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Monday, June 25, 2012

Interview with Mark Tierno, author of epic fantasy Maldene

Mark Tierno is a man with a story to tell. Just how much of a story sets him apart. 

MT: Maldene spans 13 novels, 5.2 million words, some 250 characters, about a hundred main plot lines, and stretches across several thousand years of time.  It is a story that redefines the concept of "epic."

JK: It may not be easy, but can you condense the story for my readers?

MT: Maldene is the name of the world where it all takes place, and starting around the second novel elements of Science Fiction start to work their way in as well, leading to a unique mixed genre blend, which is what I prefer to write in. It is a story for anyone who likes magic, wizards, epic plots, drama, and the fantastic. It is the passion of my soul.


Maldene is a world of fantasy and science, a world of fantastic creatures, characters that range from the crazy to the wise, and home to many astounding secrets. It is also home to the most villainous evil known: Miro (pronounced MY-RO). It is said that even the gods fear Miro, though they aren't saying why, and stories of this evil wizard go back many thousands of years. As powerful as Miro is, it is his cunning and patient planning that are to be far more greatly feared.

The Maldene series spans several continents of this giant Earth-swallowing world, crosses to other dimensions, and later on in the series other worlds and even far distant periods in its history. But it all begins in the first book (currently published as Volume I and Volume II), in which we follow Sabu, Eldar, Sindar and their companions on a search for secrets, destiny, and discovery of what really goes on in the world. Three different continents, journey to a second world, the Sea of A Thousand Islands, Tedelnosho (The Great Whirlpool), the mysterious King who is the only one willing to stand up to Miro's forces, over a dozen main characters, several alien races (from the sea-going Thirdocians to the avian-evolved Kÿecians), and this is just the first book, as but the first chapter in a story that spans several books.


Preview of the new cover of Volume One
This first book in my Maldene series is currently undergoing a renewal: new cover and soon a new release. More information about Maldene, the world, its characters, and updates on the forthcoming new release, as well as live phone interviews with other authors and a few things to download, can be found at my blog.

JK: Tell us a little about where you grew up and what you do/have done besides writing.

MT:  I grew up, and still live in, Monrovia California.  Never really had a chance to move out and get a life of my own, since my Dad got Parkinson's Disease when I was in High School so I ended up being the one to help out my mom for a couple decades, then after he passed away it was my Mom's turn, and...  well, you get the idea.

I have degrees in Physics and Math, which does figure into my writing from time to time.  

JK: When and why did you get started writing? What characteristics from your first efforts survive today?

MT: Thinking back, I wonder if I was just born to it.  I always hated the physical effort of handwriting, so a good wordprocessor was essential to get me started, but I always had a phenomenal imagination-- the kind most people lose with childhood-- but I kept mine around.

As far as what survives today, there are some ideas I came up with back as far as 12 years old that I since fleshed out and pulled together into what are now different components of the Maldene mythology. 

I'd had a few story ideas in the back of my head since about seventh grade but never put them to paper until two things happened. First, I'd finally gotten a computer with word processor: me little Amiga 500.  I knew that an old typewriter and liquid paper just wouldn't do for the extensive story I had in mind, so a computer was just the thing. Then the Eaton Canyon fire of 1994 burned down my grandpa's old house (he'd been long dead), giving the house some money and me a bit more free time.  So, while simultaneously helping out with my Dad, I started writing. This also brought some much needed joy back into the household.

JK:  What made you decide to publish? What was the journey to publication like for you?

MT: With a story like that, the desire for publication is inevitable.

My road to publication was, to say the least, torturous.  Agents do not like taking in new authors, and as it turns out SF and Fantasy is considered a specialty that most do not want to take in either. So put "new guy" and "Fantasy" in the same sentence and it's like death on wheels. I contacted about 150 agents and the only nibbles I got were one guy who didn't know what he was doing and hadn't gotten anything published for about five years at the time, another author-turned-agent who was more concerned with his own career and suspicious contracts, and a last that, while they did steer me to getting a professional critique, then just put me into a database unless I would pay them for their "active agent" program. Never pay an agent anything other than a percentage.

When I finally got a publisher, I soon discovered that was the equivalent of the light at the end of the tunnel suddenly disappearing.  They did nothing to promote and tried to get me to pay all sorts of fees for the least little thing (like taking my book to a book fair to show off with the others).  As such, I am currently formulating other plans, starting with a brand new (and very spectacular) book cover even now being finished up.

JK: How does real life affect your fiction?

