My Interview With Author Mark Minson
So way back in high school I had a creative writing class with my friend Mark Minson. I thought he was talented way back then (we won't say how long ago that was)! Then awhile back he told me he had written a novel, and I couldn't wait to read it. Kyle By Fire was a great book, and I enjoyed it a lot. I have to say though, the second book in the series, Will From Ashes (I will review it later this week), is even better! I'll get to more of that later, but for now I thought I'd share the interview I had with my good friend Mark.
1. What inspired you to write the Kyle By Fire series?
- I hadn’t written more than a handful of poems in the five years previous to starting KBF. And based on the carnage of prose I wrote in high school, I never thought I would be a novelist. But I had a friend and neighbor who loved to write. He enlisted another friend of ours and we started a writing club back in 2009. One of our first activities as a group was a round-robin writing exercise. We put a ton of random words in a bowl and pulled out three each. Then before our next meeting, we were supposed to write 1-2 pages using all three words. My words: Oak, Wand, Sandals. Those who have read KBF know the significance of those first two words. The original scene I wrote didn’t end up in the book, but it started the whole thing off. When I had written about half of the first book, I started thinking about titles and if this would be a series. I decided it would be a series and I liked the name "The Phoenix Cycle Series". It sounds cool and rolls off the tongue so nicely. That has really influenced the direction of the story.
2. Where do you get your ideas for the different spells and talents that the characters in the books have?
- When I started I had an inkling of an idea for a magic system. My magic system needed to be unique. I didn’t want something like Harry Potter where everyone could cast everything. I decided on a list of talents based on the typical elemental talents and then branched nuances. I picked Kyle’s talent from the branches because it creates challenges for both him and me.
The spells are born out of logical evolution. What spells would have been discovered in a combined world of magic and non-magic? The words for the spells actually are anti-HP. Every word is gibberish. No Latin roots. No “sounds kinda like what it does”. Some spells take a long time to cast and have a lot of words. The more difficult the result of the magic, the more effort should be required to cast it.
I also didn’t want to have “super cool” spells that give incredible power. While everyone has magic, magic plays a big role in mundane day-to-day activities. The characters have to use creative problem solving in applying what they know to what they need.
3. Where do you write? In an office or on the living room couch?
- I write mostly on the couch. Some days I write on my lunch break at my desk.
4. What is your all-time favorite book to read?
- Hard question. The expected answer is: Mine! I do love my stories, but after spending so much time with these characters in my head, I'm looking forward to a break. Someday I will include my books on this list. I do love Harry Potter 7. However, I’ve read the Foundation Series by Isaac Asimov at least 4 times. I love the depth and expansiveness of the Foundation world. Which I admit is kinda odd since I write fantasy and not sci-fi. I have a ton of fantasy favorites though: Far World by J Scott Savage, Fablehaven by Brandon Mull, Percy Jackson and the Heroes of Olympus series’ by Rick Riordan.
5. When is the next book coming out? (This ? is because I'm selfish and really want the next book.... :)
- I have no idea. Life has been crazy this summer so very little writing has taken place. Based on the outline alone, this is also shaping up to be the longest of the books. Because of the expanding cast of characters, this book will be written from the perspective of four different people instead of just one. I would love to get it done sometime next year so fans don’t have to wait so long between releases.
6. Do you write better in the morning, afternoon, or late at night?
- I write better when I feel like I have time to dedicate to it. Mornings are too busy and I’m still working on getting my brain moving. Most of my writing takes place in the evening after the kids go to bed so I’d have to say that is when the best writing happens.
7. How do you find time to write with a full-time job and a family?
- I don’t. Four years for Kyle By Fire (and 6 versions since), three years for Will from Ashes. Time is too finite. I have to make the time to write and because of that, sometimes, I make different choices. Write or play a game with your daughter who is asking you for the third time? As a writer with a family and non-writing job, it is about priorities and sacrifices. I’m hoping that now that summer is winding down, I will be able to make more time for writing.
8. Do you hand write your stories then transfer them to the computer, or do you type them on the computer as you go?
- My brain works too fast when it gets into a story. I couldn’t hand write nearly fast enough or neat enough to know what the pen marks on the paper are supposed to mean. Even typing doesn’t always keep up with the conversations playing out in my head. Once I get into the flow of writing, I’m amazed at freight train coming at me.
9. Have you ever experienced writers' block, and if so, what did you do to overcome it?
- All of the time. My strategy for overcoming it? Avoidance. It never works. The tactic that generally pulls me back to the page is thinking about the story. Even though I outline all of my books, the outline is at a high level. Once I’m down in the weeds, I realize that a particular detail of my beautifully crafted plan isn’t going to work. Blocked. When I finally stop avoiding it, I focus on it. I start running scenarios and talking through ideas. I’ve found that one or two days spent thinking about the problem will allow me to break through and find the answer.
J Scott Savage gave a great class for the League of Utah Writers where he said that if he gets stuck, sometimes he just writes “Something cool happens” and then skips the problem and moves on with his outline. I’ve considered trying this as well.
10. Do you have any advice for someone who would like to try and publish a book?
- Read. Read some more. Then write. Attend writing conferences. Join writing groups. Write, write, write. When you finally have a finished story, get some trusted friends to beta-read for you. I thought KBF was done and ready. I’d spent almost a year editing and revising before I finally published. But I didn’t have beta readers. The feedback I got from a few friends about the book helped me fix things that should have been fixed before publishing. Submitting to small publishers also helped as one of them gave me some great feedback.
There is a very good chance you will never feel like your story is good enough to see the light of day. Take those feelings, give them a swirly, stuff a sock in their mouth and throw them in the trunk. Listen to your beta readers. Listen to your writing group. It may not be the book you love, but it will still be a good book that others will want to read.