Sunday, May 25, 2014

Michael Sears: "No Such Thing as a Bad Nap"

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: I had the privilege of meeting Shamus Award-winner Michael Sears when we were both nominated for the Edgar Award for Best First Novel in 2012. Because it's a small world, we spoke on a panel Hank Phillipi Ryan (aka Miss Scarlett) moderated. Michael was just so calm, collected, and gracious I was always thrilled to meet up with him at other events — Bouchercon, Sleuthfest, really anywhere.

And so I'm thrilled to introduce Michael now, speaking on a topic that's also near and dear to my own heart — napping.

An Ode to the Lowly Nap

When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,
When the words cease to flow and plagiarism proffers a false salvation,
When you’ve researched the derivation of the word ‘gimbal’ just to avoid placing another
desultory phrase upon the page,
When your head has bobbed for the third time in as many minutes —
Take to heart the words of my Great Aunt Nancylyn:
“There’s no such thing as a bad nap.”

MICHAEL SEARS: Winston Churchill was a famous napper.  He refused, however, to simply flop down on the divan with a clean handkerchief unfolded over his face, and his cigar near at hand in a convenient ashtray.  The man knew how to take naps.  He stripped down and got underneath the covers and slept.  Napping was serious business.  He won wars, planned the reconstruction of Europe, wrote the history of the English-speaking people, and imbibed vast amounts of non-medicinal spirits, all with the help of daily naps.

I grew up in a home where napping was allowed rather than encouraged.  My father napped before dinner most nights -- a habit he no doubt developed working shifts -- but never on a weekend.  He was always much too busy on weekends, either fixing broken pieces of house or car, cursing and grumbling throughout, or playing on his sailboat, which broke more often than anything else and yet he never cursed while repairing it.  Judging by his startle response upon being called to dinner, his naps must have been not entirely stress-free.  He napped out of necessity, not to recharge, but to prevent terminal shutdown.  (He did once fall asleep at the wheel and run off the road while coming home from working a night shift at the lab – he was a nuclear engineer – and this experience may have marked his napping dreams from then on.)  

We three older sons were in terror of being assigned the task of “getting your father up for dinner” and devised tricks, trades, and evasions to pass the chore along.  At the first querulous whisper of “Dad?” he would sit up violently and call out, “What?  What?  What?” while staring about wild-eyed like Macbeth watching Banquo at the feast.  Delivering the next single word line of our part of the script – “Dinner” – was always an anticlimax, as though we should have responded to his intensity with something worthy of it, like “The police are here!” or “The reactor blew up!” or, if not quite that dramatic, then at least the most oft-heard phrase of my childhood, “We’ve run aground.”

Wall Street, where I worked for twenty years, does not encourage napping.  Neither does my wife. I married a non-napper. So my next forays to Naplandia were stolen, feral weekend interludes with all the risks of an illicit affair (and is there any other kind?) complete with the shame of discovery.  A typical nap might be: the family arrives back at the house after cavorting in the ocean all day.  My lovely wife takes the two boys, sandy and sunburnt – better known as Jesse and Sean – and hauls them off for a quick shower and into fresh shorts and T-shirts.  I volunteer to hang the beach towels on the line and sweep the sand out of the backseat, two chores that I will, eventually, perform admirably, if not expediently.  

First, I put the seatback all the way flat, leave the driver’s side door open to capture a bit of late afternoon breeze, and close my eyes.  I am “resting.”  The sounds that are emanating from my throat and sinuses are vocal exercises that I learned as a young actor.  I am not sleeping.  As my favorite author, Patrick O’Brian, pointed out, no man born admits to having been asleep.

But in the years since I left the twenty-four/seven rule of the markets – calls from Tokyo or London broke into my sleep cycle three or four nights a week for fifteen years – I have finally learned to take a nap.

A friend recently posted to me an article which made great claims of increased productivity by nappers, but when I went online to find it, I saw that these claims are not new.  

The New York Times seems to report on the wonders of napping on a seven-year cycle, each time with the immediacy of recent discovery and announced with the kind of eye-grabbing lede usually reserved for the fall of the ruling party in England, or the discovery of a tenth planet.  I imagine that these headline writers are direct descendants of that journalist, four thousand years ago, who put pen to papyrus and informed the world, “NILE FLOODS BANK!”

Hank Phillippi Ryan, one of the illustrious authors here at Jungle Red, and a woman I now claim as a friend, gives a talk on productivity for writers, arguing that the opportunity to do what we do is so dear that the very idea of “writers block” must not be allowed.  I heard her deliver this speech earlier this year, and I took her words to heart.  I have completed three Jason Stafford novels, and am working on number four, and if the stars are very kind to me, I will continue to do this for years to come.  It is a blessing to be where I am – never a chore. 

