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Locally Writ: Mike Murphey’s ‘The Conman’ wins sports book award

Local author Mike Murphey recently won first place in the Sports Category of the American Book Fest’s 2020 International Book Awards for his book “The Conman.”

“Finding a place for your book amid the millions of new titles that are out there is hard,” Murphey said, explaining his collaboration with Acorn Publishing, a hybrid publishing house that attempts to combine the standards of traditional publishing with the independence of self-publishing. “It’s nice to see that kind of recognition, especially not being traditionally published.”

“The Conman” is based on the life and career of former Seattle Mariners pitcher Keith Comstock, a rehabilitation coordinator for the Texas Rangers who also has served as pitching coach for the Spokane Indians.

The story follows Conor Nash, a man who has lived his life dedicated to one goal – pitching in the major leagues. Released from professional baseball contracts 10 times in a 16-year career, he has still managed to overcome every obstacle to finally reach the Show when he’s a decade too old. But, who is Conor Nash if he can’t pitch?

Murphey grew up in Las Cruces, New Mexico, but after graduating from Texas’ McMurry College and setting off in search of newspaper work, the chase brought him to Spokane. He worked for the Chronicle and then The Spokesman-Review for nearly 20 years, finishing his time there as a business writer.

His first newspaper job, at the weekly Las Cruces Bulletin in New Mexico, was in photography. But in that small, local newsroom, photography quickly led to writing, which led to another job at the Las Cruces Sun-News, the local daily paper. Later in his career, Murphey would return to the Las Cruces Sun-News as editor.

“Writing has always been an aspect of my life,” Murphey said.

He enjoyed news work, but fiction writing was a lifelong aspiration.

“I’d always wanted to write a novel; I think most news people do,” he said. “But I could never seem to sustain anything beyond a short story. I thought I just didn’t have the gene, that I just couldn’t do it.”

As he neared 60, with a little more time on his hands, that lingering desire to revisit fiction came back in full force.

He committed to writing, at minimum, 500 words per day – good, bad or mediocre.

“What I got at first was a book that was really bad simply because I did not understand the craft,” Murphey said. “There’s a discipline, a set of rules about fiction … that took me a while.”

He had to learn the hard way that writing processes vary as wildly as the writers themselves.

“There are two schools of thought in fiction: the plotters and the ‘pantsers,’ those that write by the seat of their pants,” he said. “Most people say that’s the way you’ve got to write an outline because you waste time otherwise, but I’m a total pantser. I can’t write an outline; I just can not do it.”

“I think that’s what always stopped me from being able to finish anything before; I thought I had to know the ending before I started,” he said. “But what works for me is developing a set of characters, going along and seeing how they change and where they take me. It’s not the most efficient way to do it, I absolutely know that. But it’s the only way that works for me.”

Attending writers conferences over the years had an immeasurable influence on his development, he explained.

“I like to think that I’ve gotten better, but my process is still sitting down and writing so many words a day. Requiring myself to do that.”

His current project, “We Never Knew Just What It Was: The Story of the Chad Mitchell Trio,” is nonfiction. Along with collaborators Chad Mitchell and Mike Kobluk, Murphey hopes to release the book, accompanied by an original never-before-heard track, next spring.

To aspiring authors, Murphey offers the following advice:

“People talk about writer’s block – I don’t understand that. Sure, some of the stuff you write isn’t going to be good, but you learn to weed that out. You won’t get anywhere sitting and waiting for inspiration to strike you.”

“It’s fine to talk about writing; it’s fine to read about writing, fine to wait for inspiration. But if you want to be a writer, you’ve got to write, and you have to develop some sort of disciplined approach. There’s no secret.”

Upcoming Northwest Passages Book Club events

  • At 7 p.m. Tuesday, Carl Bergstrom and Jevin West, authors of “Calling Bullsht: The Art of Skepticism in a Data-Driven World,” will discuss the book with Shawn Vestal in a Northwest Passages Book Club livestream event. Bergstrom and West will explain how to “call bullsht on lies, treachery, trickery or injustice.” For information, visit the Northwest Passages Book Club website. No ticket necessary.

At 7 p.m. Thursday, The New York Times bestselling author Max Brooks will join a Northwest Passages Book Club livestream to discuss his new horror novel, “Devolution: A Firsthand Account of the Rainier Sasquatch Massacre.” Purchase of the book from Auntie’s Bookstore is required to watch and participate in the event. For information, visit the Northwest Passages Book Club website.

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