Interview with David Wisehart for Kindle Author. www.kindle-author.blogspot.com
DAVID WISEHART: What can you tell us about Dogs Chase Cars?
MARK PORTER: Dogs Chase Cars is a comic mystery set in Takoma Park, Maryland. The central character and narrator is an Englishman (Harry Hoodman) who has traded his store detective job for private detective status, in order to prove to his partner Megan that he can be relied upon to pull his weight. Harry is often awkward socially, he is a thinking man but struggles to motivate himself into action and feels that life is sliding past him faster than he can apply the breaks. When one of his friends is shot, Harry and the other characters attempt to fix their various issues through helping each other and trying to solve the identity of the assailant. Meanwhile, Harry is in therapy with a washed up former '70s glam rocker by the name of Caleb Pink. One of Caleb's former band mates rode a horse off the top of a Holiday Inn, securing the band's place as a minor footnote in rock history.
DAVID WISEHART: How do you develop and differentiate your characters?
MARK PORTER: I had the characters of Harry and Lambert Windle, his house mate and friend in mind for some years. I had always imagined I would do something with them, I just didn't know what. Caleb was initially a comedy invention but I had left the stand-up circuit before I got a chance to try him out. Their voices are very different to each other. Some of their characteristics are based around personal experiences and I suppose that there is some of me in Harry, to the extent that I give Harry his opinions and his hang-ups. We are both Olympic standard procrastination experts, so Harry is helping me get over that. In terms of keeping the characters separate and consistent, I have a firm idea of their backgrounds, fears, hopes and quirks before I write for them. Much of that information won't make the cut directly but it helps me keep the behaviour consistent.
DAVID WISEHART: Who do you imagine is your ideal reader?
MARK PORTER: I'm not sure. I wrote a book that I wanted to read. Dogs is a comedy and there is no getting around that. But I like to think that there are some decent examples in there of a more literary style of writing that I feel I am capable of. It just so happens that my natural voice will throw a punchline in whenever I think I'm in danger of vanishing up my own arse. My biggest influences are Joe R. Lansdale, Carl Hiaasen, Sam Lipsyte, Lee Goldberg and Douglas Adams. I have also started very recently to read Donald Westlake. With a background in stand-up and writing comedy material, I think I know how to time a punchline and how to make it seem natural to the prose. Anyone wanting to be entertained could read this, I am looking to write REAL comedy, not forced sitcom type comedy.
DAVID WISEHART: What was your journey as a writer?
MARK PORTER: One of my earliest high school English teachers complimented me on a fight scene I had written when I was eleven and within a year I had read To Kill A Mockingbird. That book made a life long reader out of me. I wrote poems and lyrics for bands I have played with and also dabbled with shorts. I wrote a novel and aborted another in my twenties and they were brain crushingly bad. Looking back, I can't believe I sent them to anyone. In May 2010, I was in Turkey with Leeanne, my partner. I had just read a novel by a mega selling author. I won't reveal his name but I felt really let down and a bit insulted to be honest. I felt like it was the most formulaic crap I had read and that he wouldn't have found a publisher had he not been able to rely on having already established his name. Leeanne said 'well, why don't you write one then?' I have always talked about it. She gave me a direct challenge to have a go, so I did. I sent the book to one publisher, Drugstore Books who are a very small indie with an ethos of helping new writers and using POD. It was accepted and went through an editorial process. Nine months after that discussion in Turkey, my first novel was published.
DAVID WISEHART: What is your writing process?
MARK PORTER: I write something every day. I tend to write very quickly through the first 50,000 words or so. I slow up down the back stretch and re-drafting takes as much, if not more time than the initial draft. I work out chapter plans and character queue cards were necessary. The plans can change here and there but in a book like Moscow Drive that I am coming into the finishing stages of now, there are so many sub plots and characters that I have to work with a plan. Having that structure helps me to relax and enjoy the process. I'm also a life long insomniac so much of my best work is done when I should be sleeping.
DAVID WISEHART: What authors most inspire you?
MARK PORTER: Joe R. Lansdale, Carl Hiaasen, Sam Lipsyte, J. Robert Lennon, Michael Chabon, Barry Hannah, Samuel Shem. Just lately, Willy Vlautin and thanks to fellow indie writer, Matt Hadder, John Barth. Tobias Wolff, Tim Bryant, Chris Brookmyre, Donald Westlake, Jim Dodge, Jake Arnott, Raymond Chandler. There are so many. I think you take things on board all over the place. I don't just read comedy or crime, or limit my reading to any other specific genre. I've been enjoying some sci-fi recently, too.
