Are you ready for the latest Words With A Writer? Installment #2 is all about author Mark J. Engles! Let’s just jump right in, shall we?
Me: First things first, thank you for agreeing to do this interview. As soon as I read your excerpt for Always Gray In Winter I was excited to find out more about you and this book!
The title really stood out to me. Was it difficult to come up with or did you just instinctively know this was the right title?
Mark J. Engles: You’re welcome and thank you for having me, Teresa. Thank you too for putting out the call for Mystery/Suspense/Thriller/Horror writers to share their books with you and your audience!
TITLES ARE HARD. Suuuuuper hard. Much like log lines and pitches and blurbs and synopses. I find that the shorter the item, the harder it is to develop. Because it must capture the essence of the book in fewer and fewer words, convey an idea, a concept, an image, an emotion to hook a prospective reader/reviewer/agent/editor, etc. etc.
I finally decided on ALWAYS GRAY IN WINTER after kicking around a whole bunch of other ideas.
One of my entire series’ inspirations was Def Leppard’s _Slang_ album. The first song called “Truth?” features this lyric:”I’ve seen the black and white / and the colour in the grey”
So for some while, the title of my book was “Color in the Gray.” But the more I thought about it, the more I realized it wasn’t quite as effective a hook as I liked.
Absolutes like “always” and “never” give me the sense that wherever they’re used, the subject shall demonstrate just the opposite.
And since the book’s modern day setting takes place exclusively in winter, I thought including the season would be useful to help convey setting and tone.
Of course, I can tell you all that *now* only in hindsight. At the time I brainstormed a big list and crossed off all the ones that sounded trite or silly as I read them out loud. ALWAYS GRAY IN WINTER was down in the last four or five on my list. By then, I “just knew”, but there was a fair bit of research, consideration and culling that happened prior to my reaching that point.
Me: The process is definitely an interesting one. I’ve had a couple of titles just seem obvious to me, but others I’ve really had to put a lot of effort into. Are you as thorough with your writing process, or are you a pantser?
MJE: “Thorough” is one way to put it, but others might call it “anal.”
I’m an electrical engineer in my day job, specializing in the design, testing and commissioning of railroad and rail transit signal & communications systems for railroads and transit agencies across the United States.
If I don’t do what I do right and do it right every time, people can die. Or millions of dollars can be squandered. I take those responsibilities very seriously.
So it should come as no surprise to anyone to learn I’m a consummate plotter when it comes to my writing. I can’t *not*.
I have a complete series outline detailing the lives of three generations of my werecats, beginning from the height of the Cold War to the present day.
From this is where I take the main points of my books. It’s also the means I use to keep the chronology straight within each book (especially important in those places where I employ flashbacks.)
I used to follow the outline slavishly, but as time has progressed I’ve relaxed somewhat.
It was never detailed enough to exactly depict who said what when and to whom to cause what to happen next. And when I tried to make it that restrictive, I found it became so unwieldy that it became a hindrance rather than a help.
So I keep the main points of my outline, as a plotter might. But when I get down into crafting a specific scene, I let my characters guide me. I know who ought to be there and why, but what they say to one another? That’s all them. I just let them carry on in my mind and then write it down.
So at the macro level, I’m a plotter through and through. But at the micro level, I’ve come to adopt some pantser characteristics.
My anecdotal evidence suggests a continuum exists between pantser and plotter, and that many authors, like me, land somewhere between the two end points. Because each of us has to find our own way, to find what works for us–often figuring out what doesn’t work *first.*
Me: I’m a firm believer that the “rules” of writing are really just suggestions and each of us will (and should) decide for ourselves what works best for us.
MJE: Re: “the rulez”…imagine my frustration having built my day-job career by following patterns set by others! That didn’t work very well for me at all regarding writing and publishing, and led to a great deal of angst and a number of false starts.
I came to adopt Bruce Lee’s wise words…“Adapt what is useful, reject what is useless, and add what is specifically your own.” So I suggest others do the same. Though each of us needs must do sufficient research and experimentation to figure out just what “useful” and “useless” mean to us individually.
Me: Now, enough about the process! Let’s talk about the book. I know you’ve been asked in previous interviews about your favorite character. I want to know if you have a character you don’t like at all. If you do, what are your reasons?
MJE: In ALWAYS GRAY introduces us to Pawly Katczynski, a were-lynx and Navy sailor turned special operative. Her father Barry becomes Pawly’s prime motivation to keep her family together as the book’s plot unfolds. Though he has only small parts in ALWAYS GRAY, he has a larger role for the next book in my series called FOR WHILE THE TREE IS GREEN.
There, Barry has to come to grips with Pawly and her twin brother Tommy being werecats. He’d know his wife Alex was one years before, but had worked with his boyhood-friend-turned-brother-in-law Ritzi to help manage her Affliction.
But despite Barry being a career Navy SEAL, the pressure of dealing with the twins as they’re Growing Up Werecat begins to take its toll on him. He becomes a bully, especially toward his brother-in-law Ritzi, believing Ritzi’s quest for commercial success drove him to take risks while trying to prevent the family’s “Affliction” from manifesting in the twins.
Barry frequently lashes out in angry rage toward Ritzi and others, unwilling to trust them to do what’s best for the twins and their future. Because he’s been let down, led on and lied to by so many of them before. My characters are all reflections of myself, and I’ve come to dislike Barry (as have several of TREE’s prereaders.) Mostly because he vividly illustrates my own flaws and shortcomings.
