Exclusive Interview with
Mark R. Hunter
When did you start writing?
I was about six when I dictated a story to my mother about my trip to the Land of Oz ... and here I am getting ready to write my own Oz book for NaNoWriMo. Being six, I ran out of steam quickly, but at about ten I finished a short story, and by middle school I was writing regularly.
What makes writing your passion?
That's an excellent question! ... I don't know. After all, I've been doing it for decades, now. But I have stories in my head, and they're demanding to be told; honestly, I can't imagine a better way to spend my time.
How long have you been writing?
Are you counting my six year old Oz story? Well, let's go back to my first finished short story ... divide by 10, carry the two ... wow. It's been so long that I actually don't want to tell you how long it's been. Decades.
What was the feeling when you published your first book?
Exhaustion. Well, when I got my acceptance letter I'd been up for 48 hours, dealing with my daughter getting into an accident with a hit and run driver who totaled my car. But when that first box of actual physical books arrived--wow. I came very close to crying.
What’s the story behind your choice of characters?
I have to like them, which you'd think would be a given. But some authors are very good at writing characters who no one, including the author, likes, and I have trouble with that. Except for the worst of the bad guys, my characters have to be people who have more good qualities than bad, or who are at least redeemable. And each one must be a rounded person--not a gender, not a skin color, not a religion.
What annoys you the most in pursuing a writing career?
Publishing! Traditional publishing is frustratingly full of "hurry up and wait" times. Self-publishing is an overwhelming amount of work. I'd really rather spend all my time making my stories as good as possible, but a working writer spends half their time at non-writing tasks.
How do you get over the “writer’s block”?
I haven't had writer's block since I was eighteen, and I think back then it was a matter of me not having enough life experiences. I have every other problem a writer gets! But if I seem to stall a little, a trail hike or some routine chores give my mind a little time to match up puzzle pieces, and it's back to work.
We all know the writer’s path is never easy, what makes you keep going? What advice would you give to new authors?
First, if you don't like it, don't do it! It isn't easy, and it isn't a road to riches. I do it because I love it--I couldn't NOT do it. If you're writing for fun, that's great--if you want to make it a career you must persevere through all the rejections, and all the years of making little money. Don't do it unless going without writing for a few weeks starts to make you crazy.
If you could go back in time and talk to your younger self, what would you say?
Snap out of it! Persevere! It was very rare for me to stop writing for any amount of time, but I often got discouraged and stopped trying to get published, especially during winter. I'd tell myself that there is a light at the end, but that you have to work to reach it.
Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with the bad ones?
I haven't had any bad ones yet, for which I'm very thankful. I think the best way to deal with bad reviews are not to read them. Sooner or later all writers will get bad book reviews, and it may be because the reviewer had a bad day, or didn't like a single typo on page 231, or is just a jerk. All you can do is do the very best writing you can, and then release your baby into the world.
What is the feeling when you get a good review?
That's the kind of thing that keeps me going. Like many writers, I have trouble with self-confidence, but I've gotten enough good reviews now that I can finally admit I'm a pretty good writer. Good reviews are better than chocolate. Well, a little better.
Have you ever incorporated something that happened to you in real life into your novels?
Oh, yes. I had a close call with a tornado as a child that I wrote into a scene in my first novel, Storm Chaser. With Coming Attractions, the whole idea of the story came from the trips my daughters and I made every summer to the local drive-in movie theater. Our experiences there made writing scenes at our fictional drive-in--which is very similar to the real thing--easy.
Which of your characters you can compare yourself with? Did you base that character on you?
The father in Coming Attractions was based on me a little--at the time I first started working on it, we were both single fathers with two kids. I actually wrote myself into Storm Chaser, in a very minor part, just for the fun of it. But when I gave "me" a bigger part in the sequels I filled out that character's details, which changed him enough to be a more original character.
What do you think, the book cover is as important as the story?
For readers it certainly seems to be. Luckily I have my wife, who's a fellow writer and also an artist, and she's designed the covers for our self-published works. A cover SHOULDN'T be as important as the story--but it's still the first thing readers see.
Do you connect with your readers? Do you mind having a chat with them or you prefer to express yourself through your writing?
