Interview with mystery author Mike Billington

Mike Billington

 

Today I’d like to welcome mystery and historical fiction author Mike Billington to the blog. Mike is a Vietnam veteran and was a journalist for 50 years before writing fiction. He has 7 books published and is working on 2 more. Thank you Mike for taking part in this interview.

 

 

If you had to pick one, which event that you’ve reported on has been the most influential on your fiction?
That’s a hard question to answer because over the course of nearly 50 years as a reporter I covered a wide variety of stories and many of them had a real impact on me and my writing. I covered the Love Canal environmental disaster, for example, and learned a lot about how ordinary people can rise to great heights when their families are threatened. I spent time living undercover with white-power extremists and learned a lot about how irrational fear can drive people to commit outrageous acts. I think, however, that if I had to choose one event I’d say it was a series of stories that two other reporters and I did on police abuse of the Florida contraband forfeiture law. We started on the project one Sunday night when a guy walked into the newsroom and told us that the police had stolen his boat.

The contraband forfeiture law allows police to confiscate money, property, airplanes, boats, cars and personal possessions from people who are not charged with a crime. To get their stuff back they are forced to sue the police and to win their lawsuits they must prove they are innocent of wrongdoing. That’s a complete perversion of the American concept of justice; it’s also both expensive and time consuming. Over the course of our investigation we learned that cops were taking boats, for example, and using them to go fishing, hold parties, etc. They were taking classic cars and driving them for personal use and they confiscated billions of dollars which they used to buy new equipment and, in one case, to install lights at a church playground. The law was supposed to stop drug lords from using their wealth to hire slick lawyers to beat criminal charges but it was never really used to do that. What is was used for primarily was to, in essence, steal from the public with complete impunity. Of the hundreds of cases we reviewed, not a single “drug lord” had his house or other property confiscated. That project taught me a lot about how both the police bureaucracy and the political system really work and how innocent people can be severely impacted by bad laws. It also taught me how readily societies willingly surrender their rights in exchange for what they consider “security.” That series has had a big influence on the topics I pursue in my novels and how I write them. Continue reading

This week in the blogs – Changes to the Amazon review system

amazon-reviews

Amazon have recently put in place some changes to it’s review system on Amazon.com. A variety of blog posts discussing what the changes mean to both readers and authors have caught my eye. I thought I’d share them with you.

The Bowes Library Corner
Author K. T. Bowes says in her recent post “Well, poor Christoph Fischer can testify he still doesn’t know why his 1700 legitimate reviews of other people’s work were removed, or why he was banned from reviewing on Amazon again. The only thing it can be, is that he was deemed to ‘know’ all 1700 authors. He looks like a social, fun kinda guy but really? One of the reviews they removed was for my novel and much as I’d like to, I’ve never met him, had coffee with him or even private messaged with him. There’s a whole lot of ocean between him and me, which presumably Amazon don’t deem to be a significant obstacle.”
     Her post raises many important questions and highlights how authors are having reviews of their published works removed and being banned from leaving reviews because Amazon believe they know the other authors whose books they are reviewing. But what do they deem as ‘knowing’ someone? They don’t give any explanations. Continue reading