Tuesday, October 21, 2014

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Mark B Perry

A couple of weeks ago, I reviewed Mark's book, City of Whores, on Luxury Reading (you can see the review here).  When Tia from Worldwind Blog Tours asked if I would be interested in participating in a blog tour for him and his book, I jumped at the chance to interview the man.  The book was so awesome, I needed to know more about the author who came up with it. :)



Hi, Mark.  Welcome to The Gal.  Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I was born a half block off Peachtree Street in downtown Atlanta, then grew up in the very suburban town of Tucker just a few miles away.  My adolescence was very Wonder Years (which would come in handy professionally), and I essentially grew up in front of the television.  I'm pretty sure that's why my drawl has virtually vanished over the years - though it does emerge from time to time after one too many chardonnays or when I talk to my folks.  Growing up, I used my parents' wind-up Kodak Brownie movie camera to make such epics as Castle of Dracula, Curse of the Van Brocklins, and Tragedy Aboard the SS Zeus (an homage to my obsession wight eh book and movie The Poseidon Adventure).  This led to my pursuit of a degree in broadcast journalism because it was the only major at the University of Georgia where I could take screenwriting, filmmaking, and television production classes, while minoring in theater where I studied playwriting, acting, directing, and both theater and cinema history.  Of course, the only really practical thing I learned in school was how to type.  After a few years of writing and producing industrial presentations, primarily in newspaper marketing, I finally made the move west to chase my TV and film aspirations.  In 1989, a spec script I'd written for The Wonder Years caught the attention of the show's co-executive producer who invited me to pitch episode ideas which resulted in my first freelance television assignment.  That script resulted in an offer to be a staff writer on the show, and my first day on the job the showrunner informed me that they were buying my spec and it would be that fall's season premiere.  Twenty-five years later, I'm still working in TV, and finally finding the time to pursue my other passion: writing fiction.

What are 5 things about you that most people don't know?

1. I love to whistle, and have gotten pretty good at it over the years.  2. My first story was broadcast on television when I was eight-years-old in 1967 when Officer Don read it aloud on The Popeye Club.  3. In 7th grade, I wrote, produced, and directed a stage play sequel to Gone with the Wind, and cast myself as Rhett Butler.  4. I'm a huge fan of really scary horror movies - not slasher films or so-called torture porn - but supernatural thrillers like The Others and The Conjuring.  5. I spent the summer after high school graduation doing ventriloquism as a disembodied head in a glass globe at The World of Sid & Marty Kroft.  It was there that Jimmy Carter asked me who would win the fall's presidential election.  I made the Eleven O'Clock News when I predicted he would.

What is the first book you remember reading?

P.D. Eastman's Are You My Mother?  For some reason, the story and illustrations had a lasting impact on me.  I felt very anxious for that poor, confused little bird.

What made you decide to begin writing?

In the fall of 1966, my third grade teacher, Mrs. Roslyn Hartsell, showed the class a photograph she'd clipped from a magazine over the weekend.  It was a black and white still of an old man's hands, serenely folded in his lap.  Our instructions were simple: write a short story about the image.  Without hesitation, I put my freshly sharpened #2 to a crisp sheet of blue-lined notebook paper and let my imagination run wild.  While the other children turned in their stories with titles such as "My Grandfather's Hands" and "Saying a Prayer," it was my story that got Mrs. Hartsell's attention.  Luridly titled "Jack Arthur: Serial Killer," it told of the gruesome murders of one Lois Jackson (strangled) and her friend Rose Hillbird (stabbed), the chief of police (shot), and the governor (M.O. unknown) at the old man's hands of its titular psychopath, and how the FBI ultimately trapped and killed him in a bloody shoot out in a mountain shack.  Today, the story would have landed me in therapy and earned my parents a visit from Child Protective Services, but back then, it was seen as the overwrought imagination of a kid who'd absorbed too many episodes of The FBI, Mannix, and The Twilight Zone.  In fact, Mrs. Hartsell was so impressed, she gave me an award for "outstanding achievement in literary composition" at the end of the school year.  That certificate still hangs on the wall of my office.  I recently looked up Mrs. Hartsell and got in touch to thank her for being such a positive and profound influence in my life.  She actually remembered me (and Jack Arthur), saying, "You were a soft-spoken young man whose hair was always perfectly combed."  I owe it all to a really exceptional teacher, and I've known I wanted to be a writer ever since.  Later, when I discovered The Dick Van Dyke Show and I realized that what Rob, Buddy and Sally did all day was actually a job, I knew I wanted to be a television writer.

Do you have any quirks or processes that you go through when you write?

It's not unique, but whenever I'm writing, some unrelated, procrastinated task miraculously gets done before I can start.  Then, I spend time carefully creating a music playlist appropriate to whatever I'm working on so that everything has the right accompaniment.  Finally, when that's all done, I have no choice but to put some words on the screen.

Do you have a special place you like to write?

I have a lovely paneled office at home with a roomy desk and very comfy chair.  So naturally, I write on my laptop at the kitchen table, just a few steps from the coffee pot.

Is there anything about writing you find most challenging?

Starting.

