Many of you follow Scribbles on Cocktail Napkins because you want to be an author . . . someday, in the hypothetical land of far, far away. But, I recently met an author who proves that even with a busy family life and successful career, that dream is still an option . . . now.
As new author myself, when I come in contact with the few who have made it, who have climbed the mountain of writing a book and then *eyes widen in wonder as mouth unceremoniously unhinges* getting it published, I have a ton of questions.
I talked about my love/hate relationship with Twitter before, here. To be fair, most of the time I do love Twitter. I’ve had some pretty neat conversations with people I would have never come in contact with otherwise. On Wednesday, when Canada’s new Prime Minister was sworn in, I logged in to read up to the minute updates about his cabinet. As a writer, I follow hashtags like #amwriting which often lead to the incredible, free writing resources that are invaluable to self-taught writers like me.
Last week in the Twitterverse, I met a budding author whose debut novel, Hunt For the Troll, was picked up and released by the independent publisher, New Pulp Press. We got to talking, which got my curiosity up, and I checked out his book.
A-may-zing. His characters are out of this world. You need to read it to believe it. Here’s a quick look at the blurb:
It all starts when twenty-something software programming genius is visited while he sleeps by a mysterious figure referred to as the Troll. “We’re going to change the world,” the Troll tells the narrator. Soon we’re introduced to an assortment of off-beat characters: a red-haired, one-eared, female temptress; a pot-smoking tech reporter; a computer-generated Halfling; and a few venture capitalists who are all interested in finding the Troll. Mostly taking place in San Francisco, Hunt for the Troll is a quirky hybrid of mystery, pulp, and modern fairy tale.”
The author, Mark Richardson, graciously agreed to an interview for Scribbles on Cocktail Napkins. I just knew most of YOU would be interested in hearing about everything from the process of writing a novel to getting it published, too.
With no further ado, here’s Mark!
So, you’re from Chicago, and now you live in Northern California?
Yes. I grew up in Winnetka, Illinois, just north of Chicago. I went to school at the University of Iowa. And have now lived in California for a number of years. I feel like a Californian at this point.
I bet you love California winters.
It’s funny: I am not sick and tired of perfect weather!
That is funny. And, I hate you. (Did I mention we got 18 feet of snow last year???) So, Hunt For the Troll is your debut novel. I HAVE to ask, where did you get the idea for the book? It almost seems like a mix of The Matrix and Alice in Wonderland.
It is sort of like those books, although not really exactly. It started out as a short story. I am a big fan of Haruki Murakami, and I really like his story, “The Dancing Dwarf.” It is a fairy tale. And I wanted to write something similar. So I started writing a story called, “The Internet Troll.” The short story didn’t really work; I spent 2-3 months trying to make it work. And then one day . . . it just kind of became a novel.
Wow! So how long did it take you to write?
It took about a year. I have a family and a full-time job, so I couldn’t write every day. But I just kept plugging away.
Would you like to explain how Haruki Murakami’s writing affected your work, to people who may not be familiar with his style?
He’s definitely one of my favorite authors. You should check him out. He’s Japanese and probably one of the most popular writers in the world. Many (although not all) of his stories have magical elements (magical realism). And he writes in a very accessible style. So the books are easy to read, weird things happen, and I find them very fun to read and interesting. The first line of “The Dancing Dwarf” is: “A dwarf came into my dream and asked me to dance.”
That is a killer first line.
You find out later that the narrator works at a factory where they build elephants. So weird stuff.
Your characters are pretty out of the ordinary. Were you ever concerned that people might not love them as much as you did?
Concerned probably isn’t the right word. I think it is unlikely that everyone would like my book. I think a fair percentage wouldn’t, and that is okay. But hopefully some would.
I think that’s a bold move, though. The books that try to please everyone are hardly worth reading.
Exactly. And it is frankly impossible anyway.
So did you focus on a certain theme while writing your book?
It did not come naturally. There was a lot of thrashing around to figure out what the book is about. I didn’t outline, and after writing about a third of it I had to go back and re-write it.
You aren’t saying you’re PANTSER, are you?!
Not sure what that means…
Plotters plot, and pantsers wing it. I am a die-hard plotter, and madly jealous of all pantsers . . . who can pull it off
I think I am a pantser. I kind of wing it. At least initially. I have started a new book and did storyboard it. But now finding myself going madly off what I had planned!
Do you use any kind of standard outline? The Hero’s Journey?
No, I really didn’t. Although it is kind of a hero’s journey story. Maybe starts out as stranger comes to town, but then the hero goes on a journey to find him.
You say this was supposed to be a short story. Have you written many others?
I’ve written around 10 short stories that have been published. That’s how I started out writing fiction.
Where can we find them?
I listed some of them on my webpage. My favorite is “Tears of the Platonic Man,” although my wife likes, “Tattoo Woman.”
You are married, with two kids and an active career . . . so how do you find time to write?
It can be tough. I write for my job, so the periods when I was really busy I just couldn’t write the book. But there were also weeks when I wasn’t that busy at work, so I would block off an hour or two and work on the book. I’ve found if I just keep at it the words can pile up.
How did you feel about the whole editing process of publishing?
Mine was pretty easy. My publisher, New Pulp Press, is an independent publisher, and they hardly changed a word. The editing process at my job is much more arduous.
Really? So what do you do in your Clark Kent time?
I work for a tech company in Silicon Valley. I write speeches and white papers and sales guides and other documents. Webpage stuff, too.
That’s interesting. Do you find writing fiction hard after slogging away all day in the real world?
If I am working on a big project at work, then I’ve found it is hard to dedicate the mental energy to the book. But I think the fact that I write so much at work also helps me be a better writer. The whole idea of putting in ten thousand hours. I haven’t put in ten thousand hours of fiction writing, but I have definitely done that and more as a writer. And I think the fiction writing makes me better at my job.
I’ve gotten very good at starting with a blank page and creating something. And I can kind of slip into that dreamy state where time flows by and you’re just focused on what you’re writing, if that makes sense. I have to create things for work, so I have learned to just buckle down and do it.
Let’s face it. A blank page can be very intimidating, especially when writers have so many other aspects of daily life to contend with. But, even though Mark has an active home life and successful career, he still pumped out a great book.
Because the only difference between writers and everyone else, is that writers write.
Check out Mark’s book here. You won’t be disappointed!