Author Spotlight – Mark T. Barnes
Mark T Barnes is a graduate of the Clarion South 2005 workshop, and though he’s written and published short stories is more comfortable writing long fiction projects.
Sharing his home with three rescue cats, Odin, Frey, and Sif, Mark is also an artist working mainly with photocomposition for writing related projects, and a musician.
His debut novel, THE GARDEN OF STONES, was a finalist for the David Gemmell Morningstar Award, and in the Top 20 novels for the Legend Award. The ECHOES OF EMPIRE fantasy trilogy includes The Garden of Stones, THE OBSIDIAN HEART, and THE PILLARS OF SAND. All three novels have been Top 10 Best Sellers on Amazon.com.
More recently Dimension6 published the short story ZODIAC, an undead steampunk western set in the Never Never (Limbo) in its ultimate edition for 2018. Dimension 6 will publish the short urban horror, THE EVICTION OF WILLA COVENTRY in July 2019. Mark is currently writing a short story, PAST LIVES, for a charity anthology to be published in 2019.
Mark is active on social media. You can visit his webpage www.marktbarnes.com, or follow him on Twitter @MarkTBarnes, on Instagram MarkTBarnes, and on Facebook as MarkTBarnes – Author.
He is represented by John Jarrold of the John Jarrold Literary Agency.
Thanks for joining us today, Mark. Let’s start small: tell us about a great book you’ve read recently!
I’ve been swapping between reading old favourites, and new material. Recently re-read Gene Wolfe’s ‘Book of the New Sun’. Am half-way through Mark Lawrence’s ‘Road Brothers’ short story anthology which I’m enjoying immensely.
Okay, time to escalate things: reality warps and you suddenly find yourself leading a D&D-style party through a monster-infested dungeon. What character class are you, and what’s your weapon of choice?
I am what I prefer to write! A warrior-mage with a preference for thinking my way through problems rather than getting red. If my enemies decide to get all rowdy then it’ll be a combination of sword and hand axe, or sword and dagger.
When you’re not trawling through dungeons, do you prefer to type or to hand-write? Why?
I tend to outline in long hand and type the project itself. There’s something leisurely about hand writing. The slower pace gives me time to adjust and course correct between having the idea and writing it down. Once I know what I want to say I prefer to type. I’ve more control over moving blocks of text around, can save copies of deleted text for later, have multiple saved versions if I need them, etc. Typing is far more flexible with less waste.
And how do you like to work – in silence, with music, or serenaded by the damned souls of a thousand dead shrimps?
LOL. I might leave the unholy shrimp serenade for if I become a horror writer. My preferred method is for myself and my muse to sit somewhere either at home, in a café, a bookstore, etc and write to the accompaniment of soundtracks. The sound track for my WIP consists of Arrival, Interstellar, Dredd, Sunshine, Ex Machina, Solaris, Man of Steel, the Zimmer collection of Batman scores, and both Bladerunners.
Are you an architect or a gardener? A plotter or a pantser? D’you write in your underwear, or in a deep-sea diver’s suit? Tell us something unusual about your writing method!
My style is a hybrid. When I first started writing I took it all so seriously. Planned and plotted the hell out of my work. I think readers sense when we try too hard and the writing is a little stiff and stilted. I learned to relax and enjoy the process more by planning what I needed to know happens in each act, then allowing the narrative to flow organically.
I suppose that makes me a gardener of the gardens I architected, and a pantser of the things I plotted to a lesser degree. It means spend more time editing in the back end and doing course corrections, however it seems to work for me and I enjoy the process more now.
I’m not a fan of following the ‘rules for writing’. It could be ’cause I’m contrary by nature. ? I know myself well enough to not force writing when I know I’m going to write rubbish, so I write when I feel enthusiastic and energised by my project. True, this is most days, however I give myself a pass if I take a few days off for some downtime.
What are your most significant non-book fantasy influences?
Ooh. That’s made me think. By far most of my influences are found in books.
Stephan Martiniere’s artwork is an inspiration. He did the covers for my Echoes of Empire series and I became a fast fan of his work. Chiara Bautista manages to convey beautiful emotion and statements in her art.
Film wise I’m always inspired by stories of heroism, sacrifice, and those moments when characters find their moments of grace, enlightenment, and self-awareness. Super hero films cover this in an obvious and visceral way. Akira Kurosawa’s body of work is always inspiring as success isn’t measured on the heroes surviving their trials. While not strictly fantasy, there’s an epic scope to Kurosawa’s work. Chinese historical action cinema has the same impact on me, such as Red Cliff. Going back to the more obvious some of the films set in the Star Wars universe are inspiring, particularly the more intimate stories such as Rogue One.
What was the last thing you watched on TV and why did you choose to watch it?
I generally binge watch TV series on DVD so I can watch them at my own pace. TV series are a great way to look at character and story development. Sometimes I do like to put on something big and simple and let my brain cool down from the demands of my day job and my writing.