DAVID WISEHART: What one book, written by someone else, do you wish you'd written yourself?
MARK PORTER: I have to cheat and say two. Michael Chabon's The Yiddish Policeman's Union and Joe R. Lansdale's Vanilla Ride. Of course, it depends on mood but all of Joe's Hap and Leonard books would be on the list.
DAVID WISEHART: How have you marketed and promoted your work?
MARK PORTER: A few interviews, some posting on forums, interviewing other writers on my own website, www.markporter.weebly.com and I have some personal appearances coming up, too. It is a huge part of the process. It isn't like the old days, unless you're a celebrity chef or something, publishers have no inclination to promote and you have to do it yourself anyway. The Internet makes it easier, Drugstore Books have been right behind me but you hope you can create some kind of buzz. Without it, whatever you do is worth squat.
DAVID WISEHART: Why publish on Kindle?
MARK PORTER: It makes sense. Anyone who has yet to see that it is the way of future publishing, is probably descended from people who felt the petrol engine could never catch on.
DAVID WISEHART: What advice would you give to a first-time author thinking of self-publishing on Kindle?
MARK PORTER: Use an editor. Number one, biggest piece of advice. Get some objective eyes in there, people you can trust. But then get a totally independent editor. If you are serious, you will. If not, you run the risk of missing things that mark you out as an amateur. You can sell your books for a pound or a dollar but no-one will repeat buy anything else you do if the first one stinks. Then, all those hurdles negotiated—if you want to shift a few copies you have to learn to promote. No one will read it if they don't know it exists. Accept that some won't like it and have some belief.
DAVID WISEHART: Thanks, and best of luck with your books.
Drugstore Books have posted part 2 of a 2 part interview. Text is also included below.
This is the second part of our interview with Mark Porter, author of the just released “Dogs Chase Cars“
Where did you get the idea for Dogs Chase Cars?
I was stood in the sea in 1995 and Horatio and Lambert’s names came to me and a very basic plot. Nothing like how it ended up. Those names came back to me when I started writing this. In 1999 I went backpacking up the East Coast in the U.S. and I based myself for around three weeks in Takoma Park, where Dogs is set. All of the place names are accurate. I really liked the place, it reminded me a little bit of the town that Marty McFly lives in in Back To The Future. The plot developed the more I thought about the characters and who I wanted them to be.
How did you plan the characters? Are they based on real people, and if so, how closely do they resemble the people they’re based on?
They are not based on anyone, as such. There are aspects of people I know but not to the point where I think anyone would notice. Lambert Windle’s name was the combination of two people I know; I took each of their last names and made that Lambert’s name. Beyond that, it was imagination. I felt like I had Harry in my head for a very long time. I sort of knew that I would eventually get around to giving him a voice. When it came time to sit down and start, it felt very natural to write from Harry’s perspective. Caleb Pink’s name came from a tiny headstone from the 1800s that I found in Highgate cemetery in North London, not far from Karl Marx. The surprise was Reuben. I love his character and found him extremely enjoyable to write for. I also loved the two plain clothes cops, without giving too much away.
And as a follow-up, how closely do you resemble the protagonist of the story?
I think I have some of the traits Harry does. I’m more outgoing than he is but I value family and friends like he does. I think it’s inevitable for a first person, first novel that some of you will creep in. We are not all that similar. I have purposefully given him some different opinions. I think he feels a little overwhelmed by life at times and I can identify with that. I have an element of his clumsiness and I can be a fantastic worrier. I think the biggest similarity is that I do have a tendency to daydream my way through life a bit. I am bad for procrastinating and making situations worse than they need to be as a result. The drive and ambition issues Harry has came straight from me.
What was the hardest thing to overcome when writing your book?
Personal doubts. Was I good enough? Could I really pull it off? Would I have the staying power for a full book? Some of the doubts became motivational tools. Some of them caused me to seize up for a few days at a time.
Any words of advice for other writers out there?
