Friday, 13 November 2009

Mark Teppo - Author Interview





Q: Pitch The first novel of your series.

A: LIGHTBREAKER is a Dan Brown thriller written by Aleister Crowley, wherein everyone who is after the mystical secret key of the universe actually knows how to use it. And they're willing to break things in order to get it. It's the first book in a longer series, the CODEX OF SOULS.

Q: What are your favourite three books ?

A: Gene Wolfe's BOOK OF THE NEW SUN series (it's all one book, really, and one of them by itself doesn't bake your brain like the whole quartet does), Grant Morrison's THE INVISIBLES (again, the sum is mightier than the parts), and James Elroy's WHITE JAZZ. No one packs more degradation, guilt, and despair in a single sentence fragment than that man.

Q: What made you want to be a writer?

A: Huh, I can't remember, actually. Couldn't be that school-wide writing competition I won back in sixth grade, mainly because I didn't know there was one until my English teacher submitted the piece I had written for my creative writing class. Though, it probably has something to do with Lloyd Alexander-esque story I wrote as my final paper on T. S. Eliot for my Survey of English Lit class in college. When you manage to convince the grad student running the class that such a story will, in many ways, display more effectively one's understanding of "The Wasteland" than a mind-numbing ramble—with footnotes--that's a pretty clear sign that you'd rather be making things up for a living than anything else.

Q: In the books you’ve written, who is you favourite character and why?

A: I really like my version of Rudolph in the Christmas stories, which, alas, no one other than the people on my Christmas card list (three years running) have seen. Of course, should someone like to publish them…

I do like Markham, the protagonist of the CODEX books, quite a bit. He's been in my head long enough that he's become somewhat emo from all that time of waiting for something to happen, but I think I'm breaking him of that habit fairly quickly. LIGHTBREAKER and HEARTLAND have been "works-in-progress" for so long that there's a certain amount of psychic baggage attached to them, and it's been nice to finally be done with them. I'm actually excited about ANGEL TONGUE (book 3) and the ones that follow, as they're books which have no previous drafts floating around. It'll be new ground for me, and I think that'll reflect pretty clearly in Markham's attitude.

Q: If you could, would you change places with any of your characters?

A: Oh, dear, no. I try very hard to break them--psychologically and physically. It wouldn't be much fun to be on the receiving end of a capricious deity's whims. Though, they do surprise me, which is part of the fascination with being a writer. You have these creatures whom you think operate on very specific rulesets--ones that you've given them--and they always break free and find their own path. It's when the characters start pushing back on the outline that I feel like I've got a real book on my hands.

Q: If you could live in your fantasy/sf world, would you? Would you live in somebody else’s?

A: I'm trying to ground the CODEX enough in reality (especially in books 3 and 4) that it's only fantasy by a stretch of my imagination, and some days, I wish it were more true that it is. It would certainly explain a lot of things. Given the opportunity, though, I think it'd be fascinating to live in some of the worlds of the French graphic artists: Moebius, Druillet, or Schuiten.

Q: What was the first novel (published or unpublished) that you wrote and how long did it take to write it?

A: It was called SOULS OF THE LIVING and I wrote it in a sixty-day spurt at the beginning of 1995. All that remains of it are the framework of a few scenes and a handful of characters, but it was the first draft of what became LIGHTBREAKER.

Q: What was the hardest scene for you to write?

A: The first one on an otherwise blank page. It may not be the first scene of the book, but it's the first scene I write of a new book. I hate getting started.

Q: Share an interesting fan story.

A: Someone, who I've known for a very long time, recently finished LIGHTBREAKER and gave me a strange look the day after. "Are you," she asked, "You know, one of them?" I played dumb. "One of who?" "One of those guys. A…Traveler?"

For a second or two, I thought about saying yes, but I could tell it took a lot for her to even ask the question, and to mess with her would have been mean. Though, it may be like the old maxim about the Rosicrucians. If you say you are a Rosicrucian, you aren't. If you deny it, you probably are.

Q: What was the most fun book signing, convention, etc. you’ve attended and why?