The last thing I watched was Season 1 of Salem. I’d not seen it before and found appeal in the female protagonist with such agency and enablement. The conceit of the story is also fascinating with its take on the Salem witch trials.
It’s easier for me to watch TV in an unrelated genre to what I’m writing, though sometimes the tangential inspiration can lead my writing in unexpected directions.
The world shifts, and you find yourself with an extra day on your hands during which you’re not allowed to write or otherwise do any work. How do you choose to spend the day?
Hang out with friends. Chill with my three rescue cats Odin, Frey, and Sif. Play some music. Read that book I’ve already taken too long to finish.
Get frustrated because this is the day I really want to, need to, write and I’m not allowed to.
What fresh Hell are you pushing, anyway?
Who does that to a person?
Sorry! If you could choose one punctuation mark to be made illegal, which would it be and why?
They all have their place though some are more the workhorses of the grammar world than others.
I’d probably bin the colon and exile the semi-colon as well. You’ve options to work around them. They’re a bit like roundabouts on a road. Plenty of people can drive on and kind of use them, though you wonder whether anybody really knows what they’re doing or whether they’re making it all up.
In no more than three sentences, tell us a little something about your current work in progress!
It’s a story about a person who defies social mores and the sediment of past generations to rise above his common background, make his own fate, and climb above the life laid out before him. The character is driven by focus, force of will, and their own drive to succeed rather than having any gifts.
The project is a short story for an upcoming anthology.
If you could co-write or co-create a series (like The Expanse, or the Malazan Book of the Fallen), who would you choose to work with and why?
Nice! I’d love to work with Gene Wolfe on the ‘Book of the New Sun’ series. Mr Wolfe’s writing is beautiful, deep, and baroque. His vision of the future haunting. To work alongside one of my key influences and learn to be a better writer and story teller, while immersed in such a wonderful project, would be magnificent.
What’s the most (and/or least) helpful piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
Wow. There’s so much that seemed so good at the time.
The worst would be write what you know. A little bit rubbish for epic fantasy story telling.
The best? Write for yourself. I became happier when I overcame the burning need to write stories in order to please others, in order to write the kind of story that makes me happy.
If you could visit any country at any point in history, where/when would you go, and why?
I’ve travelled a bit so that’s a hard one to pin down. Our world, its cultures, and histories are compelling in diverse ways.
While I’m torn with the idea of the ancient empires of the Khmer, the Aztecs, Incas, and Mayans, and the Egyptians, I think I’ll hearken back to my ancestors: the Scandinavians.
Being there during their epic adventures and exploration of the world, and being immersed in a culture of sophisticated laws and better representation of women would be fascinating.
Every writer encounters stumbling blocks, be it a difficult chapter, challenging subject matter or just starting a new project. How do you motivate yourself on days when you don’t want to write?
LOL. I don’t. I’ve made enough mistakes and written enough garbage words when I force myself to write that I’ve learned not to. I know myself well enough that if I have some obstacle to writing I accept it, focus on other things, and move on until my fingers are ready to hit the keyboard again.
In some cases this might be jotting down ideas for another project. More often than not it’s finding completely unrelated things to do and letting my subconscious sort out whatever it’s going through.
We all need downtime. If we’re not prepared to sit down and put the effort in to write then I accept that truth and walk away for a bit.
Tell us about a book that’s excellent, but underappreciated or obscure.
Patricia McKillip’s ‘Riddle Master’ books are excellent yet don’t seem to be as widely reviewed or talked about as they should.
They tell a compelling story with interesting, flawed characters in a fascinating world. Great representation of women, too. Realistic women characters, not caricatures.
I read them in the 1980s and loved them. Have reread them a few times.
Finally, would you be so kind as to dazzle us with what we like to call a ‘shark elevator pitch’? (It’s exactly the same as an elevator pitch, but with sharks.) (Well, one shark. Which, by the way, is currently picking between its rows of teeth to try and dislodge the remains of the last author who stepped onto its elevator.)
Ahem. So: why should readers check out your work? A shark elevator pitch of your own book(s) in no more than three sentences – go!
With overtones of Macbeth the dying nobleman, Corajidin, has driven his nation to civil war due to visions promising him both the monarchy of his country and prolonged life. Indris, born to a rival Great House, reluctantly accepts the task of finding a missing man, the only one able to steer the teetering nation towards peace. It is the deadly warrior-poet, Mari, Corajidin’s headstrong daughter, who becomes the conflicted foil between two men who would otherwise destroy each other.
Brilliant. Thanks again for joining us today, Mark!
Thanks to the Fantasy Hive for taking the time to talk to me. It’s always a great experience to connect with readers and fellow writers from around the world. I hope everybody has some great words to nestle up to and transport them away.
Mark T. Barnes is the author of the ECHOES OF EMPIRE trilogy, published by 47North.