Last week author Mercedes Fox asked me to talk about writing and my new book, and here’s the interview, excerpted from her website.
If you use a pen name, why did you choose it? My pen name is my real name. In real life, I go by another name.
I had a complicated family, and I ended up with my stepfather’s last name. But I was the last male in my father’s family, and we gave my children – all girls, it turned out – his last name. So when I started writing stories about growing up, it made sense to me to use the name I was born with, Mark Lauden.
Why do you write? I can’t not write. It just happens. I do it in my work to explain things – technology, usually. I write about people because it’s the best way to understand them and share that understanding. I figured that out in high school when I started writing for an underground newspaper – it’s a story I tell in Some Way Outa Here.
Writing is also a zenlike thing. When you immerse yourself in a story or characters, you get lost in a world that can go any way you want it to go. It’s like being in control of a dream. I enjoy that.
What made you decide to sit down and actually start something? I’ve been telling stories about he events of the late 1960s for years, and recently someone pointed out to me that it’s now history, not just memories. But she felt that the events of that time have often been told poorly, misunderstood, and that it’s up to those of us who were there to tell what really happened. It turns out, the truth is a lot more interesting than the mythology of hippies and protesters. I think Some Way Outa Here will strike my contemporaries as true in some important ways, and I hope it sheds some light on a distant, mystical era for younger readers.
Which writers inspire you? This varies day to day, but today I’m feeling in a Mark Twain mood. Huckleberry Finn is still the best American novel, and if I could write something like it my life would be complete. Homer’s Odyssey has inspired us all. – so many stories harken back to it. Kerouac’s On the Road inspired me to think about learning from the world, not just learning about the world. Robert Pirsig showed us how examine the world, philosophy and madness while riding a motorcycle across the country. You might notice a theme there, and it’s one that I try to explore in my own writing.
What one person from history would you like to meet and why? John Lennon. To thank him for everything. I wouldn’t mind if he’d play a tune or two with me, too.
If there was one thing you could do to change the world, what would it be? I would make sure that every student learned two things really well: First, the beauty and importance of the scientific method, so that everyone would appreciate the disciplines of skepticism and proof. Second, the parable of The Tragedy of the Commons, which teaches a concept that may be central to the survival of humanity. For more on the latter, you can read about how I learned this in Some Way Outa Here.
What is one great lesson you have learned as a writer? Writing things as they happened – journalism – rarely gets to the truth. If you want to tell the truth, write like a painter rather than a photographer. Find the essence of a person, place or concept and repaint it with colors and light that illuminate what’s important. Even in history or memoir, insight is more important than precision.
What do you think of traditional publishing vs. self-publishing? I’ve done both, and while my first book, published by a big publisher, was financially successful, I had a lot more fun with my new self-published book, and I think it shows. It’s not a shortcut: I approach self-publishing as a challenge to make a book that’s better than a traditional publisher would make, in all ways – writing, editing and design.
How can readers discover more about you and you work? As my first independent reviewer recommended: “Just read it.”
For the whole interview, check out Mercedes Fox’s site.