INTERVIEW WITH JEFFREY MARKS
Jeffrey, how did you get started writing?
I started small. While I’d always hoped to be a writer, I started mostly writing journal entries and things like that. I progressed to writing articles and features for magazines along with the occasional short story. I won awards for a few of my short stories and from there I broke into writing for anthologies and then editing some anthologies as well. On the non-fiction side, the features included interview pieces and I was fascinated by the process of writing and how the author’s own life became a part of the novel. I wanted to learn more about that process and so I decided to write a full-length biography of a mystery writer.
What's your favorite thing about the writing process?
Creating the first draft. I love meeting new people, creating new settings and learning about the plot that I’ve structured. It’s so much fun to see something that has been in my mind for weeks or months to finally come to the printed page.
Do you have a writing routine?
I write in the same place when I write. I converted one of the spare bedrooms in our house to an office. I write from here. I prefer morning to afternoons just because by the end of the day, I may be burdened with the things that happened. In the morning, I’m usually fresh and ready to go.
Do you write every day?
No, not every day. I try to write 3-4 times per week, sometimes more and sometimes less depending on what I’m working on. There are just some days that it won’t happen. I had pneumonia in October, and there were several days where I did nothing. I didn’t try to push myself, because I knew the work to fix what I wrote would be more than writing it from scratch when I felt better.
What do you wish you’d done differently when you first started the publishing process?
I wish I’d had more of a plan. I started out in short stories, then moved to biography and then to mystery fiction. I wish I’d put more time into thinking about what I wanted to do long-term in my writing career and spend less time going down blind alleys.
What do you think is hardest aspect of writing a book?
I would definitely say editing. The minute changes that can be made at that level are wonderful, but at the same time, it’s difficult to go over the same page repeatedly.
How often do you read?
Daily. It’s my obsession.
What books do you currently have published?
Four short story anthologies, six novels, and five non-fiction books (biography and a how-to.) So 15. My math students would be proud of me.
We don't talk about math around here! Is writing your dream job?
Yes, it’s my dream job, but I don’t want it to be my only job. The inputs from the outside world are what give me ideas, characters, plot twists, and more for the books. Staying at home and writing all day removes me from those situations. I could go write at a coffee shop, but at most you’re still a spectator rather than an actor. I enjoy interacting with people and places in order to learn more.
What is the worst job you’ve ever had?
I actually worked as at a roller disco back in the 1970s, which will always be my worst job ever. It taught me the lyrics to about a dozen disco songs that I can still sing from memory today. But seriously, it was only a part-time after school job, and so it was more to make money to feed my book addiction than anything else.
Do you have any marketing tips you could pass on to indie authors?
The best marketing is organic. Go out, be yourself, and you’ll find that the readers will come to you.
If you could only watch one television station for a year, what would it be?
The ACORN station on the Roku app. It’s my go-to station for finding something to watch.
How often do you tweet?
I try to tweet daily. Normally it’s just information on what’s going on in my life or funny things I see. And of course, the obligatory requests for people to buy my books.
For what would you like to be remembered?
I would like to be remembered for my writings, both the biographies and the novels.
Would you make a good character in a book?
Probably not. I’m a bit neurotic, and the character would probably get on everyone else’s nerves.
What’s one THING you never leave the house without?
Something to read. I also have something with me, in case I get stuck in traffic or at the doctor’s, etc.
What do you love about where you live?
I was born in a small town near the foothills of the Appalachians. I grew up in an area with lots of green space and rolling hills, and when we bought out a house, we ended up with a home that has many of the same aspects. It just feels like home.
What's your favorite treat for movie night?
Chocolate, any type of chocolate.
What’s your favorite fast food?
Cincinnati chili. It’s spaghetti, beans, meat sauce with some spices and it’s delicious (an acquired taste but delicious.)
What’s your favorite beverage?
Iced tea, unsweetened. I can drink by the gallon.
What is one of your happiest moments?
Traveling always makes me happy. As much as I enjoy my life, I like to get away from time to time and see other parts of the country – and the world. So when I think of standing on the Pyramids, floating down the Nile, looking up at the Empire State Building, those things give me joy.
What’s your least favorite chore?
Without a doubt, it’s washing dishes. I’m not sure why that is. I don’t have a story or any deep insight into why I don’t like it, but it is by far the least popular chore at my house.
Do you give your characters any of your bad traits?
Sometimes I do. They say that you are most annoyed by the things in other people that you do not like about yourself. So adding these characteristics to others gives me a chance to work out my own feelings on the issue and why it annoys me.
Do you procrastinate?
All the time. I seem to be motivated by the fear of not getting things done. I’m sitting here with a list of nine things to do today. It’s 12:30, and I’ve done three of them. That means I’ll be doing the rest up until about 8pm tonight.
What is your most embarrassing moment?
While it’s entirely self-imposed, I am embarrassed beyond belief at reading my own works in public. I can read works by other people. I can read my own works to myself, but put an audience in front of me, and I turn red and stammer. I’m not sure why that is, but I’ve done it since I was young.
What choices in life would you like to have a redo on?
Actually, nothing. I’m thinking of the butterfly effect here. I’m pretty happy with where I’m at in my life now. So the thought of going back and changing one thing, or two things, or 17 things would likely make me a different person and in a different place than I am now. I’m not sure I’d like that.
What’s one of your favorite quotes?
“Do or do not. There is no try."
What would your main character say about you?
Stop goofing around and write the next book already.
What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever had to do?
Grandmother’s obituary, for obvious reasons. One of the bad things about being the writer in the family is that I get tasked with writing for the family. Not all of the assignments are fun.
Who is your favorite fictional character?
Miss Havisham from Great Expectations. You have to love anyone who can hold a grudge like that. Plus she is the poster child for lost opportunities.
If you had a talk show who would your dream guest(s) be?
How do you like your pizza?
With lots of meat and sauce and cheese. I like it messy.
What is the wallpaper on your computer’s desktop?
My dogs. I vary them from time to time. Currently at home, it’s Ellery, my first Scottish terrier, and at school, it’s Archie who is the latest addition to the house.
Describe yourself in 5 words.
Generous, eclectic, scholarly, humorous, romantic.
Do you have a favorite book?
East of Eden by John Steinbeck. I come back to that again and again to remind myself that I ultimately have the power t choose who I am going to be.
What are you working on now?
I am currently writing a biography of mystery author Ellery Queen, who was actually two cousins who collaborated for 40 years. It’s a bigger project than I had anticipated, mainly because I’m telling the stories of two people rather than the typical one person.