Welcome to the twenty-fourth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. Today’s is with fantasy / science-fiction writer Mark Tierno. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate the author further. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here.
Morgen: Hello, Mark. Please would you tell us something about yourself and how you came to be a writer.
Mark: Well, I have a Masters in Physics, second BS in Math, spent half my life taking care of first my Dad who had Parkinson’s Disease then my Mom until she passed away as well, and have never really had a social life so I guess that’s perfect for being a writer.
Morgen: A tough way of being one but a positive out of a negative. 🙂
Mark: I guess a part of me has known since at lest age 12 I’d end up as a writer, though I had to wait until word processors were invented as the physical labour of handwriting everything in my head or using a normal type writer was just too much.
Morgen: I find writing by hand almost painful now… I’m so lazy. 🙂
Mark: In 7th grade I began taking mental notes of different authors I’d read and how they did things, then let it percolate in my head for a while. Eventually I decided what my style would be… as soon as I’d dream up what to write. Finally one day a friend was doing up a cyberpunk-inspired fanzene of his own – the kind that gets run off of a Xerox machine and distributed to maybe 6 people- and he needed some stories. I thought up an off the wall take on the genre and everyone liked it. The magazine didn’t make it past issue zero but I kept writing more stories of that same character. Eventually I got a chance to sit down and start on my big project, of which “Maldene” is the first novel.
Morgen: Shame about the magazine but “yay” for you. 🙂 What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Mark: Fantasy, SF, and a mix of the two. I write what I like to read, and since I don’t like to read romances or westerns then that leaves those out.
Morgen: I have an amazing 70-something F/SF writer who’s never read a word of it; it amazes me every time I hear her read her work. What have you had published to-date? How much of the marketing do you do?
Mark: Maldene is the first in my fantasy epic, put out by my publisher in two volumes (their decision, certainly not mine).
Morgen: Ah, darn publishers… who’d have one? 🙂
MT: It is the first in a rather long series, so I need this book going first. I also have some other stuff awaiting publication. As far as marketing, I have a web page, tried releasing a few press releases at free PR sites, did a couple of author signings at 1 bookstore and 1 library, but basically I stink at that sort of thing… unfortunately so does my publisher.
Morgen: Oh dear. Maybe this is the perfect question: Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Mark: I sure could use one. Unfortunately by the time you’re successful enough for an agent to take you on, you probably don’t need one as bad. For someone lacking in his own PR skills, I believe an agent is essential, assuming you can get one to sign on.
Morgen: Are your books available as eBooks? If so what was your experience of that process? And do you read eBooks?
Mark: Haven’t read any ebooks yet, and no my books aren’t available as ebooks. For one, to make them so available my publisher wants to charge me money for the privilege (technically, they insist I buy a certain minimum number of copies of my own book to activate this feature).
Morgen: That’s not great. What was your first acceptance and is being accepted still a thrill?
Mark: “Maldene” was my first acceptance, and I still have the dollar bill they sent me framed.
Morgen: $1… ouch. I have my lovely coloured £10 cheque, although not in a frame but a display book.
Mark: It was a thrill that my Mom got to see me speak about my book and read a chapter at a local library. A bigger thrill would be for another publisher with some serious ambitions to accept me.
Morgen: I was thinking that but didn’t like to say so. I can now. Yes, Mark, you need a publisher with a heart for your work. I have an aunt (actually my only aunt, thinking about it) who writes brilliant books about her town (multiple book signings every issue) but an appalling publisher who “says” they don’t make any money (despite me seeing their other lovely glossy books in my town) and want her to do more books (which take months of research) yet will only pay her in… books. So she’s been paid (much too little in my opinion) in books and is selling them herself. Just a thought. Ah, yes, see earlier reference to being rubbish at marketing (she and my photographer uncle have a ‘local’ stall on their market).
Mark: I can’t ever see a day when being accepted will cease being a thrill.
Morgen: Oh yes, sorry, back to the subject in hand. Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Mark: Rejections, yes! When I was trying to find an agent, between mailing, emailing, and hone calls, I submitted to around 150 agents, only about 12 of which bothered to send me a rejection. As far as dealing, I just kept on writing.
Morgen: Ouch. But yes, that’s the thing to do. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Mark: Right now, unfortunately Probate (I’m executor for my mom) + no 9-5 means my own projects are on hold. No fear, though, because in total I have Maldene (13-book series), Cyberdawn (5-book series), Flaatphut (1 short story + 5 novellas and novels), + Maldene Origins (2 books, a prequel to Maldene). That’s about 8 million words strewn throughout a decade of work. I have notes on what my next world will be, but I have to get the personal issues of my life solved first.
