Jumping off the journalism train: A writer looks back at 20 years in the trade

MARK 1

I never set out to be a journalist.

Armed with an English degree with a concentration in post modern literature, I was candidly hapless and untethered after I graduated college. A career in graduate studies had been jettisoned by a malevolent professor who sabotaged that plan and I had no idea what to do with my life. So, I returned to trying to make it as a professional musician and songwriter. I fumbled along with a few successes and more failures, but was at least tenacious.

So for three years after graduating college, I drifted, or rather stumbled along living in four cities in three states. Sleeping on several floors of friends’ homes and living in my car. I played music three or four nights a week in a variety of ensembles and bands and during the day worked a variety of jobs including general construction, men’s clothier and book seller.

It was one of the darkest periods of my life. I’ve had some amazing experiences playing and writing music, but that period was not one of them. The late nights, pandering to crowds, competitive sycophantic atmosphere, enduring low pay and the constant surrounding of drunks and smokers was far from uplifting.

Yes, I drifted.

So, when I took the plunge into the newspaper world, I was beyond desperate to do something that I considered meaningful. Though I had sworn I would never work for a newspaper, I needed to do something with the degree I had sweated to earn and the talents God had given me.

That was almost 20 years ago. On, January 5, 1998 I began as a general assignment reporter with the Douglas Neighbor, a weekly newspaper in the Atlanta suburbs.

I then dedicated two decades to the publishing world of newspapers and, later, magazines. And what a journey it was. Though I met presidents, interviewed over a dozen members of the U.S. Congress, exchanged pleasantries with celebrities and rubbed shoulders with the ‘elite’ I always found my greatest joy and fulfillment in writing stories about people. Feature stories. Human interest pieces. Pieces that connected readers to each other and explored our collective humanity, our shared hopes and joys and fears and tied us together.

I spent a morning in the Cobb County Jail where I attended a worship service and wrote an article on Prison Ministry. I spent an afternoon at a racial building event in Acworth and when the group opened the event with a prayer, I broke the cardinal rule of ‘only observing and not participating’ and joined hands with those around me and bowed my head.

Ah, 20 years. Time flies.

I won’t go over point-by-point on my career, but it was an eventful 20 years. I was threatened on the phone and in person, had anonymous nasty letters sent to me and was accosted by politicians at public meetings. I was also the recipient of thank you phone calls and dozens of notes and cards from readers whose lives I chronicled or nonprofits I had written a piece about.

And I worked across the industry. Editor. Writer. Managing editor. Magazine director. Photographer. Copy desk chief. Graphic Designer. Videographer. Web designer. Sports writer.

You name it, I did it.

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One of the last days in the office. Thanks to Kelly J. Huff for the photos.

One of my favorite achievements was being part of a team that created our magazine division out of thin air almost 12 years ago. We launched Cobb Life and I oversaw it as it grew from 6 times a year to 11. Later, I was part of the team that also launched Cherokee Life and Cobb Business Journal. That feeling of creating a tangible product and seeing it grow out of an initial vision was an apex of my journalism career and something I will never forget.

I was also honored to receive over 20 awards from organizations including The Associated Press, Georgia Sportswriters Association and Society of Professional Journalists. The news awards were rewarding, but the awards I received from SPJ on the columns I had written for the magazine meant the most. The columns that won were about family, faith, humor and fatherhood and I beat out writers from magazines in a 17-state region to clinch those. By last count, I had been honored as a columnist more than any other writer currently working in Georgia. I don’t say that as an ego booster, but a fact. In journalism with the rough hours and low pay, we tend to love awards.

And, I got to work with some talented people. At the MDJ as a reporter, I worked for the amazing motivator, journalism genius and super smart savant Becky Smith. Becky was part of a trio of great leaders I worked for including former company president Terry Smith and my late and great friend, advertising guru Jay Whorton.

During my stint as a daily reporter, I was able to work alongside great writers such as Joel Groover, tremendous administrators like Damon Poirier and Michelle Bramlett and talented photographers Damien Guarnieri and Michael Wood.

During my tenure as managing editor of Neighbor Newspapers, I was fortunate enough to work with a ton of great folks including writers and editors Adam Miller, Jeffrey Austin, Everett Catts and Brian Clark.

Throughout the last 12 years as a magazine director, I was fortuitous enough to work with assistant directors Stacey L. Evans and LaTria Garnigan and a team of outstanding writers including Meredith Pruden, Joan Durbin, Michael Venezia, Davia Rose Lassiter and Michael J. Pallerino. Along the way, the magazines had a  cadre of super photographers including Jennifer Carter, Erin Gray Cantrell, Kelly J. Huff and Sam Bennett. The creative processes that went into producing each issue was a joy I was fortunate to share with these people.

And I made some great friends and developed some crucial relationships along the way with people like Kenneth Turner, Ron Jones, Glenn Galmish, Joan Durbin, Joel Groover and the aforementioned Jennifer ‘little sister’ Carter.