I love to talk to readers. But I'm not exactly George R.R. Martin, after all--if tour buses started cruising slowly by my house five times a day, I might feel differently. Right now I think it's a lot of fun.
How do you feel when people appreciate your work or recognize you in public?
Bewildered. I still get that "who--me?" feeling whenever I'm recognized, but it also feels really good. If someone has invested enough time in my writing that they actually recognize me, I can't help but be humbled.
Who is your favorite author? Why?
The two that come to mind are, first, L. Frank Baum. Baum's fourteen Oz books are what got me into reading, and as I said, my first shot at telling a story was about Oz.
Second is Isaac Asimov, a brilliant and incredibly prolific author who wrote everything from science fiction and science fact to religion and history. He clearly loved the craft, and he also didn't take himself too seriously.
What’s the dream? Whom would you like to be as big as?
As I get older, I'm not sure I want to be as big as anyone who would come to mind in that question. I want to make enough money writing so I can quit my day job and write more--that's good enough for me. Most writers never quite get to that point, so it's still a steep hill to climb.
Would you rewrite any of your books? Why?
No, I don't think so--therein lies insanity. Once your baby has been released into the world you should leave it alone, except for very obvious typos and errors.
If you could switch places with any author – who would that be?
Oh, I'm happy being me. I mean--can I switch places with them and then write full time? That would be cool, but in every other way I'm me and they're them.
What would you say to the “trolls” on the internet? We all know them – people who like to write awful reviews to books they’ve never read or didn’t like that much, just to annoy the author.
Rule #1: Don't feed the trolls!
Actually, I think Rule #1 is Don't quit your day job, but you get the idea.
I've been on the internet long enough to recognize most people have no desire to have a reasoned discussion--they just want to argue and be right. I have no time for those people.
What would you say to your readers?
Read me! Oh, wait, they're already my readers, got it. Well, I'd ask them to try all my books, even the ones in different genre. I'd also tell them to hang on--I have quite a ride coming up for them.
Share a bit about yourself – where do you live, are you married, do you have kids?
I live in small town Indiana with my wife, Emily, our huge dog Beowulf (no, he's not a wolf), and a cowardly ball python named Lucius. I have two daughters from my first marriage, twin grandsons, and a granddaughter, so I'm pretty much set.
What is your day job if you have one?
I've been a 911 dispatcher for over twenty-five years, and writing helps in getting the stress out.
What are your hobbies? What do you do in your free time?
I've been a volunteer firefighter for decades, and so I laugh when people mention the concept of free time. It's a demanding "hobby"! But of course I'm also a voracious reader, and the wife and I are into camping and hiking--the more out of the way, the better. She's a horse person, so no extra cash for us.
Did you have a happy childhood?
Kind of. I grew up out in the country, at a time when we could go out the door in the morning and not show up again until supper. My parents got divorced when I was about eleven, and I had a few heavenly summers where my brother and I basically ran around unsupervised before they both remarried and things got darker.
Is there a particular experience that made you start writing?
Not really, unless you count reading.
Do you have unpublished books? What are they about?
I'm shopping around four manuscripts right now. One is a SF story, kind of a space opera about the crew of a VERY small warship. The second is a romantic comedy about volunteer firefighters in Kentucky. The third is a YA mystery, and the fourth, just finished, is about a married couple and their dog who travel around and solve mysteries, Scooby Doo style.
Genres are just a suggestion!
What do you think should be improved in the education of our children? What do we lack?
We don't concentrate on the basics, and we don't teach children to love reading. Instead, we make them read "classics" they aren't interested in, and they end up deciding books are a bad thing. Let them read what they want! They'll get there.
If you were allowed 3 wishes – what would they be?
That depends largely on how powerful the wishes are. The peace on Earth thing? Unlimited resources? A trip to Mars? (Okay, that one's a little selfish.)
Or is it more the personal ones. Health ... happiness ... a six figure, three book deal ... there you go.
What is your favorite music?
When I'm writing, I love movie scores and classical music--John Williams is my hero. But I also listen to classic rock, pop from any era, country, and some of other genres. We shouldn't limit our music any more than our reading.
Share a secret with us 🙂
A secret? Did I mention I'm starting work on my own Oz book? (Baum's books are in the public domain.) I haven't told anyone but my wife that yet, so--there you go.