Welcome to the six hundred and fifth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with novelist and screenwriter Mark Adam Kaplan. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Mark. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Mark: My name is Mark Adam Kaplan, and I live in Southern California, just outside of Cucamonga. I was first published in my middle school magazine when a classmate fished one of my poems from the desk where I crumpled it up. I took a playwriting class in high school, and began writing plays while I attended the University of Michigan. I subsequently moved to Seattle, then New York, finding small stagings of my work. In 1994 I moved to Los Angeles, to attend the American Film Institute, and struggled in the film industry for about a decade, resulting in a few rewrite jobs, some writer-for-hire work, and one film produced in mainland China, that starred Leslie Cheung. I began a failed attempt to write a novel shortly after my return. I completed my next crack at a novel while unemployed in 2003, and ‘A Thousand Beauties’ was published by Bewrite Books in 2009. Since then I have put out a variety of other work.
Morgen: Congratulations. I went the other way, wrote a couple of novels, tried a (TV) script but didn’t get on with the format (although I liked the story so later converted it into the beginning of a novel). What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Mark: My personal preference is to explore different genres, rather than stick with one and “brand” myself, as is often suggested to me. My screenplays range wildly. I currently have a sci-fi comedy, an interpersonal drama, a high fantasy, a sci-fi action, a periodic Chinese epic, and a romantic comedy, all highly polished and ready to go. ‘A Thousand Beauties’ is a contemporary American tragedy, and DOWN is a contemporary, YA thriller, and I also have a children’s book, and an educational workbook published through Monsters Unbound.
Morgen: Wow, that is varied. I tend What have you had published to-date? Do you write under a pseudonym?
Mark: Bewrite Books published my first novel, ‘A Thousand Beauties’ in 2009. In 2011, I co-founded Monsters Unbound with my good friend, Glenn Scano. We made our first picture book, ‘Monsters Do Ugly Things’, and released in in November 2010. In March 2011, we completed the Monster Activity Book (currently available only through the Monsters Unbound website), a digital Activity Book for use with iPad, eReader, Tablet, etc. This book is 104 pages designed for children ages 4-9, and has cursive practice sheets, Connect-the-Dots, WordFinds and the like. We are now working on our next picture book, with a target release date of early 2013.
In May 2012, Bewrite Books published my second novel, ‘Down’.
Morgen: I’ve interviewed a couple of Bewrite authors (http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/2012/07/25/daily-interview-no-441-with-writer-and-publisher-sam-smith, my most viewed interview to-date – I had 497 views that day!) and http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/2011/07/14/blog-interview-no-61-with-romantic-suspense-novelist-rosanne-dingli). You’ve also self-published, what lead to you going your own way?
Mark: We decided to self-publish ‘Monsters Do Ugly Things’ after several kind rejections by agents and publishers while we were in development. We chose to go digital at first, because we had seen very little in the way of digital picture books for small kids.
Our initial idea was to provide parents an alternative to a video game when they needed to keep their children occupied at the supermarket, the doctor’s office, etc. But after encountering popular demand for hard copy, Glenn began to produce them. We decided to build our brand digitally, produced the Activity Book, and started on the next picture book. Someday we hope to have a significant library of titles available.
Morgen: From my experience, eBooks are easier to produce than paperbooks (or at least certainly quicker) but picture books are quite daunting… but then everything’s daunting if you’ve little experience of it. Are all your books available as eBooks? How involved were you in that process? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Mark: All of my books are eBooks, with only a couple of them available in hard copy. I was always a bibliophile, and treasure my library. But ever since discovering eReaders, I have split my time between realms. Right now I am reading Stephen King’s Secret Windows in hard cover, and also enjoying Dickens’ The Uncommercial Traveler in digital form.
Morgen: How funny; to have a classic author in modern form and vice versa. I started novel reading with Stephen King. I’ve not read Secret Window but seen the film (twice) and was disappointed by the ending. I hope the book’s better. Do you have a favourite of your books or characters? If any of your books were made into films, who would you have as the leading actor/s?
Mark: I’ve been asked this question several times, and cannot choose a “favorite” character. Because my works are all so different, I find it difficult to quantify them. I keep thinking of Philip Seymour Hoffman as the lead in ‘A Thousand Beauties’, supported by either Ashley Judd, or Diane Lane. As far as ‘Down’ is concerned, the lead character is 15 years old (maybe Jayden Smith in a couple years), and can be supported by Esau Morales, Jimmy Smitts, and Don Cheadle.
Morgen: Yes, I’m sorry about that. It’s like choosing children, isn’t it (not that I have any). I don’t know Esau Morales but the others are great choices. Did you have any say in the titles / covers of your books? How important do you think they are?
