An Interview With Mark E. Fisher
What follows is an interview based on a recent talk with author Christine Henderson, updated to reflect recent events.
Mark’s Celtic Novels
Q: What made you decide to write historical fiction and fantasy based on a Celtic world?
A: My first three historical books and my fantasy trilogy were all based on ancient, Celtic Ireland. Why? Because I have family roots in Ireland, and for my first book, I wanted to tell a story about St. Patrick.
Q: How long did it take you to write your first book?
A: Three years. But now I’m able to write a novel in about nine months.
Q: How many rewrites did you do on it?
A: The first book started out as a short story, grew to a novella, and then I changed the characters, the setting, the plot, and added St. Patrick, and suddenly, it was a novel. That’s exactly how not to write a book. And that’s why it took me so long to write it. Rewrite after rewrite after rewrite. But at that point, who’s counting? I’ve learned a lot since then.
Critique Groups, Publishers, and Conferences
Q: Are you active with any writing groups?
A: I occasionally attend a local writers’ discussion group. Or at least I did until the Chinese virus stopped everything. I’m also a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers, Minnesota Nice chapter, and the Minnesota Christian Writers Guild. I’m also a member of the Historical Novel Society North America, a secular organization.
Q: How did you go about finding your publisher?
A: I found my first publisher by interviewing in person with them at a writing conference. But now I self-publish everything.
Q: Do you go to many writing conferences?
A: Until 2020 when the Chinese virus hit, I was attending three writing conference a year and two monthly writing groups in Minneapolis and St. Paul. Attending a writing conference is not only the best way to find a publisher or agent, it’s also a way to meet other writers and learn from them.
The Writing Process
Q: What’s the hardest part of writing for you? Starting? Creating a scene? Dialog? Tension, etc…?
A: The hardest part? Finding a good premise, a good idea that’s unique, and boiling it down to a few sentences. But by far, the most difficult part of the entire writing process—without question—is marketing.
Q: What are the best tips you could offer on writing historical fiction?
A: It’s important to research the world and the setting of your story. Each country’s culture is unique, and if the story takes place overseas, one must have been there, walking the streets, eating in the restaurants, and meeting the people. Finding the right character to be your protagonist is also important, maybe even more so.
For my upcoming novel, Death Of The Master Builder, I read widely on the Italian Renaissance and cathedral building and spent two weeks traveling in Italy. I also lived a summer in Germany and have traveled extensively in Europe.
Q: Was there ever an “aha” moment when writing your books?
When I travel to the places where my novels occur, there is always an “aha” having to do with geography. In Ireland, at the ruins of Tara, it was: “Oh no, you mean that from here to the Hill of Slane was half a day’s ride on a horse?” It was only when visiting a cathedral in Siena that the idea for Death Of The Master Builder came to me.
Q: What does your editor remind you to do most often?
A: Add action beats in dialogue tags. Instead of “he said” and “she said”, we’re to show the speaker doing something.
Q: What has surprised you the most in writing/publishing? What has frustrated you the most?
A: The answer to both—marketing. Even with a publisher, an author must be his or her own marketer. And for that, I’ve learned that social media—unless you’re famous—is mostly a waste of time. Marketing is not the most fun part of the business, but it’s necessary. I’m relying more and more on Amazon Marketing Services.
Q: What do you know now about writing you wished you had known sooner?
A: Research the genre and niche where you want to write before spending years writing something that won’t sell. But sometimes, one has to ignore all that and just write what’s on your heart. For your second book, you can worry about the market.
Q: What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received or could give?
A: Here’s what you need to know before writing your novel:
- Boil your story idea down to a one or two sentence premise. Your character must have a goal—internal, external, physical, or emotional—that they want to reach, and something or someone standing in the way of that goal. The idea must have a kicker, something that makes it unique and compelling. Don’t write anything without knowing your premise.
- Know how the story will end. Without knowing this, the story can peter out in the middle of the book. It’s happened to me. (Sometimes your first ending will change, but at least you’ve got something to work toward.)
- Flesh out your characters. Write down their histories, their families or work associations, and what they want out of life. But sometimes you can’t fully complete this until after writing a few chapters.
- Come up with a dynamite first sentence or paragraph and write a dynamite first chapter.
- Now create a chapter by chapter outline, with one or two sentences describing what happened in each chapter.
- But don’t let your initial outline get in the way. Sometimes, new characters or scenes will just pop out of nowhere. What I do then is to stop and change my outline to reflect this.
- As you write and outline, be aware of cause and effect. Every action taken ripples forward and often backward through the story. That’s why your outline must be flexible and fluid.
- Don’t forget to foreshadow events.
All these ideas and more are in these three books: The Writer’s Journey, by Christopher Vogler; Story Trumps Structure by Steven James; and Layer Your Novel, by C.S. Lakin. They all give different approaches to writing and have greatly influenced me.
Q: Are there any other points about writing you would like to add?
A: Don’t give up. Persist, persevere, and keep at it. Finish what you start.
Q: Besides writing, what occupies your time nowadays?
A: Writing does take up much of my day, but I have a five-year old miniature Australian shepherd who insists on walking at least three times a day. She gets me away from my laptop and out into the fresh air where I sometimes pray, or think about what I’m writing, or come up with new ideas. Lately, we’ve been doing about three miles d day.
My wife and I also like to go out to eat. We’ve been trying to keep our local restaurants going during the Chinese virus lockdowns.
Once we’re able to travel again, we’ll be resuming our yearly vacations at a Mexican beach. Sometimes we go up north to Minnesota’s North Shore and hike the trails beside the waterfalls. It’s incredily beautiful up there.
I also devote time to my local church.
Q: What do you do for your church?
A: It’s important to generously give to, attend, and engage with a local church. The local church is where God’s people meet on earth, preparing for when they live together throughout eternity in the Kingdom of Heaven. After The Gathering Church closed, a church I helped plant, we found a new church where we attend a small group each week. Occasionally, I meet with the pastor to discuss random stuff. I’m also on the second-string worship band, playing acoustic guitar once a month or so.
Besides helping my local church, I’m also on the board and Treasurer of New Gospel Frontiers, a 501(C)(3) organization I helped start. Its purpose is to collect funds from all across the U.S. for the Almaty Bible Institute (ABI) in Almaty, Kazakhstan. It’s the only Bible-based, conservative Christian seminary that services a five-country region of former Soviet states badly in need of the Gospel. In all five countries of about fifty million people, there are less than 1% evangelical Christians. It’s an area crying out for the pastors, church planters, and worship leaders that ABI can provide.
Q: What is your next book coming out? Can you give us a short synopsis?
A: My next historical novel is Death Of The Master Builder, to be released on May 3, 2021. Here’s the two-sentence blurb:
In 1469 Tuscany, Dario Rossi, a hedonistic city ruler hires Amadeo, a righteous builder, to absolve his sins by constructing the greatest cathedral of the Italian Renaissance. But as the walls rise, Dario wants Amadeo’s moral downfall more than he wants his cathedral.
Beyond that, I’ve finished The Sun Shines Even In Winter: A Novel of Invastion and Espionage in World War I, written for the general market. I’m planning to release that one in the first quarter of 2022.
Q: Will you always write historical fiction?
A: No. After writing the above two historical novels for the general market, albeit with Christian themes, I’m returning to the Christian market with a new series.
I have just finished writing The Day They Vanished, Book 1 of a series called “Days Of The Apocalypse”. Given the worldwide chaos, anarchy, and the falling away from God we’ve seen in 2020, I believe we are entering the end times. Most of the signs predicting the end have been fulfilled. This series will follow individuals as they deal with the Rapture and the Tribulation.
An Influential Verse?
Q: Is there one Bible verse that has influenced you the most?
A: There are many, but 1 Corinthians 3:11-15 stands out. From the HCSB:
For no one can lay any other foundation than what has been laid down. That foundation is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on that foundation with gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay, or straw, each one’s work will become obvious, for the day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire; the fire will test the quality of each one’s work. If anyone’s work that he has built survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, it will be lost, but he will be saved; yet it will be like an escape through fire.
What does it mean for us? That we will take with us into the next life only what we’ve done here on earth for God’s Kingdom. Working for the local church, helping others, spreading the Word of God through missions—at the end of our time here on earth, only these kinds of works will survive when we stand before Jesus, the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords.