Mike Hansen, the incredibly nice guy and author of ‘When Life Hands You A Lemon’ agreed to an interview with me recently.
I found this interview extremely interesting, Mike has a lot of talent. (I too love Vonnegut and would have dinner with Abraham Lincoln).
Please tell me about yourself.
Well, where do I start? I was born in 1980 in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. My dad had just quit his habit of burning through three packs of Camel Filters a day and coincidentally developed serious migraine headaches all in the same year that I was born. I was born the day after Christmas, five days to spare in 1980 – I was the reason for the season that year.
Growing up in the suburbs of Chicago in the 80s is a lot like living through the plot lines of The Empire Strikes Back. It was cold, it was dark. It was hot, it was muggy. You start to come into your own and develop. You have some small victories, like the 85 Bears. But you have some major disappointments like the 84 Cubs and every Cubs and Bears team after that. When it was all said and done, you come out of it a man with your typical intergalactic daddy issues.
After surviving the 80s and Reagan, it was off to the glory of the 90s and the awkward teenage years and the discovery of music, muses and writing. In the 90s I went through a lot of self-discovery. I discovered Nirvana when everyone else did. Kurt Cobain was my gateway drug into the world of distortion and feedback. He led me from band to band as I developed my taste for music and the love for the written word and chord. This became my muse as I watched more and more movies. Movies from Wes Anderson, Kevin Smith, Quentin Tarantino, David Lynch, The Coen Brothers, David Fincher or PTA and I watched how they integrated music and I was fascinated.
I started listening to music closer and I would begin to see stories within songs and draw inspiration from the songs. I envisioned the song in a scene and it led me to write more scenes or to plan even more. These songs were writing my stories. I got pretty good at writing stories, so I did what any sensible person would do from a conservative family would do – I enrolled at Purdue University in their creative writing program and also their film studies program and threw in some communications for good measure. I excelled and got through pretty quickly and graduated in four years. My senior year something changed.
I went to Harry’s Chocolate Shop with my friend Erinn – she worked with me. She brought her friend, Laura. Holy fuckballs this woman was beautiful. I had to see her again so I went out again, and again, and again. One day she asked me who I was there to see and I replied, “You.” She pushed my chest and smiled the prettiest smile I had seen. She stole me away and three months later I had asked her if she would marry me.
Twelve years later she still smiles that way. This time it might be because our five-year-old son says a fart joke and then laughs at himself. Or it might be our seven-year-old daughter telling her that she is beautiful. Dammit, I am a lucky man. I have done something right in these 34 years to get here. Generation Xers are typically cynical – I’m cynical. That may be more of a product of the cold 80s. I hope whatever generation my kids are is less cynical. I know they help me be less.
What do you like to read?
I typically read anything that is realistic, if that makes sense. If it can happen and it is a decent read, then I’ll be into it. I tend to stay away from genre fiction because of that. I haven’t gotten into the post-apocalyptic/dystopian craze or the zombie craze because of that. For some reason my head just gets taken out when things like that are going on.
Now, with that said, Kurt Vonnegut is my favorite author. I know what you are thinking. How can he be your favorite author if you don’t like books about dystopian societies or space travel or aliens and shit? Well, he is. His books aren’t about those things so, I think it works. His books are usually about the human condition or politics or existentialism which are books I really prefer.
I can also get down with some philosophy books. Give me some Nietzsche, Thoreau, Camus or Chomsky and I’ll be good for a few days. I think books should always tell us something about ourselves when we are done reading them. It doesn’t have to be a life shattering revelation, but like the character, we should see a little change by the end of the book.
What are you reading right now and what do you think you will read next?
Right now I am reading Further Out Than I Thought by Michaela Carter. As for next what I will do is go to Barnes and Noble and buy a Vonnegut book and play “book cover roulette.” What I do is walk up and down the aisles with no pre-conceived notions and if a cover jumps at me, I will grab it and read the back for the summary. If I like that, I will read the first few pages to see if I’ll buy it. I love doing this to discover new authors. That is how I ended up with Michaela’s book. I am loving it so far.
Why do you like to write?
