Name: Mark Parker
Location: Boston, Massachusetts
Tell us a little about yourself (education, family life, etc.)
I studied at Boston College and hold a Bachelor’s Degree in Philosophy, and two years towards my Master’s Degree in Theology.
Share some of your latest news.
I recently debuted on Amazon with two short pieces of fiction. First one is what I would term a “quiet little vampire story” titled BIOLOGY OF BLOOD. Second, a short “psychosexual-thriller” titled LUCKY YOU.
When and why did you begin writing?
I first began writing when I was twelve or thirteen. I remember creating a neat little story titled THE ICE CREAM MAN. My mother loved it and encouraged me to “keep on with it.” She even bought me a manual typewriter that I clunked away on for years. The thing was my prized possession, and I was elated to have it. I remember the story had quite a frightening premise that I still think would make for a cool read today. And I guess I first knew I wanted to write, when I came across a blood-splattered mass market edition of Stephen King’s CARRIE in 1974 or so. I think it must’ve been the movie-tie in that had Sissy Spacek on the cover. It wasn’t so much the story itself that made me want to write—or even the fact that it was horror—but rather that a world could be created with words, and could exist between the foil-lettered covers. I can remember thinking that was very cool.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
That’s a tough one. I’ve had people tell me “Writer’s write, so therefore you’re a writer.” But I guess it was when I first saw my stories go live on Amazon, that it all began to sink in. I might’ve even said to myself, “Okay, now it’s real…you’re officially a writer.” That’s big, heady stuff for someone who’s been dreaming about such a day all his life. Part of me still thinks I won’t really believe it all until my work is represented by an agent and published by one of the BIG New York publishers. I supposed if that day ever comes, I’ll know I’ve truly arrived.
What inspired you to write your first book?
The first book I ever wrote was a literary thriller titled FOR THE SAKE OF THE STORY. I remember it beginning with the question: “How far would you go to get published?” That line was the inspiration for the story and kept me thinking it would be cool if a has-been author met up with a cocky (but talented) young Turk, who might just possibly reinvigorate his waning career and help put him back ON TOP if the two were to collaborate on a project that might even become a bestseller. I still want to write and publish that novel. I think it might need to undergo a title change however. Perhaps something simple like THE COLLABORATION or THE BESTSELLER. I’m open to title suggestions.
Do you have a specific writing style?
I have been told by some that I have an “old world” style. What I feel about my writing is that while I aim to entertain, chill, and even terrify, I tend to do it all in an admittedly “quieter” way than most. In my opinion subtlety is a lost art and is very effective if done right. I have always loved stories like Shirley Jackson’s THE LOTTERY for that very reason; the creep-up-on-you factor I guess you would say. That is the way I write or the style I tend to most readily implement. I have a very diverse taste in stories, which is either a plus or minus. I am interested in writing all kinds of stories, but they most definitely need to have that unexpected element to them; the twist at the end. When I’m reading a story or a novel, the puzzle is everything for me. If there isn’t anything for me to figure out or discover for myself, I’m simply not engaged. An opening with the proverbial hook is what I love and do my best to strive for when beginning a story. For some reason straight fiction doesn’t hold my interest very much. Slice of life stories are okay, but again they have to have that element of shock or surprise. I am most interested in the horror, mystery, and suspense genres, and have most particularly been influenced by the literary works of Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Clive Barker, Shirley Jackson—and even the classic works of writers like Melville, Dickens, Poe, and Hawthorne. I’m currently working on a series of whaling mystery chapbooks that are written in an “old world” gaslight dock style, and have American whaling as their atmospheric backdrop. For me atmosphere is extremely important. I oftentimes find myself drawn to a story’s setting as much, if not more, than I am to its plot. For me, mood is essential.
How did you come up with the title?
For this question I will focus on a serialized novel I’m writing titled WAY OF THE WITCH (the first installment in my forthcoming Witch Saga). The way I came up with this title was based on a true life event I experienced when I was around fourteen years old. I had a paper route in a high rise building on the harbor front in downtown New Bedford, Massachusetts, and one of my customers was an old lady who I was convinced was a witch. She freaked me out big time! Her hair was matted with things sticking in it, and she had warts all over her face. And the front door to her apartment was smeared with a thick coating of grime that looked like really thick—really old—motor oil. I remember thinking at the time a situation like that would make for a really cool story. So I did what any other writer would do…I turned truth into fiction.
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Regarding WAY OF THE WITCH, the message is that we should never judge someone based on their appearance or by what they cause us to feel—either about ourselves or our lives. The presumption that the old woman is in fact a witch is either true or a contrivance, but either way it is a presumption that goes far in affecting the lives of the two lifelong friends at the story’s center. The two boys’ friendship binds them in profound and unexpected ways, and their encounter with the old woman (the witch) binds them even further—far into adulthood. I also wanted to write a story about honor and goodness, trauma and resilience, and the truth of filial love, biological or otherwise—with, of course, a dose of madness thrown in for good measure.
