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Writing, Music & Mortality: An Interview with Mike Oppenheim

Writing, Music & Mortality: An Interview with Mike Oppenheim

 |  Author Interviews

A lot of our authors pursue a plethora of creative ventures, and with our author spotlights and interviews, we hope to make readers aware of the person holding the pen, what makes them tick, and shed some light on their other endeavours. Today, we’re directing our dusty stage light towards Mike Oppenheim, author of the newly released “Ardor”, a novel that follows Ardor Agopian, a twenty-one-year-old with a dead-end job who finds himself having to master his dormant psychic abilities to save the world from a force that threatens to wipe out humanity.

Mike lives in Arizona with his family, and started a career in entertainment in 1999 when he became interested in music and film, which later led to a focus on writing. He’s written and recorded music with a slew of different bands since the late ‘90s, has been writing a weekly philosophy essay entitled The Casual Casuist since 2006, and hosts the Coffin Talk podcast, a weekly show that explores the way death informs the way we live.

1). Starting with your most recent creative endeavour, “Ardor”, could you tell us a little about the writing process for the novel?


MO: This project wasn’t like any other novel I’ve written. I did a lot of hands-on research, which involved visiting many so-called psychics to see what they do, how they do it, and how effective and real it all is. 3 out of 20 seemed to have some ability that isn’t regularly talked about in high school or college science classes, so I went back to all three, three times, and one of them was undeniably good at “seeing specific events in the future, announcing them to me, and being correct.” One involved a very serious illness with my mother and it was verified by four different people, all of whom self-identify as non-believers in all things “psychic.” It was a whirlwind to do all that and still maintain my normal attitude about how reality works, vis-a-vis what we learn in traditional Western schooling.

2). “Ardor” is your fifth novel, with your previous works being self-published. How did you find yourself wanting to write a novel in the first place, and how has your approach to writing changed- if at all- since your first book?


MO: I’ve always been a writer, whether it’s been music, screenplays, or even poetry. When I was 25, something changed in my expression-desires, for lack of a better word, and my motivation for self-expression shifted from music to fiction…It’s probably owed to how much I’ve always loved reading fiction. Kurt Vonnegut will always be my “first love” as a reader, and I’m still so thankful for how he wove deep philosophy into very readable, fun novels, and that’s always been my approach, and I don’t think it will ever change.

3). Writing is certainly not your only creative pursuit; you’ve also spent plenty of time making music with several groups as well. Could you tell us a little bit about your music career?


MO: This was such a fun phase of my life! It started in adolescence, and by the time I was 19, I’d played in about four or five bands and found that I was always the main songwriter, so when I graduated from college (University), I dedicated my life to pursuing music professionally. My first band made some waves, but nothing that seemed like it would last, so I eventually migrated away from music as a profession and into writing as a profession, but I still play guitar, drums, bass, and sing constantly, and I was performing live as recently as five years ago. I love music, but I much prefer the lifestyle of a writer!


4). What kind of music shaped you growing up, and how would you say your musical pursuits have informed your other creative endeavours?

MO: Great question! Music has shaped everything I do, and still does, and the first music was from my parents record collection. We had a fisher price record player (this was in the mid-eighties) and I remember spinning the Beatles, the Who, and other bands from that era and my heart would soar. Grunge affected me next, and that’s what got me to buy my first guitar and it also fed me deep aspirations for public performances. I still write with music on, and I try to pick a different genre for each novel, so that I feel like there’s a theme buzzing in my head as I write. I don’t pick the genre in advance; I let it come to me, but I can also write in silence, or in a noisy room. Once I’m “in the writing zone” I’m not really hearing anything. My first novel was writtten in three days and I had Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” playing on repeat. That was very memorable and felt magical, at the time.


5). In 2021, you started Coffin Talk, a weekly podcast that focuses on the theme of death and how it affects how we live. Thematically, that’s about as existential as it gets. What spurred you to create a show centred around this subject, and if we may ask, how does death affect how you live?

MO: The impetus for the show was from my volunteer work in hospice. After a very traumatic experience, I wanted to give back to my community the way so many had done for me, so I thought about what I was good at and I remembered how I was always good at comforting people as they died. I know that sounds morose and is often a taboo thing to say, but it was undeniably true, so I figured I’d lean into it. During those years of service, I found that the hardest thing to watch was someone who “had never thought about dying” and was now being forced to think about it. This was, sadly, the case more often than not, so I figured I’d do something about it, and try to lift that taboo. Three years into our weekly podcast (my wife and brother help me with production and booking), our audience continues to grow, and I get all sorts of strangers telling me how much it helps them, so I’m glad I started it.

I reflect on death very often, and it always inspires me to be kinder to others and myself. When I lose my temper, I try to remind myself that “this will all pass” and that what’s more important is being kind, even when you have to say soemthing that someone doesn’t want to hear. Be kind about it, and you won’t have regret if/when you are facing death at the end of your life, as many of us do (some of us die randomly with no time to think about it).

"Ardor" is out now via Pegasus Publishers! You can find links to Mike's other ventures below!

Coffin Talk Podcast




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