Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Writer Wednesday: Joshua J. Mark

Joshua J. Mark is a freelance writer with over twenty years experience who has lived in Greece and Germany, traveled through Egypt and Scotland, and, presently, lives in upstate New York, USA with his family. His published works include `To Memory’ through Edge Piece Magazine, `Civil Serpents' through Open Heart Publishing, `After the Funeral’ through Five Stop Stories, and `When There Were Trees' through Writes For All Magazine, as well as other stories through print and on-line. Mark is also a site moderator for and has been published in Ancient History Encyclopedia, where he writes primarily on Mesopotamia, Greece and Egypt. He is a part-time teacher of philosophy and writing at Marist College where he is a recipient of the Faculty of the Year Award. He is looking for a publisher for his Paranormal Young Adult novel, The Girl from Yesterday (it's in the hands of an agent right now).

Q: What do you write on? Computer, pad o' paper, battered Underwood? Give us a vivid picture.

I write on anything, as my too-patient wife will tell you, from napkins to scraps of paper and even, one time, on the wall of the back porch when a story came to me and I didn't have any paper at hand. Usually, though, I write on the computer, hunched over the keyboard in the foyer.

Q: Do you listen to music while you write? Does it influence what you write?

I never listen to music when I write a first draft because I know whatever I'm listening to will change the direction and tone of the story. When I write a first draft I don't need complete silence or solitude and I'm glad of it - most of the time my house is full of teenagers hanging out and making plenty of noise - but I can't have music playing. I do, however, sometimes play music intentionally when working the second draft re-write if I want a certain tone/flavor to the piece. I played the CD `The Black Parade' from the band My Chemical Romance to get a certain feeling in a story I just recently finished on the afterlife and, before that, played Breaking Benjamin's tune `Here We Are' to infuse the tone/imagery of another piece. I don't often do that but, when I do, I choose the music carefully and only on second draft re-writes. Berlioz's `Requiem', for example, can spin a piece completely around and off into the ether and should be used only if a piece seems to really call for it.

Q: Do you write in short bursts or carve out long periods of time to work? Is it a habit or a vice?

I write all the time. I write in short bursts and I also carve out large chunks of time. When I'm writing a long work nothing else in my life matters but finishing that piece and, then, I carve out pretty much the totality of my life until I reach the end. It's both a habit and a vice. I'm eternally grateful to my wife, Betsy, for not only understanding my insanity but actually encouraging it. If it were not for Betsy I wouldn't have written any of the work I've produced. I simply wouldn't have had the opportunity or encouragement to do so.

Q: What writer would you most want to read your work? What would you want to hear them say?

Well, as far as writers living today, I'd say it'd be Tom Robbins and I'd want to hear him say, simply, "Nice work. I really liked the piece." He wouldn't have to say another thing. I'd also appreciate hearing Kurt Vonnegut speaking from `the other side’saying something about the work like, "If this isn't nice, I don't know what is."

Q: On the days where the writing doesn't go so well, what other art or career do you fantasize about pursuing instead?

On those days I think I should have been a plumber. First of all, it's an ancient profession going back to Rome and, secondly, it's an essential occupation. Humans will always need plumbers. Even so, no one would want me as their plumber. I don't know the difference between a wrench and pliers and I've absolutely no skill with any kind of tool. It's just my great good fortune that colleges exist which pay people to stand in front of an audience and talk about books.

Q: What do you read? What do you re-read?

I can't read fiction when I'm writing fiction so I usually read history. I've read and re-read Will Durant's `The Story of Civilization' countless times. I also re-read Shakespeare and Plato when I'm writing because I find their style doesn't bleed itself into my own but their ideas strike sparks in my mind and sometimes lend themselves to the piece. I've read Hemingway many times (his work was my Master's thesis in English long ago) but I can't read him when I'm writing. I think Hemingway can be very dangerous for a writer because his style is so distinctive and so seductive. One can easily find oneself writing `bad Hemingway' instead of finding one's own voice.

Q: Where did the idea for The Girl from Yesterday come from? Do you have a surefire way of sparking inspiration?

I do not have any surefire way of sparking inspiration. When asked a similar question about inspiration, Faulkner once said something like, "I'm inspired every morning when I sit down at the typewriter." I feel pretty much that same way. I consider writing both a joy and work. When I sit down at the keyboard, if the energy of the day is in my favor, I'm always inspired. When I'm not `feeling it' I go out and roam in the woods with my dog Sophie and that usually sparks plenty of inspiration. The idea for The Girl from Yesterday came from this abandoned mansion near where I live. When my daughter Emily was younger I'd walk her out to the bus and, on the way, I'd ask her if there was any story she'd like me to write for her which I would then read to her as a bedtime story. One morning she said something like, 'A ghost story about the old house in the woods' and so I wrote it that day and read it to her that night. That story lay around in first draft form from 2005 until 2011 when I took it out and turned it into a novel. Emily is also responsible for the name of my protagonist. She had a little stuffed animal named `Pender' back then and suggested I use that name for Rebecca Pender. `Rebecca' is Emily's middle name so she gave me the totality of that character right down to Rebecca's habit of talking in long, twining, twists of words. Emily is, for the most part, Rebecca Pender. She's a very interesting person to have around.

An excerpt from The Girl from Yesterday:

All through the night my dreams fell in whispers, soft whispers, behind my eyes. I was with my mom in the silver Subaru wagon driving down from Maine in the darkness and the fog was thick and the trees ran toward us from the sides of the road. We were leaving something behind us. Long, slender reeds of rain twisted down from the night sky into the headlights and vanished and I felt so sad at whatever it was we had lost and left back behind us at the old house on the familiar road.

Inside the car, by the dim light of the dashboard, I looked over at mom and then the whole thing slowly dissolved, piece by piece, like watching a puzzle come apart, and I was below deck on a ship sitting up quickly in bed. There was water at my feet and I screamed and ran toward the door, yelling someone's name, someone who was behind me. The water was rising quickly, ice cold, up my legs, and then I had the door open and in the corridor there were many other figures in the darkness hurrying through the water and some crying and others screaming. I remembered where the stairs were from my room but I could not find them in the darkness and then, just as quickly, I was again sitting back in the car on the long, long ride down from my home, passing by tall houses which seemed to flinch and hunch under the down pouring rain...

Thanks, Josh! Follow him on Twitter or find him on Facebook and Goodreads.


Benjamin Sobieck said...

Great interview. Mr. Mark is a heckuva great guy. I'm not one for YA, but I am interested in reading "The Girl From Yesterday." Sounds trippy.

I, too, would be interested in hearing what Vonnegut has to say. He's got an entire afterlife to try to top his own quotes. Bet they're killer.

Edith Maxwell said...

I love that excerpt. Thanks for bringing Josh's writing to my attention, Kate!

Paul D Brazill said...

In the right hands, that book should be a big hit.

K. A. Laity said...

Thanks for dropping by, Ben. I'm a sucker for Vonnegut as well.

Edith, glad to share (and I hope you'll be doing a WW with me soon).

Mr. B, always a pleasure.