I met Mark through Hadley Rille Books. Mark is a career educator and for the last twenty-two years has been teaching composition and literature at a small high school located in the rain shadow of the Cascade Mountains in eastern Washington State. He is happily married to his best friend and fellow educator, and together they have raised three beautiful daughters and one semi-retired cat. Words, music, food and parenting permeate his life and serve as a constant source for inspiration, challenge and reward. To temper such unremitting joy, Mark plays golf: an addition that provides a healthy dose of humility. You can visit Mark at the Heroines of Fantasy.
I have read Mark's novels Poets of Pevana and King's Gambit, both set in the vibrant fantasy world of Pevana. Mark is a great new voice in fantasy, and I recommend his work to anyone who enjoys stories with a heavy dose of danger, intrigue, adventure, and romance.
Now, without further ado, here is our interview with Mark:
Q: Tell us a little bit about your novels Poets of Pevana and King’s Gambit.The Poets of Pevana and King's Gambit are my first two novels published by Hadley Rille Books. They are set in a mock historical, pre-industrial, medieval region called the Peninsula, which comprises the realm of Perspa and a handful in independent city states. The region is beset by religious and political machination. Some folks care. Some don't. The ones that do struggle to find a voice to protest. Poetry, plans and passion all play a role in the events that unfold.
Q: The world of Pevana is wonderfully complex and very original in the context of fantasy, especially with its emphasis on a culture of poetry. What inspired the characters and world of Pevana?The Poets of Pevana started as a result of my online interaction with fans of the rock band Styx on a message board dedicated to discussing the band and music in general. The community quickly morphed into something that went well beyond rock and roll and related topics. I met several fellow poets on the site and one in particular, Joey Barat, aka Devyn Ambrose, became an online friend. We started having these poetry duels on the site where we had to make something out of unrelated terms posted by the other. We posted our results on the website message board and the other community members loved it. We kept it up for months and the seeds for what became the core of Poets were sewn.
I figured out early on that there was a story here. I kept seeing pie-slices of experience all intersecting at certain points--in this case a rowdy festival in a mock medieval city.King's Gambit got started soon after I finished the first draft of Poets, but I stalled out after a few chapters. I realized the story would be more convoluted, more political, and I was not sure I had the time or skills to pull it off. King's Gambit's plot never changed much from those early whiteboard notes. The people we see in the tale were all laid out in notes jotted down over an extended period of time. What surprised me about King's Gambit is the extent to which the characters took over the story from me. The first draft was heavily dependent on the male points of view. And yet I found myself liking Eleni's character the most after finishing Poets. When my editor TeriLynne DeFino suggested King's Gambit was more of a woman's book, I took a while but then warmed up to the irony of it: a war story dominated by the sensibilities of some cool ladies.
Both novels include my verse. That was always my intention: to find a way to incorporate that part of my expression in a story format. I do not think that has been done seamlessly before--at least not in my reading experience. For me, bard stories all tended to be sword and sorcery tales with only a thin veneer of the poetic sensibility in them. I had a feeling my format would be a little different from the ordinary. So far, I think I have stayed true to my original intent and design. What I find interesting is how people have responded to the various verses that show up. I am told they actually 'sound' like they come from the characters, and I think that is an enormous compliment--and in some ways a happy accident. I'm not sure how much control I exerted there, but eventually, even I 'heard' the characters voices in the words EVEN THOUGH SOME OF THE POEMS IN THE STORY ARE QUITE OLD! Yes, a few pieces actually predate the drafting phase of Poets. Eleni's poem 'Dust' is one of them. Somehow it fit, and as the story grew, Eleni's verse started taking on terse, linear qualities based on rhythm rather than modulated, horizontal cadences based on end rhyme. A few of the bits in Talyior and Devyn's duel, some of the earliest bits of the draft, actually, came from my duels with the real Devyn online, edited for continuity in the story. I didn't go into this thinking to write in multiple voices, creating this buffet-line of poetic line, but in the end the synergy between sensibility and story happened. I rather like the effect.