And I could write on and on and on about the people, the crazy experiences, the bizarre interviews and I am sure I will one day.

But, all things must come to an end and the chap who swore he would never work for a newspaper hung up his press passes, placed his awards in a box to gather dust and started a new career in October. I now work as an Operations Manager and Business Development for Foundation Worx. It’s a sea change, but an opportunity I am enjoying immensely.

And, not to worry, I am still writing, just not for newspapers and magazines. The Alexandria Rising Chronicles have been a ton of fun to write and sell. The third novel in the series is dropping in Winter 2018 and I’ve already got another few books and multi-media projects in the pipeline. I have discovered that I find intense pleasure in writing fiction. As much as I learned how to write tight and concise as a reporter, I am pleased to be free of the shackles of AP rules, stingy copy editors, word censors and word count.

For you readers who’ve followed my career and read my columns in Cobb Life, MDJ and Neighbor Newspapers, thank you. I will still be around and you might see my name in an op-ed here or a feature there, but, for the most part, I’ll be spending my writing time creating new worlds. In the meantime, to quote Garrison Keillor, ‘be well, do good work and keep in touch.’

Thanks for being part of the journey.

 

 

Meet Winston Worsley…

One of everybody’s favorite new characters in Alexandria Reborn is Winston, the ‘old cowboy’ as he calls himself who hails from west Texas. This is one of my favorite scenes when he first meets Rand and Rand discovers the other side of those who work with The Slendoc Meridian. (And, yes, a spin off book on his adventures is in the works)

“All right now, son,” Winston said. “You’ve heard enough of my story. Tell me yours. I have a feeling I might need this,” he lifted his glass in a silent toast.
“I don’t drink liquor.”
“No problem, chief ” he said as he grabbed Rand’s glass, tilted it and consumed it in a single swallow. “Ah, just the stuff. Now, get started.”
“Here’s the Cliff Notes version. My grandfather left me a map to destroy. I got chased. I got kidnapped. I was taken to The Castle. They found some of the Meridian through the map, then –”
“Slow down. Slow down. Slow down. Damn son.” Winston lifted a hand to his temple, closed his eyes. “Okay, start over. Your grandfather? What was his name?”
Rand hesitated.
“Come on. I’m all you got to trust right now. Are you just going to sit there like a stubborn mule all night? Shit, I’ve got a couple of guns down here. You want them as insurance? Would that make you feel better talking to me?” The man gave a chuckle. “I’m too old for this. Kidnapped? Chased? Austria? Just start over. Slowly. Who was your grandfather?”
“Henry O’Neal.”
The man sat there staring at Rand. His eyes slowly moving over his face. Studying him. Trying to peer into him, Rand thought, wanting to see if he was true. If his words were real.
“I’ll be damned,” a low whisper escaped from the man’s throat. “What? Did you know him?” Rand asked.
The man dropped his head, stared at the table. Twisted his lips
in a look of resolve. Locked his eyes on Rand. “So you’d be Andrew and Madeline’s boy?”
“Yeah, that’s right.”
“Son of a bitch. Small world.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“Looks like we have a lot of talking to do.”

1 year anniversary thoughts: Donning the PR hat, publishing econo and lots of thank yous!

one year finalbig ups to these businesses and outlets that supported the book this year!
One of the most challenging parts of running an indie press is you have to assume all the roles. You are not only the author, but also the graphic designer, layout chief, executive editor, marketing manager and, the hardest of all, the public relations team.
I say that, because working PR as in asking people to buy your book is very tough. That sounds odd, because if you thought your book wasn’t worth buying, you wouldn’t sell it to begin with, right? Of course. But, then the other side of the coin is you don’t want to say or post, “Hey, buy my book. It’s great!”
But you have to. Because if you don’t have a dedicated PR team or relentless agent, no one else will. And what I wouldn’t give for a good agent like B.B. Glazier from Frasier, right?
Bebe

FRASIER — “The Devil & Dr. Phil” Episode 21 — Pictured: Harriet Sansom Harris as Bebe Glazer — (Photo by: NBC/NBCU Photo Bank)

But the bottom line is: You create something. It takes time and energy. Creativity. Years to hone your craft. And production. And therefore you want to be compensated for it. Even if it is only a couple of bucks. There is nothing wrong with that. You don’t go to a furniture store or a restaurant and ask the craftsman or chef, ‘Hey, can I get this for free?’ or ‘Why are you advertising?’ or ‘Why are you running a special?’
For some reason though, it is tough to put it out there when you are an individual artist. I won’t go into the psychological and social details here, but most writers I know are way too shy about doing this.
And as much as I dislike putting on my bowler hat, barking sales orders and putting out a virtual dancing balloon, you have to do it. I’ve been luckier than most in this regard and that I’ve had prior experience with this. I spent over a decade off and on writing and performing music. Back in the early 90s, I was in a band based out of Brevard, N.C. and being that we were all influenced by the punk rockers before us, we believed in touting our group with flyers announcing gigs, asked people to buy our demo tapes while on stage, performed free acoustic gigs to work off community service hours and, overall, in the immortal words of bass guru Mike Watt, “we jam econo.”
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The phrase was Watt’s slogan for his band The Minutemen in their early days when they built a following on low-cost record production, inexpensive touring and a real DIY attitude.
We jam econo.
We do it ourselves.
Don’t want to sign us to a major deal, okay we’ll do it on our own.
We’ll sell merchandise out of our van.
We still hold down day jobs and book the most inexpensive studio time.
All just to make it happen.
We jam econo.
That phrase has re-entered my vocabulary and consciousness the last year since Alexandria Rising was published in October 2016. After a serious bicycle accident which has still left chronic pain in one hand, I decided to quit waiting on the replies from ivory towered agents. So I founded my own press and published independently. Oh yes, I’ve spent money on advertising and promotions. But, as I’ve said above, I’ve also done every other job in relation to book publishing. I published econo.
And, it’s been a good year. The average book sells less than 250 copies a year and roughly 1 million books were published last year..  Alexandria Rising is on trend to cross the 1,000 mark by the end of October. Alexandria Rising has also been bought in seven countries, three continents and over 30 states. (I am trying to get an e-book to Antarctica by the end of the year by the way as I pen this.) The sequel dropped in August and the third and perhaps final book is slated to drop in less than six months. And I’ve been featured on several blogs, newspapers, podcasts and reviews. I’ve had book signings hosted by super local businesses that believe in supporting local art and culture. I’ve given readings at businesses that feel the same way.
And most of all, I’ve had wonderful friends and readers who’ve spread the word. And I am very, very grateful to everyone. Having the encouragement from real people means the world to me.
And your enthusiasm gave me the fuel to keep going even after dealing with degrading comments from snobby critics, pretentious academics and many farcical “arts organizations” who refuse to even glance at indie authors books.
So, I’ve relearned it’s okay to be your own PR man.
You got to do, what you got to do.
Why wait?
We jam econo.
I publish econo.
And it works. If the product is good, the people will come.
Thanks so much for coming.
Best, Mark Wallace Maguire

Farewell J.P. Donleavy: God have mercy on the wild Ginger Man

The great J.P. Donleavy has died at the ripe old age of 91. I’ve been a Donleavy fan since my senior year in college when I discovered his work while studying in Ireland. Donleavy is the King of The Tragicomedy. “The Ginger Man,” in particular, his first novel exemplifies that concept and the main character, Sebastian Dangerfield, weaves his way through life in a forays of mischief, alcohol, mastery of a silver tongue and general shenanigans. Though Dangerfield is not a gent to be sure – an understatement many would say –  his wit and charm win over the reader.

Dangerfield defines many of Donleavy’s characters who are far from moral heroes, but likeable and enjoyable to read because of Donleavy’s grand writing style.

In, “The Ginger Man,” Donleavy weaves together a stream-of-conciousness narrative that alternates between first and third person – somewhat Joycean –  but with stronger word choice. He also ends every chapter with a poem, generally three of four lines and rarely rhyming, but a gorgeous literary device that works to sum up the state of mind in the character’s life quite well at the point. Here is an example:

All I want
Is one break
Which is not
My neck.

God knows, I’ve uttered that phrase many times on this orb.

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To say I’ve been influenced by Donleavy would be an understatement. I haven’t totally immersed myself in his writing style, but do use his techniques of shifting between third and first person, though on a much smaller and tamed basis. I also find his use of humor and wit unrivalled in many aspects.

While I find certain parts of “The Ginger Man” a bit uncomfortable reading it many years after I first read it, I still do praise Donleavy’s style of writing. Perhaps, most of all,  I believe that perhaps alongside Pat Conroy, he is the greatest describer of nature I have read, particularly in “The Destinies of Darcy Dancer, Gentleman.” And I believe that gift of his is greatly overlooked. For example, take this passage from one of his books.

“The sun of Sunday morning up out of the sleepless sea from black Liverpool. Sitting on the rocks over the water with a jug of coffee. Down there along the harbor pier, trippers in bright colors. Sails moving out to sea. Young couples climbing the Balscaddoon Road to the top of Kilrock to search out grass and lie between the furze. A cold green sea breaking whitely along the granite coast. A day on which all things are born, like uncovered stars.”

And this:

“Come here till I tell you. Where is the sea high and the winds soft and moist and warm, sometimes stained with sun, with peace so wild for wishing where all is told and telling.”

Simply gorgeous.

Godspeed to Donleavy. I end this with the great last line from ‘The Ginger Man” which serves as a fitting eulogy.

“On a winter night I heard horses on a country road, beating sparks out of the stones. I knew they were running away and would be crossing the fields where the pounding would come up into my ears. And I said they are running out to death which is with some soul and their eyes are mad and teeth out.

God’s mercy
On the wild
Ginger Man.”

A wee bit of Hobbit, a dash of Elf and now a smidgen of Fairy…

Today, I became an official Book Fairy.  I don’t think the honor will land on my resume – then again who knows – but, the work these fellow fairies do hiding books for readers to find across the globe is commendable. Also, for someone who loves a good riddle, symbol and clue, it is right up my alley. I’ve always considered myself an oversized Hobbit – likes nature, good food, laughter and beer, hates machinery – but also with a dash of Elf. However, now in my genetic disposition, I will need to add Fairy. Here is the link to check out what they do if you want to get involved.

You ain’t Spota be doin’ that! What’s in a character’s name?

Spota.

This is a picture of the man who inspired the character in Alexandria Reborn.

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What an interesting name? How did he get this name? Who is this guy and why is he in your novel? Who is the real Spota then?

No spoilers here, but in the scene where he introduces himself to Rand, it reads as such:

“By the way, my name is Rand,” a handshake extended and met.

“Nice to meet you, Rand. You can just call me Spota.”

“Spota?”

“Yeah, as in you ain’t spota be doin’ that. You ain’t spota say that. You ain’t spota blow that shit up like that. You know? I have many other names. Some good, some bad. Some people call me the man because I am basically the best at what I do. Some call me Clooney because I am so handsome, but most people here just call me Spota.”

Rand laughed. Needed it. Spota’s levity was instantly contagious.

“Spota it is then.”

“Good, now let’s get out of this heat.”

Spota is one of the new characters in the Alexandria Rising Chronicles and is inspired by a longtime friend Adam Kijanksi who – when I met him at Berry College 25 years ago or so – was nicknamed Spota because he wasn’t spota be doin’ that or spota be sayin’ that. The demolition stuff? No, entirely made up for the book. Adam is actually an outstanding citizen, husband and father whose work with veterans and mental health is commendable (and no, he is called Adam these days, though I am sure he wouldn’t mind a Spota reference now and then).

So how did I come about to use Spota in Alexandria Reborn? What about the other names? Are some of them real people?

Well, one of the best aspects about writing fiction is creating new characters. You can take a piece from one person you know, a little from yourself, a bit from someone else and then blend it up, toss in some imagination, a random trait, symbolism and see where it leads you. Some – like the villain of the first book Kent St. James – are just bloody fun to write because he is so evil and condescending. Others – like Michael Casey the cabdriver – are just an impression of, yes, a cab driver I met while traveling in Ireland 20 or so years ago. By myself. Like Rand. Riding in the front seat. Like Rand. And the man did have a bushel of nose hair.

One of the things I wanted to do in the sequel was to further world creation. Rand is somewhat limited in his scope of The Organization’s reach in the first novel. In Alexandria Reborn, I wanted to show the other sides and, along the way, introduce new characters. While Rand is a smart aleck at times, I wanted some true levity and mano y mano bonding and brotherhood. No yuk-yuk banal humor, but true wit, word play, authenticity of character and scenes of brotherhood and bonding.

Adam was kind enough to let me use the Spota name in this book. I think you’ll enjoy getting to know this new character as you read the book. He does add some levity, is great with wordplay and dialogue, and, much like the man who inspired the character – is authentic, true and a brother in arms along the journey.

 

Flet, Levitious, Coolth. Coin a word? Puncture punctuation? Don’t mind if I do

joyce

Flet? Levitious? Coolth? Descension?

Sound familiar? No, probably not.

These are just a few of the words I coined in my new novel, “Alexandria Reborn.” (Definitions of each word is at the bottom)

Sometimes, coining a word just makes sense. I honesty did not – Seamus Heaney, Tolkien or Shakespeare like – sit down and invent words or extract ancient words from the past. Many of them just came to me. They made more sense than having to spell it out and, as with punctuation, when one is writing a novel, one can do what one wishes to fit the flow of the chapter or the pacing – aren’t commas great for pacing? – or just how the author wants it. Thankfully, authors are not bound by the general rules of MLA, AP or Chicago style. Nor, are we bound by other rules of narration, punctuation or mixing first and third persons (see Faulkner). And I am far from the first to break these rules. Shakespeare coined a ton of words, many of which we still use today. Roddy Doyle uses dashes instead of quotation marks.  James Joyce wrote Finnegan’s Wake, which includes such sentences as:

“We pass through grass behush the bush to. Whish! A gull. Gulls. Far calls. Coming, far! End here. Us then. Finn, again! Take. Bussoftlhee, mememormee! Till thousendsthee. Lps. “

Then you have chaps like Cormac McCarthy who refuse to use semi-colons (I might agree with him there).

Of course, let’s not even delve into poetry where William Carlos Williams wielded puncutaiton and captilization to his own means and created an entire glorious non sensical, yet sensical, universe or the esteemed T.S. Eliot who wrote some of the most significant passages of Western Civilization and still dropped lines like this:

Le Prince d’Aquitaine à la tour abolie

These fragments I have shored against my ruins

Why then Ile fit you. Hieronymo’s mad againe.

Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata.

Shantih     shantih     shantih

Yes, there is a method to each of these writer’s madness (and I know that Eliot was using symbolism), but the point I am making is how fun it is – dare I use that word again? Fun? –  to write and read freely and creatively. To engage without bounds. Perhaps an action-adventure novel was not the place for me to introduce a few new words to the English lexicon. Then again, why not? It is my book after all. I am finally free of two decades of editors and 20 years before that of the brutal black and white world of English teachers.

The good news is if new words and odd punctuation and spellings (yes, I still prefer grey) bother you, they are used enough in context so you can catch the drift. If these literary devices do not bother you and you like them, rejoice! My next novel is filled with many. And after that, I might go full Joyce-ian and dance wylde-like undereth the blueth sky with full experiment house like sodium drenched φ exhaltation.

Per prior above see:

Flet: A combination of Fled and Flit. Generally used in an internal form such as, ‘thoughts flet through his mind’ I can provide more details as to philology and etymology if you wish, but this is the basic idea.

Levitious: Having or, and, or pertaining to levity.

Coolth: Use this one whenever possible. Borrowed it from said Heaney.

Descension: The act to descend – actually a Middle English term that went out of vogue.

Alexandria Reborn: Your prep kit.

Alexandria Reborn, the sequel to Alexandria Rising and Book 2 in The Alexandria Rising Chronicles, is now available in paperback and kindle. So, what do you need to know? I mean, a sequel is a sequel, right?

Yes.

Yet….

A couple of items worth noting.

The book picks up immediately after the last chapter in Alexandria Rising. There is no preamble, recap, Star Wars like crawl or ‘six months later.’ I mention that because some of the early readers of the sequel have mentioned that they had to re-read the last few chapters of first book to remember where things left off. The first chapter of the sequel is essentially Chapter 74 of The Alexandria Rising Chronicles. I intentionally wanted to keep the pacing steady with the series.

It might also be worth to skim The Appendices of Alexandria Rising. And, if you haven’t watched any of Thomas J. Callahan’s videos or read his research, it might be insightful i.e. it is not necessary, but I do enjoy adding clues, easter eggs, allusions and such in various forms of multi-media.

Finally, get prepared. Get relaxed. Turn off your phone and grab a drink, whether that is a cup of tea, coffee or, something stronger from the bar of, say, Kent St. James. As one of my favorite reviewers on Goodreads wrote after reading Alexandria Rising, “it was so good you had to grab hold of your own bottom to hang in there. I loved not being able to figure out what was going to happen next!”

I hope I achieve that level of excitement with this tome.

Many people lent their time, insight and help with the sequel and while they are thanked in the author’s note in the book, I want to give them a shout out here: Adam Miller, Bob Wallace, Bruce Wallace, Beth Poirier, Whitney Betts and, last but not least, my wife, Jami.

Thank you all for being part of the journey. Hope you enjoy the adventure.

 

What is the symbol on the front of the book?

Since “Alexandria Rising,” published last October, I have been asked on one than more occasion:

“What is the symbol on the front of the book?” 

or

“I’m sorry, I don’t speak that language?” (always the smart aleck in a group, right?) 

or

“So, are you ever going to let us know what this is about or do you just make up crazy letters for your books?” 

Well, here is your answer:

Screen Shot 2017-05-04 at 8.26.48 AM

The symbol is The Slendoc Meridian. It is on the map that Henry O’Neal left to to Rand. It is present on the Atlantean stones that Rand sees in The Cavern. And it is present here in one of the early trailers.

It is part of the Atlantean alphabet you might say. Though I am not an expert philologist, I have been piecing this together along with the aid of the insightful Thomas J. Callahan, keeper of the Appendices for The Alexandria Rising Chronicles.

As we obtain more information, it will be released.

 

The thirst for escapism and the need for fantasy

 

“You should really work on publishing that semi-autobiographical book you wrote, “The Preacher’s Son.” There is a lot of good stuff in there on religion, race, Southern culture, fractured father-son relationships, real good dark stuff that could sell.”

I’ve heard that sentiment echoed the last several months. I did write said book, “The Preacher’s Son,” several years ago. And while it does have some strong story points, I am happy to leave it in my drawer. Dust laden and undistributed for a long time, perhaps, forever, its 120,000 words quietly collecting dust. Why? A few reasons.

First of all, It was great therapy to write that book. I needed it. But, it was also painful and now that it has been exhumed from my system, I have no desire to revisit it. Even attempting to re-edit it has proved to an exercise in dark exertion.

Secondly, after having a close-enough-to-death experience in a cycling accident a few years ago, I decided that life was too short to do something one did not like i.e. if I was going to write another book, I wanted it be fun.

Fun to write.

Fun to read.

The type of book I like to read.

  • Ludlum-laced tension. 
  • Tolkien-striving world creation. 
  • Dan Brown pacing. 
  • T.S. Eliot and Dante inspired symbolism. 
  • Mysteries. Clues. Hints. Loss of truth. 
  • Cold-blooded villains. Broken heroes. Mysterious maps.

I suppose it was that amalgamation in my conscious and subconscious of those elements that birthed, “The Alexandria Rising Chronicles.” It is a series I enjoy writing and as I have told people again and again, “I hope that shines through.”

(By the way, writing is fun, editing and proofing and researching are work)

Through many, many years of writing in many forms, I have discovered that reading to escape, to create and to – yes, it is very low brow to state – have fun is key to a pleasant existence.

And I say this, not as a naïve dreamer, but as a hardened English major who survived Victorian literature – if you ever have a chance to read, ‘Dombey and Son’ by Charles Dickens, don’t – and as someone who has worked in journalism for almost two decades.

So, like those who read to escape.

I write to escape.

You see, it is much more fun and healthier to slay a villain after verbally annihilating him, than it is to do so to a colleague or someone who cuts you off in traffic.

There is also the fact that sometimes we all need to escape. This world is not perfect, we’re all fighting some type of battle. Those we love die. Those we expect so much from, let us down. We let others down. Bills pile up. The car breaks down. Injustice and hypocrisy is everywhere.

So, again, back to the point.

Writing and reading to escape.

I often like to refer to J.R.R. Tolkien when I talk about this type of borderline apologetics for writing escapism. Tolkien went to World War I along with 17 of his classmates at Oxford.

Only two returned.

Two.

After surviving the gore of the Somme, he was quoted as saying:

“I have been a lover of fairy-stories since I learned to read,” he later wrote in an essay in which he passionately defended fantasy and “escapist” fiction: “Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if, when he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls?”

Here, here.

And as a side note, “The Alexandria Rising Chronicles” has just been the start of this new chapter – pun intended – in my creative life. I’ve also recently begun two young adult novels which take place on other planets. I suppose if one is to go all out, well, let’s go all the way.

New review published: 5 hearts!

It can be a dangerous thing for a writer to read his/her own reviews. The bad ones have the capacity to sink one’s hopes, while the good ones can over-inflate one’s sails – okay, enough nautical metaphors, right?-  thus I try to avoid reading them. However, I was pleasantly surprised today to read a review of ‘Alexandria Rising ‘on the popular book review site P.S. I love that book!  I had sent them a copy for consideration in October 2016 and with all the reviews they do not only in writing, but also on youtube thought perhaps I had been either waylaid, misplaced or not measured up. But I was, graciously, wrong. Their reviewer Martyna gave me five hearts – their equivalent of five stars – and highly recommends it. She also wrote, “Will definitely check out the sequel (cough, cough)!” which is encouraging as I recently finished the third draft of the first half of the sequel and am wading into the second half, hoping I haven’t exhausted my adjectives. If you get an opportunity check out their site, reviews and very fun youtube channel.

World Creating and why writers don’t rest on the 7th day

Well, thanks to you wonderful readers and your encouragement, your faithful scribe has been busy the last several weeks writing the sequel to ‘Alexandria Rising.’ I am on a ridiculously tight deadline, but am hoping to have it on the market by the fall. (My initial plan was to start writing it in March, but after your positive feedback, I started around Christmas and now hope to have draft one completed by March. I guess that is what one gets what one ends a book on a cliff-hanger; I’m not complaining as it is a fantastic challenge to have.)

One of the joys, and a source of constant revision and vision, has been discovering the idea of World Creating in fiction. As I said during an interview with ‘Are you Afraid of the Dark?’  while writing, ‘Alexandria Rising’ I was introduced to the ideas of world creation which – while I was aware of i.e. J.R.R. Tolkien, George Lucas, Susanna L. Clarke, etc. – I had not dived in before to this extent. Discovering that path and challenge has been loads of fun.

This  weekend I had a few days off for a Winter Break. While I may have only accomplished writing a few thousand words, I actually worked for many hours researching, creating, drawing maps to help me flush out my locations, cross-referencing names, double-checking symbolism and, at the same time, trying to work these ideas into the story while not slowing down the narrative.

The last few days, I’ve read about Hopi Mythology, types of antique Victorian tables, Spanish mission architecture, how adobe bricks are made,  weather patterns for July in middle America and the average miles a trip-phibian plane can make on one tank of fuel.

These are the types of things a writer does if he/she wants to make their story believe-able. Fiction can be a fickle beast, but providing some real-life anchors can aid in the suspension of disbelief in other areas I believe.

I suppose I write this to give you all a glimpse behind the curtain of my strange little world I live in. I also write it to show my respect and affection for those masters of world creation and fiction. I first read Lord of The Rings about three decades ago and, like a fine wine, I revisit it every 6 to 10 years. I am re-reading it now again and my awe of Tolkien only grows every time I take that trip to Middle Earth.

 

To paraphrase Tolkien, it is an adventure stepping out your front door as it is stepping into your own book of which I am about to do now.

PS: The image is of a location in the sequel. There are no spoilers, but a few clues.

 

Ga. Book of The Year nomination!

Excited and pleased to announce that Alexandria Rising, has been nominated for the 53rd Georgia Author of the Year Award (GAYA) in the Science Fiction/Fantasy category. The banquet takes place in June where winners and finalists will be announced. Thanks all for reading. More of the journey awaits with recovered video footage, in-depth character exploration and more coming before Spring.

Interconnectivity, symbolism and numerology in Alexandria Rising

Fabricius-Fludd-Natura-widescreen-occult-wallpaper-q85-1280x800

Someone asked me the other day about how much symbolism I crammed into ‘Alexandria Rising. Well, the answer is pretty straightforward: As much as I possibly could. Why do this in an action adventure novel? Well, I figured if I was going to write a novel, I might as well have some fun with it. Example? Okay, no spoiler here, but a character in the book takes Train 42. The number ‘42’ is widespread in the works of author Lewis Carroll who was also an avid numerologist. The number is especially present in Alice in Wonderland where it is used several times directly or indirectly. If I was going to give the number/name of a train, etc. I wanted to convey a message. I am very much inspired by T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland and Dante’s Inferno. While I would not put my work on a literary level with those two brilliant pieces, I do love how those works contain mass amounts of allusions, symbolism and interconnectivity. Writing ‘Alexandria Rising’ gave me an opportunity to create my own little world using those devices. Bonus? I have a section on this site ‘engage with the appendices’ which provides the reader with links from The Appendices which lead to video, images or research associated with names, places and numerals throughout the book.

Get a taste of what the buzz is about…

You want to get a taste? I will be publishing excerpts from the book here every week or so beginning October 27, 2016 with the prologue:

PROLOGUE

London

1603

The city stank.

It always stank in summer when the scents of the clogged drains, rotten food and sweating bodies combined for a noxious fog that hovered over its hills. Even the Thames stank, its shores lined with flotsam from forgotten ships, animal carcasses and mounds of refuse washed on the rising tides and left for the foragers from the sky and the beggars from the cracked cobbled streets.

But he ignored the stench. Stood at his windows opened defiantly, inhaled deeply, begging for a breeze to cool his beaten brow. Even a simple draft to flutter the tattered drapes would be welcome. Anything to soothe his fevered head, to alleviate the sweat bullets lining his chest, rivulets streaming down his arms, his legs.

He brushed a piece of lank hair from his forehead, sat down to his pockmarked desk, took another sip of watered-down wine and pressed the quill to the piece of parchment. His hand shaking, he pushed the words from his mind, half-muttering to himself as the black ink stained the yellow paper.

“The sight is dismal;

And our affairs from England come too late:

The ears are senseless that should give us hearing,”

He took another deep breath, dipped the quill in the inkpot again. Started to write. Had to take a break. So hot. Leaned back his chair. A breeze? My soul for a breeze, he thought. Beneath his opened shirt, attached to a leather band, a sliver of translucent stone lay on his chest. It shifted colors in the half-light of the candle. Sometimes azure. Other times silver. A passing hue of cobalt. He clenched it. Inhaled again. Opened his eyes and grabbed the quill. Attacked the parchment.

“Let us haste to hear it,

And call the noblest to the audience.

For me, with sorrow I embrace my fortune.”

He leaned back again. Closed his eyes. Focused. Listened. Heard the sounds of the streets below. The usual calls of the pedestrians, the hawkers, the laughter of children, the occasional neigh of a horse or the bellow of a cow being led to slaughter. He heard clattering in the streets, the distinct sound of wagon wheels grinding on cobblestones, a sharp rapport.

He knew that they had come. Come for him. He was late. Again. But, there was so much perfection to do. So much to finish. So much yet to rewrite. But, his time was up. And he needed the money. The squeak of a carriage door, he could even hear the footfalls, knew it was him. The benefactor. Then the words shouted above the din of the crowd.

“William!”

He ignored it. Clutched the stone in one fist. Gulped down the last of the drink with the other. And began writing again, the thoughts racing now, he had to force himself to slow down, lest the writing be unreadable. The shout again from the streets.

“William! Where is it? I need it now. I am coming up and Martin is coming with me. I know you’re there. They told me you were at home at The Fox and The Hound. I see your window is open. Unlock your door.”

He knew he could no longer wait. It was time. He wrote quickly. Dipped the quill in the inkwell for a final push and then finished the last few lines.

“The soldiers’ music and the rites of war

Speak loudly for him.

Take up the bodies: such a sight as this

Becomes the field, but here shows much amiss.

Go, bid the soldiers shoot.”

Heavy thud of big boots on the worn wooden stairs. A knock at the door. He scribbled a title on the first page. Blew on the ink. Rolled up the parchment, wrapped a ribbon around it. Took the chain from around his neck. Lifted the lid of a wooden box on his desk. Dropped it in. Cinched up his shirt. Lumbered to the door. Opened it.

“Is it ready?”

“Of course, I was just taking a nap.”

The man snatched the roll from his hands. Slid off the ribbon, opened it up. Read the first few lines.

“A nap….Mmmmmm,” a low groan, then, “Interesting opening. I like ghosts. Audiences love ghosts. A good start.”

“Here,” the playwright said. “Flip to Act III, yes, there a few lines down.”

The man did so, patiently, eyes intent.

Then reading. The lines of angst giving way to surprise, then relief. A smile.

“Late as usual old friend, but it looks good. By Jove, I do love these lines here in this act. My God. Very powerful. The very sense of the universe itself isn’t it? The only thing I don’t like so far is the title. Usually you’re very succinct on these, but it looks like this was an afterthought, ‘Hamlet.’ It could be a play about a small village and that wouldn’t draw the crowds would it?”

The playwright ran a hand through his hair. His mind still reeling.

“How about, ‘The Tragedy of Hamlet, The Prince of Denmark’? Yes, a bit more detail. Will that work?”

The man looked at him. Peered deep into his eyes. The playwright answered his own question.

“Yes. That’s it. ‘The Tragedy of Hamlet, The Prince of Denmark.’ By William Shakespeare.”

The man shook his head, let forth a small chuckle.

“It is a bit wordy, like I have a mouthful of stones, but it will work. And I am sure once people see it, they’ll remember it. I don’t see how you do it and keep doing it. You may be late, but you’re good son. You are good. Time may forget you, but I won’t.”

“Time forgets us all, my friend, but for some it takes longer than others.”

What is this book about?

His grandfather left him with one task. Destroy a map that had been kept hidden for centuries. He could never imagine the journey it would lead him on and the secrets he would discover. This action-adventure novel has a dose of historical fiction to keep the reader glued to the page. While its content is unique, author Mark Wallace Maguire’s style and storytelling has been compared to Robert Ludlum, Tom Clancy and Dan Brown. You can purchase the book here or explore our other unique purchasing options on the purchase page. The book is published by Speckled Leaf Press.

Who is the author? 

Raised throughout 15 cities across The South, Mark Wallace Maguire lives south of Atlanta in Red Clay Country. In 2015, his non-fiction book, “Letters from Red Clay Country” was published which featured a selection of his award-winning columns and essays on Southern culture. His writing has appeared in numerous newspapers, magazines and literary reviews and he has been honored by organizations such as The Associated Press and The Georgia Poetry Society.

This website offers a chance to delve further into the book with interactive appendices, images  and a section where readers can provide their own insight, details or theories about events and people in the book.

The book can also be followed on Facebook and instagram.

The Countdown begins

Writer Mark Wallace Maguire unleashes his first book of fiction this fall. In what is already being hailed as a can’t-put-down-read, this action-adventure novel has a dose of historical fiction to keep the reader glued to the page. This website offers a chance to delve further into the book with interactive appendices, maps and more!

Book signing with ‘Rand O’Neal approved coffee!’

gremlin growlers flyer

 

Well, the tour for Alexandria Reborn and the Alexandria Chronicles kicks off with a book signing at Gremlin Growlers Saturday, August 19 from 1 to 4 p.m. in Fayetteville, Georgia. I’m delighted to participate with the folks at Gremlin Growlers for many reasons including they have the best coffee and craft beer selection in Fayette, they love the book and on the Facebook invite they posted:

“Enjoy a Rand O’Neal approved amount of caffeine or indulge in a frothy pint of the dark stuff to help you settle in and begin an adventure you’ll not soon forget! Gremlin Growlers is beyond excited to host this amazing author in an environment practically torn from the pages of his mind making the characters feel right at home.”

Reading a good review is always a boost, (and yes, kind readers, please do not shy away from posting reviews in this new market where reader reviews influence more than critics’ words), but this description in relation to the book, characters and, of course, the caffeine and the frothy stuff really made my day as it captured some strong descriptions in the book.

As authors, we generally work alone and in our heads. It is a solitary art in many aspects so when someone mentions a character, enjoys a scene or even appreciates how much of the black elixir a character enjoys, it is a joy to hear. And, as I’ve said many a time, never ask an author too much about their book, especially if they have had the frothy stuff, you might be in for a long night.

PS: If you can’t make it to the event with Gremlin Growlers, I am lining up several more events throughout metro Atlanta for the fall and the books are on a digital blog tour as well. And you can always ping me at markwallacemaguire@gmail.com