Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Interview with author Mark Phillips

Katie: I’d like to welcome today’s guest, Mark Phillips. Mark’s latest book, “The Resqueth Revolution,” is a hard core science fiction novel combined with horror.

Mark, welcome to my blog. Tell us a little about who you are as a person and as a writer.

Mark: I’m originally from Illinois. I grew up on the classics: Greek mythology, James Bond novels, golden age science fiction, and Batman comics. In college I majored in philosophy and minored in film. Now I teach high school precalculus and political philosophy in Houston, Texas. I’m a biblioholic and ardent individualist anarchist.

Katie: Your latest book, “The Resqueth Revolution” is now available. Can you tell us what motivated you to write this book?

Mark: I love the science fiction of the golden age masters—Heinlein, Sturgeon, Leiber, etc. When I read science fiction I want provocative ideas, challenging applications of real science, believable characters engaged in struggles over genuine moral dilemmas, exciting action. And I want books that are just plain fun to read. There are not many people writing that kind of science fiction today, so I thought I’d take a shot at it myself. I don’t pretend to do it as well as the old masters, but I give it everything I’ve got.

Katie: This book is billed as a hard science fiction and horror novel. Tell us how you came to write in this genre.

Mark: I’m usually a meticulous plotter, but this book grew organically. Sometimes the plot stayed comfortably science fiction, but other times it slid over into horror. I found that I really liked the mix, and the cross-fertilization of genres sparked my creativity. Only after I finished did I realize that the mixture I came up with was also the mixture explored by H. P. Lovecraft. I had read through all of Lovecraft’s works the year before I began Resqueth and I think it had been percolating in my subconscious all that time. I would never try to mimic Lovecraft’s unique style, but I’m interested in the same cosmic, other- dimensional horrors that fascinated him. And I like science fiction books that play with real science. But not to worry. I made sure the book was fun first and had some horror and science in it second. My wife and harshest critic, Charlotte, is not a fan of either hard science fiction or horror and she loved it. Trust me, that’s saying a lot. Charlotte believes in a high fun quotient as much as I do.

Katie: In addition to this novel, you have written “Hacksaw,” the first in the Eva Baum detective series. Your second book in the series, “The Golden Key” is scheduled to come out soon. How does this series differ from “The Resqueth Revolution?”

Mark: Well, the biggest difference is that I write the Eva Baum detective series with my brilliant co-author, my lovely wife, Charlotte Phillips. We’ve worked out a collaborative system that makes writing fun and that constantly pushes us both to achieve beyond what we can achieve separately. But the Eva novels are firmly footed in the real world. Charlotte keeps my more outrageous flights of fancy and my episodes of over-the-top action in firm check. The Resqueth Revolution allowed me to go wherever my fancy took me and to write what I humbly submit are some spectacular action scenes.

Katie: Did you do any special research for your books? How much time did that entail?

Mark: Research for The Resqueth Revolution took six months. I read The Hunt for the Zero Point by Nick Cook, The Making of the Atomic Bomb and Dark Sun by Richard Rhodes, The Paperclip Conspiracy by Tom Bowler, Blue Fires by Gary Hyland, The Scientist, The Madman, the Thief and Their Lightbulb by Keith Tutt, Project Orion by George Dyson, Richard Strozzi-Heckler’s In Search of the Warrior Spirit, The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene, How the Universe Got Its Spots by Janna Levin. I also made innumerable visits to Wikipedia.

Katie: Is there anything about these stories that parallels events that have occurred in your life? Do you draw your characters from folks you have met?

Mark: Steve Marks, the first person protagonist of The Resqueth Revolution, is definitely a version of me. The Eva Baum character is an amalgam of character traits from Charlotte and me as we were in our youth. As both characters react to events in their respective novels, I think you will notice that both have major issues with authority. We haven’t yet had to work out those issues as violently and decisively as Steve and Eva, but who knows what the future may hold.

Katie: During your writing career, have you experienced discouragement, or writer’s block? If so, can you share how you overcame?

Mark: Like most writers, I have a day job and it takes all I have to give. When I come home in the evening, I can research, edit, help Charlotte with marketing, etc., but creative writing is usually not an option. But, as a schoolteacher, I have extended breaks and the summer off. I usually go into a frenzy of writing during my time off from school. So far I’ve been lucky with inspiration. My experiences with writer’s block have been short-lived. When I get writer’s block I go take a nap, watch a movie, or read a book. I have an unshakeable faith that the story will eventually work itself out if I just let it percolate in the back of my mind.

