About the Author
Mark Souza lives in the Pacific Northwest with his wife, two children, and mongrel beast-dog, Tater. When he’s not writing, he’s out among you trying to look and act normal (whatever that is), reminding himself that the monsters he’s created are all in his head, no more real than campaign promises.
- Born with a pen in your hand or writing came as a shock brigade?
I was not born a writer. I had a knack for language and story telling at a fairly young age, skills that served me well while competing for attention at the dinner table. Even when recounting actual events, I knew which parts to leave out and which parts to embellish for effect.
I didn’t start writing until I was in my twenties, well before personal computers, pen on paper. I never seemed to finish anything, and all those writing notebooks got lost along the way – probably just as well. Career and family came along and my budding writing career went into deep hibernation for nearly two decades.
Once I started writing fiction again, I had a lot to overcome. I had been an engineer for quite a while and had to get beyond the passive writing style typical of the profession. I joined a writing group, consistently submitted my work for criticism, and listened to what they had to tell me. Through the help of others, my writing improved to the point where it was publishable. I still listen to criticism and always will. I want my writing to continually improve, and that won’t happen if I’m not willing to listen.
What inspires me most is when my wife reads my work and likes the story or laughs out loud. She is a writer, too, and much better at it than I. She’s my first beta reader, critic, and editor. When she speaks, I listen. If she likes what I’ve done, I know I have something.
After that is positive feedback from readers. A writer’s life is a doubt riddled endeavor. It’s nice once in a while to know you’re on track, that someone enjoys what you are doing.
I have enough quirks to fill an oil tanker, but none related to writing save one. I became friends with a writer named Karen Harter. She wrote a book titled “Where Mercy Flows” that I adore. Besides both being writers, we were both avid fly fishers. She had pancreatic cancer. I took her on her last fishing trip. She died a few months later, So whenever possible, I’ll name a river or lake after her in my stories in tribute to my friend.
Angelina Jolie’s bedroom. Next best is any place I’m free from obligations, where if I’m in a flow, it can proceed uninterrupted. Writing at work during lunch, which is where most of my writing is done, is not ideal. That said, there is a benefit to having the pressure to perform. The hour I have for lunch is the only guaranteed writing time I have, and I’ve learned to get down to it.
Real life is core to good writing. No matter the story or setting, it has to ring true to readers to be a success. Characters and situations have to resonate with readers to be believed. We all generally know the truth when we see it, and nothing is as true as what you can bring from your own experiences.
If Jabba the Hut is to be believable, he must be imbued with the traits, behaviors, and motivations common to villains. If a writer has never encountered a bully, has never encountered evil, they will not be able to make Jabba the Hut real.
An author’s life experiences are uniquely hers or his. It’s these memories and experiences that differentiate one writer from another. It’s important to bring them to your work. It makes for more powerful writing.
My dream is the dream of all writers. It’s to be able to make a living from our writing. To have an army of adoring fans eagerly anticipate my next book. It’s validation of what I’m doing.
And, of course, world peace and all the children on Earth joining hands in song.
I don’t consider that I have made it yet, I have had some success, but I’m still struggling to find a larger audience. I have yet to publish a novel, but will next year. I will say selling my first short story was a huge thrill. Getting positive reviews was another. Even being a writer, I find it virtually impossible to describe how good it feels.
I’m a plotter with pantser tendencies. With a demanding job, and two children at home, time is at a premium. I’ve had enough stories go sideways that I’m off the pantser trail. Great initial ideas often peter out before I reach the end. To assure that doesn’t happen. I won’t write a story until I can plot it from beginning to end.
But by the same token, fabulous things can happen along the way, characters can show me new and better paths I never considered. Because of that, I don’t lock myself into the outline and leave myself open to those nuggets adjusting my outline as I go to make sure there is still a destination for my story.
Complaints from writers about writing a synopsis for agents or editors are common. My advice is that if a writer does a good enough job with the outline before delving into the story, the synopsis is pretty much already written by the end of the story.
