Sunday, 30 September 2012

AUTHOR INTERVIEW - ROBERT B. MARKS





1    
What is your name, where were you born and where do you live now?
My name is Robert B. Marks, I was born in the Greater Toronto Area, and I now live in Kingston, Ontario.

1    Did you always want to be a writer? If not what did you want to be?
I'm not sure if wanting to be a writer ever really came into it, actually.  By the time I reached high school, I was writing -- it was just what I did, what I loved to do, and what I couldn't stop myself doing.  I think this may be a case where writing chose me instead of the other way around.  It's my calling, and I answered it.

1     Did it take a long time to get your first book published?
It did take a couple of years of trying to get the attention of an editor who would give me a chance.  The funny thing is that for my first two books -- Diablo: Demonsbane and the EverQuest Companion -- I was actually trying to pitch something else at the time.  In both cases, the editor liked my writing style, wasn't interested in the project I was pitching, and offered me a different one.  Of course, I accepted.

1     Do you work another job as well as your writing work?
I wear many hats.  I own and operate a small publishing company, and I've also been a professional writer, editor, and even a national defense researcher.

1    What is the name of your latest book, and if you had to summarise it in less than 20 words what would you say?
Well, my latest e-book is titled the Traveller on the Road of Legends, and it's about a monk in the 15th century who gets conscripted by a man who can travel into the myths and legends to help save them.

     Who is your publisher? or do you self publish?
I've been published in the past by Pocket Books and Osborne/McGraw-Hill.  In this particular case, I've published the book under the banner of Legacy Books Press, which I own.  I did this partly to get some of my work out there again (thanks to a couple of issues that will go unmentioned, it's been about twelve years since I've had any longer fiction published), and also to test the waters for a prospective fiction line a couple of years down the road (and no, I'm not accepting fiction manuscripts at this time).


     How long does it usually take you to write a book, from the original idea to finishing writing it?
It really depends on the book, and the deadlines involved.  I'm somebody who is at his best when he's racing a deadline.  So, in the case of something like Demonsbane, which was commissioned, I finished the draft in three weeks flat.  In the case of something like The Traveller on the Road of Legends, it took considerably longer.  In some cases, it can take years.

     Which of your books were easier/harder to write than the others?
If there's a genre I really tend to have trouble with, it's historical fiction.  When it comes to fantasy, I find it very easy to relax and just let the characters do their thing.  When it comes to something set in the real world, particularly something set in the past, I have to keep reminding myself that getting all the details right is not the point and I have to force myself to focus on the story.  I think if I didn't do that, I'd end up never getting out of the research stage.

     What can we expect from you in the future?  ie More books of the same genre? Books of a different genre?
Well, there are a couple of full-length manuscripts that my agent is trying to sell right now, both of which are set in the Road of Legends universe.  And, there are three partially completed books on my computer which I hope to be back to writing soon, one of which is another fantasy novel, another is a novel about Ragnarok set in the Viking Age, and the third is a retelling of my great grandfather's World War I story on the Eastern Front.

1    Where do you get your book plot ideas from?What/Who is your inspiration?
People do love to ask that -- I have never had a problem with getting plot ideas.  The problem is having enough time to write them down.  I call it "the bombardment of ideas."  It's almost like a form of autism, except that instead of being unable to shut out the entire world, I can't shut out the ideas.  And they literally come from everywhere and nowhere.

1    Do you have a certain routine you have for writing? ie You listen to music, sit in a certain chair?
I'm very musically inclined.  So, when I'm writing certain scenes, I'll put a movie soundtrack on that matches the scene.  I think I've written a number of battle scenes to the soundtrack from The 13th Warrior.

     Do you have anybody read your books and give you reviews before you officially release them?ie. Your partner, children, friends, reviewers you know?
Oh, absolutely.  It has been my experience that any given author is one of the worst editors of their own work.  When you write a book, or even an article, you know what you're trying to say, and even if you don't succeed in saying it, you project that onto the work anyway when you read it.  You need that extra set of eyeballs to make sure that everything works, and that you actually said what you thought you said.  In the case of The Traveller on the Road of Legends, I handed it over to my fiancee to read, and she indeed caught something that didn't work and needed fixing.

1   Do you read all the reviews of your book/books?
I actually try to.  As much as I probably should be just moving on and concentrating on the next book, I really do want to know what people thought of what I wrote.  For that matter, I think that in the business of writing, even the coldest, most dispassionate professional ultimately wants to know that people liked what they wrote.

1    Would you ever ask a reviewer to change their review if it was not all positive about your book/books?
Never.  It's not the author's place to dispute a review, good or bad, and frankly it would be incredibly unprofessional to do so.  The only times I have ever asked for a modification to a review have been when the reviewer forgot to put up a link to where the book could be bought, or in one case on Amazon where somebody hadn't so much written a review as launched a personal attack on me (quite literally, nothing in the book was mentioned).  That's the only case where I ever had to request that a review of one of my books be taken down, and Amazon was kind enough to do that.

1   How do you come up with characters names and place names in your books?
A lot of times, it's quite haphazard.  I do like to do what Tolkien did, and put in occasional linguistic jokes.  But, for the most part, I just roll the names around in my head until it sounds right.
The thing is this, though -- sometimes what sounds right in the first draft doesn't sound right in later drafts.  In the case of The Traveller on the Road of Legends, I think I ended up changing half of the names in the final draft.  When I first wrote it, "Cyric" sounded like a great name for the main character.  When I did my penultimate editing pass before handing it off to my fiancee, I realized that the name didn't fit a 15th century English monk in the slightest, and changed it to Edwin.

     Do you decide on character traits (ie shy, quiet, tomboy girl) before writing the whole book or as you go along?
I would love to be able to say that I know who most of these characters are before pen goes to paper, but I'd be lying through my teeth.  Before I start writing, I THINK I know who they are, I really do.  They do manage to surprise me, though.  I've had at least two instances where I had planned one character to be dour and brooding, and another to be happy and cheerful, and they ended up being exactly the opposite.  That's a good sign, though - it means that the characters have come to life.  The more they write themselves, the better it tends to be.

  Do you basic plot/plan for your book, before you actually begin writing it out? Or do you let the writing flow and see where it takes the story?
That's actually a bit of a hard question to answer.  I do tend to work off an outline, but very frequently the outline is written once I'm a good three chapters into the book.  When it comes to the outline, I very much let the writing flow - once the story starts flowing, I know I've got something worth putting on paper.

1    Have you ever suffered from a "writer's block"? What did you do to get past the "block"?
Not really.  There are a few times when I'm just too tired and the prose just comes out as crap.  What instead I tend to suffer from is a lack of motivation.  The busier things get and the longer you are away from publication, it gets harder and harder to justify writing that next chapter, and before you know it, six months have passed.  That's one of the reasons I wanted to get Traveller on the Road of Legends up as an e-book -- I want to get that drive back to write those next chapters.

1    What do you do to unwind and relax?Do you have a hobby?
Well, I'm part of the Western Martial Arts movement, which means that I train in German longsword fighting.  I also play the violin (badly) and make honey wine (well).  I'm also quite a movie buff.

 Have you ever based characters on people you know or based events on things that have happened to you?
Character-wise, it does happen on occasion, although by the time the character is on the page he or she is often very different than the person who inspired him or her.  I think it would be more accurate to say that I tend to build my own experiences into my writing.

1    Are there any hidden messages or morals contained in your books? (Morals as in like Aesops Fables type of "The moral of this story is..")
I'd say that there are more observations, or musings.  I do tend to have characters coming into the story with certain preconceptions, only to discover that things are more complicated than they appear.  Certainly, my stories are about things, and there's always something more going on under the surface.  I wouldn't say it's as simple as a moral or a hidden message, though.  I think I'd actually find that a bit trite.

