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Monday, June 10, 2013
Ralph's Rants interviews Mark Bousquet!
Hello everyone and welcome to another installment of Ralph’s Rant’s does Interviews! This week we welcome Mark Bousquet. Hello Mark how are you today?
I'm doing great, thanks, Ralph! My teaching semester is almost over which means I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, and that light is the summer sun!
Mark, what was your first involvement in writing? Was it during your early school years? Or did it come later on?
I can distinctly remember an assignment when I was in elementary school, probably first or second grade, where we had to write a story. It was called “Crazy Street” or something like that and I absolutely fell in love with writing right then and there. It wasn't until early high school where I seriously started writing actual stories, but from the moment I wrote “Crazy Street” I was always writing them in my head when I was playing with toys or reading comics.
We first met during the MV-1 days, were you writing fanfic before that?
Sort of. I wanted to write for Marvel when I was a kid and so I'd construct vague stories for their characters, but I never sat down and wrote a beginning, middle, and end. I'd come up with ideas – wouldn't it be cool if the Avengers fought Magneto? - and sometimes I'd jot the idea down, and on a few occasions I event sent them in to Marvel, but it wasn't until MV1 came along that I actually started writing actual stories.
I loved doing it, and writing fanfic is a great way to get both experience and feedback. If I wrote a story about “Captain Freedom,” no one was going to read that and tell me what they thought, but by being involved in a shared universe and writing characters other people knew and loved, I was getting tons of feedback every month. If you want to be a writer, it's important to write and it's important to read, but it's also important to get feedback so you can start learning how to properly critique your own work. It's doesn't matter if the feedback you get is positive or negative, as long as you're told WHY the reader did or didn't like it.
You’ve written a wide gamut of stories and books at this point, how many actual books have you had published?
I've published eight full books, which seems unbelievable and awesome at the same time. Thank Odin I live in a print on demand world where I don't need a major publisher to get my books out, and where I'm not dependent on them to get my friends' books out. My latest is a horror novel, The Haunting of Kraken Moor, which someone told me was like watching Downton Abbey as written by H.P. Lovecraft. I love that description. Kraken Moor is set in 1865 and stars Beatrice Sharper, a rich American girl from Mississippi who ran away from home because of the Civil War. It's now a year and a half later and she's completely out of money, so she takes a job as a housekeeper at Kraken Moor, a castle in the east of England where spooky stuff happens. The idea of the book is that it's not a novel, but Beatrice's actual journal, so we read the story as it unfolds for Beatrice on a daily basis – she goes to Kraken Moor thinking she's going to dust and sweep, but she ends up meeting werewolves who want to kill her, goat-headed demons who want to impregnate her, dead would-be-husbands who are being tortured in Hell, giant snakes who steal children, and other people who are fun like that.
Beyond Kraken Moor, I've written a weird western (Gunfighter Gothic), a cosmic pulp (Harpsichord & the Wormhole Witches), two kids' books (Adventures of the Five: The Coming of Frost and Stufffed Animals for Hire: The Christmas Operation), two modern fantasies (Dreamer's Syndrome: Into the New World and DS: Rise of the First Woman), and a book of reviews that covers every Marvel movie ever released (Atomic Reactions: Marvel Comics on Film).
I noticed you have written children’s books as well which is very interesting, how’d you get involved in that?
I've always liked kids' books. I was a voracious reader as a kid, tearing through Tolkien, Lewis, Lloyd Alexander, the Hardy Boys, The Three Investigators, and Encyclopedia Brown, but the books that held the most special place in my heart was Thornton W. Burgess' Old Mother West Wind stories, about a forest full of animals who had adventures.
I wrote Adventures of the Five as both an ode to Burgess and as a challenge to myself. I had recently read the first Harry Potter book and liked it, but heard myself saying things like, “It's good, but anyone could write that.” So after I published Dreamer's Syndrome and was looking for my next project, I dared myself to try and write a kid's book. Truth is, J.K. Rowling is a really good writer. She improved massively over the course of the 7 Potter books, but even at her most derivative and simplistic, she still just tells a good story. Five tells the story of five animal kids who live in the Meadow and have fantastic adventures, including teaming up with human-sized Nutcrackers against Frost, who used to be a kid actor on a Saturday morning superhero show and is now an inter-dimensional criminal.
With Stuffed Animals for Hire, I wanted to try and do a “kid's pulp” book, so there's tons of action. There's a group of stuffed animals who find themselves trapped in Los Angeles at Christmas time and have to stop the bad guys from finding a map that can transport them back to the some-say-mythical original homeworld of stuffed animals. It's short and fast and it was a lot of fun to write.
Is there something to be said for writing children’s stories over more adult themed books?