Outlining isn’t a dirty word, it’s merely preparation. And it doesn’t have to stifle creativity as long as a writer remains receptive to the opportunities that occur along the way and is willing to adjust.
Pantsing is like renting a car in a foreign country and opting not to take a map or GPS. It can be quite an adventure and even enjoyable provided you have no time constraints and plenty of gas. If you’re strapped for time, a map is a good idea.
Are you a disciplined writer? Do you make yourself sit down every day or do you write in bursts?
I’m somewhat disciplined. I try to write every day. But let’s face it, some days it’s a chore, especially when I feel thick-headed and words don’t come easily. Other days the words flow faster than my hands can keep up with, and I rue the end of my lunch break.
Writers should be like sharks, always moving forward. Writing is our oxygen, even on those sloggy, I-don’t-want-to-get-out-of-bed days. Writers get better at their craft by writing, so it is something that should be done every day.
The dreaded writer’s block, have you been struck with it or blissfully spared?
I’ve been plagued with the same afflictions most writers have dealt with for as long as ideas have been put to paper; writer’s block, apathy, boredom. Writing a novel is a long and lonely process. A writer can easily fall victim to any or all of these along the way.
We tend to get so close to our work that we start to doubt it. After a year with the same cast of characters and the same story, it can lose its luster. That’s when boredom, doubt and apathy creep in. After a while, you begin doubting yourself and your project.
I have walked away from a number of stories, only to read it weeks or months later and fall in love with it all over again. NEVER SCRAP ANYTHING. It’s probably better than you think, and at worst, might provide a start for something else.
When writers hit the doldrums, my recommendation is to write a short story. It’s a smaller commitment with a very attainable end. It can get the juices started again. And frequently short stories grow into something more.
I do not consider myself an inherently good person. I possess more than the usual amounts of selfishness, greed, sarcasm, envy, judgmental-ism, and general wickedness. Maybe that’s why I can write darkly flawed characters so well. What I would like people to remember most is that even despite all this, I made real efforts to be nice, to help others. I have strived to be better.
Have you ever switched genres, or considered doing so?
I started out a mystery writer. I wrote three novels in that genre that will likely never see the light of day. I fell into horror quite by chance. Someone told me about an open call for a horror anthology. I didn’t know if I could write horror, but gave it a crack. My work was accepted and I made my first money writing.
The horror community has been very good to me and it’s where I’ve had the bulk of my success. But back to the original question. I don’t see myself sticking to just one genre. I have too many good ideas in other genres I don’t want to scrap. My first novel, Robyn’s Egg due out in 2012, will have a definite science fiction/thriller flavor. I also have a pair of YA pieces going that I really like.
Common wisdom is that jumping genres hurts your career and alienates readers. It’s good advice. I am banking on writing that entertains no matter what the genre, and hope fans will come along for the ride. It’s a strategy that has worked for Stephen King. King’s first success, Carrie, could easily be classified as YA, as were Stand By Me, and The Girl Who Love Tom Gordon. Running Man was science fiction, and Delores Claiborne a mystery. I’m hoping to do the same.
Yes. But unless your name is Stephen King, it’s something authors need to get good at. I’m still learning, and don’t feel I know enough yet to be of help to anyone. Toother writers I’d say follow author’s blogs and find out what worked for them.
Twitter for now, primarily based on the fact that it’s the first social network I joined. I feel like I understand Twitter, whereas I’m new to Facebook and feel like a total dolt there. It’s the way I am whenever new to something. I will get better at it eventually.
Far too much. I feel I lose two days of writing a week trying to keep up with #WWs and #FF’s. On the good side, it’s good to have friends. It’s where I met Elle. That alone has made it worthwhile, but a balance must be struck and each person has to decide where that line is.
