Author Talks about Writing and ‘Spies of Revolutionary Connecticut’

By Jason Harris

 

Author Mark Allen Baker talks about his book during his visit to the Colchester bookstore, Books & Boos.

Author Mark Allen Baker talks about his book during his visit to the Colchester bookstore, Books & Boos. Photo courtesy of Books & Boos.

Author Mark Allen Baker, who lives in Connecticut and has written 17 books, spoke to Jason Harris Promotions about a number of topics including writing and his current book, Spies of Revolutionary Connecticut: From Benedict Arnold to Nathan Hale.

JH: Mark you have written 17 books, when did you start writing and when was your first book published?

MAB: As a corporate executive for the General Electric Company, I began writing articles on graphics software and hardware; our division was involved with numerous early developments in graphics, most of which people are familiar with today as Microsoft PowerPoint. As an avocation, I have always been interested in baseball. After writing and publishing a number of articles on the 1980s boom in baseball collectibles, I was approached by a publisher to write a book. I accepted and wrote the Baseball Autograph Handbook for Krause Publications in 1990. While the word autograph is in the title, much of the information was historical.

JH: What was the impetus behind your latest book, Spies of Revolutionary Connecticut: From Benedict Arnold to Nathan Hale?

MAB: Having visited numerous historical sites here in Connecticut, such as the Nathan Hale Homestead (Coventry, CT) and the Webb-Deane-Stevens Museum (Wethersfield, CT), the word spy kept creeping into my conversations with historians and volunteers. It intrigued me so much, that I instigated a bit of my own primary research and found that there was much more to many of the stories. Like my previous work for The History Press, the material filled a genuine need: a single resource that would answer a majority of questions any concerned individual might have. In this case, it was visitors to a historical site.

JH: When you were at Books & Boos in March, you mentioned that some of the spies you have written about are in the video game Assassins Creed. Can you elaborate more on this?

MAB: As most know, Assassin’s Creed III is a 2012 video game developed by Ubisoft Montreal for a variety of systems. The fictional plot is set in the 18th century, before, during and after the American Revolution. Benedict Arnold, who is featured in Spies of Revolutionary Connecticutis also included as part of the exclusive missions, available on PlayStation 3. Other individuals included: George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Sam Adams, General Israel Putnam and Benjamin Church.

JH: How long did it take you to write Spies of Revolutionary Connecticut?

MAB: This work took me about nine months.

JH: How much research did you do for the book?

MAB: Since my interest in the topic goes well beyond the scope of the book, I conducted more primary research than usual; I easily could have written a dozen volumes on the topic. As far as locations, I visited numerous libraries, historical societies and landmarks. I was even in the attic at the Nathan Hale Homestead and inside the War Room at Versailles, France. Always believing that a writer must get as close to the subject as possible, I tried to visit where my subjects worked and lived, and even where they were buried.

JH: What draws you to writing about history?

MAB: The people are what draws me to history. They are more than two dates on a tombstone, far more. It’s my job, or so I believe, to bring them back to life and acknowledge, at least in most cases, their achievements. While most know the names of Ethan Allen or Nathan Hale, few are unaware of heroes like Daniel Bissell and Noah Phelps.

JH: What does your writing process look like?

MAB: The process depends upon the work. For Spies of Revolutionary Connecticut: From Benedict Arnold to Nathan Hale, I began with a full investigation of the topic. This ranges from books and manuscripts, to scarce articles and even pension testimony.  Since I stay in the period that I am writing about, my ‘downtime’ includes only related items, period books, videotapes on the subject, university lectures and even music. Only when I feel I am ready, often months into the contracting, do I finally draft, revise and edit.

JH: What is your least favorite part of the publishing/ writing process?

MAB: Editing. Having to extract so many individuals from this work-Spies of Revolutionary Connecticut: From Benedict Arnold to Nathan Hale-was difficult. For example, I had no other choice but to edit out some (minor characters) individuals from the chapter on The Culper Ring. Choosing 35,000 words to express any topic is a challenge.

JH: You started a sport’s bar. Where was this, how did it come about, is it still there and what was the name of it?

MAB: Upstate New York, Liverpool, to be exact. It was called “Bleachers.” It came through my participation in another business. We, the four of us, believed the timing was proper to undertake an investigation or market analysis. As a former Market Research guru for a Fortune 500 company that became my task. It took me about six months to complete my research. It confirmed our feelings, guided us to a site and composed our business. I sold my shares three years into the business. I believe it lasted about four years longer before shutting its doors.

JH: Have you been involved in any other businesses?

MAB: Having worked for a large corporation for the bulk of my professional life, I began exploring other options when I was still in my thirties. A mail-order business, along with a sporting goods store, prepared me for the sports bar. That being said, having had managed three fast-food restaurants, before I started my own, certainly helped.

JH: How did your involvement come about in the New York music scene? Can you describe some of your experiences?

MAB: From 1975 until 1979, I supervised the shows at the university I was attending. During that period I promoted, or assisted, over fifty regional shows including: Aerosmith, Boston, Peter Gabriel, Genesis, Billy Joel, KISS, John Mayall, Queen, Bob Seger and Bruce Springsteen. My experiences could fill a book, and eventually will.

