I have been making up stories since I was about eight or nine; writing them down since about ten years old (this is a guess since my mother actually reads my postings from time to time). The first “A” I can ever recall getting was in an English class where we were asked to “make up a story”. The rest, as they say, is history – though it took me almost forty years to consider publishing, and I’m glad I did.
The reason for my ramble is because twenty years ago, I marshaled enough courage to write a fan letter to an author of gay mystery novels I really enjoyed reading, asking advice for a gay writer just getting started. Remember, the old fashion way of putting pen to paper, signing your name at the bottom, affixing a stamp and knowing you’d never get a response? Well, believe it or not, I actually received a response dated March 18, 1992 (yes, I’ve kept the letter all this time!) from the writer who responded with a full page of advice, who was none other than Mark Zubro.
Please join me (excuse my giddiness) as I get to interview one of my favorite gay mystery writers, who helped to influence my own writing.
Where do you live? City, town, island, country?
Mokena, Illinois, USA
Writer’s rarely like to toot their own horn. Seriously! What would you say is your greatest accomplishment?
Having twenty-five books and five short stories published, and the first volume of my great gay sci-fi epic – after working on it twenty-three years, is just out; these are my greatest accomplishments.
Mostly I read books, write books, nap, and eat chocolate (Jon:I am so there!). Not always in that order, but pretty much that’s it. I’m good at dull and boring. They say ‘be the best you can be’, ‘find out who you are’, ‘do what you’re good at’. Well, I’m good at dull and boring. It’s who I am and I’m comfortable with it. (Recommendation – read Quiet by Susan Cain – great analysis of this.)
Where do you write, and in what format? (computer, tablet, paper, recorder)
I write in my office on a PC. I can do corrections from my editor on the PC. I haven’t learned to do them on the MAC yet.
What inspires and challenges you most in writing?
The most challenging thing in writing is making myself sit down and to get to work. That hasn’t changed in all these years. The old cliché, boring as it is, 90% of life is showing up, is true. I’ve discovered that writing is a whole lot more like real work than most people realize.
The most inspiring thing or things: well, with most mystery writers – okay, with me – we are very busy getting even with people we don’t like. Any number of women have told me they wrote their first mystery to get even with their ex-husband. And with a gay person, there are just a whole lot of homophobes out there who need their comeuppance. There’s not a lot any of us – okay, me again – can do about the homophobes, not in real life. But in my mysteries, by gosh, they can have all kinds of problems. In fact, if you are racist, sexist, homophobic, or a school administrator in one of my books, if you aren’t the corpse – and you are quite likely to be – but if you aren’t, then rest assured bad things are going to happen to you by the end.
I’m also inspired by other people’s stupidities. For example, if the gun nuts are right and we all have to be armed to the teeth, then what happens if at a convention of gun nuts if…oh, wait, that’s the beginning of the plot for the next Paul Turner mystery. I can’t tell you more because I don’t know more. I’ve only got a paragraph done on it. And I won’t be starting on (the novel) until I finish the new Tom and Scott, which I won’t be starting on until I get done with the edits on the books coming out in the next few months.
You’ve probably answered this question a hundred times, but please indulge as our readers (and fellow writers) really want to know. Do you fly by the seat of your pants when writing or plot out your storylines?
It’s changed over the years. I used to start a mystery and not have a clue about how it would end. I’d follow the characters as they bumbled through the world looking for a solution. I’d realize over time, that if this event happened in the early part of a book, then there must be an explanation somewhere near the end of the book. So, no outline and no notion except what logic dictated.
Nowadays, it’s different, sort of; still no outline, really, but I know, usually early on, (what) scenes that I want to put in the book. For example, in the next Tom and Scott, I know there are two murders. One many years ago. I know who didn’t commit that murder, although I don’t know who did. But the person who didn’t commit the murder thinks he did. Tom has to figure out, discover that this person didn’t commit that murder. How he does that, I have no idea. So, I’ve got a structure that I now fill in that leads to the conclusion I want. Sometimes when working this way, lots of things have to be rewritten, changed, and edited. And I have no idea who did the second murder. I’m pretty sure it’s not the first guy, who is innocent of the first murder, but I’m not absolutely sure he didn’t do it. I’ll have to see. (Jon:Confusing to say the least. I doubt most readers realize how much goes into developing a tightly woven mystery, suspense/thriller.)