Morgen: Wow, that dwarfs my c. 1 million. Do you manage to write every day? What’s the most you’ve written in a day?
Mark: My typical writing schedule is first day of a new chapter I write from about 7:30AM to around 5PM, sometimes more, go to health club, then that night edit what I wrote. Second day, finish up the chapter by noon, edit at night, then day three go over the entire chapter once more, spell check, and outline the next chapter. Once in a while I’ll get an entire chapter done in a single day. On average, for that first day of the cycle, I do between 12,000 and 13,000 words, and I’ve hit 14,000 words in one day on several occasions. The most I’ve written was for a climatic chapter of the last book in the Maldene series: 15,700 words. I just couldn’t stop, it was really good and I wanted to see how it ended (plus there was a movie I wanted to see the next day). I was editing until after 1AM that evening.
Morgen: That puts my 9,337 in the shade. 🙂 What is your opinion of writer’s block? Do you ever suffer from it? If so, how do you ‘cure’ it?
Mark: Writer’s what? Never had it. I just put on my music (movie sound tracks; think John Williams and such), and zone out for around 8 hours or so. Sort of Zen Typing, I guess.
Morgen: Mine’s Erik Satie… I always thought I’d be old when I liked classical music (I’m coming up to 44 and have liked it for a number of years) but it’s all I write to (no lyrics to distract me). Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Mark: Both. I always make sure to have an outline of the entire book done up before I start, though if I get any good ideas along the way that fit within this general guideline then I’ll run with it.
Morgen: Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Mark: I hope not. I have a lot of stuff that people agree is all gold. If I write anything I’m not sure of then I’ll rewrite and edit until I am sure of it. A couple of poems that probably won’t ever get me anything, and one short story that may be too unusual for most people; it’s entitled “The Man In The Red Suit” and is a very quick take on my idea of what if Santa Claus was an alien from another planet.
Morgen: Oh that sounds good – you must do something with it. 🙂 What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life?
Mark: Favourite: the writing, the creative part. Least favourite: the fourth or fifth edit. Complete non-favourite: finding a good publisher and marketer.
Morgen: I’m hearing that a lot. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Mark: Write what you love, don’t write the market. If you aren’t excited about what you write, it will show. Also, a day job or someone to support you until you “make” it.
Morgen: That would be useful. I enjoy my (job-share) day job but could, oh so, do with the extra 2.5 days. What do you like to read?
Mark: Fantasy and SF for the most part. From Heinlein to the present.
Morgen: Are there any writing-related websites and/or books that you find useful and would recommend?
Mark: Not really, though Linkedin.com has been proving useful for getting contacts. As far as “how-to” books, if the people writing them really knew how to really be successful, then they’d be too busy being successful to write a little How-to book. Ever seen any books for starting writers from the likes of Jerry Pournell, Normal Spinrad, or J.K. Rowling? A friend showed me one book from a noted SF author with advice for writers and I disagreed on a lot of the “how-to-write” stuff.
Morgen: Then it sounds like you don’t need one. I think, to a certain extent, you can’t beat reading and practicing. In which country are you based and do you find this a help or hindrance with letting people know about your work?
Mark: California, U.S.A. I sometimes think that if I’d been born in abject poverty would have given me more of a chance at success, since they have a higher tendency to break out and become millionaires than the Middle Class.
Morgen: But it sounds like you have the drive so that’s what’s important. Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how invaluable do you find them?
Mark: Again, Linkedin.com has been getting my attention more and more for finding other writers to talk with, find others that better understand what I go through and why I don’t just give it all up for a paper-hat job.
Morgen: I love that expression; we call it ‘McDonalds’ over here. 🙂 Where can we find out about you and your work?
Mark: www.maldene.com contains info on all stuff Maldene, including the first chapter free to read, a few downloads (map, Maldene font file, etc.), links to reader reviews and places you can order the book, and a few other things. I also have a personal site at http://members.tripod.com/~dr-strange for those interested in that sort of thing, or maybe you’d want to go there to read a couple of my poems or some of the other nonsense I have posted.
Morgen: Ooh, I love strange. Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Mark: Live Long and Klatu Varata Nikto.
Morgen: Thank you, I think. 🙂 Ah… http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Klaatu_barada_nikto. Thank you Google.
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