Let me introduce to you author J. Mark Powell whose book Tell It Like Tupper I was honored to read and review a few months ago.
J. Mark Powell is a Missouri native, former broadcast journalist, Congressional aide and political campaign operative. During his long news career (including 15 years with CNN), he reported everywhere from the county courthouse to the White House. Powell currently serves as communications director for South Carolina’s Attorney General and lives in Columbia, SC. He is an avid thoroughbred horse racing enthusiast, devoted student of the Civil War (as well as a collector of original letters, documents and photographs from the period), and lover of classic movies from the 1930s, 40s and 50s.
Questions & Answers
How did you get into writing? Writing has been my passion since I was a child. One day, I picked up a Number Two lead pencil, opened a Big Chief notebook, and discovered I could arrange words in any order I liked to tell a story. At that moment a love affair began that continues to this day.
What genre do you write? Fiction.
What is your target audience? Anyone of any age or either gender who enjoys a good read.
What have you published to date? Do you write under a pseudonym? Tell It Like Tupper, published in November 2012; The Curse of Cain, published in April 2005, co-authored with L.D. Meagher I publish under my own name.
If you are self-published, what led to this choice? My most recent book was self-published. My first book was published by a traditional publishing house, so I have experienced both worlds. I turned to self-publishing because while Tell It Like Tupper came extremely close to selling in the traditional route several times, it never did. I believed in this story too much to let it sit idle any longer. So I took the plunge and tried the self-publishing route.
How would you review your book for readers who might be considering it? Tell It Like Tupper is a story about how life’s unexpected events change us all. Glenn Tupper lives a quiet life in a small county seat town in rural Iowa. He unknowingly becomes friends with a U.S. Senator who is running for president, and whose sagging campaign makes a remarkable turnaround when the candidate starts using Tupper’s practical advice. That thrust Tupper into the national spotlight. At first it is great fun – until a painful family secret is made public. The heart of the story is what happens when Tupper, the Senator and a campaign blogger are forced to make tough decisions amid the glare of the 24-hour news cycle with all America watching. This isn’t a story about politics; rather, it’s a tale of what happens when everyday people are caught up by the political vortex.
Are your books available as e-books? Any other formats? Yes, it’s available in Kindle and other eBook formats (as well as hardback and soft cover).
Do you have a favorite book or character (that you’ve written)? For an author, books are like children; each is unique and holds a special place in your heart for different reasons. By I must admit, I am deeply fond of Tell It Like Tupper.
If any of your books were to be made into films, who would you have as the lead actor(s)? I work with a wonderful marketing coach who recently told me, “If Tell It Like Tupper is made into a movie, and someone other than Russell Crowe plays Glenn Tupper, I won’t see it!” So I’ll defer to her judgment on that.
Which author(s) would you say influence your writing? Gore Vidal. I read his remarkable novel Burr when I was young, and it had a profound impact by opening my mind to new avenues of storytelling.
How did you choose the title / cover of your books? How important do you think title/cover is to the book? They say “You can’t judge a book but its cover,” but you sure call sell a book by its cover! Covers a hugely important. I’ve received many compliments on Tell It Like Tupper’s cover. That was a wonderful experience; I had a long talk with the designer before he started and gave some broad stroke suggestions, and he hit a home run with his illustration.
What are you working on at the moment? Are you planning on another book? A writer should always be mulling over ideas for his next novel. I find the more you think things through in advance, the quicker and easier the writing goes once you commence it. I plan to start working on my next novel sometime this summer.
Do you manage to write every day? Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? Yes, and yes (to both). Writing every day creates self-discipline, and that produces momentum for carrying the project forward to completion. Some days you know the lines you’re typing stink. But I go ahead and type them anyway, because you always come back and improve them later on; you can’t improve something that doesn’t exist. I think everyone whoever puts words on paper suffers writers block at some time for another. When it happens, I try to write around it; I move on to another scene or chapter that deals with something else and leave the problem area to sit and percolate in the back of my head for a while. That keeps my writing momentum going, while also allowing time for the writer’s block to break open.
Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it? For me, it’s a little of both. Writing is highly individualized; everyone has his or her own way of doing it. I find a broad outline is very important. For example, you wouldn’t jump in your car and start a long trip without a road map. A writer needs a sense of where he’s going, too. But you should also allow yourself some wiggle room, because you will discover many unexpected things along the way. I guess you can say I’m 50-50; 50% outline and 50% get an idea and run with it.
Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names, and what do you think makes them believable? Nope. For me, no two characters are ever created the same way. Sometimes they are based on people I know or have known; sometimes I completely create them from scratch; and other times the simply pop into my head and say, “Please allow me to introduce myself. I’m your new character.”
Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed? It depends. Sometimes a story just flows out of you almost naturally (for instance, I wrote Tell It Like Tupper in just under five months, and there was very little editing or revising). Other stories are like pulling teeth. For me, the more thinking I do in advance, the smoother the writing goes.
How much research do you do? It depends on the story. It is absolutely critical to visit this places you’re writing about before you start. Even places you know by heart should be revisited; your eye always picks up something it missed before. Before I started writing Tell It Like Tupper, for example, I knew it would be set in small town in Iowa. But which small town? So I planned a vacation and hit the road. I knew that when I came to right town, I would know it. And that happened when I reached Creston, Iowa.
What point of view do you usually write in: first person or third person? Always third person. I may try writing in first person one day, but I think I would have a difficult time pulling it off.
Do you write any poetry, non-fiction, or short stories? No; just novels.
Do you have pieces you’ve written that you think should never see the light of day? Absolutely! I wrote a novel in 2006 that was so utterly terrible, nobody is allowed to see it. I keep it to remind myself that, yes, I can write that badly!
Have you had any rejections from publishing houses? If so, how do you deal with them? Oh, I’ve had many rejections over the years. Some kind, some not so kind. One literary agent once referred them as “glowing rejections,” which was balm for a hurt writer’s soul. Rejection is never fun nor easy; but it is also a fundamental part of life. You learn to deal with it and move on.
Do you have an agent? Do you believe they are vital to an author’s success? Have been represented by literary agents twice. I do not have one at the moment. Whether an agent is vital to an author’s success largely depends on one’s personal goals. It’s not a one-size-fits-all field.
How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or for yourself as a ‘brand’? What types of marketing have you found to be the most successful? Like all self-published authors, self-marketing is critical. I’m finding much success with social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) It’s very time consuming, but it produces positive results.
What your favorite / least favorite aspect of your writing life? Has anything about your writing surprised you? I love the very thing many writers hate: the blank page! I love the raw freedom comes with writing that very first draft. To me, it ranks as one of life’s greatest pleasures. My least favorite aspect if self-editing; I hate it! It’s as much fun as cleaning strangers’ bathrooms. The thing that has most surprised me (and which keeps me constantly surprised) is the amount of discovery you can make along the way: things about yourself, your characters, your story, and insight into life in general. Writing is, to me, a journey of discovery!
What advice would you give to aspiring writers? My advice is the same as Nike’s old slogan, “Just do it!” We all know folks who say they want to write a book, or others who are always starting a novel, but never get around to finishing it. I tell people that if you write just one page every day, you’ll ultimately have 365 pages in a year, and that’s enough for a good size book. No matter how busy you are, everybody can make time to write just one page at a time. Don’t worry whether it’s good; you can always improve an existing manuscript later, but you can’t improve something that doesn’t exist. And even if your story is never published, you can’t imagine how deeply satisfying it is to type the words “The End,” because just finishing it is a major accomplishment. So to borrow from Nike, “Just do it!”
If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and why? What would you serve your guests or where would you dine?
1) My great-great-great-great-great-grandfather Charles Powell. He fought in the American Revolution and went through Valley Forge. I would ask just one question, “What was it like?” and then sit back and listen.
2) Robert Todd Lincoln. He was the only child of Abraham Lincoln to live to adulthood, and is one of the single most intriguing figures in American history to me.
3) A certain dark eyed girl with whom I thought I was in love while in college, 100 years ago.
I would serve fried chicken with all the fixin’s, complete with sweet iced tea, and we would dine under the old maple tree on the hilltop on the lawn of my grandparents’ farm in Missouri. (For the record, it would be a beautiful Indian summer day, too.)
If you had to choose a single day from your past to re-live over and over, what day would it be and why? Friday, March 3, 2000. I received the happiest news of my life that evening. But unfortunately, it was not meant to be.
Do you have a favorite phrase or quote? A French general sent this message to headquarters in 1914: “My left flank cannot hold; my center is giving way, my right is retreating. Situation perfect: I am attacking.” If you wait until conditions are ideal, you’ll likely spend the rest of your life waiting in vain. I love the general’s optimism, too; he saw possibility while everything around him spelled failure.
Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing? Not at the moment. I plan to start writing my next novel this summer.
Do you have any hobbies? How do you think they enhance your creativity? I believe hobbies are essential to living a healthy life. They relax and refresh and help recharge your batteries. I am an avid history buff, and enjoy visiting Civil War battlefields and adding to my collection of original Civil war letters and photographs.
Are there any writing-related websites and/or books that you find useful? I have nothing to offer on this subject; sorry.
Are you on any forums or networking sites? Yes. I am engaged on such sites as LinkedIn, Facebook, etc.
What do you think the future holds for writers? Much opportunity!
Where can readers find out more about you and your writing? Jmarkpowell.com contains way, way more information about me, my writing, news article about my books, etc. than most people would ever want to know.
Is there anything else you’d like to mention? Thank you for this opportunity to share my thoughts and reflections on this subject. I love to write and share my work with people who love to read. It’s a match made in Heaven.
When Glenn Tupper of tiny Creston, Iowa unknowingly befriends a presidential candidate, his life is turned topsy-turvy and his is pushed to the brink of destruction.
A chance encounter on a wintry road leads to meeting Senator Phil Granby. When he departs from his pre-packaged message and starts sharing Tupper’s practical views, his sagging campaign roars to life. Enthusiastic crowds shout, “Tell it like Tupper!” and a rallying cry is born.
Tupper is suddenly caught in the hurricane of national media coverage and tastes his 15 minutes of fame. At first, it’s great fun – until a sinister force decides Granby must be stopped. To destroy Granby’s campaign, Tupper must be destroyed first. A dark family secret is uncovered and exposed. Tupper’s marriage, and indeed his very family, are suddenly in danger of disintegrating in the national spotlight.
Help comes from an unlikely source: a quirky, young political blogger named Jarma Jordan. She unearths the source of the attacks and tries to set things right. But will her efforts succeed in time to prevent Granby from dropping out of the race? The novel concludes with a race against time on the eve of New Hampshire’s presidential primary.