Loyola Magazine Interviewed Me About Danger Peak, My Time at Their School, and the Writing Process in General

courtesy Nicole Esposito Photography

This is my 50th blog post, so it’s fitting that I’m posting something special today. In their spring/March issue, Loyola Magazine, the magazine of my alma mater Loyola University Maryland, interviewed me about Danger Peak, my time at Loyola (when it was a college, not a university), and the writing process in general. Danger Peak was already featured in a past issue of Loyola Magazine in the “Bound by Hounds” section (the greyhound is the official mascot of Loyola), but that was a short blurb announcing that the book was published and won The 2022 Firebird Book Award in the category of Magical Realism; this is a full-page interview featuring yours truly.

I found the interview satisfying for a number of personal reasons. Of course, it’s always an honor to be celebrated by your alma mater as a grad who “made good,” as the saying goes, but there is another reason that the magazine might not even know about. Last year, I wrote a blog about my difficulty getting Danger Peak published. You can read it in full here:

At the end of the blog, I alluded to the fact that even though it was one of my longest posts, I only listed the highlights of what I endured and specifically omitted other stories. Well, I’m going to tell you one such story now.

Years ago, when I was looking for a publisher for Danger Peak, I was excited to learn that Loyola has its own student-run publishing house, Apprentice House Press. This is a program at Loyola where undergrads get to learn the publishing business, and authors, most of them Loyola graduates, get their books published. Win-win, right? On top of that, I learned that the house was founded by Andrew Ciofalo, my advisor and Writing & Media professor at Loyola. He was one of my favorite teachers there (if not my all-time favorite), and he even read a few of my stories to our class. He also selected me for a pilot internship at The Baltimore Sun as one of his “outstanding students” (his words, not mine), and that’s how I got to write there. In fact, the publishing house gives an award named after this professor every year to the book they deem most worthy of receiving extra help in the marketing department, assigning them a professional publicist.

If that weren’t enough of a connection, I discovered that the house is currently run by someone I went to school with during my Loyola days, and, while we weren’t great friends (he was several years older than me, and we hung out with different crowds), we performed together onstage in the annual, singing-and-dancing Fall Revue show for parents weekend every September. My book’s inclusion at Apprentice House has to be a lock, right?

I went online and filled out their application form, and at times, I felt like I was filling out my taxes. This collegiate publishing house wanted more information from me than any other agent or professional publishing house I approached. But, overconfident as I was because of my connections (I not only matriculated at Loyola but knew two people who worked at the publishing house), I figured at this point, the application was only a formality. Also, I thought my book was pretty damn good, if I do say so myself.

I took my time answering every question on that ridiculously detailed application. In one section where they asked me to list publications that might be interested in reviewing my book, I went overboard and listed the names and addresses of 20 potential reviewers when they only required half that. I spent days analyzing my responses to make sure they were just right, and one of my favorites was describing my writing style:

If I had to describe my writing style in three words, it would be “interesting, funny, and smart,” in that order. I have a simple, straightforward writing style. I don’t use a lot of “four-dollar words,” as my 6th Grade teacher used to say, but it’s how I use the words that are impressive. Also, as the author of a self-published book of poetry, my writing has somewhat of a poetic rhythm to it. The situations in my stories escalate into a crescendo in the finale, and the reader gets carried along by the momentum. Finally, I tend to add a sly sense of humor. Overall, I try not to bore the reader, even (and especially) as I’m “laying the pipe” of exposition that will pay off in later chapters.

In the end, after filling in my answers, my application form was seven pages long. Finally, I submitted it and waited. And waited. And waited some more. When I at last received an email from Loyola many months later, I excitedly opened it to read a form rejection letter. It’s not hyperbole when I tell you that I thought it was a joke. I read that email over and over again to make sure there wasn’t sarcasm or irony, but alas, they weren’t joking. They simply weren’t interested in Action Bike, which was the original title of Danger Peak. “How could this be?” I asked myself. “I had so many connections (at least more than the average applicant), and the founder of their publishing house and namesake of their annual award loved my writing! How did I get rejected from my ‘safety school’?” (so to speak)

My first instinct was to just delete the email, but foolish, stubborn me, I demanded more details, so I emailed the person back to ask why it was rejected, and I was told my “sentences were too long, and there were too many metaphors.” Ironically, I received the opposite advice when studying writing at Loyola: I needed to use more imagery/metaphors and expand the length of my sentences. Maybe I overcorrected?

Another criticism of my book was that there wasn’t enough emotion. Meanwhile, I’ve had people tell me the ending of Danger Peak had them choke up a little, though, in Loyola’s defense, maybe the reviewers didn’t get that far into my story.

I’ve had many (and I mean MANY) agents reject Danger Peak, and there was a time I came THISCLOSE to getting an agent who works at the same agency as the agent of the legendary Neil Gaiman, but I am not exaggerating when I tell you that Loyola saying “No” to Danger Peak hurt more than any other rejection I received. It felt personal and cruel and wholly unjustified. In a drunken fit that night, I threw out my Loyola keychain, which I was continuously using for decades since I graduated from the school in 1999. (Now you know how old I am.)