How much of the book is realistic?
Considering it’s based on real life events, virtually all of it is at least in some way realistic. Although some details have been altered to better fit the story, or to protect the identity and reputation of those written about, WAY OF THE WITCH is told very close to how it happened in real life…or at least as close to how I remember it happening as possible. Future installments will grow to be more fictional as they go along, most likely, but will most have the same flavor and truth that makes this first installment personally resonate and powerful.
Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
The abuse is closely based on events from my own life, or the lives of those closest to me. Originally I was going to omit the traumatic parts from WAY OF THE WITCH, but after asking the opinion of others, I realized I needed to keep them in because they lent a truth and immediacy to the story it might not have otherwise had.
What books have most influenced your life?
I’ve been greatly influenced by pretty much everything by Stephen King, although some titles have held influence over me more than others. I was really touched by PET SEMETARY, DOLORES CLAIBORNE, GERALD’S GAME, and ROSE MADDER. Perhaps these stories struck a personal chord in me because of their treatment of abuse and the resilience that often follows. I also loved STORM OF THE CENTURY. I lived through the blizzard of ’78 and actually walked home from school in the blinding wrath of it all. I thought my mother was gonna kill me! What I love most about King’s work is how reminiscent his stories are. He has an amazing way of transporting his readers back to a time or place or emotion that is important or meaningful to them. For instance, his novel IT did that for me regarding the bond (and terrors) of childhood. Also he enthralled me with THE TOMMYKNOCKERS and creeped me out with SALEM’S LOT. That damned story still gives me the heebie-jeebies! And of course there’s CHILDREN OF THE CORN. I have also been greatly influenced by the epic works of Clive Barker, who I consider to be a true fantasist. Some of his books I most enjoyed were IMAJICA, WEAVEWORLD, CABAL, and THE GREAT AND SECRET SHOW. His writing style is gorgeous, intoxicating, and cerebral. For me reading Barker is like listening to water trickle over a well-polished stone…You forever hear its sound, but never seize on its beginning or end. Herman Melville has always been a favorite of mine as well. In a word, MOBY DICK is “lush”. It is a transcendent masterpiece that will always have a place in my heart. It reminds me of my life growing up by the sea.
If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
Unbeknownst to him, I would have to say Stephen King. If someone plunked me down on a deserted island and said, “You get the library of just one author to get you through to the end of your days…” it would be King’s library of work for sure that I would choose. In my opinion, he is a man of kindness, heroism, charm, grace, generosity…and FUN. You can sense the ‘boy’ in everything King writes. It’s as if he’s saying with every story or book, “Hey, c’mere, look what I just found!” I sense it’s the LOVE for what he shares with his readers that most profoundly shapes everything he writes…and lends voice to his stories. Oh yeah, NEEDFUL THINGS was a really great book as well. It even opens with that come-close-and-look premise, which I love.
What books are you reading now?
I just started JOYLAND by Stephen King, and am also reading VOICE OF THE NIGHT by Dean Koontz.
Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
Jonas Saul. Blake Crouch. Kealan Patrick Burke. Andrew E. Kaufman. I also love the storytelling of Billie Sue Mosiman, but because she’s been writing for the industry for years, I don’t know that I could term her new—but she’s definitely new to me. I really like Jeffrey Kosh and Jaime Johnesee, as well. Christine Sutton, too.
What are your current projects?
I am putting the finishing touches on a Hitchcockian creeper titled SPINSTER, and am in the final edit stages of WAY OF THE WITCH – Book I of the Witch Saga, which should be out soon, followed by Book II: STICKS & STONES and Book III: WOLF ISLAND ROAD. And as I mentioned earlier, I am giving thought to writing at least one follow up story to LUCKY YOU. And am already working on the second Southridge Vampire story: BIOLOGY OF BLOOD II – TEACHER’S PET.
Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
I think that would primarily point to the kindness and support of another writer. Many years ago, I had the pleasure of meeting and becoming friends with a writer by the name of Mary Kruger. When I met Mary she was writing regency romances for Zebra Books under the pen name Mary Kingsley. Mary was one of the kindest, most supportive people I’ve ever met. She may not remember this, but her violin story was an anecdote she shared with me around the importance of sticking to what we set out to become in life. That simple story has both supported me and urged me on over the years to continue writing—no matter what. Mary was a gracious and patient lady who gave of herself and her time in ways few people do. She answered my questions with passion and insight, and made me feel like I could accomplish anything. I haven’t seen her in years, but continue to look for her name online, to see if she’s coming out with any new books. She went on to write a wonderful Gilded Age mystery series, set in Newport, Rhode Island and Manhattan. She also has three knitting mysteries that were published by Pocket Books and were really great reads. Each was set in or around the South Coast of Massachusetts and are cozy mysteries for fans of that genre. I really hope she writes and publishes more. I love her work! Her mystery novel MASTERPIECE OF MURDER, the second book in her Gilded Age series, is one of my all-time favorites. I keep the now out-of-print hardcover on my writing desk, both as inspiration, and memories of a time—and friendship—I’ll value forever.
Do you see writing as a career?
It has always been my hope to become successful enough as a writer to do it full time, and to support myself by it. As I’ve only recently embarked on the arduous and rocky road of self-publishing, while I find it has many good features, and affords writers a number of freedoms, it also requires a high level of responsibility that can be daunting. It would be my ultimate dream to be represented by a major literary agency and get published by a leading New York publisher. I’m keeping my fingers crossed. I guess only time will tell.
If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
I have so many projects in the works it’s difficult to focus on any one of them in answering that question. I think the story that has proven most difficult for me to get from my head onto the printed page or into a digitally formatted rendering would be LUCKY YOU, a psychosexual thriller story I recently published as a Kindle exclusive. While the premise was always pretty simple to me, and because I always saw it in short story form, both it and I have been met with a good bit of resistance and misunderstanding around both what its length should be and what I was specifically going for in even conceptualizing such a story in the first place. Many people have confused LUCKY YOU for erotica—or, worse yet, even pornography—which was never the intent of my writing it. I have always seen LUCKY YOU to be a story that simply asks the question: What would happen if an everyday citizen, a Boston club bouncer let’s say, discovered that he was responsible for a woman’s death after a night of exuberant sex, then grew to be more aroused sexually after discovering that? What sort of person would that make him? And what did this reinvigorated sexual arousal suggest? While some have immediately gone to: “Oh this guy likes to have sex with dead chicks!” I can assure you that wasn’t my purpose for writing it. Not even close! For me the questions LUCKY YOU brought to the forefront were both implicative and frightening. They were philosophical, even psycho-sociological questions that made me intrigued by what the answers could be. Very few readers have come to LUCKY YOU with the kind of enthusiasm I would’ve hoped for—or even expected. I still believe it will find its readership, but some have suggested I either lengthen it or follow up with a sequel or ongoing installments, which I’m now considering. I want the story to meet it targeted intent. If it fails to do, then I will feel as though I’ve failed as a writer to effectively bring it to a place that reaches readers and resonates with them in a way that will keep them invested in learning more about Declan’s absurd—and shocking—evolution. So far that has yet to happen. It is my hope that LUCKY YOU will eventually work for folks, because in the end that’s what matters most to me.
Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
Perhaps without realizing it at the time, I remember my mother always being the kind of parent who urged my sister and me to look up words in the dictionary we didn’t understand or know the meaning of. Through that, I found myself really intrigued by words. Mom was taken with the classics, and she always tried to get us to read them as well. We had books around the house growing up and I recall her reading to us regularly, making sure our library cards were current, and that we used our dictionaries. I think it was her love for the written word that caused me to fall in love with words as well…and with writing.
Can you share a little of your current work with us?
WAY OF THE WITCH – Opening:
“I never meant to hurt the old woman, really I didn’t. It all began as a childish prank—one that would eventually cost me everything. Everything that’d ever mattered to me anyway; those things I’d always dreamt of—the ones I’d always given my heart and soul to. But in the end, my heart and soul would belong to her. There could never be any denying that. Especially after what I’d permitted myself to be part of. If only peripherally.
The old woman had come into my life and claimed my heart and soul as her own—instruments to be used at some undisclosed time, for her own dark, unspeakable purposes. At least that’s what I remember thinking at the time; what I told myself in the shadowed darkness of night, when all I had to ruminate on were the fateful consequences of my own misguided actions—the actions of an all-too-naïve thirteen year old boy.”
“For as long as I can remember Elizabeth Haney had lived in the old dilapidated Victorian over on Rumson Road in Acushnet. Much like the old woman herself, the place had that rotted look to it—as if at any minute, with the slightest of breezes, the whole place would come tumbling down, widow’s walk and all.
I don’t know what had me over there that morning, whether it’d been a broken window or shutter in need of fixing, but I had a sick, sinking feeling the minute my work boot hit the first uneven step that lead up…up…up…to the old woman’s ramshackle house of horrors as the neighborhood kids were want to call it.
