Articles, essays, stories, books
Michael's writing has twice been featured in Best American Mystery Stories, named as stories of note in the Best American Short Stories series, and appeared in national circulation magazines and journals.
Selected work, available online and digitally
"The Vein of Jade: Restraint in Nonfiction," a craft essay at Brevity
"The Patron Saint of the Opioid Crisis," an article at The Millions
"Duty, Honor, Country," fiction first appearing in Prairie Schooner
"The Morning After His Family Buried Freddie Gray," short nonfiction at Literary Hub
"Love and the Older Woman," personal essay in AARP: The Magazine
"Me, Myself, I: Idiosyncrasy and Structure in Nonfiction," a craft essay at TriQuarterly
"Thank God We Are Always Surprised," essay in Baltimore Fishbowl and video presentation
"Rehearsal," my first published story, from Michigan Quarterly Review in 1998 and now available online.
The Strange and True Tale of Horace Wells, Surgeon Dentist: A Novel
Finalist, Historical Fiction, Foreword INDIES Book of the Year Award
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Moving through 19th-century New England to Paris and back again, this novel imagines the sacrifices and struggles of the man widely credited with discovering anesthesia. The Strange and True Tale of Horace Wells, Surgeon Dentist is a love story but also a story of what love can't redeem: of narcotic dreams and waking insanity; of pain's destruction and what pains can never be eased. A novel that resonates with our contemporary struggles involving pain and the substances that numb it.
"... a fast-paced narrative full of humor, vivid description, and lively characters."
– Kirkus Review
"Downs tells a fascinating story in skilled, often elegant prose, and he treats all his characters with great sympathy." – The Los Angeles Review of Books
“An exhilarating tale from the annals of medical history, a provocative study of pain in all its forms, and a brilliant rendering of the kind of obsessiveness that leads to invention -- all delivered in sumptuous prose with sly, surprising humor and perfect timing.”
– Kim Church, author of Byrd, winner of the Crook’s Corner Book Prize for best debut novel set in the South
"In addition to his uncanny ability to evoke a physical setting using appeals to all our senses, Downs also has a way of showing the understandable and relatable souls of characters."
-- Marion Winik, author of The Glen Rock Book of the Dead, at Baltimore Fishbowl
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The Greatest Show: Stories
Louisiana State University Press, 2012.
Finalist for the Paterson Prize in Fiction
Inspired by the true-life Hartford Circus Fire of 1944, these stories explore the way disaster changes a community. Stories from the collection originally appeared in The Georgia Review, The Missouri Review, The Kenyon Review, Gettysburg Review, Five Points, New Letters and other journals.
Praise for The Greatest Show
“A stellar, magical achievement.”
– Sabina Murray, author of Valiant Gentlemen and of The Caprices, winner of the 2002 Pen/Faulkner Award
Foreword magazine: ''an auspicious fiction debut from a marvelously talented writer"
The Rumpus: "intricately woven"
Shenandoah Review: "beautifully written. Not a word out of place."
West Branch Wired: "These are quiet stories, in the tradition of Winesburg, Ohio, ... [with] the dramatic weight and complexity of a novel."
Colorado Review: "gorgeously captures the sweep of ordinary lives made remarkable by a tragic twist of fate."
House of Good Hope: A Promise for a Broken City
University of Nebraska Press, 2007
Winner of the River Teeth Prize for Literary Nonfiction
Finalist for Saroyan Award and for the Connecticut Book Award in Memoir and Biography
The story of five remarkable and talented young men from Hartford, Connecticut who pledge their lives to their hometown and who find that promise not always easy to keep.
Praise for House of Good Hope
"... a beautiful book, filled with the poignant bittersweet of hope and loss."
– Buzz Bissinger, author of Friday Night Lights
Publishers Weekly: Combining a reporter's eye for detail, the breathless narrative rush of an action movie and the generous heart of a hometown boy desperately trying to make sense of a place gone terribly wrong, Downs examines the social and economic disintegration of Hartford, Conn., in the 1990s through the coming-of-age of five African-American teenage boys.
The Hartford Courant: "... a lavish love letter to Connecticut’s capital city."
By Jim Hock with Michael Downs
Hollywood's Team: Grit, Glamour and the 1950s Los Angeles Rams
Rare Bird, 2016
Hollywood's Team tells the story of the Rams of the 1950s and of the author's father, an all-star offensive lineman. Even as the book revels in the glitz and glamour of 1950s Los Angeles and the Rams' larger-than-life personalities, it celebrates the everyday workhorses like John Hock, the people who are the foundation lifting up every amazing thing.
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