Well, you know the rest of the story: Danger Peak was published; it received unanimously positive reviews from numerous critics, including from some heavy hitters like Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Reviews; it won three literary awards and was a finalist and Honorable Mention in three other competitions; it was featured in an electronic billboard in Times Square; it was listed at one point in the top 200 of Amazon book sales; it’s been added to the permanent collections of several libraries; and a year after Loyola rejected my book, they asked to interview me on the book’s success.

You can read the interview on Loyola’s website by clicking the link below, or read the unabridged interview in full directly below the link:

  1. Where are you from originally—and where do you live now?

I’m from Long Island and still live there. I lived in Baltimore for 3 years after graduating Loyola, but then my world pretty much exploded. I lost my girlfriend, job, and apartment all in less than a year, so I moved back home and eventually got my own place. I guess you can go home again.

2. Can you tell us about your family: Are you married? Do you have children? Pets?

I’ve been married for 11 years and have two daughters, ages 7 and 10. I also have a Yorkie named Oreo because he’s black and white.

3. What did you study at Loyola? (major/minor/any Honors programs or clubs or organizations you were involved in as a student?)

I studied Communications with a concentration in Journalism. I also minored in Business, which probably was a mistake because it killed my GPA. I was the Features Editor at The Greyhound, and I used to tell undergrads, if you’re majoring in Journalism and aren’t writing for The Greyhound, there’s a problem there.

4. Anything you’d like to add about your time as a student at Loyola? A professor who inspired you or a class you loved?

Professor Andrew Ciofalo was a major inspiration. He used to read my stories in class and recommended me for Loyola’s pilot internship at The Baltimore Sun. That’s how I got to write there. John McIntyre was also a great teacher, and his copyediting class convinced me to become an editor.

5. When did you start writing—and are you a fulltime author or do you have another profession or vocation? If so, how and when do you find time for writing?

I’ve been writing since I was a kid, but it wasn’t until the mid-2000s that I took myself seriously as a writer, when my Mom reminded me that I would spend hours in my bedroom writing story after story. “No one told you to do that, Michael,” she said. “You did that on your own.” Unfortunately, writing doesn’t pay the bills, so I’m still a fulltime Senior Editor in Manhattan. I’m not Stephen King…yet!

6. How did you become interested in writing YA fiction?

Even though I’m in my 40s, I tend to think like someone in junior high. That hasn’t been great for my social life, but it’s helped put myself in the mindset of my characters. Also, I’m never going to be someone who can write a 500-paged masterpiece, and YA is generally shorter than regular fiction, so it suits me better.

7. What inspired Danger Peak?

I was inspired by three major sources: the old-school, 8-bit Nintendo game “Excitebike,” my many misadventures riding my bike around town with my two best friends growing up, and, unfortunately, the death of my brother when I was 8. Writing this book was both a love letter to my childhood and a way to reconcile the tragedy at the center of it. It was cathartic, to say the least.

8. Can you tell us a little about the main themes of the book—about what it takes to achieve your dreams and what it means to really feel alive—and what you hope readers take away from it?

There’s the obvious metaphor of climbing every mountain, especially since there’s a literal mountain in my story. But it’s also about dealing with and overcoming grief. I hope my book not only inspires people to chase their dreams but to cherish the people you have in your life while they’re here. Just because someone you loved is gone doesn’t mean the love you had for that person has to be gone as well.

9. How does your Loyola education inform or inspire your work as an author?

Loyola taught me to be a critical thinker and not accept everything at face value. That certainly helped when I was a critic the first few years out of college, and it’s helped in my writing; I try not to just describe things on the surface but to dig a little deeper.

10. What’s the greatest compliment someone can give you about your work?

The fact that they read it. Seriously, so few people read nowadays with the endless streaming options out there that I’m flattered if someone took the time to read my book, even though it’s not very long. Other than that, I’ve had a few kids tell me how much they love the book and were able to relate to it, which always surprises me because it takes place decades before they were born. I guess growing up is universal, no matter when you did it.

11. Where do you find your inspiration?

The usual places: life, dreams, conversations with friends. You can get inspiration from anywhere. I wrote a book based on a Nintendo game.

12. Are you working on another book? Can you tell us a little about it?

Danger Peak was more or less about the death of my brother, and my next one, if I ever find the time to write it, is going to be about the death of childhood. So far, I only have the outline, but it’s three times as long as the outline for Danger Peak. This doesn’t necessarily mean it will be longer, but it’s going to be more ambitious and cover more ground.


If you recall my previous blog about my next book, you’ll be able to tell that my answer to the last question was given last year.


P.S.: In case you’re curious, I looked up a book that beat out mine for a slot at Apprentice House by reading its preview on Amazon, and there’s literally a chapter of two people just texting each other, because apparently nowadays, texting is considered great literature. I’ll make sure the next time I apply that my book includes a chapter that takes place entirely on TikTok.

P.P.S.: Next blog: More shameless self-promotion.

P.P.P.S.: Danger Peak is now available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble:

2 responses to “Loyola Magazine Interviewed Me About Danger Peak, My Time at Their School, and the Writing Process in General”

  1. Great blog Mike…I think Loyola is going to be organizing a new fundraiser..to fund cleaning products to wipe the EGG off of their faces!

    Liked by 1 person

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