Mark: I was involved in every aspect for all of the covers. Bewrite chose the artists for the cover design. I was asked for my suggestions, and although some of them were rejected, my input was always sought, and I feel that I had definite impact on the final result.
Morgen: It’s important for an author to be happy with the book they have to then promote – many aren’t and find there’s nothing they can do about it… possibly why self-publishing has become so popular. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Mark: Besides the new ‘Monster’ book, which relies on Glenn’s schedule and artistry (it is a picture book), and I have plotted out a screenplay based on the Monsters Unbound characters. I have also begun my next novel, a tragic romantic farce set 100 years ago in Southern California.
Morgen: That sounds like fun. Do you manage to write every day? Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
Mark: I try to write everyday. But with a full-time job (public school teacher), two small children, and a fifty-mile commute (each way), my time is limited. I write when I can, having more time to do so over the summer, and during school Holidays.
Morgen: Ouch. But presumably your children have the holidays off too. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Mark: I usually come up with a title first. That provides me with a mood from which to work. I don’t begin writing until I have a rough idea of the main character and the outcome. During my pre-writing phase (which often encompasses several projects at once), ideas gestate until the entire book fills me up like a potential aneurism, and I begin. While I know the ultimate outcome, I let the characters come to life, and allow them to take the story where they will, always keeping the end result in mind. I like the organic nature of this process because it permits the characters to determine much of what happens to them, while leading to the inevitable end that awaits them.
Morgen: Unless they decide otherwise. Apparently JK Rowling planned to kill off one of her characters and he / she wouldn’t let her so she killed off another (whom I’m sure was very grateful!). Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Mark: My characters begin with some sensory detail, and grow from there. It can be the smell of the rough fabric of a sport jacket, their voice, an image of their hand, an emotional reaction… Different characters have grown from a wide variety of inceptive impressions. Occasionally I stumble over a name, but never for long. What makes them believable (to me) is how they spring to life fully formed, with their own phobias, anxieties, superstitions, and needs. For me, a character really comes to life when I hear their voice. From that moment, they are whole to me, ready to wage war against the world with their idiosyncrasies, foibles, and insecurities in place.
Morgen: Absolutely. No-one’s perfect, especially in fiction. Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Mark: I rework a manuscript to death. ‘A Thousand Beauties’ suffered through 17 drafts. I reworked elements of ‘Down’ right up until two weeks before its release. My screenplays undergo periodic shake up, as I review them with an eye towards improvement. Whoever said, “Writing is Rewriting” had it exactly right in my book. No matter how strong someone’s prose is, I believe there is always room for improvement.
Morgen: According to http://midnightwriters.blogspot.co.uk/2012/01/writing-is-rewriting.html it was E.B. White. So do I. We never spot everything. I gauge a great bunch of first readers and they’ll always spot something. Do you have to do much research?
Mark: I have never written a book that did not require research. But I am not James Mitchner.
Morgen: What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Mark: ‘A Thousand Beauties’ is written in the third person, and ‘Down’ is written in the first person. Strangely enough, my new book is being written in the second person.
Morgen: Wow. I’d love to read that. Do you write any poetry, non-fiction or short stories?
Mark: I have, in the past, written book and music reviews, articles on education and teaching, and poetry. I have had one short story published by Cleis Press in an anthology (“A Date with the Chairman” appeared in Wicked: Sexy Tales of Legendary Lovers, 2005).
Morgen: I’ve written a couple of scenes of erotica for my latest novel (which is quietly marinating as we speak) so I’m reading an erotica anthology – some are surprisingly cringe-worthingly bad. Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Mark: My first failed attempt at a novel will never be viewed. As I’ve said, I have a drawer full of screenplays that I hope will be picked up. But it is entirely possible that these will never be produced.
Morgen: Let’s hope they are. Screenplays though, from what I’ve heard, are far harder to get noticed than novels (and that’s hard enough). It sounds like you’re enjoying what you’re doing in the meantime. Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Mark: Rejection is part of a writer’s life. I envy those who experience less of it. But experience some form of rejection of my work almost daily.
Morgen: I’m sure it makes you more determined. Some authors I’ve spoken to have never received rejections, but then it’s usually because they’ve never submitted or what they have has been picked up. It’s good timing and determination. Do you enter competitions? Are there any you could recommend?
Mark: I have entered competitions, but have long since stopped. We live very frugally, and $50 or $60 entrance fees are not so easy to come by.
Morgen: Ouch. That’s… ouch. They’re mostly around the £5-£10 here so I guess around $10-$15, much more realistic, although that’s short stories so I do think it goes up with the increase in content. Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Mark: I do not have an agent, and believe they are valuable. But I have known other writers who had agents who were ineffective. It’s very much a matter of luck. The right agent at the wrong time, or the wrong agent at the right time can be worse than having no agent. But I believe it’s always better to have someone else who has an active interest in your success, working with you to build a career.
