It takes a while for one to claw through the hurricane to its eye, but I’ve managed to turn the trick. It’s something of a coup that I have dragged Mark Leftridge into Mott’s Ruminations for an interview.
Mr. Leftridge is one of the most all-around talented people I’ve had the pleasure to meet. He is among the finest drummers currently smacking the skins, but that’s just for starters. He writes and teaches all styles of music at all levels. He’s never met an instrument he couldn’t coax into melody…and now the bastard is writing books. Well, not so much now as repeatedly. If my count is correct he’s currently slinging words into novel #5.
Some people just don’t know when to quit. But enough of me, let’s get to it.
Mark, let’s start with an easy one. How did you get into writing?
Quite by accident I’m afraid. I was working on song lyrics, on a cold October evening in 1992 and I had written the line “They hadn’t seen the sun in 27 days.” I liked the imagery it sparked in my mind, but I had no follow up line. I had read of a songwriter’s trick that said, to write about the line, then glean from your paragraph your intent. Paragraphs became pages and pages became chapters and 65,000 words later I had written The Bachnahl Corridor.
What is your first piece of work to be released?
A Tangled Web We Weave was released last year (my latest).
What would you consider your greatest accomplishment?
Loaded question to be sure, but since it’s a Writer’s Blog, I’ll say this, and oddly enough, it happened just recently. I began writing in 1992, but it wasn’t until a couple of months ago that I discovered WHY I write. That answer, to that question, was a truly significant moment. Has nothing to do with career goals, money or professional success – it’s just one of those priceless epiphanies that reveal themselves so rarely on the road through life.
Can you describe that feeling?
Writing has been part of my life for the last 20 years of my life and the four novels that I have written had always seemed completely strange and different from each other, yet I was compelled to tell them. I’ve learned that each book was me trying to solve or make peace with things in my life at the time as I was moving through life. To re-read my books in the knowledge that my first [The Bachnal Corridor] was about my awareness of politics and its place in my world, then Parenthood in my second [When the Hangman Weeps], the end of my Rock band (the year I turned 30) in the third [Safe Sects], and this latest book [A Tangled Web We Weave] was my thoughts on what makes a friendship. Suddenly the book jacket descriptions, that have NOTHING to do with my epiphany, have a theme. The books follow my life and the things that I was sorting out at the time – a truly amazing diary where characters question me and push me to answer the hard questions. It was all so innocent as a story, a book, a novel, but such an open and honest look into a person I once was.
What about your current (or most recent, as applicable) work stands out as compared to what came before it?
I’ve been scuffling with the word Legacy as of late. I come out swinging this time, rather than couching it in some technological thriller like A Tangled Web We Weave or even Safe Sects to a degree, this is about a family and their history and making peace with the imperfections of that.
(if WIP) Can you share some of it with us?
Sure. Here you go:
“You working in the studio, uncle Todd?” asked Evan as he watched his uncle’s eyes return to focus on him in the here and now.
“Well, I’m in the studio, but work doesn’t seem to be getting done.” “What are you working on?”
“I was up all night with a chord progression and a melody in my head, but I can’t get it to lay down on tape – digitally speaking.” He inhaled then exhaled loudly, rubbing his tired eyes with his calloused hands. Stopping suddenly as an idea landed from the ephemeral cloud swirling in his sleep-deprived head. “Evan, could you come in and see what you can do with it? I can’t get the feel, I’m out of ideas.”
The boy’s eyes widened, “Shouldn’t you get my dad or grandpa?”
“Oh I know what they would do with it after all these years of working with or around them, but this is different. I want something else on this. C’mon, give it a try kid, I’m desperate.”
Evan took his seat behind the kit steadying his headphones as his uncle sat behind the glass of the control room setting up for the session.
“So I’m thinking I’m gonna try and catch lightening in a bottle. The click is at 140 beats per minute, come right in on the very first beat. I’m playing even eighth notes, so it’s not shuffled or swung or anything. Ok?”
