STARKVILLE — After graduating from Princeton with a degree in Music, Michael Kardos decided not to leave the Garden State. It was home, Kardos was raised on the Jersey Shore, and he could keep doing what he was doing: playing music.
“I had an original band, I would fill in for other bands and I spent a year playing in a Bruce Springsteen tribute band,” he recalled of his days as a professional drummer.
But there was another passion competing for his attention.
“All this time I was writing my own fiction,” Kardos said. “But I didn’t know any other writers, and I had never taken a class in it or anything. The more I started getting into it, the more I started realizing that I was going to have to make a change.
“All the stuff I tried to do on my own only took me so far.”
Kardos started applying to Masters of Fine Arts (MFA) programs across the country, and after getting into the program at Ohio State, he was relieved to know his intuition was right. Not only did Kardos begin the next phase of his career that first day on campus, he also began the next phase of his life, meeting his future wife the same day. Katie Pierce was beginning her MFA pursuit as well.
“I spent the my first year in grad school scribbling down names of writers I had never heard of,” Kardos said.
It’s been 12 years now. He has a Ph.D.., a son and is an English professor at Mississippi State. But he still isn’t entirely satisfied- with his writing, that is.
“I don’t think anyone ever gets comfortable,” he said. “The more you write, the more aware of your choices you become, which means the more bogged down you can potentially get.”
But, for now, Kardos is satisfied, and he should be.
At an award ceremony in Jackson this June, Kardos’ story collection “One Last Good Time,” received the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters award for fiction in 2011. Now, he is high off the release of his first novel, “The Three-Day Affair,” which has drawn, what he modestly calls “remarkably kind” reviews.
Based on the idea he used in the title story of “One Last Good Time,” Kardos said the novel is about, “the idea of taking someone with problems, and putting them behind a wheel, they don’t really have time to think things through, and explosive things can happen.”
Kardos started from scratch with the novel though, creating an entirely new story-line, plot and character set.
“The novel is about three reunited college friends trying to undo a crime, that they kind of rationally committed,” he said. “I tried to ask how much do we really rely on our friends, and how far would we go to help them.”
The New York Times called it, “a carefully calibrated study of how even the most highly evolved members of our species can become feral under pressure.” Publisher’s Weekly named it one of its best new books of the Fall.
“It’s weird to think about people I don’t know reading this,” Kardos admitted. “You spend so much time on it and you live with it for so long, and you live alone with it for so long the only people that really read it were my wife and my agent and a couple of friends I went to grad school with.”
Along with his wife, Kardos co-directs the Creative Writing program at MSU in addition to teaching several classes, and with a new-born to nurture for much of the time spent writing the novel, it took Kardos nearly three years to finish.
Even with all that time spent writing and rewriting, it’s hard for him to talk about how he works. Because “The Three-Day Affair,” is Kardos’ first novel, he said he doesn’t feel like he can say definitively what kind of work style he’s most productive with.
He said he used a two- page outline for the novel, but realized at the end of the outline, that the story had to continue.
“I have always heard that writing a novel is like building a house, and as silly as that sounds it’s true: You need a strong foundation,” Kardos said. “But on the other hand, when you are building a house, you can’t paint a wall before its built.
“I think with a novel you can, you can polish one scene, even if you haven’t figured out how you got to that scene yet.”
Kardos admits he may never be entirely comfortable as a writer; he seems to view being a writer as a never-ending process. He feels he is closer to the beginning to the end, he said.,
“It’s a long apprenticeship,” he said. “It’s getting past the stuff that isn’t going to be as good.”
If the reviews for his first novel are an indication, Kardos has already past that point.
For more information on Kardos visit michaelkardos.com
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.