Me: Fair enough! What is your favorite thing about your books?
MJE: That I get to share parts of my past with others, parts I don’t want to ever forget based on my own experiences and interests. Like growing up amongst Polish-Americans near Detroit. My love of Great Lakes lore and legend. Ice hockey. Staring out through a tractor-trailer’s windshield at the passing countryside. Practice in and appreciation for traditional Korean fighting arts.
Me: Sounds like you have a lot of interests outside of writing! What would you say is your favorite way to use your spare time that doesn’t involve reading or writing?
MJE: I’ve been a train buff since I was a little boy. It’s in part the reason my day job today is an electrical engineer designing, commissioning and testing railroad and rail transit signal & communications systems. I’m still a train buff at heart, and my grade-school age son enjoys going on train-watching jaunts together with me. We both volunteer on the “section” (name for a track crew) at a nearby “live steam” excursion railroad: the Riverside & Great Northern near the Wisconsin Dells tourist area. http://dellstrain.com/
Me: It’s really great that your son shares your love of trains! I know that you also have a dog. What is his/her name and what breed is it (if you know)?
MJE: His name is Toby and we *think* he’s a “Dobrador” (Lab/Doberman mix.)
Here he is keeping my spot on the sofa warm until I sit down to write.
Me: He’s so sweet! My dog curls up the same way on the couch!
Do you have a specific routine for when you sit down to write or does it vary depending on the day?
MJE: My wife and I keep our grade-school age son’s bedtime the same every night, including weekends, holidays and school breaks. So after he’s in bed I sneak downstairs to my basement office where I do my writing (which during daylight hours serves as my day job office.) There I’ll work until bed writing in all its many forms–research, drafting, editing, marketing, platform building, reading and reviewing other authors’ books…
Me: Sounds like you’ve got it all down to an art! I’m still working on getting my schedule on the right track. Was it something that came easily to you, or did you have to make adjustments as you went?
MJE: No, schedule doesn’t come easy for me. But what I did do was make a decision. I had a story I had to tell and I was going to tell it! So I worked backwards to try to figure out how to go about doing that. I’ve been learning as I go ever since. Still learning, still going.
What I did do was decide that writing (in all the forms I mentioned) was going to be on my calendar frequently, if not daily. Because I don’t *make* time, I don’t *find* time. I *tear* time kicking and screaming from the arms of something–or someone!–desperately cleaving unto it.
I didn’t so much “take up” writing, so much as I “gave up” other stuff. A LOT of other stuff.
Though I don’t feel the least bit slighted, though. I had to do it or I would have never gotten my books written. Have to stay the course as I’ve got at least one more I need to write, to finish telling the entire story I set out to tell.
Me: Well, your books are definitely on my TBR list!
MJE: Thank you! My debut paranormal sci-fi thriller ALWAYS GRAY IN WINTER is available now, and the next book in my werecat family saga series called FOR WHILE THE TREE IS GREEN is in edits now. I’ll keep my followers apprised of details as to its future publication, for sure.
Me: One last question to wrap this up. If you could choose one activity to do with any person of your choosing (alive or dead) what and who would you choose?
MJE: My son and I would ply the seven seas aboard an ocean freighter!
Though I might have to make adjustments. My son is the same age now as a girl from ALWAYS GRAY. I could easily see him just as bored stiff as her after her family goes to sea aboard a similar vessel.
“Whaddya mean ‘fourteen days with no wi-fi?!'”
Me: You never know with kids! He might learn to love the disconnected life!
MJE: We’d stock up on Wimpy Kid, Big Nate and Dog Man books, for sure!
Me: Thank you so much for sharing with us! It was a pleasure getting to know you a little better!
I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know this author better! If you would like to know more about him, here’s where you should go:
Website (featuring character art!): https://www.mark-engels.com/
The modern day remnant of an ancient clan of werecats is torn apart by militaries on three continents vying to exploit their deadly talents. Born in an ethnic Chicago neighborhood following her family’s escape from Cold War-era Poland, were-lynx Pawly flees underground to protect her loved ones after genetically-enhanced soldiers led by rogue scientist and rival werecat Mawro overrun her Navy unit in the Gulf of Oman. Pawly’s family seeks her out in a desperate gambit to return their ancestral homeland and reconcile with their estranged kinsmen. But when her human lover arrives to thwart Mawro’s plan to weaponize their feral bloodlust, Pawly must face a daunting choice: preserve her family secrets and risk her lover’s life or chance her true nature driving him away forever.
“…captivating from cover to cover, highly recommended.” — James A. Cox, Editor-in-Chief, Midwest Book Review
“…tight, sparse military SF that readers familiar with the conventions of the genre will find compelling, entertaining, and quickly paced…” — Cat Rambo, Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America president, writing for The Green Man Review
“…drops you into a world of werecats, full of deception and intrigue.” — Katherine @kleffnotes , The Nerdy Girl Express co-founder
“‘Furpunk’…runs on high stakes, killer action sequences, sneaky plotting, and some deft worldbuilding…” — M. Crane Hana, Blue night. Black iron. Golden rope.
Become a ShareASale Affiliate and start making money from your blog! CLICK HERE!!!