In the end I wanted to tell a story about how politics can suborn faith and twist it into a false expression. I wanted to write a story about small lives that intersect with great ones and great events. I wanted to write a story that paid homage to the power of words and the need to comment on life. I wanted to write a story relating how the choices we make ultimately shape our character.
Q: Do you have a favorite character (or characters)?I love all my characters, even the detestable Byrnard Casan and the corpulent Sevire Anargi. Early on, obviously, Devyn and Talyior claimed my attention, but as I mentioned above, Eleni Caralon grew on me, as did Prince Donari. Hence their intensified roles in King's Gambit. I loved developing the notes for Sylvanus Tamorgen, the Tyrant who wanted to be a grandfather. But the two who I really took a liking to over the course of King's Gambit were Lyvia, Sylvanus's daughter and Demona Anargi, Sevire's estranged wife. Both gals more than hold their own in King's Gambit. Kembril Edri still haunts my sleep. I hated what happened to him, but Devyn's character is an outgrowth of Kembril's persona. Eventually, I'd like to codify the folk tales of the region, as told by Kembril as he sat there beneath his oak tree in the holy dust of the Maze.
Q: What was the most challenging aspect of writing Poets of Pevana? King’s Gambit?The most challenging aspect of writing both novels has been getting stuff past my editor! Terri-Lynne DeFino took a chance on Poets, but since then we have become adept at working with each other. I have a number of bad habits, and she consistently points them out to me when I write them. I have learned how I compose from going through the editing/publishing process. These have been hard but great lessons. I've taken them back into the classroom with me to good effect. I thoroughly enjoy writing. One of the reasons I started Poets was to see if I could gain the discipline needed to see a story through from beginning to end. I love keeping track of my word count, pushing myself to keep aware of my flaws, to keep track of cliche and repeated language. Writing makes me a sharper thinker. I love the medium as a mode of expression.
King's Gambit is a much larger story. It also ended up being a bit longer than Poets. But the ideas were big, the risks greater both for me and the characters. I had to juggle points of view in Gambit, had to concern myself with pace and event more precisely. I had to let some characters tell the story and let go of the narrative control--with happy results, I think. I had to gain and lose some people. I'm no GRRM: that stuff still hurts.
Q: Do you have any new projects underway? What can we expect for the future?I am currently editing/revising book three in the cycle, tentatively titled Path of the Poet-King. It relates the events that happen just after the close of King's Gambit. I am slowing down a little in an effort to smooth out rough spots and make adjustments to the plot necessitated by things that happen in King's Gambit. Demona's character is much more fully realized now, and that has forced me to re-do chunks of the new book for continuity. It helps that I am working from an already completed draft. Book four is yet to be written. In fact, I was settling down to begin book four two years ago when I looked at the pile of story I had on my lap and decided to try and shop the first book. I felt I owed it to myself to at least try. DeFino liked Poets,and the rest is now my future: writing. Book Four, King's Peace, is heavily noted, plotted for the most part and might conclude the story arc with my Pevanese characters. And yet even as I type this, I am not so sure. I keep seeing a line at the end of this as yet unwritten book: "Come, let's go find that shade of green..." So, you never know. THAT is another reason why I love writing: there are surprises behind every verb, metaphor, and sound. If my work ever receives a box set treatment, I would like to call it Pevanese Mosaic. Just saying...
Q: What advice do you have for aspiring authors?My advice to aspiring writers is to stop posing as what they think is a writer and actually write. Finish something. Tell the truth--even if it’s a made-up truth. Search out and accept constructive criticism. Feedback is vital even it if rips apart your illusions. You write better when you understand the depth of the contract between writer and reader. And I think it is ok to write for pleasure alone or for close friends and family. An audience, no matter how small, is a cool thing. In the end what we produce adds to the collective experience.
The publishing adventure has changed my life and how I see the rest of it passing. Words are now more important to me than ever, and I can't wait to see what happens next. I feel lucky to be part of the HRB family. Good friends, great writers, awesome people. I am glad to be a small part of it.