Originally published 2015-01-02: You Can’t Go Wrong with a Trebuchet | Interview with Mark Gardner, Author of Champion Standing
In 2014, I received something very special in the mail. It was the ARC (Advanced Reader Copy) of Mark Gardner’s Champion Standing, complete with his autograph and a kind note from one writer to another.
For those of you who have followed me through all my website’s iterations, Mark shouldn’t be a stranger. He’s a prolific author, a supportive friend, and an all-around great guy to know. When he mentioned that his novel Champion Standing was due to be released at the beginning of this month, I jumped on the opportunity to interview him.
Mark, tell us about yourself.
In a single breath: Mark Gardner lives in northern Arizona with his wife, three children, and a pair of spoiled dogs. (Admit it, you tried to read it out loud in a single breath.)
I’m a NAVY veteran living in the territorial capitol of Arizona: Prescott. (Well, not really, I live two towns over.) My day job is in radio broadcasting and I have an unhealthy fascination with the Skylanders games and figures. I mostly write short stories and flash fiction, but due to market forces, I’ve branched out into novels.
Who do you write for?
This is going to be unpopular to a lot of people, but I write for myself. I love the input I get from my fans, but I really don’t write for them. I tell the story I want to tell. Some fans have definitely swayed the story, but that’s because my brain went off in some tangent and the reader was like ‘W-T-F?’ And I’m all ‘Aliens? Viruses? The boogeyman?’ And they’re all like, ‘Get rid of that crap.’ I sheepishly follow suit because I know they’re right.
What do you want your writing to accomplish?
As far as accomplishments, I really only want to tell an interesting story. I love it when a reader susses out some inane or hidden point. I fancy myself as a trickster, so I hope my plot twists aren’t stupid. That’s one of the reasons I submitted Chip Assassin to the Stories on the Go anthology. It’s a goofy story about an assassin who kills people with potato chips. It’s [made up of] ten 100-word chapters. The writing is okay, but, hey – ten 100-word chapters, right? Awesome!
I’d also like to have a cameo in a movie adaptation of one of my stories and have a few of my friends in it as extras. We’re not talking Adam Sandler, where the same four guys are in every movie, but like a shout out to those that have stood by me.
Which of your stories is your “darling”?
They’re all my darlings. Some have just moved out and gotten their own apartment above a bakery. (My second apartment with my pregnant wife was above a bakery and the smells from below amplified her morning sickness.)
Champion Standing has had a ton of work done to it. I won’t admit what the story was in the first draft, but after excising over 25k words from the original, and adding about 10k or so, the story is awesome.
Some of my earlier short stories I’m sensitive about. I’ve grown so much as a writer, those early stories had to be retired. Which is sad, because the three Body Rentals stories before Body Rentals were so much fun to write.
Tell us about your writing hideout.
When the doors of my writing armoire are open, I usually get left alone. I’m fortunate to have a den to house my armoire. At any given time, I’ll bang on one of my typewriters, clackity-clack on a manual keyboard, tappity-tap on a newer keyboard, or curse the invention that is a touch screen. (I really dislike Siri sometimes.)
The great thing about my armoire is that I can close the doors and the mess hides away. My worries and insecurities about writing get locked away until I’m ready to tackle them again.
What fuels your writing?
Okay, not chocolate per se, but it makes it easier by a long shot. Like many writers, I suffer from apathy. The stories are so great in my head, but once it falls out and onto the page they lose their luster. I look at the page and I’m like, ‘Who wrote this crap? This isn’t my beautiful story! I’m a fraud… Chocolate time!’
For me, I gotta get amped up about the story to do it good. Occasionally that’s sugar. Sometimes it’s aggressive music. Usually it’s just rapping about the story with a close friend. I’m reminded of a scene in Forlorn Hope where I had to get the characters from point A to point B, so I wrote some crap. A buddy of mine read it and told me the movement sucked. He was nicer about it, but he was right: it sucked.