What do you think makes a good story?

I'm drawn to deeply flawed characters thrown into unexpected circumstances that reveal things about them even they might not have known.  Any good story is a journey worth sharing with those characters, and hopefully they end up somewhere very different and unexpected from where they began.

What book(s) have most influenced you?

Hands down, Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird tops the list, followed by Conroy's The Prince of Tides, Mitchell's Gone with the Wind, Capote's In Cold Blood, Cunningham's The Hours, Christie's And Then There Were None, Gallico's The Poseidon Adventure, and Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath.

What inspires you most?

I was a magician from second grade through college, even performed professionally for awhile, and I've always loved the art of illusion, finding out that things aren't what they appear to be, and being in on the secret.  It's the same with fascinating and flawed characters.  I'm inspired to uncover their secrets and see what they reveal.

Where do the ideas for your book come from?

I can only speak about Whores, since it's my debut.  It evolved from various sources: my love of old Hollywood, my obsession with celebrity biographies and autobiographies from that era, my personal journey in therapy in my early thirties, and the experience of watching some of my friends abandon the dreams we had all shared when we were hungry and first starting out in Los Angeles.  This gave birth to the idea of writing the "memoir" of a fictional character who didn't have a fairytale Tinseltown experience, and blend that story with a deeply personal one about trying to force life to conform to ideals rather than realities.

Which of your characters do you think is the most like you?

There's a lot of me in producer Milford B. Langden.  I like to think I'm much better adjusted and more self-accepting than he is, but in creating the character and his story, I tried to imagine what the most extreme and damaged version of myself might look like if I had chosen to stay in a life of self-hatred and denial.  Fortunately, at a key moment in my life, I read Pat Conroy's Prince of Tides, which gave the Southerner in me permission to seek professional help.

What have you learned creating this book?

As silly as this may sound, I learned that writing can actually be fun again.  I say that as a television writer with more hours of produced TV than I care to reflect on.  I truly loved writing until I had to do it with A) a gun to my head and B) my hair on fire.  It's pretty intense to be up against all the insane deadlines associated with cranking out 22 mini-movies in ten months every year.  When I was writing Whores, all of those annoying TV voices vanished.  Gone were the insane network producers screaming at me: "We don't care about character development, we want sex, sex, sex!"  Silenced were the pretentious young actors demanding that a line of dialog be changed to "something an actual human being would say."  And I was free from pushy casting directors insisting on an actor for a particular role by saying, "Who cares if he can act?  He's perfect for the part!"  All actual quotes from my career, by the way.  Writing fiction was my most exhilarating and liberating experience stringing words together to tell a story.

What do you think your readers will take away from this book?

I  hope that after spending time with my characters, the reader will come away with a better sense of the tragic, destructive, and often fatal effects of denial and self-hatred which resulted from misguided societal pressures to conform.  And if they like it, I really hope they'll tell their friends, buy copies as gifts, and rate and review on Amazon and Goodreads!

What makes your book different from others that fall under this genre?

It's an intensely personal story, a small story really, that just happens to take place against the larger than life backdrop of the demise of Hollywood's Golden Age.

What can we expect from you in the future?

Certainly more television, and, as time permits, my second as yet untitled novel which is a far more personal story about a little boy growing up in the very racist south of the 1960s who matures into a troubled television writer forced to confront a dark trauma from his childhood.  But trust me, it's not and autobiography.

That sounds REALLY good actually.  I can't wait!! :)
            Thanks for joining us here today, Mark.  I learned a lot about you - and had a lot of fun doing so.  Before you go, can you let us know where we can find you?


Twitter
Amazon Author Page
Goodreads


Mark B. Perry was born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia, and earned his BA in broadcast journalism from the University of Georgia.  An inspiring writer and filmmaker, he moved to Los Angeles in 1986 and worked as an office temp until he wrote a script on spec for the top-ten show The Wonder Years.  Not only did this writing sample lead to a freelance assignment and a staff position on the series, it was also purchased and produced as the opening episode of the 1989-1990 season, entitled "Summer Song."  Its premiere was the number three show for the week int eh Nielsen Ratings, outranked only by the venerable Roseanne and The Cosby Show.
            After three years and eighteen episodes of The Wonder Years, Mark went on to write and produce such diverse television series as Northern Exposure, Picket Fences, Moon Over Miami, Law & Order, Party of Five, Push, Time of Your Life, Pasadena, First Years, That Was Then, One Tree Hill, Windfall, and What About Brian.  After helping successfully launch the second season of ABC's Brothers & Sisters in 2007, Mark was then a co-executive producer on CBS's Ghost Whisperer.  Finally, in 2011, Mark began to gloriously venomous seasons on the ABC hit Revenge before residing to complete his debut novel, City of Whores.
            As a producer of the first season on David E. Kelley's Picket Fences, Mark and the other producers received an Emmy Award for Outstanding Dramatic Series (1993).  For his episode of Party of Five entitled "Falsies," he was nominated for a Writers Guild of America Award for Best Achievement in Dramatic Writing (1997).  And of this writing and producing services on that same series, he shared a Golden Globe Award for Best Drama (1996).

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