By Jason Harris
Author Mark Allen Baker talks about his book during his visit to the Colchester bookstore, Books & Boos. Photo courtesy of Books & Boos.
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.
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 Connecticut, is 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?