Be a sponge. Read absolutely everything you can. I read an awful lot of writer interviews now; partly because it makes me feel less isolated and partly because having been through the process now, I find it pretty engrossing. I love to know how other writers approach things, regardless of what they write. Try to trust your instinct but read out loud when you are re-drafting. As far as first drafts, don’t be too critical or too much of a perfectionist. Just get to the end. In some ways the work only really starts when you re-draft. I also try very hard to be disciplined but I don’t force it. I write something every day. If the novel I am working on isn’t there on a particular day, I write something else. We are writers. That’s what we do. If it means enough, you’ll find a way to do it. I think it helps to know exactly what your goal is when you start. Finally, just trust yourself to get it done but not to the extent where you allow yourself constant breaks. It isn’t easy, at times it is bloody hard work but it is so rewarding when it goes well. I am about to start the second draft of my second novel and I can’t imagine not writing now. So get off the blogs, websites and forums until you have written enough words to have earned the break. There are so many distractions and your brain will trick you to take them whenever the going is tough. Most of all, you will never have the time. You have to find it.
The just published April issue of Writing Magazine and Writers News includes a news feature 'Hot Dogs' in reference to Dogs Chase Cars.
First part of an interview for the Drugstore Books website. Posted online 3rd March 2011.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I’m British, I’m from a city called Preston and I live in Liverpool. I’ve had a lot of different jobs, which means I have encountered a lot of different people. I used to be a stand-up comedian and I am curious about what makes people tick. What makes a person act or react the way they do. I’ve always had the attitude that if I want to have a go at something, I’m curious enough to try it. That doesn’t mean I consider myself massively talented, I just want to try for myself.
What was your motivation for writing this book?
Every chance and any chance I get to read, I read. It’s become a running joke. I once got knocked down by a tram because I walked in front of it reading a paperback. As far as writing Dogs I was getting tired of reading the same book over and over. The identi-kit thriller with the cardboard characters and predictable plot. I was in Turkey last year with my partner Leeanne and we were talking about books. I had just read something by a very well known writer and felt massively let down by it. I just felt like I wanted to write the sort of book I wanted to read. I have written a lot in the past from boxing websites to one novel and one part of a second novel in my very early twenties that were awful and were thrown away. I had always meant to get back to it, once I had some life experience. I just felt like it was time to put the excuses away and have a go.
How did you keep going? Were there any times when you felt like giving up on the project?
No. I was at the very early stages when I approached “Drugstore Books” and the interest in the book meant that I was able to maintain my excitement, even when it was hard going. “Drugstore” being there for me from the outset and on the end of an e-mail whenever I needed them, having the belief in me and my project and liking my material, all gave me huge encouragement. I had a couple of frustrating periods, where I felt it wasn’t happening and there were days when I couldn’t look at it. I wouldn’t say I ever felt like giving up, I felt like taking a break maybe but I liked the characters, I felt like I knew them and I didn’t want to let it go. You have to be honest with yourself, on the days when it just isn’t there, let it go. But I took it seriously. I also kept hearing Reuben’s voice telling me to stop wasting time and get on with it! Reuben was hard to hide from.
How did you plan this project? And how closely did you stick to your initial plan?
I sketched an outline and broke the book down into a chapter plan. I knew who the characters were and where they were taking me. I didn’t stick to it so rigidly that I wasn’t prepared to change things here and there. I didn’t write the book in chronological order. I wrote the chapters in the order that I wanted to write them in until I had reached something like chapter thirteen and then I ploughed through to get the first draft finished. After that, I took a couple of days to re-charge and started re-drafting. I don’t think any first draft is the finished article, or even close to it. It takes some time to knock it into shape and I had to change a lot. The changes were more in terms of consistency in style and the voices of the characters. The plot pretty much took care of itself. I had worked through four drafts before I started submitting it to “Drugstore” for the editorial process to begin. I had a lot of support.
How do you view yourself? Primarily as a writer, or does your sense of personal identity come from elsewhere?
This has changed a lot since I started the book. Initially, I felt like I was trying someone else’s shoes on. I was trying to think like a writer. Towards the end of the first draft, I started to see myself as a writer. I have written something every day now, more or less, since I started this and I definitely see myself as a writer now. Identity comes from all directions, how you are in your personal relationships, working relationships, where you stand as far as personal taste and outlook. So it is much more than just being a writer. I am comfortable in saying I am a writer now. I’m not apologising for it and I am not planning on stopping. It is a huge part of who I am now, it’s not the sum total but it’s a very important part of who I am.