Morgen: I have had authors here with mixed reports although most have been happy with the ones they have. How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Mark: Currently I do all of the marketing for all of my titles.
Morgen: What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Mark: I really don’t enjoy the marketing as much as some people do. I just want to write, and have someone else push the titles. Of course, that’s unrealistic in this day and age.
Morgen: I’d say 95% of the replies to ‘least favourite’ is marketing because it’s so time-consuming and we’re minnows in a very large pond so have to shout loudly to get heard… but we’re shouting, that’s the main thing. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Mark: I spent several years writing what I thought other people wanted to see. I created some very competent projects, many of which I like. But they have had no success. My advice is to write what it is in your heart to write. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to stick to one genre, and build your audience that way.
Morgen: It is recommended. Like you, I started with a variety, although I’ve settled into crime novels now. If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and what would you cook (or hide the takeaway containers)?
Mark: I would choose Benjamin Franklin, Jesus Christ, and Leonardo DaVinci. I’d serve vegetarian chilli and beer.
Morgen: Nice. Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Mark: To paraphrase Ghandi, “A nation can be judged by how it treats its animals.”
Morgen: Considering dogs are a man’s best friend, here in the UK, we don’t treat ours very well (although I do… up to a point, and he knows what that point is). Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
Mark: I teach writing to eighth graders in a Los Angeles public school.
Morgen: It’s great to start children early. I’ve had probably half of my interviewees say they started writing fiction when they were young, as I did, but they kept going, knowing they want to be writers… how lucky is that? What do you do when you’re not writing?
Mark: I ride my motorcycle and play with my kids.
Morgen: Are there any writing-related websites and / or books that you find useful?
Mark: I believe each one has something to offer, depending on its viewers / readers’ personal needs.
Morgen: Which is why there are so many around. Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Mark: I have a presence on Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, and Pinterest. I find them useful for spreading the word about my work, and keeping up with my ‘personal’ relationships.
Morgen: What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Mark: I believe it will be more difficult for good writers to be discovered. Without the gatekeepers weeding out the barely edited drivel, the market is flooded. A great writer can be completely obscured by the flood of available work, much of it bad enough to turn away the very audience we hope to build.
Morgen: It is, although I do believe that reviews will steer readers towards or away, although having heard some people pay for reviews, or leave bad comments on ‘rival’ authors sites; does sour the thought. Where can we find out about you and your writing?
Morgen: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Morgen: Sounds fun. Is there anything you’d like to ask me?
Mark: Please post the links to purchase my work:
‘Down’ is available at:
- Google Books http://books.google.com/books?id=saiFeESDMGYC&lpg=PP1&dq=mark adam kaplan&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q=mark adam kaplan&f=false
- Amazon http://www.amazon.com/Down-ebook/dp/B0084PRSC6
- Nook http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/down-mark-adam-kaplan/1110946242?ean=2940014458818
- iTunes http://itunes.apple.com/ca/book/down/id528094280?mt=11
‘A Thousand Beauties’:
- Amazon http://www.amazon.com/Thousand-Beauties-Mark-Adam-Kaplan/dp/1905202946
- Nook http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/thousand-beauties-mark-adam-kaplan/1016314283
- iTunes http://itunes.apple.com/us/book/a-thousand-beauties/id409294210?mt=11
‘Monsters Do Ugly Things’
- Amazon http://www.amazon.com/kindle/dp/B0066ULVEM
- Nook http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/monsters-do-ugly-things-mark-adam-kaplan/1107349346
- iTunes http://itunes.apple.com/us/book/monsters-do-ugly-things/id479628229?mt=11
Morgen: Gladly. Thank you, Mark.
I then invited Mark to include a synopsis of his latest book…
Leon Mendoza starts the school year with an ankle monitor and an upcoming court date. He’s determined to stay out of trouble. But how can he with the pending charges against him, his P.O. breathing down his neck, a father in jail, a mother in deep depression, and even his home boys pressuring him to quietly take the rap?
Will the attention of an attractive school girl, the support of a few teachers and a part-time job make a difference to Leon? Or is he destined to follow in his father’s footsteps, and spend his life in and out of jail?
Mark Adam Kaplan is a husband and father, an internationally produced screenwriter, and children’s book author. Kaplan has also worked with at-risk youth for many years as a public school teacher in New York City and Los Angeles.
Kaplan earned his Bachelor’s in English from the University of Michigan, a Master’s of Fine Arts from The American Film Institute’s Center for Film and Television Studies, and a Master’s of Arts in School Administration from California State University, Northridge.
His first novel, A Thousand Beauties, was released by Bewrite Books in 2009. Kaplan published his first children’s book, Monsters Do Ugly Things, in 2011, and is the co-founder of Monsters Unbound. Down, his second novel, was released May 25, 2012.
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