Derrick Ferguson: We haven’t done one of these in years so we have to get the obligatory introductory stuff outta the way: Who is Mark Bousquet and why are you being interviewed here?
Mark Bousquet: I was tempted to go back and grab whatever I wrote for an introduction to the last time we did that and just paste it here, but I suppose that would be cheating, eh? Who I am is a writer. Why I’m being interviewed here is because I’m a published writer.
As we do this interview in mid-2019, I’ve recently relaunched my Gunfighter Gothic series in six new shiny editions, and just released THE MASKS OF SATURDAY MORNING, which is the first Spooky Lemon Mystery.
DF: Where do you live and what do you do to keep yourself in cheese and crackers?
MB: I’m as Assistant Teaching Professor at Syracuse University, teaching writing. Not the fun writing that we’re gonna talk about in this interview, but the obligatory writing classes that students are forced to take. I try to make it fun and try to open up the student’s eyes as to what “writing” is: it’s not just the 5-paragraph research or opinion essays they likely got burned out on in high school. I try to give them assignments that have them create visual projects like comic books or infographics and “beyond writing” projects like podcasts and documentaries, where writing is a tool to get you to the end product.
I’ve recently moved to Scranton, Pennsylvania, so I’ll be looking at a 2-hour commute to and from work this fall. That sounds rough, but the nice thing about teaching college is that I’ll be able to work from home 2 or 3 days each week.
DF: How’s Darwin doing these days? What is he up to?
MB: Darwin is still going strong. He’s 12 and a half years old now, and while he can be an old man inside, he’s still his old energetic puppy dog self when we’re outside. Moving to a new city means everything is new to him and he loves little more than going someplace new. We’ve got a nice public park that we walk in most mornings that always gets his day started right.
DF: You’re still writing but it seems as if your output has decreased. Why is that?
MB: A combination of factors. My current job is way more intensive than my previous jobs, so there’s less time to write, and I found that when I made time to sit down, the stories just weren’t flowing like they used to. Some of that was because the job was leaving my brain extra tired, but it was also because I didn’t know who I was as a writer, anymore. I got myself into trouble by creating series instead of stand-alone stories and so even in creating something new, I was adding another brick onto my back, committing me to writing some future project. I needed to take some time to clear the decks and while that’s an ongoing process, I feel good about putting an editing shine to the Gunfighter Gothic books.
I’ll write more Gunfighter Gothic stories but it’s also good, as is. I haven’t left anyone hanging. I need to do the same for ADVENTURES OF THE FIVE and STUFFED ANIMALS FOR HIRE, two kids’ series that each have 2 books published but need to have a third to close those stories off.
DF: In what direction do you see your writing career going?
MB: A greater balance between writing things that I’ll publish through Space Buggy Press and submissions to outside presses. I like having the control over a project that Space Buggy affords me, but I also like to be challenged by trying to write for different editors and publications.
DF: You wrote some of the best movie reviews I’ve ever read. Why did you stop? And are you ever going to start writing them again?
MB: Thank you, that’s very kind of you to say! I stopped because it was taking up too much of my writing time. When I was really cranking out the reviews, I was living in a new city, with only a few friends, no social life to speak of, and no car. I spent most of my time between walking Darwin and working. I didn’t have cable. I was doing Netflix by mail. So I had enough time to write creatively and write reviews and do some travel writing, but as the workload increased, as I bought a car, and entered into a fantastic relationship, there just wasn’t the time to produce the same amount of words. Something had to give and it was writing reviews. I don’t think I’ll ever go back to writing them full-time, but I still love talking about movies and TV shows.
DF: Speaking of movies, what are some of your favorite movies you’ve seen in 2019 so far?
MB: With the move, I haven’t watched as many movies this year as I normally do and I don’t have any lesser-known gems to herald. In fact, looking at the Top 50 films of 2019 through mid-July, I’ve only seen seven of them: “Avengers: Endgame” (loved it), “Captain Marvel” (liked it), “John Wick 3” (liked it), “Shazam” (blah), “Godzilla: King of Monsters” (loved it), “Alita: Battle Angel” (awful), and “Fighting with My Family” (pleasant enough).
I have spent more time reading for fun this year than I have in recent years. I’ve just worked through a run of Robert Parker (Pale Kings and Princes), Ace Atkins (The Redeemers), Clive Cussler (The Chase), Ace Atkins writing as Robert Parker (Lullaby), and I’m currently reading Jo Nesbo’s The Devil’s Star.
These were not random choices. Between February and a week or so ago, I binged all 20 seasons of “Midsomer Murders”, which is the kind of detective show that’s cozy instead of hard-boiled. I got the idea that I wanted to write a cozy mystery set in Middle Earth but as I started to develop that idea, I realized that I already had a main cozy character in Spooky Lemon. I also had a novel finished that had been sitting on my computer for years. When I started self-publishing, I let too many books out too quickly but in recent years, I’ve held on to them too long, tinkering endlessly with them.