Katie: Do you have any anecdotes or coincidences about how your first book came to be accepted for publication?

Mark: One of the things that delayed its publication was going down false paths with an agent who tried to get us to turn it into more of a suspense novel when we wanted it to be a detective novel. We also got frustrated with the interminable delays of the submission process. We did our research and finally went with POD independent publishing (with iUniverse) and have been happy with the results. We like the thoroughly professional look of the books. We like that our books are out there on and, that they will stay out there as long as we want, giving us time to experiment with marketing techniques such as this blog tour, as well as time for word of mouth to grow.

Katie: Which book that you’ve written did you have the most fun writing?

Mark: The Resqueth Revolution was fun because it was so easy. Just six months of pure research and six weeks of intensive writing to produce the first draft. I’m more proud of Hacksaw. Charlotte and I were working out and perfecting a collaborative technique. We wrote and then ruthlessly scrapped several early versions. Making those fundamental changes meant tossing out more than a year’s worth of effort and starting over. It was a hard but necessary lesson on what it takes to be a writer. Now, with The Golden Key, I’m getting the best of both experiences. Charlotte and I are confident in our hard-won skills and the ideas are flowing freely. We can see it all falling into place and the writing is a blast.

Katie: What advice do you have to give to writers seeking publication?

Mark: 1) Know your genre. Read everything you can lay your hands on until you have fully absorbed its forms and conventions. You can break or modify those forms if you wish, but you have to know them first. 2) Do the work. Research everything meticulously. 3) Get the first draft onto paper and only then go back and edit. In the editing phase agonize, if necessary, over every dubious word, phrase, and element of grammar. Use a professional editor to speed the process. For The Resqueth Revolution, I used L. J. Sellers, who astounded me with how much she found. She not only gave excellent wordsmithing advice, but made suggestions about nuances of the plot, characterizations, even the title. She clearly demarcated errors she caught from stylistic suggestions. I found her assistance well worth the investment. 4) Most of all write.

Katie: Thanks, Mark, for being my guest. You may order Mark’s books from Amazon and Barnes & Noble. You may contact him directly on his website or his blog.

Mark: Thanks for hosting me today. I enjoyed answering them and am looking forward to questions from your readers.

Followers of the 2009 Resqueth Revolution blog tour will have two opportunities to win free giveaways. Everyone who leaves a comment on the tour will receive one drawing entry per comment per blog site. Two entries will be drawn at random and the winners will receive their very own, signed copy of "The Resqueth Revolution." Everyone who answers all quiz questions correctly will be entered into a drawing for the grand prize--a signed copy of "The Resqueth Revolution," a Resqueth pen, magnet and calendar, and a signed copy of "Hacksaw," first in the Eva Baum Detective series.

Tomorrow's blog tour is here. Check here for a full tour schedule.


Betty Gordon said...

Mark, your comments were crisp, clear, and encouraging for writers.

Congratulations on on your new release.

Betty Gordon

Mark Phillips said...

Thanks, Betty. As always, I appreciate your kind words.

Vivian Zabel said...

Thanks for the interview, Katie. I'm glad to know more about Mark Phillips, the person and author.

He'll be on my blog the 24th.

unwriter said...

I'll try to follow this VBT as much as I can. I really liked the style of writing, as one might notice in the review I posted. I hope to review more of Mark's work.

Mark Phillips said...

Thanks unwriter, and you too Vivian. Thanks to Katie for the current guest spot. Charlotte, my marketing guru and lovely wife found me some truly fascinating and diverse blogs for this tour. Blogging is all new to me, but she really researched VBTs and I've been very happy with the results.

Autumn Storm said...

Mark, your comments on writer's block are so true. Every now and then I have to remember that life just gets in the way and when that happens I try to take some time to myself, get centered and then go back to my writing. Thanks Mark for all of your encouraging words.

Mark Phillips said...

You are welcome Autumn.

Cynde L. Hammond said...

Great interview! I always feel like sort of a "peeping Tom" when I read these interviews--I don't know why. I guess it's because we learn so much about the interviewee.<<<<<<<(weird looking word, huh?)

Cynde Hammond :o)

Mark Phillips said...

You're right, Cynde. "Interviewee" is an odd looking word. Don't worry--I made up "slaughteree" for the victims in slasher films in my blog about violence coming up in the tour.