JH: Besides writing, history, and music, do you have any other interests?

MAB: Gardening. Organic fruits and vegetables are a favorite of mine.

JH: Are you working on any current projects?

MAB: Yes, I am currently working on a follow-up to Spies of Revolutionary Connecticut: From Benedict Arnold to Nathan Hale, that will be available in the fall of 2014.

JH: Just as your books inspire authors, what authors have inspired you to write?

MAB: Ernest Hemingway, David Halberstam, David McCullough, John Updike, Joseph J. Ellis, Ron Chernow … there are so many.

JH: What book do you wish you could have written? And why?

MAB: The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway. Because it’s perfect.

JH: Are you there any upcoming promotional events you are doing for your current book?

MAB: Yes, I will be at Nathan Hale’s New London Schoolhouse on Saturday, August 16.

The ‘King’ of Tsongas Arena

A Conversation with Stephen King

By Timothy P. Flynn

On Friday, Dec. 7th, the streets of Lowell were packed with traffic all heading to a very special event at Tsongas Arena: A Conversation with Stephen King. The event was to mark the first for the Chancellor’s Speaker Series for the English Department at UMass Lowell. One of the esteemed faculty members, Andre Dubas III, acted as host/interviewer for the talk.

“It’s scary as shit in here!” was King’s first words to the audience resulting in an uproar of laughter. This was King’s first ever arena event, he stated, and the feel for the evening was established:  this was going to be a night to remember.  Dubas gave a rather lengthy introduction to the merits of King’s work and movie adaptations to which King cut him off saying, “You make it sound like I died!” When Dubas gave King the compliment of having doubled Charles Dickens in book sales, again King states, “They didn’t have e-books back then.”

The topics talked about included story ideas, aspects of the writing craft, and King’s rise to success. If you read any of the many King biographies out there, some of the more famous stories and anecdotes were brought up such as the origins of Cujo and how King states he never needed a psychiatrist because with all the crazy shit he makes up, people pay him. The funniest story was when King finally had a dinner with Bruce Springsteen at a restaurant in Pennslyvania, and a beautiful 16-year-old girl floated over to the table for an autograph with such excitement. “She didn’t even fucking look at Springsteen!”

Dubas read an extract from On Writing which was very moving having to do with the writing process and the will to continue writing. After Dubas’ reading, King read a brand new story, Afterlife, which was a story of a man who died from colon cancer and the events thereafter. The essence of the story was man’s fear of death, and if given a choice to start over again exactly the same versus blow out like a candle in the wind; most make the wrong choice.

The end of the night consisted of a Q and A session with about 10-15 questions asked. King added his usual wit and humor to his answers along with advice everyone in the room was listening to. A woman in the crowd brought a poster board picture of King at Fenway reading a book and her question was if King knew what book it was. Well, this slick creative woman got her poster board brought up to the stage for King to look at only to find a large sign in the back of it stating, “Sign Me!”- With roars from the crowd, King signed it.

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A group of Stephen King fans.

After the event was over, a bunch of us NEHW members met up at front to recall the night. We all went down the street to Lowell Beer Works for awhile to end the night. You can use your imagination on how the conversation went and topics discussed.

The event was a surreal, fantastic memory that I will forever cherish. I read King’s books, I created a challenge to myself via his On Writing memoir, I proposed to Barbara in front of his house in Bangor, Maine and now I was able to hear his talk and joke in the same room( very far away though). I am getting closer, maybe one day I can get that signature and that picture.

A Conversation with Author Jan Kozlowski

This entry appeared on author and NEHW member Kate Laity’s website.

Writer Wednesday: Jan Kozlowski

by Kate Laity

My pal and fellow Horror in Film and Literature lister, Jan Kozlowski, first fell in love with the horror genre in 1975 when the single drop of ruby blood on the engraved black cover of Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot hypnotized her into buying it. She sold her first story, Psychological Bacchanal to the EWG E-zine in 1997. Her short story, Parts is Parts, won awards in both the International Writing Competition sponsored by DarkEcho’s E-zine and Quoth the Raven’s Bad Stephen King contest. Another short story, Stuff It, was sold to an independent film producer and went into production as a movie short called Sweet Goodbyes. Her short stories have appeared in: Remittance Girl’s A Slip of the Lip anthology, Lori Perkins’ Hungry for Your Love: An Anthology of Zombie Romance and Fangbangers: An Erotic Anthology of Fangs, Claws, Sex and Love.

She is extremely proud and excited to announce that her first novel, Die, You Bastard! Die! debuted February 7, as part of Lori Perkins’ new horror line, Ravenous Shadows, edited by the legendary John Skipp.

Q: What do you write on? Computer, pad o’ paper, battered Underwood? Give us a vivid picture.