1    Is there a certain Author that influenced you in writing?
Dennis L. McKiernan is the man who inspired me to pick up my pen in a serious way and actually make a proper go at it.  But, as far as a serious influence, I would have to say Michael Moorcock, in particular The Sailor on the Seas of Fate.  When I started writing, my approach to fantasy was to create a world.  What Moorcock showed me was that it was far more interesting -- and far less limiting -- to create a universe.  The entire idea of the Road of Legends, where one can walk from one world to another, owes most of its existence to Moorcock and his Eternal Champion series.

1    Which format of book do you prefer, ebook,hardback, or paperback?
I'm definitely a hardcover and paperback man.

1   What is your favourite book and Why?  Have you read it more than once?
It really varies.  It used to be that the book I kept coming back to was the Lord of the Rings, but I've moved on from that now.  I'm a big Bernard Cornwell fan (more of his Viking and Medieval novels than his Sharpe books), and I really enjoyed The Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett.  I also really love the Icelandic Sagas.

  What are you currently reading? Are you enjoying it? What format is it?(ebook, hardback or paperback)
Right now I'm reading Pierre Berton's War of 1812 in trade paperback, and I'm enjoying it quite a lot.  Burton manages to really bring the history to life.  I'm not sure what I'm going to read next, but I think I might read something on Prohibition era gangsters or the like (let's just say that my fiancee and I are both Boardwalk Empire fans).

1   Do you think ebooks will ever totally replace printed books?
People love to ask this question.  Frankly, I really have it in for technology pundits, who take a Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome approach to it all -- "Two formats enter!  ONE FORMAT LEAVES!"  And it's ridiculous, it really is.  They're complementary formats -- not only is one never going to replace the other, there's no reason it should.
My first book contract was a major e-book with Pocket Books back in 2000, back at the very beginning of the first e-book "revolution" -- the one that everybody likes to forget happened.  I watched Pocket Books twist itself into a pretzel to make the book succeed, only to discover that the supposedly huge market was a figment of the imagination of technology writers.  Twelve years later, there actually is a respectably sized and growing e-book market that is finally able to find its feet, and it stands proudly alongside the printed book.  But it's around $2 billion net of a roughly $30 billion net book market.  When you actually look at the market figures and trends, it's fairly clear that they are related but separate markets, and if I had to guess, the e-book market is most closely related to the mobile phone app market.  They have become big business, but they're big business alongside the book market, not replacing it.
Ultimately, when you look at the e-book vs. the printed book and if there's going to be a takeover, you have to look at the DVD and the laserdisc vs. VHS.  Why did the laserdisc attempt for around 15 years to make a dent in the home video market without success, while the DVD for all intents and purposes wiped out the VHS within five years of introduction?  Well, the answer is simple -- the DVD was simpler and easier to use than the VHS, whereas the laserdisc wasn't.  There was a lower technological barrier to entry, if you want to call it that.  And when it comes to a printed book, which is self contained and requires no technology to use, you would be hard pressed to find a simpler object.  An e-book may now have a low technological barrier to entry, but the printed book has NO technological barrier to entry.

1   Are there any New Authors you are interested in for us to watch out for? and Why should we watch out for them?
Oh, I think that you should definitely watch out for Kjeld Hald Galster, John-Allen Price, Aaron Taylor Miedema, and Michael Kaminski.  But then again, I'm biased -- I own the publishing company that publishes their work.  Still, they wrote tremendous books, and it was an honour to publish them.

1   What piece of advice would you give to a new writer?
If I had to pick one bit of advice for today, I'd say to lead an interesting life, and get lots of experiences under your belt.  You write best what you know, and the more you've experienced, the better you'll be at writing about it.

Anyway, I hope you find it a worthwhile interview - I've taken the liberty of attaching my photograph and a high resolution version of the e-book cover.  Now, for links:

My livejournal:
 http://garwulf.livejournal.com/

My publishing company:
 http://www.legacybookspress.com/

And the link to Traveller on the Road of Legends (if you include only one link, please make it this one):
 http://www.amazon.com/dp/B008EKYNKQ

Thank you very much for taking the time to take part in the Interview.

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