"Congratulations on your release, Mark. You have classified Evil Ambulance as YA horror. How much of your writing is based on your own experiences as a child or teen?"
"In the case of Evil Ambulance, none—thank God! Actually, no, that’s not quite true. The part of Evil Ambulance that came from my childhood is Eric moving for the first time. In the book, Eric’s said to have rarely ever left his town, and for me, that wasn’t the case—my family drove from California to PA when I was very young, and went on a lot of vacations—but when I went away to college at nineteen, I definitely felt some anxiety and uncertainty about the whole thing, about leaving home. All that stuff most kids think about when they go off to school. So, that idea of being relocated, of having no idea what’s coming up next in life, that’s something a lot of kids feel, and certainly I did, and I put that in the book."
Evil Ambulance is the first novel he's had published, but it's not the first book he's written. He has first drafts of two other novels he wrote before Evil Ambulance and well as partial drafts of many other books.
"Those two books were pretty bad, and I never went back to them," he admitted. "I did complete a draft of Evil Ambulance that was extremely different from the finished work. Different tone, different setting; I kept almost none of that when I re-wrote the book. This final version of Evil Ambulance is what I’m most proud of, and what I’ve put the most time into."
Evil Ambulance is a complete story in and of itself, but Mark told me he has definite ideas about where a sequel could go and where a third book could pick up after that. We'll have to wait and see, but it might be the first of a series.
Mark has enjoyed writing since he was very young, but didn't consider it seriously as something he would like to pursue until high school or college. He thought he wanted to be a screenwriter, so at school studied film and video production.
"But it’s very difficult to get a screenplay turned into a film, and it became somewhat nsatisfying writing all these scripts that didn’t become anything—because a screenplay isn’t a complete work on its own, it’s just the beginning," he told me. "Whereas a novel, even if no one publishes it, even if it sits on a shelf, is a finished work. As much as I love film, I love reading at least as much, probably more, and after I realized I probably wasn’t going to pursue screenwriting, I began working on honing my skills as a writer, working on short stories and novels."
For Mark, often the first thing that comes to mind when he starts a new work is a particular scene or moment. The plot and characters develop together after that.
Mark doesn't do a lot of research for his books. The first version of Evil Ambulance he wrote took place in Brooklyn.
"I’d been to Brooklyn a couple times, but, as the handful of people who looked at that original draft could tell you, I had almost no knowledge of Brooklyn, geographically," he said. "When I came back to the story and started it anew, I changed the setting to a fictional town in Pennsvylania. I know PA a lot more, and you know, they say to write what you know."
I asked Mark to describe his writing space.
"I write in my bedroom, where I have my computer monitor positioned in a manner that allows me to half-recline on my bed, in a relaxed position, while typing away. I have a turntable with two big speakers, not far away, and, of course, the computer plays music as well. Next to the computer is my chinchilla, Gizmo Giraffe. He sometimes watches me while I write."
As you might have figured, Mark almost always listens to music while he writes. It's usually something upbeat, energetic, and loud—when possible he likes his music at a high volume. He listens to a lot of punk, old and new, and rock from the sixties to eighties—Misfits, Minor Threat, Offspring, Good Riddance, the Who, the Doors. He’ll mix it up with some rap or pop, but mostly it’s loud guitar-based stuff. He also plays bass guitar in the band The Mind Control Squids from time to time.
"That’s a lot of fun. We actually have our first show in almost four years coming up this June," he told me.
The show will be Saturday, June 9, at the Strange Brew Tavern in Allentown, PA, if anyone is close enough to go.
Mark's favorite author is Clive Barker. Mark read The Thief of Always for a book report when he was in the seventh grade and, from there, checked out his other work.
"At the time, Thief was his only young adult novel, but now, of course, he’s got the Abarat series, which seems to be doing pretty well," Mark said. "I love his YA stuff, but my favorite book of his is Imajica, which I started reading at age fourteen, only to be stopped by my mother, who worried about the graphic content. I ended up picking the book up again a couple years later, and have read it several times since then."
Mark was born in California, but has spent most of his life in the Lehigh Valley, in Pensylvania.
"The last seven years I’ve spent in Bethlehem, which is part of the Valley, and I like this town because there’s plenty to do—we’ve got two independent movie theaters to choose from, for instance, one in town, and one in nearby Allentown—but it’s not like a city environment. Well, maybe Allentown is. But for the most part, it’s got a small-to-mid-size town feel, but with enough activity to keep me interested, used book stores, lots of restaurants, nice parks."
"What are your favorite TV shows?" I wondered.
"My favorite show is Freaks and Geeks. Easily, number one, top favorite. I didn’t get to see it when the show originally aired, but caught it a few years later on DVD, and was just amazed by how well it was written, acted, everything about it, the way the filmmakers captured the awkward feel of high school. Great show. Fortunately, it’s gotten more attention, more people have turned onto it, in recent years, due to the success of some of the producers and actors involved, Judd Apatow, Seth Rogen, James Franco, those guys. If you like stuff about high school, or if you grew up in the 80’s, I’d recommend it highly. Put it at the top of your list."
Mark told me he thinks on challenge teens face today that he didn't is keeping up with their social networks.
"When I was in high school, AOL AIM was new, and I couldn’t get enough of it. Talking on the computer to your friends—in real time! It was amazing," he explained. "But now, there are so many crazy options online, I think the main challenge facing kids may be getting outside more than once a week!"
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