Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Today we're interviewing Mark Gilroy.  Author, publisher, and interesting.  Interesting in the fact Mark knows about the publishing world now than any of the rest of us will come to understand in the next one hundred years.

There's a reason for this.

Before Mark became an accomplished author he sat on the OTHER side of the desk.  He was a vice-president in a couple of the largest traditional print houses in the the country.  He was the guy who SIGNED fledgling authors on the dotted line. He ran the company.  He created promotional campaigns.  He was The Man In Charge.

What's fascinating to consider is that Mark started out in the business working in the stockroom and wound up sitting at the head of the table in the boardroom.

Huh, apparently it is true.  Hard work, determination, and a will to succeed DOES pay off.

Now he stands on the other side of the parking lot.  He's an author of a new detective/mystery series featuring his female police detective, Kristen Connors.  The first book is called Cuts Like A Knife.  And I'm going to read it pretty damn soon.

But there's something else about Mark I find intriguing.  His idea of putting a mystical/spirituality into the basic personality weave of a character.  I like that.  He got the idea from one of my most cherished authors; a guy by the name of Tony Hillerman.  Hillerman's Jim Chee novels featuring Navajo police officer Jim Chee are fascinating.  Navajo mysticism flows through these books with a quiet fascination.   I understand, therefore, Mark's interest in this idea.

An interesting man with some interesting comments and ideas.  I know you're going to like this interview.

Cuts Like A Knife

o                                                        1. Mark, you've been in the publishing business for decades. Starting in the garage loading trucks to becoming vice-presidents of well known publishing houses. Tell me, how does a kid going to divinity school wind up in a place like this? And a follow up question; what keeps you in this business?

Growing up I was an avid reader—my mom even said I was smart—but I was not always a good student. The second semester of my sophomore year of college I decided to add a second major—Speech Communications with a Journalism emphasis. The next fall I began internship as a sports stringer at a small community newspaper. I would sit at the editor’s desk on Friday nights and take calls from high school football coaches. I would write 10 to 15 short stories that made it sound like I had been at each game. That began my official paid career in publishing. They liked my work enough that I had my own byline before I left college. I think it was a personal turning point for me as. Writing about something I loved—in this case football and then the other sports throughout the year—seemed to open up my ability to think and express myself more clearly in all my course work. I began freelancing while in grad school and I woke up one day working in the proof room of a publishing house—with packing some boxes on heavy order days. From there I moved into editorial, then marketing, then management of publishing divisions.

2. Compare and contrast question: you've been on both sides of the desk. For years as a book publisher, editor, acquisitions manager--and now as a successful author. Of the two sides mentioned, which do you prefer? The one finding the talent and marketing it? Or the talent needing to be marketed?

That’s a great question. One thing I’ve never been able to figure out is if my role in publishing was to help talented people put their best work into the marketplace—or to try and be a talent. Obviously my work as a publisher for three companies indicate that I have thoroughly enjoyed the former, helping others—and it has paid the bills. But throughout my career I have compiled and written enough books that I knew I wanted to do more to express what was on my mind. So to answer your question, the answer is yes and both! I like both sides of the table very much. Right now, having written my debut novel, I’m probably having more fun as a writer at the moment.

3. I'm very curious about this. You are a religious man. A man of faith. So how does a man of faith find himself attracted to what others might describe as the 'dark side' of detective/mystery literature? What is it about this genre you find unable to resist?

I have always enjoyed murder and suspense thrillers, I’m sure in part just as pure escapist entertainment. The first time I ever really connected the dots between faith and this genre was when I started reading Tony Hillerman’s wonderful Jim Chee novels. His hero was a detective on the Navajo Reservation and a man of introspection and simple faith. When I started writing Cuts Like a Knife I had no thought about writing a religious fiction novel—and I would argue that it isn’t. I wanted to do a great general market novel that would wow readers who like suspense. But my hero, Detective Kristen Conner, is a person of introspection and simple faith. That does connect to my background and life—but you can also say that was inspired by the incredible work of Hillerman. I loved the review that USA TODAY gave of the novel. In the last sentence the reviewer called it: “An intense, eerie, funny, and suspenseful thriller with a very subtle faith thread that enriches rather than suffocates it.” I’ll take that as a compliment.

4. While we're on the discussion about the genre we both dearly love, tell me; what makes, for you, a great mystery/detective yarn? What kind of main character do you find compelling? Do they have to be male or female? Same question as the last, but this time aimed toward the villain. A real nasty one? An intellectual one?