Evan nodded to the voice in his headphones.
“You’ll get two measures of click before you’re in.”
Evan gave a thumbs up sign.
“Alright, here we go then.”
The computer-toned blip counted off the 8 beats, Evan’s bass drum and crash cymbal landed simultaneously on top of the opening chord. His recoiling eardrum chased the blip of the click-track into the chaos of a throbbing bass, distorted guitar and keyboard patches that chugged fiercely into the song. His brain was searching for the patterns, listening ahead in a way, to predict what lay just a few blips ahead. Find the rhythm, the syncopation of it and determine what of that pattern should he accentuate to establish the groove. He began to separate the unison parts, chasing the instruments that were panned throughout his headphones; bass, left of center, 6 string acoustic, right of center, a synth pad beyond that and an organ playing hard to the left. The organ part was voicing the chords differently, landing between the gaps of the rhythmic pattern; It wasn’t wrong per se, but it was pulling at the groove. Ignoring it he pressed on through the song. He was subtle in the verses, lifting the choruses, reacting to changes as they appeared. He had unlocked the string of chords and by the second verse had settled into the arrangement of them. The blip disappeared into the music as he listened to his performance in it, always the audience as well as the artist.
Do you feel that your writing style has changed at all since you began writing?
I hope so!
What do you think has bettered your skills? What do you think has hindered you?
I’m the worst guy to answer this question because I write, but I’m entirely self-taught. I don’t study the craft, or do workshops or read with an eye on how I would do it better than the guy I’m reading. I just do it, learning from the last one I wrote and improving on myself from the last. The fact that people read my books and enjoy them is a bonus and I appreciate that they get me and what I’m trying to do in a novel.
As for hindrances, same answer as above. 90% of writing is re-writing? Screw that! Next story. Make fewer mistakes next time. I can’t suffer over a story for months or years, crawling over it comma by comma, line by line. Plot holes I’ll fix, but punctuation and all the rest is my editor’s job. That won’t be a popular answer among writers and authors that read your blog, but writing to me is an intensely selfish act that I suppose I take to extremes.
Which of your characters stands out the most to you, and why? (feel free to share an example)
4 novels – too many characters that I have deep feelings for and those feelings change daily. Chris Mohr from When the Hangman Weeps is a stand out. Though he’s just an 8 year-old boy he has the strength and insight of a wizened old man.
Brett Peters from Safe Sects found a way out of his own smothering grief by trying to help someone else and the devotion of Thani Atiq from A Tangled Web We Weave is pretty incredible to me.
Do you have a writing mantra?
Make it real. Plot, Dialogue or Characters have to feel real to me and the information that they acquire in a story must be plausible. No apparitions appearing, found lottery tickets etc. I leave that to Scooby Doo episodes.
Is writing your hobby or your job?
Both? Neither? Therapy seems a more appropriate term these days.
What do you do when you’re not creating the next masterpiece?
I’m a musician by trade and have enjoyed a 30+ year career that has taken me to many amazing places in the world and allowed me to meet many of my heroes. I see myself as a drummer – a drummer who writes.
Do you like sports? (if so, which ones?)
I am a baseball devotee. I watch as many as three games a day on a day off. I have the fervor of a zealot for the game. I watch Major League, Minor League, even Little League (there’s a park a block from my house); it makes no difference to me, I love the game like that.
Do you have a favorite musical artist? Who?
Rather than rattle off a lengthy list, I’ll simply say that Rush was/is the band that shaped me as a musician, a reader, a lyricist and a writer.
What book are you reading right now?
I just got the new Carlos Ruiz Zafon book, Prisoner of Heaven, and the Crichton novel that was finished by Richard Preston after his death.
When do you anticipate your next work to be released?
Our Bridges Made of Sticks should be released in time for Christmas 2013.
Where can we find you online?
A huge thanks to Mark Leftridge for stopping by!