Faculty Spotlight: Michael David Lukas

By Cameron Lund, MCWC Social Media Manager

With our summer 2017 conference right around the corner, and fully booked except for a few spots in poetry, we thought we’d share the insights of one of our amazing faculty members: Michael David Lukas. Michael has been a Fulbright Scholar in Turkey, a night-shift proofreader in Tel Aviv, and a fellow at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference in Vermont—and, as you can see above, an NEA fellow. Translated into more than a dozen languages, his first novel, The Oracle of Stamboul, was a finalist for the California Book Award, the NCIBA Book of the Year Award, and the Harold U. Ribalow Prize. His second novel, The Forty-Third Name of God, is forthcoming from Random House. A graduate of Brown University and the University of Maryland, he is a recipient of many scholarships and has taught creative writing to MFA students, undergrads, working adults, and middle schoolers.

Returning to teach at MCWC for the second time, Michael is thrilled to be back in the heart of our community. 

You’re teaching an afternoon workshop on good beginnings. As this is the beginning of our interview, we’ll start here! Do you have any quick advice on how to first grab your reader’s attention? 
Surprise them. Entice them. Lull them into complacency then throw ice water in their faces.

You’re also teaching a morning workshop on novel writing. What do you love about writing novels? Has long-form fiction always been your main focus, or do you write other forms?
I love novel writing because it’s such an immersive process, because it’s narrow and broad at the same time, because you get to create a world then live in it for three to ten years. What other pursuit affords us that kind of depth and escape?

In the past, I tried my hand at short stories and I’ve written the occasional personal essay. But for the most part, I’m a novel writer. That’s the medium I dream in.

Your novel, The Oracle of Stamboul, is historical fiction. What draws you to this genre? How did you go about your research?
I like writing about the past because it feels like another world. It gives me the space to stretch out and let my imagination run. When researching The Oracle of Stamboul, I did a lot of background reading about the social, political, and cultural history of the Ottoman Empire, but when it came time to write, I relied mostly on my imagination, my memories of Turkey, and an antique map of Istanbul.

Have you always been a writer? When did you first start writing? When did you want to make writing your career?
I’ve been writing almost every day for about fifteen years now. I’m not sure if I ever really had a conscious goal of becoming a writer or making it my career. It was more like a stubborn hope that I wouldn’t or couldn’t give up. And after a while, the practice of writing became an identity.

Do you have any advice for readers looking for agents?
For writers looking for agents, I have two pieces of advice. First, finish. Make sure your book is as good as it can be before sending it out, because you only get one chance to make that first impression. Second, look through the acknowledgements sections of books you love and use that to start compiling a list of agents to send your work to. That way, you are submitting to someone with a similar aesthetic as you. Plus you can tell them how much you enjoy their authors’ work.

Do you have a quick piece of general writing advice?
Write every day. Believe in what you are doing. Have a good sense of what you want to do, and do it.

You can find out more about Michael at his website, michaeldavidlukas.com.