You’ve got Smiddy and can answer this question better than I can I bet! I’ve been asked several times if I outlined Cuts Like a Knife. My answer has been no. I came up with a lead character I really like—and a villain who is very bad in an understated way. Those two wrote the rest for me! I have favorite literary characters that are both male and female, but I do like self-reflection and some emotional depth. Ditto with the villains. I don’t like cartoonish characters. So I guess on both sides of good and evil I like some psychological depth and tension. One of the responses I’ve had from readers is that my killer—a true psychopath—is so calm, cool, and collected—even logical in his own way—that they have found him to be scarier than a ranting and raving lunatic. Like the opening scene, this guy really could be sitting next to you at a ball game.

5. What is your opinion on what makes for a successful writer of genre fiction? How much talent is needed versus how much luck comes in to play. Can talent alone eventually bring you success? Or is luck the more dominate factor in finding success.

I’ve been on the business side of publishing so long that I recognize exceptional cases happen, but realize you can’t plan and manage based on exceptions. By definition exceptions don’t happen very often. So, luck is always possible. Talent without promotion sometimes hits too. But generally speaking in world where there is more supply than demand, it takes all of the above: writing talent, a great marketing plan with execution, and more often than not, a couple strokes of luck.

6. As a traditional publisher what is your take on the rise of epublishing? Will one destroy the other or will a day come along which sees both publishing methods find a mutually satisfactory equilibrium? And which of the two do you think will be the most lucrative for the author?

This is a tough question that can be answered a lot of ways. First, I’d state I am platform neutral and don’t care if people like ink and paper or an electronic device to consume books. In terms of what is best for the author … A traditional publishing model pays you royalties. A self-published e-book model pays you profits. The former has a marketing and sales team to support you, in the latter it is all up to you—but access to sales channels is available for all. But to state the obvious, neither pays much if the work doesn’t sell! I obviously elected to sell my novel to a publisher under traditional publishing terms so it might seem I favor that model. But I watch the self-publish e-book model with keen interest as well. For fiction, the common denominator for success in either model goes back to the issues of talent and marketing you mentioned earlier. Neither model works without the author highly involved in both. I have been amazed at the quality of fiction from self-published authors, but something I’ve noticed—and others have noticed as well—because of the success of some trailblazers, there are other writers throwing some inferior work at the wall. By inferior I would stress they have not submitted to the disciplines of peer review, rewrites, and basic editorial process like proofing! They might be even better at marketing so when readers sample the indie world and discover the quality to not be there, it hurts the ones doing it right.

7. In writing a continuing series with an on going character how hard is it in keeping the series fresh and exciting? Is there, in your opinion, a natural life span a series exists and when do you know when it must come to an end?

I just finished the manuscript for the second Detective Kristen Conner novel—Every Breath You Take. So it wasn’t hard at all to keep fresh. You need to ask me that same question when I am working on number four or five—I think I’ve got a real good idea to pursue for number three! In my opening novel Kristen turns 30. I’ve wondered if 10 books and her turning 40 would be a good number for the series—I think and hope I could keep 10 books fresh. But keep in mind Robert Parker has written close to 40 Spenser novels—he’s still with Susan, he still scarfs donuts without putting on weight, we still don’t know his first name, and he still catches the bad guys. So maybe 10 isn’t ambitious enough?

8. Tell us about your character, Kristen Connors. How did she come into existence? Why a female protagonist? How many books are you planning on writing with her? And what are you writing on now?

As the father of six kids—three sons and three daughters—I think I’ve experienced enough drama to write a male or female lead character. If my wife and daughters read this I could be in trouble, but there has been more drama from the females than the males—so when I wrote a family-centered character that loves her family but fights with them constantly, it was easy to go with a female lead. My publisher asked how I could write female interaction and dialog so well. I just said look at the gray in my beard and you’ll know. Seriously, the family interaction has been one of the fun ways to intersperse humor into a storyline with a serial killer. Kristen is strong, independent with a bit of a temper problem—so she is a graceful mess. She studies krav maga and other hand-to-hand combat disciplines but is pissed she can’t shoot a handgun straight. She’s beautiful and doesn’t know it. She coaches her niece’s soccer team—she played at Northern Illinois University—but with her temper even that gets her into hot water. She loves God but fights with Him too. And I won’t even mention she isn’t getting along with the head of detectives. So she’s a very delightful young lady with plenty of flaws. I am just beginning to sketch ideas for novel three and will start rolling on it soon! How many books? I’ll let the audience tell me!

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