Laptop all the way. It blows my mind how good writers had to be in the days before word processing. Making a simple change could be brutal with all the ripples in affected pages downstream. Back then, an author had to write clean.
Not with short stories. But I have with every novel I’ve ever written. I get too close for too long. After a while I’m sure it’s the worst piece of crap ever written and can’t believe I wasted so much time on it. It’s common, and not just with me.
Probably the worst point in writing any novel is the editing, and if ever there’s a point at which a writer will get fed up with a story, it’s then.
When it gets really bad, the best thing to do is to hit SAVE, and start to work on something else for a while. When you come back to it, you’ll be fresh and can see it more objectively, and the love for the project usually returns.
Thought about it and done it. This is about my third go. Writing puts the writer in isolation, alone in their own head in a world of their own making. Every minute spent with your characters is at the expense of time with someone else, someone real. Every page written is time that could have been spent doing something else. Rare is the time that writing is not accompanied with regret.
I like entertaining people, always have – whether it’s telling stories gathered around the dinner table, to colleagues at work, or around a camp fire. I also like creating new worlds and interesting people.
Writing is an inherently selfish act. Time spent writing is time taken away from family and friends. I also hate the self-doubt, wondering if I made a mistake and will ever be good enough as a writer.
I grew up in a large, boisterous family where I had to compete for attention with five brothers and sisters. I am far more comfortable with a din in the background – as long as it doesn’t interrupt or make demands on me.
Coming from a large family, total quiet is somewhat disconcerting – much like an antelope finding itself alone on the veldt, it’s a sign that something has gone horribly wrong.
Commit to whatever you do, and treat this life as the only life you’ll ever get.
Third – by far. First person is what most of us grew up doing and how we tell our own stories to others, so we think we have skill at it. First person is so much harder to execute than third person. The work that results from it is typically painfully riddled with the words “I” and “me.”
Success with first person hinges on understanding when it should be used. First person works best when the narrator is a witness to the story, but not a prime instigator of action. This eliminates most of the “I” and “me”s, as the protagonist is someone else, though the voice of the narrator comes through loud and clear as all the information is filtered through them.
To give a concrete example, The Lone Ranger writing about himself would not be a good choice for first person. Tonto writing about the Lone Ranger would be a brilliant use of first person.
I prefer past tense. It’s what I grew up with and what sounds right to my ear. Present tense is always a little jarring and so hard to get right. Most times I’ve seen it; writers make the mistake of switching back to past tense. I don’t like to put anything in a piece that might pull the reader out of the story. Present tense makes it harder to get a reader into the story, then a mistake in tense reminds the reader they are reading and not actually in the action. Both of those things are bad – very bad.
Now if there is a compelling reason for present tense, if it’s the best way to tell the story, I’ll definitely do it. I just haven’t come across a situation where that’s the case.
Connect With Mark :
My Website: http://www.marksouza.com
Be Prepared To Die – 7 Short Bites of Horror
Death stalks victims across time, from the past into the present and beyond. “Be Prepared To Die,” contains seven very different tales with one common theme; death has crept alarmingly close and is preparing to pounce.
Available on Amazon
Robyns’ Eggis a thriller set in a not too distant dystopian future where corporations rule, and as a result of germ warfare, babies must be cloned and bought.Moyer Winfield isn’t sure he wants to be a father. His childhood was not happy, and he doesn’t know if he has what it takes. But his wife, Robyn, is frantic for a child, and he wonders how long his marriage will survive without one. In an age when babies must be cloned and purchased, the high cost is the only thing saving Moyer from fatherhood. And then his wife learns their friends negotiated the price of their baby with Hogan-Perko, the corporation with a monopoly on human cloning.
At his wife’s insistence, Moyer goes to the Hogan-Perko Birthing Center the next day and finds himself face to face with Victor Perko haggling for a baby. The cost, all his savings and the promise of a favor at some point in the future, should it ever be needed. Moyer agrees and is soon spying on Perko’s enemies.