Writing is very therapeutic for me. My mind is so active and I love the study of the English language. I love how you can take a few words and put them together to make a few sentences and those few sentences can make a few paragraphs and those paragraphs can become a story. How a story can become crafted in a way that evokes an emotional response is fascinating to me. And that is something that drives me to become better at it and to find new ways to craft stories.
Tell us about where you live now.
Right now I live in Carmel, Indiana. It’s a suburb of Indianapolis. You can obviously deduce that I gravitate towards suburban culture. I like closeness of people and availability of anything I want without having to make plans to get it. Spontaneity is essential to my preferred sedentary lifestyle.
If you could invite any person, alive today or from history, to a dinner party who would you invite and why?
It’s definitely hard to pick just one here. I would definitely like to have a good conversation and some cocktails with Lincoln. I would like the raw story about how his policies weighed on him personally. I would also be interested in speaking with him about his personal life.
What advice can you give to people trying to achieve their dreams?
Remember why you had the dream. You may get derailed or life may happen and your dream may take longer than you anticipated, but if you remember why you had the dream in the first place, you will always work towards it and ultimately achieve it. I believe fully in giving a work/life balance, so I was okay not always being completely focused. You need to know yourself and what you are willing to sacrifice for happiness, love and your dreams. But, if you remember why you had that dream when you were a kid, teenager or whenever – it will all be worth it when the reward ultimately comes in the end.
Can you tell us about your book, When Life hands you a lemon?
When Life Hands You a Lemon was sort of a mistake. I typically write about 20-something cynics who fall in love and have to change in a certain way through this process and hopefully during these changes, I let my readers fall in love with them at the same time. WLHYAL is the complete opposite of that. We have Dan Lemon who is a mid-40s man who is sort of having this mid-life crisis. When he was just a teenager his mom was taken away from him in an unfortunate car accident. His mom was his only friend at the time and she was a religious woman. From that day, Dan turned his back on God and lost his faith.
Back in the present day, Dan was running through his routine when he saw a car accident outside of his retail sales job. There was a death in the accident and his mind starts racing. It’s just one of those days he thinks as he and his coworkers go to lunch. His 20-year younger colleague Jonathon, begins his day of grilling by asking him about his love life and we get to see Dan on the hot seat for the first time.
After a bit of banter and reflection Dan returns to work and when he looks up from his computer he does a double-take when he sees three armed robbers taking over his store. His head can’t fathom what is happening and he is more confused when he comes to in a car with a blind-fold on. He had been taken hostage by the three armed robbers.
Norm is the leader of the group and Matt and Paul are his cronies. While these three are definitely flawed men, who represent a certain depth of evil, they do have their redeeming qualities. Norm essentially introduces himself to Dan by letting Dan know that Norm will kill him by day’s end. The book begs the question, if you had one day to change your life, what would you do?
During his hours in captivity, Norm talks non-stop on a plethora of topics from Orson Welles, to penis size, to what happens to you when you die. These are the central moments to the book – these nagging questions from Norm and how Dan answers them, or how he relates to them in a flashback. By the time we are coming to the end of the book I think we see a clear change within Dan, maybe even Norm as well. Dan literally stares his fears in the face when he is with Norm.
Can you tell us anything about what you are working on now and your inspiration for this?
Absolutely. I’m in the middle of a manuscript that I’ve named Mourning Skye. I actually originally had the idea probably in 2002 or 2003. The original idea would be about a couple that bonds over a woman that died in the 9/11 attacks. I still like that idea, but I took it a different direction and I think it will be a good read for you guys. This one definitely goes back to my roots. I kept the idea of bonding over a woman that died, but I dropped the 9/11 aspect of it. Burke dated Skye for a time and Angeline was Skye’s half-sister. Burke has a degree in psychology, but rather work as a bartender as he feels he gets more honest reactions from people. Angeline has just finished her undergrad in criminal justice and will be going to law school.
The two casually meet after Skye’s funeral and have a very inebriated encounter. The two hit it off, but things become complicated when Angeline is late. The two have to decide what is best for each of their future. Do they have the baby or terminate the pregnancy and cut ties.
Can you give us a quote from your favorite book?
“Fucking was how babies were made.” – Breakfast of Champions, Kurt Vonnegut
“New knowledge is the most valuable commodity on earth. The more truth we have to work with, the richer we become.” – Breakfast of Champions, Kurt Vonnegut