Mark Spencer is the author of eight books, including The Masked Demon: http://www.mainstreetrag.com/MSpencer.html and A Haunted Love Story: the Ghosts of the Allen House: http://www.amazon.com/Haunted-Love-Story-Ghosts-Allen/dp/0738730734/ref=pd_rhf_gw_p_t_1
His other works include the novella Love Hollow (The Novella Project), the novels The Weary Motel (Backwaters Press) and Love and Reruns in Adams County (Random County), a history book, and two collections of short stories.
His work has received the Faulkner Society Faulkner Award, the Omaha Prize for the Novel, The Patrick T. Bradshaw Book Award, The Cairns Short Fiction Award, and four Special Mentions in Pushcart Prize: Best of the Small Presses.
He is Dean of the School of Arts and Humanities at the University of Arkansas at Monticello.
1. When did you start writing?
The summer after kindergarten, I decided to write a novel with the main goal being to make it 100 pages long. So I wrote big, and I drew a lot of pictures. I got serious about writing when I was a sophomore at the University of Cincinnati. I wasn’t a particularly good writer at the age of 19, but I discovered that writing was more fun than just about anything. I remember working on a story at about two o’clock one morning and pausing in the writing to promise myself that I would always write—even if I never got published. The chief reward of writing is the work itself. Publications, awards, money are just icing on the cake.
2. Are you a pantser or a planner?
I’m not much of a planner. I do very little outlining. I love the process of discovery.
3. Can you give us an idea of your writing process?
I always start with a character. That character has a problem or a goal, and I set him or her in motion and see where things go, usually discovering the story sentence by sentence. My first drafts are a mess—usually incoherent and sketchy. But I love re-writing, and I do a lot of drafts. I add more than I cut with each draft, so my stories get longer the more I work on them.
4. Which authors have influenced your work?
I think we’re influenced as much by bad writers and writers we don’t like as we are by good writers and the writers we love. I remember learning so much from the mistakes my classmates in graduate school made. But of course we’re very much shaped by those authors we connect with aesthetically. Some writers I’ve learned from and admire include Alice Munro, Katherine Anne Porter, Anton Chekhov, Ernest Hemingway, Katherine Mansfield, William Faulkner, John Updike, Raymond Carver, Margaret Atwood, Barbara Kingsolver, Tobias Wolff, Bobbie Ann Mason . . . .
5. What are your plans/future projects/new releases that we should be aware of?
I’m thrilled that my short literary novel The Masked Demon has recently been published by Main Street Rag Publishing. It meshes comedy and pathos in evoking the life of an aging professional wrestler with two wives and a girlfriend all at the same time in three different cities on his wrestling circuit. The book is set in 1962 and grew largely out my childhood fascination with pro wrestling on TV—not because I found the violence entertaining but because I was awestruck that all these grown-ups (TV commentators, referees, the wrestlers themselves) all insisted that the wrestling was real. I was a little kid but it was pretty obvious to me that it was fake. The novel is about illusions and denial and the complexities of love—serious themes but it’s a very funny book.
A year ago, my creative nonfiction book A Haunted Love Story was released by Llewellyn Worldwide. It’s been pretty successful, and interest in it keeps growing. The TV show A Haunting recently did an episode based on it. In 2013, SyFy’s Paranormal Witness will also do an episode based on A Haunted Love Story. The book is about the house I live in, and by the end of next year, there should be four TV shows and a feature-length film.
6. Any tips for new writers?
Everybody tells new writers to write a lot, and that of course is true, but I would add that a writer must be a reader—and not just an average reader but an excellent reader, a reader capable of astute insights and keen judgment. You cannot possibly become a good writer unless you first become an excellent reader. As for getting published, there are basically three steps: (1) become the best writer you can be, (2) know your markets, and (3) be persistent in submitting.
7. Any tips for old writers?
Don’t allow yourself to burn out. Try new things—new subjects, new methods. Take risks.