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Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Know Your Two-Sentence Premise: An Interview with Mark E, Fisher

I'm a big fan of Celtic stories, so I was drawn to your books. What made you decide to write Celtic fantasies?
I’m mostly writing historical fiction now, but my first three historical books and my fantasy trilogy were based on ancient, Celtic Ireland. Why? Because I have family roots in Ireland, and for my first book, I wanted to tell a story about St. Patrick.

How long did it take you to write your first book?
Three years. But now I’m able to write a book in about nine months.

How many rewrites did you do on it?
The first book started out as a short story, grew to a novella, and then I changed the characters, the setting, the plot, and added St. Patrick, and suddenly, it was a novel. That’s exactly how not to write a book. And that’s why it took me so long to write it. Rewrite after rewrite after rewrite. At that point, who’s counting?

Are you active with any writing critique groups?
Not anymore. Instead, I attend a local writers discussion group. Or at least I did until the Chinese virus stopped everything.

How did you go about finding your publisher?
I found my first publisher by interviewing in person with them at a writing conference.

Did you go to conferences?
Before the virus hit, I was attending three writing conference a year and two monthly writing groups in Minneapolis and St. Paul. Attending a writing conference is the best way to find a publisher or agent.

What is the hardest part of writing for you?
Finding a good premise, a good idea that’s unique, and boiling it down to a few sentences. But by far, the most difficult part of the entire writing process—without question—is marketing.

What are the best tips you could offer on creating a fantasy world for a novel?
I’m writing mostly historical fiction now, but world-building is similar for both genres. For my fantasy series, The Scepter and Tower Trilogy, I created a world based on ancient, Celtic Ireland. I used the map of Europe and researched long-forgotten ancient names for countries and then drew a detailed map.

Maps are important for knowing who lives where, what geographical features one in the way, and how geography might affect the culture of the people. Each country’s culture should be unique, and I borrowed loosely from ancient European cultures in my Celtic world of Erde.

For historical fiction, one has to know well the time and place. For my upcoming novel, Death of The Master Builder, I read widely on the Italian Renaissance and cathedral building and spent two weeks traveling in Italy.

Can you give me an example of an "aha" moment you've had in doing your research for your books?
As for “aha” moments—when I’ve traveled to the places where my historical novels took place, there was always an “aha” having to do with geography. In Ireland, at the ruins of Tara, it was: “Oh no, you mean that from here to the Hill of Slane was half a day’s ride on a horse?”

What does your editor remind you to do most often?
Add action beats in dialogue tags. Instead of “he said” and “she said”, we’re to show the speaker doing something.

What’s the best encouragement you’ve had in your writing?
Reading reviews that folks just couldn’t put down my books, and seeing my novels reach the top 10 or 20 in an Amazon category. But it’s only marketing that makes this happen.

We have all experienced rejection. How have you learned to write past it?
When my LPC publisher dropped me because my niche wasn’t selling, I was in a funk for several months. But when a publisher only wants to put out the top sellers, those of us writing in certain niches either have to change their niche or else self-publish. I cannot seem to stop writing. So now I’m writing in new eras and also self-publishing my work. In other words, rejection caused me to change direction.

What has surprised or frustrated you the most in writing/publishing?
The answer to both—marketing. Even with a publisher, an author must be his or her own marketer. And for that, I’ve learned that social media—unless you’re famous—doesn’t work. Marketing is not the most fun part of the business, but it’s necessary.

What do you know now about writing you wished you had known sooner?
Research the genre and niche you want to write in before spending years writing something that won’t sell. But sometimes, one has to ignore all that and just write what’s on your heart. For your second book, you can worry about its market.

What is the best writing advice you’ve received or could give?
Boil your story idea down to a one or two sentence premise. Your character must have a goal—internal, external, physical, or emotional—that they want to reach, and something or someone standing in the way of that goal. The idea must have a kicker, something that makes it unique and compelling. Don’t write anything without knowing your premise.
2. Know how the story will end. Without knowing this, the story can peter out in the middle of the book. It’s happened to me. (Sometimes that ending will change, but at least you’ve got something.)
3. Flesh out your characters. Write down their histories, their families or work associations, and what they want out of life. But sometimes you can’t fully complete this until after writing a few chapters.
4. Come up with a dynamite first sentence or paragraph and write a dynamite first chapter.
5. Now create a chapter by chapter outline, with one or two sentences describing what happened in each chapter.
a. But don’t let your initial outline get in the way. Sometimes, new characters or scenes will just pop out of nowhere. What I do then is to stop and change my outline to reflect this.
b. As you write and outline, be aware of cause and effect. Every action taken ripples forward and often backward through the story. That’s why your outline must be flexible and fluid.
c. Don’t forget to foreshadow events.
7. All these ideas and more are in these three books: The Writer’s Journey, by Christopher Vogler, Story Trumps Structure by Steven James, and Layer Your Novel, by C.S. Lakin. They all give different approaches to writing and have greatly influenced me.

Are there any other points about writing you would like to add?
Don’t give up writing. Persist, persevere, and keep at it.

What is the next book coming out? Can you give me a short synopsis?
My next historical novel, Death Of The Master Builder, is written, edited, and looking for a publisher. Because of the virus and given the current dearth of writing conferences at which to present it to a big publisher—the only kind of publisher I’m now willing to entertain—I will probably self-publish this. Here’s the two-sentence blurb:

In 1469 Tuscany, a hedonistic city ruler hires Amadeo, a righteous builder, to absolve his sins by constructing the greatest cathedral of the Italian Renaissance. But as the walls rise, he wants Amadeo’s moral downfall more than he wants his cathedral.

Beyond that, I’m about 90% done with a first draft of The Sun Shines Even in Winter, a novel of World War I, written for the general market.

Both sound like intriguing stories. If you’d like to learn more about these and the other of Mark’s books, here are links to do that.

Amazon link: Mark’s just released Celtic novel, The Slaves Of Autumn

Giveaway: Win a free eBook (Contest ends July 31):

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