Thursday, July 21, 2011

Michael Lister - Passion for the Panhandle

Michael Lister is a writer whose roots go deep into Florida soil. He was raised in Wewahitchka, a small town in the Panhandle where his great-grandfather settled after leaving Mississippi. After he earned his graduate degree in theology from Oral Roberts University, Lister returned home and took a job as a prison chaplain, the youngest in the Florida Department of Corrections. But he had already been bitten by the writing bug. “I always knew I wanted to write,” Lister says. “Since I had to do a lot of writing in graduate school, I decided to continue after graduation.” By 1997, he had completed his first novel, Power in the Blood, the story of John Jordan, a prison chaplain whose career, reputation, and life are imperiled when he witnesses the bloody death of an inmate. Praised as a “Taut, highly readable story that manages to deliver a few surprises and a unique hero” (Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel), this was the first in what would become a critically-acclaimed series of John Jordan jailhouse mysteries which includes Blood of the Lamb, Flesh and Blood, and The Body and the Blood.

In 2000, Lister decided to follow what he calls his “passion and obsession” and become a full-time writer. “I love writing so much, I can’t imagine anything better,” he says. “I’m so grateful to be doing this. There’s something mysterious about the process, about tapping into something transcendental.” And much of his inspiration comes from his surroundings. “The pace of small town life is conducive to writing. My hometown is like my little Walden.” He calls the Panhandle “the undiscovered part of Florida, an area that’s special and unique.”

The Panhandle plays an integral part in most of Lister’s works, particularly in his acclaimed novel, Double Exposure. The story of a wildlife photographer who unexpectedly captures images of a young woman’s murder, Double Exposure is what Lister describes as “my heart on the page.” In addition to being a riveting page-turner, the book is a poem in prose about the wild beauty of the Florida Panhandle. The story resonates with Lister’s reverence for the land. “I’ve always been connected to the land. I think we lose something when we separate from it. It’s good for us to reconnect to the earth that we come from.” He hopes the Panhandle will learn from the mistakes made in other regions of Florida and will take care of its resources. In fact, Lister intends to donate the book’s profits to the Mother Earth Fund, a fund he set up to protect and preserve North Florida. Double Exposure won a prestigious Florida Book Award in 2010 and was produced as a stage play. A movie version of the book will begin production in the fall. The script will be co-written by Lister and Jason Hreno, a Canadian writer/director who will also direct the film.

Lister’s latest novel, The Big Goodbye, is a romantic mystery/thriller set in Panama City in the 1940s. The story centers around hardboiled private investigator Jimmy “Soldier” Riley and an ex-lover with a secret to hide who is running for her life while her husband is running for mayor. The book echoes Lister’s love of film noir and classic detective stories, and highlights Panama City and it environs as they were during World War II. “I’ve been writing about the Panhandle for a long time now,” says Lister, “but this is the first time I’ve done so through historical fiction.”  The Big Goodbye will be produced as a play later this year by Gulf Coast State College.

In addition to volunteering as a prison chaplain, teaching college, studying film, religion, and philosophy, and writing a highly-praised weekly column on art and the meaning of life (“Of Font and Film”), Lister has produced three stand-alone literary thrillers: Thunder Beach, Burnt Offerings, and Separation Anxiety. He is also putting the finishing touches on a new nonfiction work, The Meaning of Life in Movies, a book he describes as “a collection of reflections and philosophical musings on movies.”  In his spare time he enjoys playing basketball and spending time with his wife and three children.

Lister hopes his books will give readers a good reading experience on all levels. “There’s a place for entertainment, but I aspire to more than just that. I want to inspire my readers in some small way; to leave something lasting that will remain with them after the last page is turned.”

For more about Michael Lister, visit his website at

Next: Christine Kling - Sailing into Adventure


  1. Glad you're writing another mystery, Michael. I really liked "Power in the Blood" and would like to read more about this part of Florida.

  2. This is a wonderful profile of a fantastic author. I grew up on the Panhandle, too, and I have a real love for Michael Lister's writing.

  3. Michael captures this part of Florida wonderfully. Thanks for the great profile, which hopefully will expose more readers to Michael Lister's work. (Hiya, Michael!)