In the Paul Turner example above, I have the whole gun-nut convention thing. I also know I want a scene in the book at home where Brian, Paul Turner’s older boy, has gone to college. His younger son, Jeff, four years younger, misses his older brother, but would never admit it (OMG, I have loved Jeff all these years since first reading, “Sorry Now”. I love the way you have developed his character; so real and true, regardless of his challenges). But the younger boy has taken to wearing his older brother’s letterman’s jacket. It’s a tender, nostalgic moment that I want in the book. I have no idea where it fits in with the plot, with the momentum of the book, but I think it’s important to show Paul as a loving dad, and I think it’ll fit. And then, in that same to be written in a year or so – Paul Turner – he needs to confront one of his colleagues who betrayed them in… Well, again, I don’t want to give too much away.
With so much releasing and in the works, how do you deal with the constant distractions such as blogs, FB, promo and real life (like that dreaded daytime job)?
I wrote twenty-three of the books while I was teaching full-time. During those years of being published while teaching, I was also president of the teachers’ union in my school district. So there was always a paper to grade, or a student to help, or a teacher in need of assistance or union contract negotiations with the school board; well something. But I’ve discovered with writing, there is always an excuse not to write. Always. It can be trivial or monumental, life changing or mundane, but there’s always an excuse. It goes back to an answer to an earlier question, making myself write every day is the key.
As for promotion, I know a few authors who get their book published and just think the world will then rush to buy their books. Then, there are those of us who slog through every promotional possibility we can find. It’s part of the job. The writing is the key, but selling is vital, painful as that can sometimes be, and I’m an intensely private person (again – read Quiet by Susan Cain – brilliant book on just this very subject), but I do the promotion. I try to do it right. I learn new things; all this techno selling for example.
How do I get them all done? I don’t know. I just plod through. I get one thing done and then I go on to the next.
You have two long-running serials, affectionately known by fans as the Tom & Scott series and the Paul Turner mysteries. How do you sustain the awesome Paul Turner, gay Chicago cop/investigator series and the incredible couple, Tom & Scott, series to keep them fresh and to keep fans returning?
There are several key elements to keeping them fresh. I rotate writing them – one year a Tom and Scott, the next year a Paul Turner and so on. Tom and Scott novels are written in the first person; Paul Turner in third person. This is a big help in switching my mind into the different worlds, the structure of the books themselves. Tom is, by definition an amateur sleuth. This brings into play what I call the “Jessica Fletcher syndrome”. No cop in his right mind would allow an amateur such access. The ‘too interested’ person is, in your average cop’s mind, at the top or near the top of the suspect list.
Although after all these years, I think it would be a hoot, in the very last final two hour episode, if it was revealed that Jessica did them all. But, that’s just me. The point here is, I have to always give Tom a reason to be involved and an in. This influences the whole plot. The Paul Turner books in that sense are simple; it’s his job. But being his job brings in its own set of complications.
Do you have any guilty pleasures?
Have I mentioned chocolate yet? Can chocolate ever be mentioned enough?
On behalf of the Facebook Gay Mystery-Thriller-Suspense Fiction Group, thank you for giving us a little of your time answering questions fans of the genre are would like to know. Will you share a little about your current release and/or WIP?
My current release is Alien Quest, a volume of one gay sci/fi epic and love story set in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs. An alien comes to Earth and enlists the help of a gay waiter to assist him in his quest to capture the evil scientist from his home world. They have numerous wild adventures as their relationships blossoms. The next book in the Paul Turner series, Pawn of Satan, will be out at the end of October 2013. My first young adult book, Safe, will be out in January 2014.
Where to get Mark Zubro’s books: