Old Ways and New Days
Tonight our guest is Michael Embry from Frankfort, Kentucky, the author of 11 books -- three nonfiction sports, seven novels and one short-story collection. His novels are multi-genre, from contemporary mainstream to murder mystery to young adult. His latest novel -- Old Ways and New Days -- is a coming-of-old-age story about the transitioning from the workplace to retirement. We have conducted an interview with him.
What is "Old Ways and New Days" about?
"Old Ways and New Days" is about a journalist who has retired from a newspaper after nearly 40 years in the news business. At first he wonders what he'll do with his free time but that changes quickly as he learns that there's a whole new world out there to discover. There were many things going on that he wasn't aware of as he spent most of his life in a newsroom, reporting the news, but not out there experiencing life to the fullest. His was more vicarious experiences. He gets reacquainted with his neighborhood and really gets to know some of his neighbors -- a few who are despicable. He reconnects with some retired co-workers at a local restaurant and they share stories about the trials and tribulations of growing older. He volunteers to start a Neighborhood Watch program as homes are being targeted by criminals, including his own. That turns almost into a unwanted fulltime job. He spends more time with his wife, who has been retired for several years after working as a teacher. She helps him along with the transition from the workplace to retiree and proves to be an anchor in his life. He also rescues a dog, who becomes a loyal companion. As much as anything, the novel is about self-discovery in that the journalist learns that growing older means another phase in one's life, with its own set of challenges, pitfalls, and rewards.
Who is the most colorful characters with feats of physical strength and mental tenacity who inspired you the most in this novel?
While the protagonist, John Ross, has to deal with various and sundry predicaments throughout the novel, two other characters were interesting as well. One is Curtis McKenzie, a big man of six-foot-four in his 70s who is easygoing most of the time but won't back down to anyone. He takes on a man half his age and sends him sprawling to the floor. The man is about to retaliate until he sees that Curtis is in tip-top physical condition, much younger than his age would indicate. Another is Bert Reliford, a nosy neighbor who is all talk and little action. But through the course of the novel, Bert becomes an unlikely ally to John in dealing with crime in the neighborhood.
With more than 30 years as a reporter, sportswriter and editor, what kind of sporting events are the most memorable for you?
I covered a lot of events through the years including five NCAA championships, two football bowl games and probably 20 or so Kentucky Derbies, the Breeders' Cup as well as numerous state high school championships in football, baseball and basketball. I suppose the two University of Kentucky basketball championships are the most memorable especially since the program was coming off probation.
Did you write down your experiences in your stories most of the time?
It depended on how I was covering the event. If it was a straight news and sports story, I tried to be as objective as I could be and report both sides. Yes, my observations would enter the story but I would not be part of the story. In other words, I was recording what I was told and saw rather than injecting myself into the event. If I were writing a column, which I did at the magazine, then it would reflect my personal experiences since the reader was wanting my opinion on a particular event. You wear different hats, so to speak, when covering an event as reporter and as a columnist. I will add that many of the things I covered have probably influenced my novels in that I was able to observe how people react in various situations.
What are your personal feelings about triumph and defeat?
I believe we all want to succeed -- or triumph -- in what we do in life, be it sports, work, recreational pursuits, or dealings with others. But triumph isn't always getting the upper hand. It can also mean learning from our experiences and building upon them. And defeat can mean much the same in that we can gain from out setbacks. Life is filled with triumphs and defeats. The main thing is not to get too carried away with triumphs to where you lose your sense of humility and become arrogant. We shouldn't be dragged down by defeats because in the end they can make you stronger, if you learn from them. And triumph and defeat can simply be a temporary state of mind. You have to move on to the next challenge.
How do you successfully harness the potential of sportsmanship and bring stories to life through your writings?
In my young adult novel, "Shooting Star," the protagonist must deal with unsportsmanlike behavior from his teammates on a high school basketball team. He tries to overcome their mean-spirited ways by setting an example of being sportsmanslike in how he relates to them and others. I've been a volunteer coach, teacher, and studied different behaviors while doing graduate work in special education, and know that encouragement and positive reinforcement can help people become more sportsmanslike. It's also important to create an environment where sportsmanship is expected and unsportsmanlike behavior is frowned upon. Sportsmanship is addressed in all my novels in that it is the practice of showing respect toward others.Blog: www.michaelembry.blogspot.com