Suspense author Mark P. Sadler is in the process of writing his series featuring cop Nate Duarte. The first book in the Border Noir trilogy, Kettle of Vultures, is available at Amazon. Mark was good enough to take a few questions from me over email.
Let’s talk pen names. Elsewhere, you mention Dennis Lynds (died 2005) – a mystery writer I had never heard of, who took a number of noms-de-plumes including “Mark Sadler” (which is why you write as Mark P. Sadler). Funnily enough, one of my favourite Irish authors is Booker-nominated Michael Collins (born 1964). He’s in the States now too, Mark. But I had never heard of this Dennis Lynds. By golly, he has a lot to answer for with the name-thieving! 🙂
Have you ever been asked if you ARE him, or have you ever been mistaken for him?
Well, now I know you must be pulling my leg as a search of Wikipedia turns up “Michael Collins is the best-known pseudonym of Dennis Lynds, an American author who primarily wrote mystery fiction. Over four decades Lynds published some 80 novels and 200 Short stories, in both mystery and literary themes. His wife is acclaimed mystery author Gayle Lynds. Before I knew who she was and as I prepared to publish my first novel, Blood on His Hands, I found out that her husband had purloined my name as his nom-de- plume and wrote to her, somewhat upset but she was not interested in my protest and dismissed me decisively, hence, as you point out, I am obliged to use my middle initial P (Peter, if you’re curious). I was referred to him mistakenly many years ago at the Tucson Festival of Books – the nation’s fourth largest attended festival of its kind – but only one once such occasion. Since Lynds is deceased the popularity of his ‘Mark Sadler’ series appears to have petered out, too.
People have said of my (fave, Irish) author Collins’s writing – and about others’ too, of course – that as an outsider in America he offers a unique perspective. You were born and raised in the UK. What perspective do you feel you bring to the US in terms of social commentary, and writing more broadly, as a Brit in the States?
Although it does not necessarily apply currently, or so I am led to believe, the level of higher education in the UK, or at least in the early seventies when I arrived in Texas to attend college, was superior to a high school education in America. Having finished the sixth grade at Codsall Comprehensive in Staffordshire I realized, after a few years of settling in and finding out the educational standards of Oklahoma where I spent over a decade, that my educational levels, whereas not even grammar school level in the UK, were probably equivalent to a two year degree in America. My broader outlook on world events as a British subject as compared to the average American was superior. Americans tend to center on what is happening at home rather than abroad, to their detriment. Now, I still find that I have a voice that is heard, even though I don’t have a degree in Literature from one of the top schools and I am still able to compete with writers at least within my genre levels.
Do you find Americans more open and less cynical? For instance, many Irish would be disparaging about second and third generation Americans who show a pride in Irish ancestry – and an Irish culture – many of us wouldn’t recognize here.
Americans are very accepting of others’ cultures as long as they stay rooted in districts. Russians have their place in Brighton Beach, New York; Arabic peoples a large area in Dearborn, Michigan. Laotians settled in Lake Tahoe, California and a large percentage of Vietnamese, including a former prime minister ended up in Oklahoma City. I don’t know that any of these cultures ever blend into the neighborhoods but rather set up their own districts, as Americans are pretty cynical in dealing with outsiders. Heck, some small communities won’t even accept strangers moving in to town from a nearby county.
So what stereotypes do you think are wrong or are accurate about the US and UK cultures?
Soccer or football? Anyone who follows me on social media knows of my allegiance with one of the greatest football teams in England, Everton. In the UK it is the blue-collar man’s sport, the game of the street while in America it is much more of an elitist sport and perhaps that is why at the grass-roots level it loses emphasis once it hits high school and has to compete with baseball, basketball and American Football – all of which you must have a college degree in to play professionally.
I’m speaking as a white male who’s written some short stories set in Nazi-occupied Poland and the just post-bellum Deep South. But you’ve got an exciting Latin American political element in the Nate Duarte series. So what do you say to someone from El Salvador who says: “Why aren’t you writing about England? Why are you writing about my culture?”
Are writers appropriating things we shouldn’t?
Write what you know, right? Well perhaps. You can get more than a glimmer about other people’s existence from reading. The internet provides pictures, words to help understand. Read writings from people from faraway countries and political climes. It’s all available. In Kettle of Vultures I write in the first person as a Hispanic police officer and speak no Spanish and have never worked in law enforcement. How can my voice be heard, you ask? Well, I have lived in Tucson 25 years and I do know who the City is, I can make her a character in my novel. I know her joys and sorrows, know her wrinkles and secrets. I know the people who live here and what motivates them and I hope I portray my characters in the right vein. I don’t know England anymore. I am now a US citizen and I write from the heart, with a great deal of research. I believe that novels are more authentic with the right geographical and historical references and help keep the reader glued to the story.