But napping is not a retreat from this dedication, rather it is an enabler, an enhancer.  I will be productive when I am fully empowered.  And I will nap when I am not.  Churchill argued that napping for even just an hour so breaks up the day as to increase one day’s productivity to the level of two days, or at least one-and-a-half.  Winston was not a mathematician.  Yet, who would disagree?

Susan Elia MacNeal, a great fan of Winston Churchill herself, invited me to speak to the world through Jungle Red, though she may not have expected me to go on so long, or to address such a topic.  I thank her for the opportunity and dearly hope that I am invited back some day when I am better rested.

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: Michael, you're very welcome! Please come back soon.

Reds and readers, do you nap?

Or are you, like Michael's wife, a non-napper? 

Do you think, like Winston Churchill, naps help with creativity and productivity?

Please tell us in the comments.

Michael Sears is the Edgar-nominated, and Shamus-winning author of BLACK FRIDAYS, which introduced to the world the characters of Jason Stafford, Wall Street investigator, and his autistic son, Kid.  

His latest book is MORTAL BONDS, which explores the fallout from a massive Ponzi scheme, missing funds, and the people who will kill to recover them. 

Once he rises from his nap, Michael will finish the last round of copy edits for book #3 in the series, LONG WAY DOWN.


  1. Ah, the joys of napping. Definitely a way of life around our house. I don't know if it makes us more productive, but we certainly feel better --- and we are assured that there will be no embarrassing nodding off at dinnertime and plopping face-first into the mashed potatoes . . . .

  2. Michael this essay is hysterical--if your novels are like this, I know I will enjoy them!

    My husband would appreciate Winston Churchill's words that a nap makes you twice as productive. I'm a bad sleeper though, so I only nap in extreme circumstances...

    Please tell us about your books!

  3. I think Mike was my first sales manager. We could never find him in the afternoon.

    Sounds like a great read. Good luck!

  4. This is my philosophy of naps — they are not illegal, immoral, or fattening....

  5. Oh, how I love starting my on-line day with bell laughs - thank you!!!

    This is hysterical and while I am not really much of a napper, I now feel as though I should be!

    I look forward to "meeting" your Jason Stafford.

  6. I come from a long line of nappers--my grandfather famously contributed loud snores to punctuate the middle of every family gathering, and both my parents could nap at the nod of a head. My mother still does; ordinarily she's a perpetual motion machine, but if she stops she can fall deeply asleep, even in a crowd.

    My husband used to scoff at my napping, but turned out he was nodding off at his desk for years before he 'fessed up. Now we spend at least one weekend afternoon in our preferred napping spots.

    I also look forward to meeting Jason Stafford!

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  8. Oh, you all know how I feel about naps. Life without naps is hardly worth living, and, like Michael, I have been known to park the car somewhere and put the seat back for twenty minutes. Occasionally someone has thought I was dead.

    Three cheers for naps and productivity. I've solved many a plot dilemma with a nap, and am convinced that naps are the reason Winston Churchill won the war.

    And Michael, what a fabulous cover on your book! Can't wait to dive in.

  9. Oh, you all know how I feel about naps. Life without naps is hardly worth living, and, like Michael, I have been known to park the car somewhere and put the seat back for twenty minutes. Occasionally someone has thought I was dead.

    Three cheers for naps and productivity. I've solved many a plot dilemma with a nap, and am convinced that naps are the reason Winston Churchill won the war.

    And Michael, what a fabulous cover on your book! Can't wait to dive in.

  10. I used to avoid naps because I wasn't very good at ending them. Once asleep I was gone for hours. But now I seem to be able to take a twenty minute nap, wake up hungry and raring to go. My favorite place is in my chair, and I'm as likely to nod off at ten in the morning as I am in the afternoon. Naps are good. Try it. You'll like it. Ann in Rochester

  11. I am such a fan! LOVE MIchael's books, they are quite wonderful , and I recommend them endlessly.

    I am new to napping, and in the past, would never have considered it. But now..I think after so long on book tour and juggling time zones and events and air travel, I am a big fan of taking twenty minutes. It makes an amazing difference.

    i can't get under the covers and curl up--if I did, i'd wake up in time for breakfast. But twenty quiet minutes--even sitting in a comfy chair feet up, eyes closed, is such a treat!

    Michael, wake up, though and get writing! Cannot wait to read it..and come back to Jungle Red when it comes out, okay?

  12. Naps are good. What else is there to say? Unfortunately I can't control the length of them. Nor can I get one started sometimes, try as I might. Naps are phonecall magnets too. So I invariably get up grouchier than when I started.

  13. Add me to the ranks of power nappers. Even if I don't fall asleep, just lying flat for 20 minutes or so can send me back to work reenergized. And sometimes with a fresh plot idea.

  14. What a great blog! I am forever propounding the joys of napping to my naysaying friends. Maybe I should just save my breath and print copies of this essay to hand out.