A: I still get a kick out of being able to publicly point to the book and say (in a loud voice), "Why, yes, I wrote that. Why do you ask?" LIGHTBREAKER has only been physically on the shelves for about six months and so people are still discovering it. So any opportunity I have to do some sort of promotion or event has been a hoot. It's not work yet. It's not the grind of "Oh, drat; a sixteen city tour this month." It's: "Oh, look! A stack of books I've not signed. Who has a pen?"

Q: If you still have one, what’s your day job?

A: I still have the day job, where I do a variety of technical things for a biotech company in Seattle. Most of the time the job involves taking data from one system, massaging it, and giving it to another system, but doing it all through the magic of "middleware."

Q: What is your university degree in and does it help with your writing?

A: I had enough science for a B.S. in the Arts and Letters, but I couldn't say it with a straight face. It was a generalized liberal arts degree, but we were expected to declare a focus and write a thesis. I did mine on Creative Mythology, and wrote about the use of mythological tropes and sacred elements within both popular fiction and literature. Clive Cussler's TREASURE was actually a cornerstone to my thesis. I think my advisor was appalled on some level; more so because I made it work. Has it helped? Yes, I'm still milking the research I did back then. Every time I mention Mircea Eliade or use the phrase 'in illo tempore' in the books, I'm just validating my college degree.

Q: Do you think it is easier to write fantasy or science fiction?

A: I used to think fantasy was, because you could make everything up and no one would be able to call you on the places where you got things wrong (unlike science fiction), but I've come to realize that making things up--on such a global level--is probably more work. None of it is easy, I think, the trick is to make it fun, and both have their pluses and minuses.

I just finished a 21st century corporate espionage piece for Electric Velocipede (in issue #19; that was the first real "science fiction" that I've written, and I think I managed to not embarrass myself on the tech side of things. But it was an entirely different set of mental peregrinations than the sort of thing I do for the fantasy. In fact, now that I think about it, I made everything up for that story, whereas a lot of the fantastic elements in the CODEX books are researched fairly intently. Apparently, I'm doing it backward.

Q: When and where do you write?

A: I write on the train or at the coffee shop, mostly. I finally admitted to myself recently that I don't really write at home. Partly it is because the way my day is structured, the commute is set aside as my writing time, and I guard it religiously. As I became more accustomed to being a mobile writer, working at the coffee shop became the obvious extension of that.

Q: What’s the best/worst thing about writing?

A: I used to think it was the editing, but now I really enjoy the process of fixing a story. First drafts tend to be fragmentary (not surprising, based on how I write them), and so there's a real sense of satisfaction in putting this awkward, jagged thing together. The worst part is how isolating the work can be. By the time someone reads a book you've written, it may be several years--and several projects--later for you, and it can be hard to share in a reader's excitement about the work. At the same time, all the things you find fascinating RIGHT NOW are meaningless to anyone else because they're not as involved in them as you are.

Q: What is something you didn’t know about the publishing industry before you had your first book published?

A: Nothing happens overnight, even when it looks like it does. A writer has to be stubbornly determined in order to get a book done; they also have to be Zen masters of patience while they wait for something to happen.

Q: Do you have any advice for hopeful authors?

A: Write every single day. Doesn't matter where or how or how much. Do it. Do it long enough, it gets easier. Do it more, and it becomes part of who you are.

Q: Any tips against writers block?

A: Writer's block is mainly an issue of you over-thinking what needs to go on the page. Usually, I do something else as I've found that whatever I manage to eke out during these periods is usually so bad that it all gets cut anyway. There's always reading to be done, so that's what I go do. Eventually, the knot dissolves itself and the flow starts again. Or if you stack up enough projects, when one stalls out, you switch to something else. I don't get writer's block much anymore, really, as my writing time is broken up enough that any trouble I'm having with a scene is usually worked out in my subconscious between sessions.

Q: How do you discipline yourself to write?

A: I have two forty minute blocks in a day. I need to do 30,000 words a month. I typically write 1000 words an hour. My schedule only has six days a week of writing time on it, so…(doing the math)…yeah, I'm always behind in the word count. That does wonders for disciple.

Q: How many rejection letters did you get for your first novel or story?

A: SOULS OF THE LIVING was shopped for two years before we shelved it. I got about a dozen rejections during that iteration. When we tried again with it a half-dozen years later (after a page one rewrite to make it LIGHTBREAKER), we had one rejection before two houses went to the mat for it.

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