After my initial ‘Screw you, dude!’ we talked about it, and the story ended up way better for it. The solution he and I came up with fixed a problem near the end of the story I didn’t even know I had. He also made with the frowny face at the original Champion Standing ending. I rewrote it and now the ending is epic.
Give us a piece of advice that you wish you had gotten when you were just starting out as an author.
I’ll paraphrase Chuck Wendig: Writing is putting the words on the page; editing is making those words not suck.
His version is more profane and has an amusing graphic, but I, like many would-be writers, thought I would birth an epic story into the world and everyone would love me and pay me in gold and chickens or cattle or something. It was more like naming an individual snowflake, then trying to find that melted drop of water in an ocean of melted precious snowflakes.
But these weren’t regular drops of water, they were angry drops – all tripping over each other, trying to get into my boat and sink the darn thing. You’ll meet wonderful authors, editors and fans. You’ll also meet those angry drips trying to sink your boat. So I guess in a ramble way, the best advice is that no one knows anything – do it the way you want to.
What can we expect to see from you in the near future?
The most recent release is Champion Standing on January 2nd, 2015. It’s an Americanization of the Chinese wuxia novel. It’s got sword fights, naval battles, assassinations, political intrigue and a trebuchet – you can’t go wrong with a trebuchet. The future holds Sixteen Sunsets, a superhero novel with some awesome art by Joel Cotejar; The Afflicted, a quasi-zombie tale; and a fantasy/myth story thing that’s tentatively titled Victorious Maiden. There are other works in the works – ;-), but they’re nowhere near ready for publication.
Can you give us a taste of what we can expect with Champion Standing?
I like the 533-word short “Flashback”:
Liao forced the world around him to recede into the darkness of the surrounding woods. He closed his eyes and began relaxation exercises he learned as a child. Here and now, the young warrior was alone in the world. He was one with the world. He was the world. Nothing else existed at this time and in this place but himself. He opened his eyes to the gentle songs of the forest. A cricket sang hauntingly at the edge of his clearing. The creatures of the night serenaded him in a majestic cacophony of sound that only creation could compose. As he listened to the otherworldly songs of the night his mind drifted back to another place and another time.
They sat there, just the two of them, in silence for the longest time before either of them spoke, but even before the bearded man sitting in the field by his side said anything, Liao recognized his surroundings. It was a strange sensation, seeing him this way. It was if he was there, a child again, living out the endless eternity of childhood once again, and yet seeing it as an adult observer through the eyes of many years of experience. This man that was his father, and yet not. Together they sat, silently looking at the stars that shone overhead.
Perhaps, Liao thought to himself, the man who was the observer, perhaps that is what has brought this memory to the surface: the similarity of the two nights and the two cloudless, moonless skies. He watched the older man, both as observer and as participant, waited for the older man to speak the words he remembered so well, and yet was about to hear for the first time.
“I’m dying, Liao.”
The warrior who was the child watched as the tears began to well up in the eyes of the child he had been. He watched as his father swallowed the trembling, crying child in his strong but tender arms. “Yes, Liao,” the man gently answered, “I leave you to bring honor to our family.”
The child who would one day be a warrior stiffened slightly in the arms of his father, pulling his head far enough back from the man to look into his eyes. “I will look after mother for you.” He spoke with the frightened voice of a child, yet with the strength and resolution of the man he would become.
His father said nothing. He nodded as if in affirmation of what the child had said, a tear forming in his own eye.
They sat there in silence, the two of them until the first rays of dawn greeted them.
After his father died, life was not easy for Liao or his mother, but they managed to overcome all the obstacles that life threw their way. There would be many nights when Liao would sit, gazing at the stars working out the difficulties of life, but none so poignant as this first one.
Liao looked back fondly at those difficult times, realizing again how great the influence of that gruff old man had been in his life, and seeing for maybe the first time the tenderness that was ever so carefully hidden beneath the gruff exterior of the man he called Father.
For more short stories, updates, and anything else you would like to know about Mark Gardner and his work, check out his website: Article 94.
Read my review of Champion Standing.
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