michael Bigham

Harkness cover

Inspiration for stories can spring from several sources: a character, a “what if” starting point or perhaps a compelling plot. My novel, Harkness: A High Desert Mystery, arose from the setting. I grew up on the Oregon high desert in a small timber and ranching town called Prineville, which sits almost exactly in the center of the state. I fought range fires for the Bureau of Land Management during my college summers and came to love the high desert; a stark, beautiful land ranging from the pine forests of the Ochoco Mountains to bleak sagebrush hills and sandy flatlands below. Mixed in are fertile valleys, volcanic outcroppings and tremendous vistas. I knew that my first novel had to be set there.

My career is in police work, so the mystery genre was a natural for me. Next came the main character, Matt Harkness. Harkness was backcountry sheriff, a veteran; a flawed man who strove to do the right thing despite his shortcomings. Much of his back-story came from my father: a poor Irish kid who ended up on his own at the age of 12, adrift, trying to find a safe harbor.

I envy writers that plot extensively before they write, creating detailed plot outlines and writing scenes on note cards so they can shuffle them around and find just the right arrangement. Alas, that just isn’t me. I had a character and a setting. Now what? I snagged the idea of a teen-age Romeo and Juliet couple and postulated that they would disappear. Harkness would have to find them. Of course, someone maybe more would end up murdered. When I started, I had a vague idea of the ending but that was it. I might have plotted out a couple scenes ahead in my mind before I put them to paper, but getting from beginning to end was an adventure.

When I finished with the novel, I tried the traditional route of pitching agents and editors, but the sad fact is that the traditional publishing model is falling apart. Publishing houses are hemorrhaging money and are unwilling to take risks. With the advent of e-readers and publishing on demand, (POD) the publishing paradigm has turned upside down.  Why should a writer give away 90% of their profits? At one time, the answer may have been the publicity that a publishing house could give a writer, but the sad fact is that today, a mid-list writer with a big house can’t expect any promotional help from them. They just don’t have the available funds to expend unless a book’s success is guaranteed.

Self-publishing is almost too easy. One of my gripes about self-published novels is the obvious lack of editing that many authors have done. If you’re going to put your name on a book, you need to make sure that the copy is spotless – not filled with typos, misspellings and grammar errors. When I finished my manuscript, I shipped it off to a professional editor. Although she said my copy was cleaner than most, she found tons of errors. Two proofreaders found many more. Pay for a professional editor. It’s worth it.

I also paid for a professional to produce my book cover and someone else to convert my manuscript into proper e-reader and POD formatting. There are programs around that will do that for you, but the results are haphazard. It’s your book, make sure it’s done right.

Michael Bigham photo

My big regret is that I didn’t plan out a publicity campaign before publishing my book. As an author you need to create a buzz about your book before its launch. Now

I can’t complain about the total process, though. It’s been hard work, but the satisfaction of seeing my book on Amazon, of having people tell be how much they enjoyed my work has made it all worth while.I’m playing catch up, learning about press releases, public readings, book reviews and virtual blog tours. I’m getting there, but it would have been better if I’d done the promotion before publication.

My thanks goes to The Story Behind the Book for the opportunity to appear on their blog. It’s a great honor.  Harkness: A High Desert Mystery is available both in paperback and for e-readers at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Also, check out my blog at

Raised in the mill town of Prineville in Central Oregon beneath blue skies and rimrocks, Michael Bigham attended the University of Oregon and during his collegiate summers, fought range fires on the Oregon high desert for the Bureau of Land Management. He worked as a police officer with the Port of Portland and after leaving police work, obtained an MFA degree in Creative Writing from Vermont College. Michael lives in Portland, Oregon with his wife and daughter. Harkness is his first novel.

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