Hey, Spike! reveals personal side to author Mike Finkel
March 24, 2017
Demonstrating a self-deprecating style of humor, combined with growing popularity due to a New York Times Best Seller list ranking, author Mike Finkel makes for good reading and listening.
The name Finkel is familiar to many Summit County residents and Summit Daily News readers — the Breckenridge Colorado Mountain College campus' entertainment venue, the Eileen and Paul Finkel Auditorium, is named in honor of his parents.
Mike's father was an insurance company executive with positions all over the world and his mother was a teacher and educator. Paul and Eileen won The Summit Foundation Dr. Oliver Stonington Outstanding Philanthropist award in 2011.
Eileen passed away in 2012, losing her battle with leukemia. Paul still lives full-time in Breckenridge.
"My parents are both big believers in the importance of education, and they are big supporters of the Breckenridge community, so I'm proud to speak at an auditorium they helped fund," says the 48-year-old resident of Bozeman, Montana.
As part of the CMC Speaker Series, Mike will appear at 7 p.m. Sunday to discuss his work. It's free.
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"If you can't get a gig at a place with your own last name on it, you're really not doing too well," Mike remarks.
He is doing well, quite well.
Mike and family — wife Jill and their three children, Phoebe, 11, Beckett, 9, and Alix, 8 — still call Bozeman home, but are on an "extended sabbatical in France for a little more than two years. We live in Aix-en-Provence."
Now an avid telemark skier and mountain biker, Mike Finkel first visited to ski Breck 35 years ago and returns often when his schedule allows.
Currently, he's making stops here and there to tout his latest piece of literature, "The Stranger in the Woods — the Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit."
The stranger is Christopher Knight, who, at age 20, drove his car deep into a Maine forest, put the keys on the console and walked out of everyday life — for no real apparent reason — and remained there for 27 years until he was arrested.
Mike lived in Stamford, Connecticut, where he went to public high school.
After earning a degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1990, Mike's "been traveling the world since then, and consider myself a full-time lifelong student at the Graduate School of the Globe."
What should the audience anticipate from the guy who wrote about 17 skiing adventures around the world in "Alpine Circus?"
"I plan to juggle flaming balls while riding a unicycle," he replies, throwing in more humor.
"No," he says, "there will be slides and video and a chat — no readings at my readings — and I hope to bring the utterly fascinating main character of my book, Christopher Knight, into vivid focus. And there will be show and tell."
Early on in his 27-year writing career, Mike penned articles for Sports Illustrated, Skiing, Men's Journal, Backpacker, Runner's World and National Geographic.
He was also a contracted correspondent for the New York Times, where one of his pieces about an Ivory Coast West African boy slave turned out to be a "composite" of interviews, and the newspaper fired him.
It appears that dismissal as a journalist has worked in his favor. He's now Mike Finkel, the author, writing what he wants.
"Boy, it's hard to say exactly where I get my ideas. I spend a lot of time reading the off-the-front-page news stories, and yes, for every 100 items that spark my interest —- probably for every 500 — I maybe work on one story. A lot of it is indeed instinct — or just accumulated experience. I have been a full-time writer for 27 years. Which, by the way, is exactly how long Chris Knight lived alone in the woods."
Knight was apprehended in 2013 while burglarizing a cabin. He got off light with seven months jail — most was already served when the sentence was handed down — along with the order to pay $1,500 restitution.
Another Mike Finkel book, "True Story" was adapted into a 2015 major motion picture, starring Jonah Hill and James Franco.
"I did a 'remote' appearance at the Breckenridge premiere — I was in France (it was like 5 in the morning) and the picture showed at the CMC auditorium," he recalls.
That book came about in a bizarre twist of early day (2002) identification theft.
Mike learned that a man named Christian Longo, accused of murdering his wife and children in Oregon, had assumed Finkel's identity while on the run in Mexico.
Captured in Mexico, Longo was awaiting trial in Oregon, leading Mike to develop a strange relationship between the writer and the accused murderer who had taken on his identity, much like the relationship between murderer and author in Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood."
The relationship would not only restart Finkel's writing career, but would help shape his life as well.
Reviews of "True Story" were positive. Finkel said that he even got a review from Christian Longo himself when the book was published. Longo is still awaiting execution in Oregon.
"He told me he did not 'like the tone' of the book, but didn't dispute the facts," Finkel said. "I don't want to meet anyone like Christian Longo ever again."
Currently, he is working on another book, a true story about a thief who stole more than $2 billion worth of art.
"I must really like criminals," he states.
Miles F. Porter IV, nicknamed "Spike," a Coloradan since 1949, is an Army veteran, former hardrock miner, graduate of Adams State College, and a local since 1982. An award-winning investigative reporter, he and wife Mary E. Staby owned newspapers here for 20 years. Email your social info to firstname.lastname@example.org