You describe yourself as a “pantser” rather than a “plotter” in this Blondie and the Brit podcast. You say you know the beginning and end, and it’s a matter of putting meat on the bones of the skeleton. But define “end”. Does it include a plot twist? The final resolution? Is it thematic or plot-based? Is it difficult to pursue things until the end?
Since I am writing a trilogy I know where the first of the three books starts and where I will end up and the ultimate goal it will take to get there, the final resolution. Each of the three novels also involves at least one other police case rather than the one that the ultimate goal will deliver. The goal is for Detective Nate Duarte to bring his parents’ murderer to justice. It will take three books to do that, to build a case to put him on the federal task force that helps take him to that level. He has a job as a sex-crimes detective, and a partner and life to deal with outside of the boundaries of catching the ultimate criminal and he is side-tracked by his regular life, as we all are as we go about our daily lives. So although it is predominantly plot-based there are a couple of themes running through the writing to help the intrigue. I believe that genre-based writing can be literature too and I do attempt to elevate style-wise to enhance this belief. The characters do wander off on tangents at times but as long as they ultimately return to the path I have laid out I allow the odd excursion or two.
And do you ever get side-tracked? Do you have to make course corrections? How strong does a plotline have to be before you go “I will have to take on this tangent, at least for a few pages”?
Rather than side-tracked I do get bogged-down. A certain scene might cause me to pause, and as I like to write chronologically that will slow me down until I can get past the hurdle. I’m stuck in one now that has caused me great angst. It concerns a suicide scene, and since I am writing it in the first person it is “me,” per se, that actually sees the body and recognizes it and I have not been able to channel the right emotion and grief. Finally I have decided to rewrite the book in the third- person to see if that will help me overcome the angst and write the scene from a slightly different perspective.
You have said:
The idea of writing a novel, to actually making a living as a writer, was spawned in 1966. Too young at only ten years of age to be influenced much by world event’s spinning around me I was however, captivated by riding the train the eight miles from the village of Codsall into Wolverhampton; a journey that took me through very English countryside to the industry of the Black Country. I documented the progress of the trip through the carriages windows as the Friesian cows and horses on the country farms disappeared to be replaced with the slums and factories.
Do you still have these descriptions anywhere, from so long ago? Or do you recall the lines you wrote? Who first told you you were good enough to write? Did you have a favourite teacher?
My mother still has the essay boxed away someplace. Reading the recent novel by Paula Hawkins, The Girl on the Train, helped me replay the scenario. Codsall was a sleepy little burg, all green fields, cows and arable crops and Wolverhampton, eight miles away was decidedly urban. While I can’t recall the exact journey I can feel the changes that I saw. Riding the Greyhound bus from Las Vegas to Atlanta, 52 hours, also helped bring make strong memories as the outside pictures changed as we sped by. I describe it during Blood on His Handsin some detail.
Mrs. Heap was my favorite grade-school teacher. I don’t recall her being specifically optimistic about my writing but generally encouraging. More so than any other teachers; they all seemed to be more concerned with my inability to do maths. My mother was a pre-school teacher and I was able to read before I turned four. By the time I wrote this particular essay at ten years old I was able to recognize my own ability. By that time I was already reading the likes of Siegfried Sassoon, Nevil Shute, Robert Graves, Jules Verne, Kenneth Grahame, H G Wells, H Rider Haggard, John Buchan, William Golding and George Orwell, so I had a good insight on what writing could be.
You have a background in journalism, is that correct? How does this help in fiction-writing?
I attended Ambassador College in Big Sandy, Texas with the intent on pursuing a degree in Journalism and also minored in Broadcast Journalism. I fancied myself as a roving free-lancer, I guess. None of that happened as life got in the way. I never lost my enthusiasm for reading and the arts. I performed in local theatre, had a gig as a stand-up comedian (very briefly). Writing three minutes’ worth of material was taking me thirty days! Keeping relevant and current was hard. I did write an editorial column in OKC Sports Fan Forum and became an occasional contributor and a book reviewer for Suspense Magazine. I would say that the largest attribute the taste of journalism I has given me is the ability to research and edit my work. Not that I don’t use an editor or two but I think perhaps I have a bit of a head-start having learned the craft a little myself.