Thursday, November 29, 2012

King Biscuit

Today's special guest is Michael Loyd Gray. He was born in Jonesboro, Arkansas, but grew up in Champaign, Illinois. He earned a MFA in English from Western Michigan University and has taught at colleges and universities in upstate New York, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Texas. He graduated from the University of Illinois with a Journalism degree and was a newspaper staff writer in Arizona and Illinois for ten years, conducting the last interview with novelist Erskine Caldwell.

He is the winner of the 2005 Alligator Juniper Fiction Prize and the 2005 The Writers Place Award for Fiction. Gray’s novel Well Deserved won the 2008 Sol Books Prose Series Prize. His novel Not Famous Anymore was awarded a grant by the Elizabeth George Foundation and was released by Three Towers Press, an imprint of HenschelHaus in 2011. His novel December's Children was a finalist for the 2006 Sol Books Prose Series Prize and was released in 2012 by Tempest Books as the young adult novel King Biscuit.  He has written a sequel to Well Deserved called The Last Stop, and another two novels called Blue Sparta and Fast Eddie.  Recently he finished a novel entitled The Salt Meadows. A lifelong Chicago Bears and Rolling Stones fan, he lives in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and teaches as full-time online English faculty for South University, where he is one of the founding editors of the student literary journal Asynchronous and sponsor of an online readings series featuring fiction and poetry.


How did you select the 1960's as the time frame for your book?
In many ways the 1960s are my favorite decade. I was a teenager then and I embraced the music and the changing times with great enthusiasm. I grew up on The Beatles and Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix, and many other great artists. That music is still played loudly in my house. And so I guess I always wanted to set a story in those times. It was great fun to create and maneuver characters in that setting. They were turbulent times and so a great setting in which to have conflicts play out.
What type of research did you do to make the backdrop authentic, or did you use poetic license?
Well, Argus, Illinois, is my own creation. I created Argus so that I didn’t have to worry about staying true to what was in a real town. If I wanted a town square I could have a town square, for example. A story set in a fictional town is certainly easier to manipulate than one in a real town—it was for me, anyway. As for authenticity, certainly I always keep a setting true to the time it inhabits. Argus in the late 60s conforms to the required cultural history of the Midwest.
How did you arrive at the lessons Mitch learns along his travels?
As you develop a character you learn more and more about that person—and that’s how you must view a character, as a real person. You are creating that person sufficiently for readers to believe they could have existed. And so as you get acquainted with this evolving person in your story, you discover along the way how they would react to things, the choices they would make. The choices Billy Ray Fleener makes in King Biscuit, for example, and the lessons learned from them came to me as I understood the character/person better. The same for Elliott Adrian in Not Famous Anymore and for all my characters.
What would you like the reader to take from this book when they've finished reading--or even along the way?
With any of my novels I hope that readers see and accept the characters as people who could exist and who face conflicts and make decisions that help readers better understand who the characters are. I’m certainly very interested in what goes on inside my characters, their psychology, so to speak – how they change and grow. Or even how they fail to change and grow if that’s the case.
What are you working on next?
I just finished novels almost back to back. The Salt Meadows takes place partly against a backdrop of the Haitian Revolution in 1985. And The Canary is about the last days of Amelia Earhart. I’m taking a few months away from writing. I have several ideas I could pursue, but I prefer to rest my head and body before getting into a new book. Writing a novel takes a toll—you live with the people and places in the book every day until it’s done.

It’s 1966. The Beatles have taken over the airways, Star Trek is in its first season on NBC, and 389,000 American troops are stationed in Vietnam.

A war is going on Argus, Illinois as well, between sixteen-year-old Billy Ray Fleener and his father.  While his father dreams of Billy Ray joining the family business,  Billy Ray dreams of moving to California, becoming a surfer, and getting into Margie Heinrich’s pants—not necessarily in that order. Instead, he gets a summer laying pipe and the dubious distinction of town hero after saving Purdy Boy, the mayor’s wife’s dachshund.

When his beloved uncle and role model Mitch is killed in combat, Billy Ray feels like he must leave Argus or be stuck there forever. With little more than the clothes on his back, he hops a bus for Helena, Arkansas to visit Mitch’s grave.  Along the way he meets up with a cast of characters as varied and polarized as America itself, from a marine captain home on leave to a band of hippies bound for Graceland. Each teaches him something about love, loyalty, and the true meaning of freedom, but what Billy Ray really learns is that everyone has the power to define who they are. He may have left Argus a boy, but he returns a man.


As a restless boy who sensed manhood was not so far off, Billy Ray had a plan of sorts for easing into it: he fancied going out to California to become a professional surfer. He’d get a cool name, like MoonDoggy (he knew that one was taken by somebody in the movies), or Sharkman. His current favorite was Tubular Boy and he imagined would wear baggies and surfer shirts, listen to the Beach Boys, and wax his board a lot in the company of surfer girls in bikinis. He bought Surfer magazine at the Walgreen’s in downtown Argus and already knew some of the surfer lingo. His favorite surfer expression was “Cowabunga.”

But the plan had one fundamental flaw: Billy Ray had no money and no car, and he was still in high school in east central Illinois. The closest thing to surf: waves of corn that shimmied and rattled when there was a breeze. California was more a state of mind, a concept or philosophy, than a reality to Billy Ray, who had nonetheless scrutinized it pretty well in an atlas at the school library.


Michael will be awarding a $25.00 Amazon Gift Card to a randomly drawn commenter during the tour.

Follow the tour and comment; the more you comment, the better your chances of winning. The tour dates can be found here: 

Contact Michael at:




Author’s page on Amazon



Order the book: