Mark Hunter’s debut novel, Storm Chaser, a contemporary romantic comedy set in rural Indiana, will be released by Whiskey Creek Press in June, 2011. He’s a part-time newspaper writer whose humor column, “Slightly Off the Mark,” has been a presence in northeast Indiana newspapers for almost twenty years. He’s seeking representation for three other completed novels: two romances and a YA mystery.
Mark lives in a small northeast Indiana town with his fiancée, a college student who’s working on her first novel, and a cowardly ball python named Lucius. He has two daughters and twin two-year-old grandsons, and is employed as a dispatcher for the Noble County Sheriff’s Department—a day job that he ironically works at night.
Mark is safety officer, instructor, and public information officer for the Albion Volunteer Fire Department, is finishing his second term on the Albion Town Council, and when he’s not writing he laughs hysterically at the notion of having spare time. Still, he likes to take time out to look to the sky, both at storms and stars, and of course play with the grandkids. A history buff, he’s working on a book length history of the local volunteer fire service. He collects Matchbox-sized emergency vehicles, Oz book memorabilia, and, of course, books.
Mark Embarks on His Journey
•When did you begin writing romances with a goal of publication?
It would have been around 1990. At the time, I wrote a weekly humor column that still appears in three local papers. My only exposure to romances had been the old-style “bodice-rippers” my mother used to read by the score, and I wrote a column making fun of the bare-chested men, silly names, and various other clichés.
My then-wife was reading more modern romances, so she called me on my misperceptions, and also pointed out that romances comprised over half of all paperback books being sold in North America. Clearly, someone was doing something right! So I read some, and was blown away; within a year I had subscriptions to four different Harlequin book series, and a year after that I began plotting the first of my own stories.
•How many manuscripts did you complete before selling?
Three: Radio Red, about an actress who gets a job at a Michigan radio station, was first, and an editor actually planned to buy it back about six years ago – just before that publisher went out of business. The second one, Storm Chaser, sold, but not until after I’d completed my third romance, Coming Attractions, about a battle to save an Indiana drive-in movie theater.
•Romance wasn’t your “first love.” What other genres have you explored?
I learned to love romance, but I started out in science fiction and action/adventure, my “adult” mystery morphed itself into Young Adult, and I’m still anxious to someday write my own take on L. Frank Baum’s Oz books. I don’t know if that’s a common situation with fiction writers, but it might cause problems in building a “brand”.
Mark’s First Sale
•You’d been submitting for many years when you received The Call. When did it come, and how did you react? Did you jump up on a chair, beat your chest, and belt out a hearty Tarzan yell, or was your reaction more subdued?
I received the news as an e-mail on May 29, 2010, from submissions editor Melanie Ann Billings at Whiskey Creek Press. Naturally, I’d fantasized about the moment many times, imagining screams of joy and/or an emotional crying jag. Didn’t happen that way.
My fiancée and I had been up for more than 24 hours, due in part to a bad accident my daughter got into the night before. My other daughter called to say she was stopping by after I’d been asleep for only a couple of hours, so I dragged myself out of bed and, while waiting for her, checked my e-mail.
There it was. I stared at the letter and contract, printed off two copies, then handed one to my daughter and asked her to have my ex-father-in-law (a lawyer and former Circuit Court judge) take a look. Then I went back to bed, without telling my fiancée. She was not happy with me when she found out.
Mark’s Wealth of Experience
•You’ve held a variety of interesting jobs and done some cool things in your life. What have your experiences taught you?
I’m a living example of what not to do. I moved out at age 17, and never attended college – after all, I’d be a best-selling author by age 21 … wouldn’t I?
The problem was, I didn’t pay much attention in high school English classes – I was busy writing stories in the back row. After graduation, I discovered I didn’t have any grasp on the mechanics of writing: spelling, grammar, punctuation. (I’m still not great at punctuation, but I love parentheses.) It was like deciding to be a carpenter without knowing how to use a hammer or saw.
So I bought a used English textbook and a whole shelf full of reference books, and went to work teaching myself. Since then I’ve taken three writing correspondence courses (short story writing, novel writing, and journalism), but I’m mostly self taught, as is evident by the entire bookshelf full of books on every aspect of writing. If I’d paid attention, stayed in school, and not given into bouts of self-doubt, I’d have had a novel published years earlier.
In the end, the classes that did me the most good in high school were journalism and typing (of course, it’s called keyboarding these days).
All that might be for the best. All I’ve done since then has given me perspective, ideas, and subjects. The volunteer firefighting, the town council position, plus all the jobs big and little that I hated while working them are now grist for my writing mill. I’ve learned to experience first – then write.
•And write you did, but you hesitated to put your work out there to be judged in contests. Why was that?
Fear. I wallowed in self-doubt, afraid to go up against all those other wonderful writers who were entering contests. It was foolish – after all, submitting to publishers and agents also put me up against great writers – but it’s only within the past few years that I’ve finally been able to tell myself that I’m a good writer. Self-doubt sinks more writing careers than anything else.
•You wrote. You stopped writing. What happened to your perseverance?
The problem is, I didn’t have any. I’m a writer: I can’t not write. A week without writing and I start getting antsy. However, selling is another story, and I kept giving up in frustration and self-doubt.
In the mid 2000’s, I was diagnosed with Seasonal Affected Disorder. It came as a surprise to me – I’d just assumed everyone became depressed and listless during winter – and also came as a relief, as I now had a name to my condition. Imagine how hard it is for someone to send out queries and partials during winter, when they’re already shy and lack confidence by nature?
So even as I gained experience and skill as a writer, I’d give up trying to sell my work: For weeks at a time, sometimes months, and, after my children were born, for years.
Since the turn of the century I gained the confidence, faced my personal demons, and began the regular submission process that eventually led to the sale of Storm Chaser. Even then it took a few years! The lesson, of course, is don’t give up.
Mark’s Debut Novel
•Please tell us about Storm Chaser.
The black funnel of an approaching tornado makes all other troubles seem small. But when Indiana State Trooper Chance Hamlin “rescues” Allie Craine from a twister, his troubles are just beginning: Allie, a disaster photographer, rescues him when he drives into the storm’s path.
Chance doesn’t like being rescued, he doesn’t like photographers, and he definitely doesn’t like being stuck with Allie when she wants to stay in calm, peaceful Indiana. Too bad his family, friends, and even the other members of Chance’s volunteer fire department think she’s great. Suspicious of Allie’s motives, he decides to drive her away out of sheer boredom – but that’s not so easy when someone begins causing fires and other catastrophes around the area. That someone might be Allie, who has plans of her own…
Mark’s Journey Continues
•You’ve sold your first book. What are you working on now?
I’ve completed Red is For Ick, a young adult mystery, and I’m using it on my agent hunt. At the moment I’m polishing Sleepless Nights and Smoky Days, a local history book that will be published as a fund raiser for the Albion Fire Department. Then, once my novels Radio Red and Coming Attractions are out the door and on their way to a publisher or agent, I’m thinking of working on some short stories before turning to my next novel idea – partially because I haven’t decided which novel idea to pursue next. Story ideas swirl around me like a snowstorm.
Five Fun Questions for Mark
•What is the best $100 you have ever spent, and why?
Hm … my first computer, I suppose, although of course it was more than $100. It opened up a whole new world to me, from word processing to research to meeting other writers.
•If you wanted to wow your fiancée by taking her on date sure to earn you romantic guy points, what would you plan?
A picnic lunch along a remote lake somewhere, followed by swimming and a nice view of the sunset … she’s the outdoorsy type.
•What is something many people consider a modern-day convenience that you, quite frankly, consider a pain in the neck?
I’m a fan of modern day conveniences, but power tools don’t like me. Put away the circular saw or snow blower and give me an ax or a snow shovel – if I can get power tools started at all, they’ll just hurt me.
•If someone were to look in your garage, what would s/he learn about you?
They’d learn that I’m a level 1 packrat, a level zero organizer, and that to me tools are just strange items with mysterious purposes.
•What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Make people smile, and you have friends. Make people frown, and you have none.
Mark’s Questions for You
What do you think of men writing romance? If you didn’t already know the author was a man, could you tell by the writing style? Do you see a big difference between a romance written by a man versus one by a woman?
Mark has generously offered to give away a $10 Barnes & Noble gift card.
To enter the drawing, just leave a comment for Mark by midnight March 1st (Pacific time) and enter your email address when prompted during the comment process. (You don’t have to leave it in the body of your comment this way.)
On March 2nd, I will hold the drawing and post the winner’s name here as well as in a comment and will contact him via email to get a mailing address. (I don’t share your information with anyone, other than sending your mailing address to my guest, and I don’t add your name to any mailing lists.)
Note: Offer void where prohibited.
Odds of winning vary due to the number of entrants.
Learn More About Mark
Visit his website ~ http://www.markrhunter.com
Visit his personal blog ~ Slightly Off the Mark
Friend him on Facebook ~ Mark Richard Hunter
Follow him on Twitter ~ Mark R Hunter
Following his interview here, Mark was interviewed by his local paper, the Kendallville News-Sun. The article, “Albion firefighter writes romance novel,” appeared March 5, 2011.