I get bored really quickly and so it helps to keep changing the kind of story I'm writing. I could never be “just” a kids' author or “just” a sci-fi author or “just” a weird western author because I get too bored. What I like about kids' books is that it allows me to write stories for the 10-year old me. I think one of the reasons why the reaction to the Star Wars prequels is so negative is that Lucas' fans grew up and he never did. He was still making movies for the kids that loved Star Wars the first time, not the adults they had become by then. This isn't to say I think the prequels are as good, of course, because they're not, but just to point out that it seems to me Lucas was still essentially making a movie 10-year old George Lucas wanted to see. I can respect that, even if I'm not a huge fan of the result.
What is your greatest satisfaction as a writer?
I'm one of those jerks who never gets too satisfied. It's always a thrill when I see my latest book in print, but once the proof is approved, that book goes on the shelf and I'm off to the next one. What I appreciate the most is when someone takes the time to write me and tell me they enjoyed a story. Whether someone pays $15 to buy your book or $0 to read a freely available story, those people are spending their time to read your work. I don't want to waste their time, so if someone feels that time was well spent, that makes me happy.
What would you say is your favorite piece you have written? The one you’re most proud of or the most satisfied with?
I've recently had a story accepted for inclusion in an upcoming Psychopomp anthology called “The Pretty Girl with the Ugly Name” that I like a whole lot. It involves World War II and space and a girl who fell in love with a soldier and killed her parents for him. The reason that I like it so much isn't that I think it's necessarily a whole lot better than other stories, but that it feels like I'm finding my own voice as a writer. Neil Gaiman said something once about how all writers start out mimicking someone else's voice and then eventually we find our own. I think “Pretty Girl” is my first story where I've struck on something akin to an original voice. There are still plenty of influences in there, of course, but when I was writing it I felt like I was cooking my own meal instead of preparing someone else's recipe, if you catch the meaning.
I just released a new story called “Why Grant Jannen Can't Have Sex” (available for free at my website: http://atomicanxiety.wordpress.com/2013/05/18/superheroes-are-stupid-why-grant-jannen-cant-have-sex/ ) that's part of set of stories I'm writing under the working title of Superheroes are Stupid, and it's got the same kind of voice as “Pretty Girl.” Now, I love superheroes, but the idea here is to concentrate on people who live in a superhero world and who have superpowers, but not the kind of superpowers that lend themselves to putting on a costume and saving/conquering the world. I love basketball, but I'm short and slow so I'm never going to make the NBA. (Heck, I only made my high school team because we never had more than 10 people try out.) When I see a guy in the NBA who's wasting his talent, I get furious at him. Those are the people I want to focus on.
I will say this, though – I feel very protective of Harpsichord & the Wormhole Witches. It's an action-packed cosmic pulp story about a university cadet who gets kidnapped and deported to the far reaches of space. It's the most pulp thing I've written (Mark Beaulieu calls it “Buffy in Space” and I think that's a pretty accurate high concept pitch) and no one reads it. It's my worst selling book and I almost never hear anything from anyone about it. Adventures of the Five never sold many copies, either, but the people who did read it all seem to love it. What's weird is that Harpsichord gets the most clicks on my website, too, in terms of driving traffic to the book's Amazon page, but just no one wants to buy it. For whatever reason, people just don't find the book all that appealing. People are free to buy and like or hate whatever they want, of course, but it does make me more protective of that book than any other story.
You’ve written some stories that take place in the west (Weird westerns) do they require a lot of research? Or are you already a history buff?
There's probably more research for the Gunfighter Gothic stories than anything else, but it's not an incredible amount and I don't feel bound by history. I use it when it helps and ignore it when it doesn't. I'll give you an example: I wanted zeppelins, but there were no zeppelins in the Old West. I don't care. I'm having zeppelins in my Old West. What I found when doing my research, though, was that Ferdinand von Zeppelin was in America during the Civil War as an observer of the Army of the Potomac, during which time he took a balloon ride that is alleged to have inspired him to later create the zeppelin. That I can use, so I incorporate into the story the idea that von Zeppelin stayed in the United States and developed the zeppelin sooner.
Was there any characters you wish you could return to that you killed off and regretted that later on?
Ha! I tend to not kill very many characters and when I do, it's when their story is over. Now, there is one exception to that. I killed one character whose story is most definitely not over, but instead of regretting that I killed her, I actually kinda like that I did. Her death has resonated with readers and even though my plan all along was to bring her back, I'm warming to the idea that she's not coming back.
What type of books do you read? New Pulp? Sci-Fi? Westerns?
Most of my reading time is devoted to my career, which is as a Literature professor. (Technically, right now I'm a writing professor but I hope to make the move back to a Lit professor in the near future.) Most of my reading time is spent in the 19th century with Twain, Melville, Hawthorne, Dickinson, Emerson, Crane, and the like. Beyond that, I'm a big fan of writers like Nick Hornby, Elmore Leonard, and Kurt Vonnegut so I try to squeeze them in when and where I can.
Do you consider yourself a writer or a New pulp writer and are they different from each other?
Labels are tricky things. If I say I'm a New Pulp writer, then people who don't consider my work to be New Pulp are going to be offended, and if I say I'm a writer, then New Pulp people might be offended that I'm trying to say I'm something else. I just like to write and I like to try new things and in looking at my body of work, I think the evidence says I just have to call myself a writer. I like New Pulp and some of what I've written clearly fits under the New Pulp umbrella, but just as much doesn't.
Mark, how do you write? Do you frame out a story beforehand, intricately laying out details and then following that ‘roadmap’ or do you just get a general idea and write as you go, starting at point A and ending at point B?
I usually know how a story starts and how a story ends and usually have an idea on a few scenes that I'd like to include, but the big thing for me isn't about creating a road map to follow. It's about creating characters that I feel are real, and then putting them in a situation and seeing what happens. I find characters will usually lead the way and stories will tell you what they need. Now, I have done full road mapping, too, but it's less enjoyable for me. I've got an entire Adventures of the Five novel mapped out, for instance, but I've had it mapped out for four or five years and haven't written it as a novel, yet. Part of that is because once I've figured everything out, I get a little bored and want to make something new.
When road mapping works for me is mid-stream. If I'm writing a novel and get stuck, then I like to stop, map out what I've already written and then figure out the best way to get to the end.
So what can we expect to see from you in the coming months?
I mentioned “Pretty Girl” up above and I think that Psychopomp special should be out this summer. I'll be posting new stories every so often at my website (http://atomicanxiety.wordpress.com/ ), alongside reviews of whatever summer movies I see.
I have five books that I'd like to see hit print before the end of the year, but that is likely not going to happen. This summer should see the release of Gunfighter Gothic: Under Zeppelin Skies and Atomic Reactions: Sci-Fi Films Volume 1, a collection of my sci-fi reviews from Atomic Anxiety. Those are all but definite.
Beyond that, I'd like to get the next Adventures of the Five and Stuffed Animals for Hire books out this year, too. The Five's book is a Christmas story and the Animals' book is a New Year's story, and they're both half-written so I'm hopeful at least one of them will be out at the end of the year.
The other project I'm working on that I hope will see print this year is a collection called The Everything, which is my name for the multiverse/time-steam continuum. It's a concept I introduced back in my MV1 days, as a matter of fact. It's an anthology that's going to contain a story from all of my universes – so there will be a Gunfighter Gothic story and a Harpsichord story and a Dreamer's Syndrome story, etc. The idea is that one story's reality is another reality's story; meaning, I'll be introducing a character called Gunfighter Everlasting and he's having his adventure, he'll watch a cartoon which will actually be a new Adventures of the Five story, or he'll watch a movie that will actually be a Harpsichord tale. It's a way to write a sequel to everything. Like most of us who write, I have way more stories to tell than I will ever have time to write. It's been a few years since I've worked on some of my characters and I miss them. The Everything will be a way to go back to them without having to commit to writing an entire novel.
All of that being said, I never intended to write The Haunting of Kraken Moor until I was writing it. That book, literally, was not in my head in any shape or form at noon on December 31, 2012, and then at 2 PM I got the idea to write a story in the form of a journal, and then by 7 PM I had the idea sketched out and I spent almost all of my creative writing time over the next two months working on that book at the expense of everything else. I'm making a concerted effort to get more short stories out in more places this year, too, so if some publishers drop the right opportunities in my lap, that's what I'll work on.
Mark, feel free to plug whatever book or series you would like in this space, let us know what you feel of yours everyone should be reading and why?
Instead of pushing one book or story, I want to send the following invitation: as a thank you from me to you and your readers, anyone reading this can have a free .PDF of any one (just one) of my published books of fiction that I have the rights to:
1. Gunfighter Gothic: Blood of the Universe (weird western)
2. Harpsichord & the Wormhole Witches (cosmic pulp)
3. The Haunting of Kraken Moor (adult horror – gotta be 18 to read this one)
4. Adventures of the Five: The Coming of Frost (kids' book)
5. Stuffed Animals for Hire: The Christmas Operation (kids' book)
6. Dreamer's Syndrome: Into the New World (modern fantasy)
7. Rise of the First Woman: A Dreamer's Syndrome Anthology (modern fantasy).
Simply send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org between now and the end of June 2013, and tell me which book you'd like to read and I'll send the PDF back to you. I'm not going to pester you for your grandma's favorite apple crisp recipe in return or bug you to write a review at Amazon or hope that you send me a Christmas card. I make this offer every so often at the Anxiety as a way to spread the word about my projects to people who haven't read my work, yet.
My main place of residence on the web is my Atomic Anxiety blog, which now contains well over 800 reviews and information on all my books. It's at http://atomicanxiety.wordpress.com/ . It's always fun to talk movies with people so if you see something this summer, check out the site and join the conversation.