Saturday, November 7, 2009

Meet Mark Coggins!

Meet Mark Coggins, the powerfully accomplished author of the crime mystery August Riordan Series.

Mark has been writing since the age of 19, and has an immense amount of accomplishments. Read below to learn more about Mark -

Heather: To start off, tell us a little bit about your background:

Mark: I grew up in New Mexico and Arizona and come out to California to go to college. I stayed after I graduated and began working in the software industry in Northern California. I’ve worked for bigger companies like Netscape and Hewlett-Packard, and smaller start-ups as well. I still manage software engineers as my “day job.”

Heather: How long have you been writing?

Mark: I started writing in college and completed the first story featuring my series character as undergraduate at the ripe old age of 19. It was eventually published in 1986, but I didn’t start writing novels featuring the character until the mid-90s.

Heather: What started you writing for publication?

Mark: I was inspired by a class I took from Tobias Wolff in college where he introduced me to the writing of Raymond Chandler. I tell a little bit about the story in an interview I did for the Stanford Alumni Magazine here.

Heather: Do you have a set time when you write, or just whenever you get the urge?

Mark: Since I work a day job full time, I have to squeeze in the writing in the mornings before I go to work and over the weekend.

Heather: Who is your favorite author?

Mark: My favorite author is still Raymond Chandler, but I read many people in and out of crime fiction.

Heather: Have you ever had writer's block, and if so how do you get rid of it?

Mark: Once I had a draft of a novel where I was struggling during the revision process to introduce more complexity into the plot—I just felt the book read too linearly. The thing that broke the ice for me was to rewrite the book as a screenplay. I got some good hints about how to add what I needed from a screenplay writing instructor, and then translated the plot points back into a novel. The screenplay was never very good, but the novel was much improved by the process.

Heather: What do you recommend to aspiring authors?

Mark: I think some advice that Donna Levin, one of my writing instructors, gives is very helpful. She points out the importance of rewriting and says that you should do as many rewrites as you can stand—and then do one more.

Heather: How do you invent your characters?

Mark: I’m often inspired traits or personalities of real people I meet or know—but usually draw one “seed” characteristic from real individuals and embellish from there. None of my characters are meant to be full portrayals of real folks.

Heather: I know a few authors who keep records (almost like police records) of height, weight, background, etc. of their characters, do you keep tabs on your characters, and if so, what do you usually make note of?

Mark: I know writers who do that as well, but I’ve never felt the need to go quite that deep in documenting the fictional back stories of the people that populate my books. Occasionally, I do need to double-check facts about my series characters from other novels to make sure I stay consistent. I’m afraid I’m not organized enough to keep the information in notes, though. I always end up thumbing through the old books to pull the details.

Heather: Some authors say that they feel as though his or her characters are real, do you feel this way, and what do you think about this?

Mark: I certainly try to put myself in the heads of my characters to figure out their motivations ought to be in particular situations. They are real to the extent that I try to make their behavior internally consistent with my vision of them.

Heather: Do you have anything in the works?

Mark: I have a novel that will be released in November called The Big Wake-Up, and in March of 2010 I will have a short story in an anthology of chess fiction called Masters of Technique. I’m just starting to noodle on the plot of my next book. I’m think it will include my series protagonist, August Riordan, but I don’t intend him to be the main character this time around.

Heather: What would you say is the neatest thing you know?

Mark: How to work a view camera, a dying art.

Heather: What was your favorite part about writing your book?

Mark: Coming up with the high level plot: the main conflict and the resolution.

Heather: Has music ever inspired your writing?

Mark: Riordan is a private detective and a journeyman jazz-bassist, so music figures in the plots of several of my books.

Heather: Do you like to write in complete silence or does it have to be noisy?

Mark: I can have some level of ambient noise in the background, but I can’t write while listening to music or in a very loud environment.

Heather: What made you put your characters in the setting that you did?

Mark: I admire the “big city” detective novels of Hammett and Chandler and enjoy providing details about real world San Francisco environs.

Heather: Keyboard or pen?

Mark: I’ve always written on a keyboard—and that extends to using a typewriter before there were personal computers.

Heather: What do you think is the hardest part about being an author?

Mark: It’s a tough business to be in do to the declining interest in reading. That makes it harder to attract an audience and requires authors to do more and more marketing.

Heather: What do you usually do while writing?

Mark: I just sit in my office in front of my computer. Here’s an annotated photograph of my workspace.

Heather: What were the circumstances surrounding your decisions to become an author?

Mark: As I mentioned, it pretty much all goes back to the class I took from Wolff.

Heather: Some people say that you need to live life before you write a book, do you think that it’s experience that writes a book or imagination?

Mark: My mother would be among their number. When I told her I wanted to be a novelist in college, she replied, “But you haven’t done anything.”

I don’t think a deep well of life experience is required to write. If you have the talent and passion, you can learn to spin a good yarn. Experience (and practice) in writing are more important than decades and decades of living.

I like the colors of: green and blue
The sky is most beautiful when it’s: early morning.
My favorite feature of a computer is: the scroll wheel on the mouse.
I think inventors should invent a: cure for colds.
Thing I love most in the world is: London.
Things I hate most in the world: are chiggers.
My favorite type of electronic device is a: digital camera.
My favorite thing that has been available before the year 1900: is wine.
My favorite thing that has been available since the year 1960: is a PC.
The oddest thing you have ever written on (hand, wall, etc.): is a portion of someone else’s anatomy.

Go to: to learn more about Mark Coggins and his many writings.

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