MT: I write in fictional worlds, but they must seem to the reader as real as the one we live in.  As such, I will have a lot of background details, and even more about the world recorded in my notebook, details that don't always make it specifically into the novel but whose presence affects the way I will write certain things. It may be a world of wizards, but it must contain enough detail and self-consistency to make the reader believe in its reality.

But not just the world itself, but of course the characters. They must be drawn with enough detail, from how they act to how they speak, to be real enough to leap off the page. In fact, I keep a database with all the details of my characters, from eye color to personality quirks; more info than I might use, but all ready at hand.

To give you an idea of the amount of detail and background stuff I use, each Maldene novel has some appendices: an alphabet, dictionary, and a changing array of others depending on which novel it is,  from the local zodiac to Maldene tarot cards.

JK: What is your favorite book? What other things influence your work?

MT: You want me to pick just ONE favorite book?  Impossible.  

JK: That's the right answer, of course.

MT: I was one of those kids that when the school had its monthly Tab or Lucky book order, while everyone else ordered maybe one or two, I always came out with an armload.  everything from Isaac Asimov to A. E. van Vogt (author of Slan).  everything I have read, seen, and heard influences my works, including the music I play while I write.

JK: Do you use language to differentiate your fantastic characters?

MT: Everyone has its own way of speaking. Some speak more formally than others, some with different verbal affectations. I have an ogre than has yet to string more than 4 words together at a time, another than never uses contractions, and in a different story of mine I had one guy with a lisp where I replaced every "S" with an "SH." The spell checker on my word processor was going nuts with that last one!

JK: What inspires you?

MT: My inspiration? My imagination never quits. The Maldene project was pieced together in my head over 15 years time before I started actually writing. Another series of stories got its start when I was talking to a friend. He was trying to start up a fanzine with a shared universe for the stories, and from a comment he made about the Middle East getting nuked into a parking lot I got a strange idea that became my first Inspector Flaatphut story, Project Looking Glass (currently viewable on www.libboo.com).

If you locked me away in a hole in the ground, cut off from everyone and everything in the world, then maybe I might stop finding inspirations, but I doubt it.

JK: What is your work area like? Do you have any methods that might seem unusual or inspiring to
other writers?

MT: My work area is me and my desk, and a stereo.  I put on a stack of movie sound track CDs and that gets me started; things like the soundtracks from Star Wars, Chronicles of Riddick, Sleepy Hollow, Lord of the Rings, and a whole lot more.

A new chapter is about a three-day process. Day one I start at about 7:30 in the morning and go until around 5 pm or so. I do around 12,000 to 13,000 words during this time, then break for a trip to the health club, and edit what I wrote later that night. Day two I finish up the rest of that chapter, which usually around 3000 to 5000 words; done by lunch, then of course edit what I wrote that night. Day three is my "chapter edit" day: I go over the entire chapter to make sure things flow together, any more typos, then run the spell checker. This usually takes about two hours. Then I outline the next chapter so I'll be ready the next morning to start the whole process all over again. At the end of a section (my books typically have three sections each) I skim through the entire section to make ceertain things flow from one chapter to the next and that I haven't missed anything, then at the end of a book I give the entire thing a last once-over.

As far as other tools, I run two databases while I write.  One for characters, and in the case of Maldene, one with the local dictionary so I can look up some native word that might be appropriate for a scene (like local cuss words, for example).

JK: What kind of feedback do you get? Do you have a definable fan base? Are your family and friends supportive?

MT: My favorite tag line for the book-- and the one which I have now started using-- came from my yoga teacher after she read the first book and posted a reader review...  "A world beyond time... adventure beyond imagination."

Feedback has been generally very good. From one person comparing my first Maldene book with the first Harry Potter book and saying that it makes the Potter book seem boring in comparison (note:  I myself have great respect for Rowling and her creations), to comparisons with Lord of the Rings, to my favorite reader review from a retired copy editor turned author. He pointed out my typos (since corrected) but went on to say how much he loved it and how amazing he found the whole thing.

I'm working on that "definable fan base" thing.

My parents were very supportive. My Dad kept wanting to show my stuff off to relatives (as it turned out, he'd wanted to become a writer himself in his younger days, but he never told me this), and my mom would keep sneaking in to take a peek from three to four feet over my shoulder.  I miss them both.

JK: Where can we get your books?

MT: The site has more info on the book, a sample chapter, an audio of me reading out the sample chapter, and updated links on where my book might be found (just hit Amazon or Barnes & Noble).