    I like Michael's style! I promptly downloaded Black Fridays from (need to read a series in order). My eyes tire easily and listening to a good reader enables me to enjoy a book together with a walk...think I'll start right now.

  15. Sorry but naps leave me groggy and unable to function. My grogginess will start to leave just about my normal bedtime and I lay awake for hours. The only time I sleep in the daytime is if I am ill or recouperating from surgery. My better half is a great napper, any time and anywhere.

  16. I used to nap at a rest stop on the Pike going out to Northampton. Then I read a certain murder mystery...

  17. Sorry I haven't been around to comment, but I was ... yes, you guessed it ... napping! (It was a long one, because of the flu, but I'm feeling better and convinced naps help you recover faster.)

  18. And by the way, Michael is not napping — he's at a wedding and I hope he'll be able to drop by later today!

  19. I nap quite often on my lunch hour whether I want to or not. I'm out in my car reading, and I nod off for 15 or 20 minutes. It really does make a huge difference.

    If I am home on a lazy afternoon and crawl into bed for a longer nap, I find myself groggy and unable to wake up for hours. But the short, "power" naps do wonders for me.

  20. Interesting topic about napping. When I was in kindergarten, my Mom would have a blanket on the floor in the living room so I could take a nap. She got the idea from my aunt who did that for my cousins. Though, I did not like naps at the after school day care center. I think I did not want to miss the world if I took a nap. In college, I was studying all the time and I remember taking 45 minute naps in the reading room at the library at University.

    For me, 45 minute naps work because if I nap for two hours, then it is difficult to get a regular night's sleep. I also notice that certain foods make a difference.

    Have you noticed if certain foods make a difference in your napping or "siesta" as they call it in Spain?

    Again, Susan, thank you for introducing me to a new author. Agreed that naps are not illegal nor immoral nor fattening.

    Susan and Hallie, hope you are feeling better.


  21. A lovely day for a wedding! ANd we will just keep talking, whether the adorable Michael is here or not..but I DO hope he tells us about his new book!

  22. Yes! I would like to hear about his new book, too!

  23. Since I was born in 1951, the polio scare was my mother's excuse to make me and my siblings take naps on summer vacation every. single. day. Up until I was in sixth grade, for crying out loud.

    For a really long time I resisted napping, and sleeping in general. Writing the first paragraph here makes me understand part of my lifelong problem with insomnia.

  24. Michael, your topic is most relevant to me this afternoon, as I just saw the the granddaughters off after a three day visit. A nap sounds just the ticket. I have often heard the benefits of naps, but for some reason, I don't feel like I should let myself take one in the afternoon. My body, on the other hand, doesn't listen to me, and I usually end up falling asleep involuntarily for a short nap in the late afternoon if I'm home and in my reading chair. Like some others, I think Winston Churchill's method would induce me to sleep too long. It's so funny that when we were children, we fought naps, and now, we wish someone would tell us we have to take one.

    Your books sound full of suspense and thrills, Michael, and so another series finds its way to my TBR list. Thanks.

  25. Napping has long been a way of life in my household, growing up and even now...of course, age neutral. Funny how I can still hear my mother directing us as young kids to go lay down and'll feel better. Now my own daughter says, power naps, 15 minutes, revitalize you, any longer and you're sunk for the rest of the day. Either way, nothing beats a great nap. Super fun article, Michael!

  26. WOW! I go away overnight without wifi and look what happens! Thank you, Susan, for inviting me to contribute here and thanks for all the comments. As soon as I shake some of the cobwebs out, I will reply.

  27. Are naps a regional thing? Do Southerners take more? I am convinced that New Yorkers take fewer, but I don't think that is necessarily a good thing.

  28. For those who asked about my books...Jason Stafford is both an ex-Wall Street trader and an ex-convict. He now makes his living uncovering frauds and cheats at other Wall Street firms. He is also the single parent of a five year old boy who is well to the left of center on the autism spectrum. The books have been described as 'thrillers with heart', and I like to think that the domestic issues that Jason faces are as important to him -- and the reader -- as the mcguffin.

  29. It was a great wedding. The family is all very musical and the entertainment included fathers, brothers, and friends playing and singing. There were even two bridesmaids rapping. Lots of fun.

  30. Book #3 in the Jason Stafford saga will be out next winter. I think it is okay to tell you the name....LONG WAY DOWN. I have explored a conspiracy of traders in BLACK FRIDAYS, a Madoff-like Ponzi scheme and its fallout in MORTAL BONDS, and now I look at insider trading in LWD. My take on it may surprise you.

  31. Hi Michael! I'm guessing naps are a big southern thing. Or at least once upon a time they were, especially before air conditioning.

  32. Hi, Daco -- Energy/ Heat + Humidity = Energy delta
    Energy delta < 1 = Nap.