I do the majority of my writing on my cherished MacBook Pro laptop. I tend to turn my MacBook on at 6:30 a.m. and don’t shut down until 9 p.m. or later most days [Ed: Hmmm, you can shut them down?]. If I either get stuck or get a jones to feel pen against paper, I’ll pull out my old white L&M Ambulance Company clipboard loaded with scrap paper and start scribbling. The board is a souvenir of my days as an urban EMT in Hartford, CT and I keep it around as a reminder of what I COULD be doing for a living.

Q: Do you listen to music while you write? Does it influence what you write?

I almost always listen to my local Dinosaur (Classic) Rock radio station when I’m working. Since Die, You Bastard! Die! is such an ultra violent story, I tried putting together a play list of heavier metal like Avenged Sevenfold (my granddaughter’s favorite band), Testament, Broken Hope, Disturbed, but I ended up distracted by the unfamiliar songs. Listening to the rock I grew up with in the 70’s like Bob Seger, The Eagles, Bruce Springsteen and Aerosmith, with a little Tom Waits, Frank Zappa, Nathan & the Zydeco Cha-Chas, Bon Jovi and Bacon Brothers thrown in via iTunes works best for me.

Q: Do you write in short bursts or carve out long periods of time to work? Is it a habit or a vice?

For me, writing is a business. I’ve been freelancing since I was about 12 and sold articles about raising tropical fish to my hometown newspaper. For the past 15 years or so I’ve run my own freelance writing shop doing all sorts of business and web related writing, editing and research work. Over the past two years, I’ve slowly been moving away from the business projects in order to focus on my horror fiction, but whether I’m writing fiction or non-fiction my work style is the same….commit to the project and write until the client, the editor or I’m happy with the finished product.

Q: What writer would you most want to read your work? What would you want to hear them say?

That’s already happened…on one of the drafts of Die, You Bastard! Die! I think I managed to gross out my editor, legendary Splatterpunk King, John Skipp! Now if I can, one day, pay Dean Koontz back for the creeps he gave me with his novel Whispers, I’ll die a happy writer.

Q: On the days where the writing doesn’t go so well, what other art or career do you fantasize about pursuing instead?

When I was a little girl my grandfather used to tell me stories about his adventures working for a funeral home during the pre-embalming fluid days. I always thought I would have loved working in mortuary sciences, but when I was going to school women weren’t exactly welcomed into the funeral services industry. Now that times have changed and we have a first class Mortuary Sciences degree program at our local college, I’ve always thought that would make a fabulous Plan B, even now at age 50+.

Q: What do you read? What do you re-read?

I try to read a little bit of everything. I get some great ideas from newspapers and magazines. I just discovered and am now devouring Mad Money Wall Street guru, Jim Cramer’s books. I try and read as much classic horror like Robert Bloch, M.R. James, Fritz Leiber, H.P. Lovecraft, Richard Matheson, Edgar Allan Poe and J.N. Williamson as possible. I also try to keep up with who’s publishing today beyond Bestsellersaurus Rexes Stephen King and Dean Koontz. I’m a huge fan of Edward Lee, Neil Gaiman, Joe Hill, Joe R. Landsdale, Jonathan Maberry, Elizabeth Massie, Yvonne Navarro, Weston Ochse, Monica O’Rourke, John Skipp and Andrew Vachss.

I rarely find time to re-read anything unless I’m researching a specific writing technique, like how Jonathan Maberry handled the fight scenes in his Pine Deep trilogy or how Dean Koontz ramped up to the reveal of the cockroaches in Whispers.

Q: Where did the idea for Die,You Bastard! Die! come from? Do you have a surefire way of sparking inspiration? And is that an awesome title or what?!

The idea for Die, You Bastard! Die! came out of a lovely dinner Ravenous Shadows publisher Lori Perkins and I had during the 2011 Northeast Writer’s Conference, known as NECON. Lori mentioned she was looking for a story about an adult child coming home to take care of her abusive parent and it matched up with a story I had been kicking around for years about a survivor of childhood sexual abuse coming home to deal with her past. After the conference I got home, wrote up the proposal, Skipp green-lighted it and we took off from there. I realize that’s not the way most writers get a book deal but it goes to prove that if you consistently put the hard work in, you WILL find yourself at the right place, at the right time with the right story.

Writing inspiration and story/character/plot ideas are everywhere if you’re open to them…and my motivation for being open to them usually is based on my memories of being paid $5 an hour to be projectile vomited on as an EMT or waitressing at Friendly’s for .60 below minimum wage.

John Skipp raves about this book:

Die, You Bastard! Die! is one hard-as-nails crime story indeed, with a crime at its core so heinous it boggles both mind and soul. That said, it is also a horror story, a mystery, and an insanely taut suspense thriller. Categories are funny like that.

But human monsters don’t get more humanly monstrous than Big Daddy. And it don’t get much rougher and tougher than Jan Kozlowski’s violently matter-of-fact, emotionally ass-kicking, downright incendiary son of a bitch.
I love this book, and stand behind it 100%. Hope it blows you away, as it did me. And has you coming back for more.

Drop by Jan’s blog or website and follow her on Twitter. Find her on Facebook and check out her Amazon author page. Thanks, Jan!