I decided to get Spooky out and work on that as my cozy and then take that other character and keep it in a fantasy setting, but write it more like a crime novel than a cozy mystery. I devoured the Robert Parker Spenser books as a teenager, so I started there and reread Pale Kings and Princes (I chose it for the simple fact that it was the oldest Spenser book my local library had on the shelves). Then I read Ace Atkins’ The Redeemers because I knew he’d written a bunch of Spenser novels. Then I took The Chase off of my shelf to read Clive Cussler’s historical pulp before coming to Lullaby, to see how Atkins adapted his style to Parker’s Spenser universe. And now I’m reading Nesbo, for a touch of non-American crime.
I noticed several things that have helped inform me about my current WIP. For instance, in the Spenser novels, the focus is always on Spenser. Atkins doesn’t put that weight on Quinn Colson, and in Redeemers, he spends nearly as much time with the bad guys as he does his main character. Cussler spends the bulk of his time with Isaac Bell, but isn’t afraid to leave him out of chapters and spend time with the bad guys and (to a lesser extent) secondary characters. Atkins’ Spenser book is written in the Parker mold — in other words, it’s not Ace Atkins’ take on Spenser, it’s Atkins channeling Parker’s take.
Who to spend time with is a critical decision because it will inform what kind of crime book you’re writing. In the Colson and Bell stories, there is no mystery, at all. We know who the bad guys are. And the main characters quickly figure out who the bad guys are, too. They might not have all the pieces to the puzzle, but they can see what the puzzle is gonna look like when it’s finished. They aren’t mysteries, at all. They’re pursuits. (With a healthy dash of subplots about the protagonists’ personal lives thrown in, too.) With the Spenser stories, there is a mystery to solve, but the emphasis isn’t on solving the crime nearly as much as it is simply hanging out with Spenser and Hawk and Susan. There’s a case to solve, but I’m always amazed how much time is devoted to following Spenser doing ordinary things: making dinner, sitting in his car on a stakeout, talking with Susan, driving around Boston.
The treatment of the protagonists’ masculinity was also telling. Spenser is completely comfortable with who he is. Colson knows who he is, but isn’t entirely comfortable with it. Isaac Bell is almost comically old school masculine. Nesbo’s Harry Hole is an emotional and physical wreck.
The same goes for the style of prose: Parker is quick and light. Cussler drowns in historical detail. Nesbo is as much literary as he is case-focused. Atkins sits somewhere in the middle, writing a contemporary western inside William Faulkner’s South.
With all this swirling in my head, I sat down to bring my character to life. All I really had was an idea for an opening scene. I knew how the scene would start (“A number of years ago, a green-skinned man walked out of the Wilds to stand before the King.”) and I knew how it would end (“The green man said, ‘I want to be a cop.'”). But that was it. I didn’t know what else would happen and I didn’t know what kind of story he would be in, but I kinda thought I wanted to do a “fantasy western.” But I wasn’t sure.
So I sat down and churned out 2,500 words to find out. I lost the character’s cozy first name (Aldous) and gained a more western name (Bridger). I came up with a basic plot. I gave him deputies and a witch for a pathologist. I built him a world to work in that’s more Scandinavian than Deadwood. I think I know that I want to write a crime story that’s more mystery than pursuit, but I also want to spend time away from the main character.
But that’s what the first draft is for, ain’t it?
DF: What are you working on now?
MB: The Sheriff Bridger Skunk fantasy crime book is where I’m living at the laptop most, but I’m also plotting out the second Spooky Lemon mystery in journals and working through the details of the long-promised World War II book, BLACK RHINOS.
DF: Can we expect to see more of AMERICAN HERCULES?
MB: Yes, but not as the stand-alone episodes that I published last time. I’ll finish off the modern spin on Hercules’ labors as individual episodes, but I’ll just release them all in one collection instead of dropping them one at a time.
DF: Do you have any more children’s books planned?
MB: I’ve been trying to write the follow-up to THE BEAR AT THE TOP OF THE STAIRS for a good two years and can’t seem to settle on a story that I like, so that’s back-burnered at the moment. I would like to get one kids book out in time for Christmas, but whether it will be the sequel to BEAR or an ADVENTURES OF THE FIVE book or STUFFED ANIMALS FOR HIRE book, I can’t say. I’m hoping one of those stories grabs me and demands to be written.
DF: What can we expect to see from Mark Bousquet in 2019?
MB: I don’t know if I’ll have another novel published this year, but I’ll be writing like mad behind the scenes.
I’d like to do more travel writing, too, but even working on 4 – 6 hours of sleep a night, there’s only so much time in the day.
DF: What’s a typical Day In The Life of Mark Bousquet like?
MB: I used to be the kind of writer who did his best work between midnight and 4 AM, but now my best work seems to come in the 6 AM to Whenever I Take Darwin For a Walk AM or late afternoon. So, it’s usually get up around 6, write, go for a hike with Darwin, breakfast, work stuff, lunch work stuff, errands, reading or writing, dinner, reading or writing, and spend as much time with the partner as possible.
That’ll change once the fall semester starts up again, but for now, I’ve got time to write and I’m taking advantage of it.
Derrick Ferguson: Anything else we need to know?
Mark Bousquet: ‘ve got a website at themarkbousquet.com where people can sign up for my free newsletters: one for my kids work and another for my genre work. Signing up for each of them gets people a free digital novel as thanks.
I think that covers it! Thanks, Derrick!