And now I knew why…
Entering through the front door, still hung with its original beveled window over the tarnished brass number 7—swinging lopsided, almost as crooked as the damned door itself—I was hit with a smell that thankfully was like nothing I’d ever smelled before. The odor had a pungent sweetness to it…like overripe fruit…or something far worse.”
Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
What I find most challenging regarding my writing is that fact that I can’t seem to writer fast enough. I have a pretty involved day job, so when I have free time in the evenings and on weekends, I always feel like I’m playing catch up. I wish I could have more time to write. Some writers seem to write a novel a day, but I know that’s not the case, even if it seems that way. For those folks, it’s just the fact that they are able to write full time—giving their complete attention to what they’re working on at any given time. My life has not yet permitted me to do that. I write pretty quickly, but wish I could write even faster—perhaps while I was sleeping. Now wouldn’t that be cool?
Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
While Stephen King is my favorite author, another author I love is Dean Koontz. What I both love and admire about Koontz’s work is how he’s able to make the implausible seem plausible. No matter how farfetched his stories seem on the surface, they are always truthfully founded in the end. He has true integrity in how he pours himself—and a deep kind of loving—into his stories. The bizarre is all but normalized in how Dean tells it. He has a wonderful descriptive narrative. His stories sound almost poetic as you read them. This I really like.
Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
I have never traveled for any of my books, though my work is greatly impacted by where I’ve been in my life. I would love to get to the point where travel could be part of the influencing process for sure. Travel takes the mind to a place where it hasn’t frequently been before. It stirs the soul, leads to a truth and clarity that lends greatly to the process of writing.
Who designed the covers?
I have worked with two professional cover designers so far: Neil Jackson and Matthew Riddenbach of Shaed Studios. Neil’s work includes covers for BIOLOGY OF BLOOD, LUCKY YOU, and my forthcoming SPINSTER, and the covers for my Witch Saga. Matt has created three stunning covers for works “in progress.” He designed covers for a novella I’m writing titled CAR TROUBLE, as well as a great cover for a horror novel of mine, THE GLOWING. And a cover for a collection of short stories: NIGHT HARVEST. My sister has also designed some covers for me, ones primarily for a Vegas-inspired series of stories I’m working on, including: BEGINNER’S LUCK, BUYER’S REMORSE, and SURVIVING THE STRIP. She has also created designs for standalone titles: BLAME IT ON THE RAIN, LAYOVER, and TATTOO. I have toyed with designing some covers for myself as well. Most recently I designed covers for BIOLOGY OF BLOOD II – TEACHER’S PET and SMOKE SCREEN, and BANG, BANG, which may or may not be used once the stories are finished.
What was the hardest part of writing your book?
The hardest part of writing for me is the editing process. While I understand the necessity of editing and know that it invariably makes any story better, I find it difficult to write and write and write the same piece over and over again. A story never feels finished when this has to happen. But I do realize that the more you tighten a story, the quicker it reads, which is better for the story…and the reader.
Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
What I’ve learned most from writing is that I can actually do it. As I am beginning to get feedback from readers, other writers, and editors, I’m beginning slowly to believe more in my ability to tell stories that folks will want to read and hopefully be entertained by.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
I know it sounds trite, but all I can really tell folks who’d like to become writers, is to write. There’s no magic formula to this process. Not everyone is gifted with words in a way that will create salable pieces of work. If you don’t love words, and don’t have the discipline and tenacity to keep at it day in and day out, no matter what, then it’s not for you. Most people think you have to be in the ‘mood’ to write, and I couldn’t disagree more. While I am often in the mood to write, I cannot rely on mood to be what drives me. Feelings are fickle and moods change. In order to produce as writers must, you must be willing to make it the priority it needs—and deserves—to be. If you can’t do that, then maybe plumbing is a better fit…or cake decorating. It was only when I set myself to the actual task of writing that stories began growing and getting finished. Don’t get me wrong, I’m only at the beginning of this journey. But this was a hard learned lesson that it took me forever to get right.
Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Only that I feel honored to be writing for them. It is such a gift when someone is willing to take time out of their lives to invest in something I’ve written. When they finish one of my stories and either like it or don’t, the processes for both of us had been made complete—the cycle is closed when writer and reader become one in the story. And most particularly in the words: THE END.
If you were not a writer what else would you like to have done?
I suppose it would have to be something creative for sure…that’s pretty much a given. I have always wanted to own my own business, and still do. Film making really intrigues me, and graphic design. But it’s hard to have four careers simultaneously. I would be grateful to be able to write full time. But for now…I must live two lives concurrently. It’s the curse for most fledgling writers.
Do you have a blog/website? If so what is it?
I’m still very new to all of this; I only just taught myself how to digitally format my stories, which most folks pay to have done. I definitely want to design both a website and blog. All I can say at this point is…Please stay tuned!