Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Today's Colorado Mystery Author Guest: Mark W. Danielson

As promised yesterday, fellow Colorado mystery author Mark W. Danielson is visiting my blog today. To read his bio and see his photo, please page down to yesterday's post.

Above is the cover photo for his most recent book, Writer's Block, A Maxx Watts Mystery, which is being released this month. Maxx Watts is no stranger to murder. As a Fort Worth homicide
detective, he has smelled death often. But this murder was twisted. A dead publisher lying face-down on a bloodied manuscript, the marble paperweight beside him labeled Writer’s Block. All evidence points to The Guillotine Press authors, but determining which one is only the beginning for Watts.

A writerly mystery! Below are Mark's answers to my interview questions. Please leave a comment for Mark, and if you have a question of your own for him, ask it!

1. Who or what inspired you to start writing and when did you start?

Like many novelists, my writing career began with writing non-fiction freelance articles in 1977. Most of my early work involved subjects on flying because it was a way to share valuable information. Since then, over one hundred of my articles have been published in various periodicals and I still contribute an occasional article.

2. What tools and process do you use to “get to know” your characters before and while you’re writing the books?

No doubt many of my characters evolve from my own investigative experience and/or encounters with others. Many of my friends and relatives have worked for police departments so it is easy to draw from them. My former position as an aircraft mishap investigator has certainly aided in creating believable situations and characters in my mysteries. Before beginning a new story, I have a good idea about what the main characters are like, but everyone in between is usually a surprise. I never know until the end who lives, who dies, who gets lucky, and whose luck runs out.

3. How do you construct your plots? Do you outline or do you write “by the seat of your pants”?

For fiction, I’m a “seat of the pants” guy. For non-fiction, everything must first be outlined. It’s a lot more fun giving my characters liberty to walk me through their stories. Since everything is told through their eyes, I often feel as if I’m watching from afar.

4. In the age-old question of character versus plot, which one do you think is most important in a murder mystery and which one do you emphasize in your writing? Why?

We’ve all seen movies with Oscar-winning casts that could not save the ghastly plot. Conversely, an unknown cast can be magnificent if the plot is masterful. Whether cinema or a novel, the plot must be sound or it will fail. In both mediums, the audience must connect with the characters. Even the antagonist must have a reason for being the way he or she is. Evil for evil’s sake never works. But to answer the question, I’m not sure you can separate the importance of plot versus character.

5. What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a writer and what inspires you and keeps you motivated?

Everything in life involves risk. We think nothing about car-jousting with opponents closing at two miles a minute because we’re certain we will pass shoulder to shoulder with inches to spare, but as we walk dark alleys and parking lots, our level of fear skyrockets because of the unknown. Mystery authors risk everything by opening their souls to strangers and choosing topics that publishers may not want. At the same time, mystery writers capitalize on their readers’ deepest fears. Go overboard and you either cross into horror or lose your audience. Although I take my writing very seriously, I am not overly concerned about the topics I write about. My main concern is to have fun and craft an entertaining story. There are endless tales yet to write, but I doubt I’ll live long enough to complete them all.

6. What is a typical workday for you and how many hours a day (or week) do you devote to writing?

As an airline pilot, my workdays are quite atypical. When I’m home, I spend much of my time on outings with my wife or getting things done around the house. When I’m on the road, I devote as much time as possible to writing. If my layover is long enough, I may write continuously for ten to fourteen hours whereas at home it may only be an hour or two. Given enough uninterrupted time, I can complete a first draft in thirty days, but most often it takes roughly three months.

7. What advice do you have to offer to an aspiring author?

I’m no different from anyone else when I say, “Read and write.” Reading other authors, particularly those in your genre, offers perspectives on what topics and styles are publishable. Writing is mostly a matter of persistence and dedication. Given the right mentoring, anyone can learn to write well. The most important thing is to have fun and never give up.

8. Now here’s a zinger. Tell us something about yourself that you have not revealed in another interview yet. Something as simple as your favorite TV show or food will do.

For me, writing has been an extension of painting. I’ve been painting my entire life, but it’s much easier to carry a laptop on a trip than an easel, brushes, and paint. For some reason, the TSA prefers it that way, too.

9. What are you working on now and what are your future writing plans?

Writer’s Block, a Maxx Watts murder mystery, was just released, and I am currently working on two sequels. The first one concerns a haunting in Fort Worth’s Scott Theater. Did this young man hang himself as legend says, or was he murdered? Maxx and his team are determined to find out. It’s been fun researching the paranormal for this story. The next story is a moving hostage situation where everyone, good and bad, has lost track of them. Both stories are a lot of fun.

10. Is there anything else you would like to tell my blog readers?

On November 19th, I’m making my tenth consecutive appearance at the Men of Mystery event in Irvine, California. Some of the biggest novelists in mystery have attended this event, and I am honored to be included. I am also among a group of talented authors who write for the Murderous Musings blog. My personal website shares my travels, pertinent articles, chapter previews for my books, and also some miscellaneous stuff just for fun. Please drop in!

Thanks, Mark! Now, who has a comment or question for him?


Harvey Burgess said...

Hey Mark,

I began as a journalist myself.

Did you know that Ernie Pyle, famed war correspondent of World War II, had a long history of aviation writing too?

Colleen Collins said...

Enjoyed your interview, Mark. Glad to know you're working on sequels -- this book sounds fantastic.

Mark W. Danielson said...

Harvey, I had no idea Ernie ever wrote about aviation, but I'll have to check it out. He had quite a record in WWII.

Thanks, Colleen. The first sequel was as easy to write as Writer's Block. The second sequel is well on its way, but is on hold until the first one is a finished product.

Beth, thanks for hosting me. Safe paddles:)

Beth Groundwater said...

Thanks for visiting! Please check in a couple of times tomorrow for more comments from those who get their yahoogroups on digest--I sent emails to quite a few about your guest post.

Anonymous said...

Hi Mark,
I know many authors (myself included) who have an creative/artistic side to their personality and have exchanged a paintbrush for the keyboard, but I cannot imagine being a pilot as well! I'm always fascinated by what makes us tick.

Super interview!

Mark W. Danielson said...

Hi Anne,

I think flying, painting, and writing all integrate perfectly. I started flying when I was a kid because of my view, and never tire of it. Memories of these vistas translate to many of my paintings, photos, and articles. In this regard, the creative arts are extensions of my need to preserve the view, so I guess it travels full circle:)

Jean Henry Mead said...

Hi, Mark, it's good to see you here. I enjoyed reading Writers Block as well as your previous novels, and I look forward reading more (as well as your Murderous Musing articles.)

Chester Campbell said...

I agree 100 percent with your views on plotting "by the seat of the pants" and putting plot and character on an equal footing. The plot is what keeps the action moving, but well-drawn characters are what keep up the reader's interest.

Mark W. Danielson said...

Thanks, Jean. There's always a story waiting to be written:)

Well said, Chester. The more people relate to the characters, the better the story.

Mark W. Danielson said...

I just returned from Men of Mystery in Irvine, CA, where Writer's Block was well received by the attendees. It was a privilidge to be a part of this event for the 10th year.