Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Meet Mark J. Engels in this Debut Author Spotlight

Debut Author Spotlight from @JLenniDorner on @OpAwesome6

Always Gray in Winter

1- What five words represent your most notable characteristic or values? #In5Words

Sojourner. Husband. Father. Railroader. Otaku.

2- Can you share a story from your life that shows who you are as a person and why you are a writer?

I live an obsessed life.

At an early age, trains became my focus to the exclusion of everything else. I wanted to know everything about them, be around them, planned to work with them when I grew up. In my teens I came to feel likewise about anime, manga and anthropomorphics. My fellow otaku and I played table-top roleplaying games throughout university where I studied computer technology and electronics. After earning my bachelor's, I got married, chose railroading as my career, started a family.

Decades later working night shift testing signal systems on a rail transit job site, my book's main character showed up, slashing away at my subconscious. I tossed and turned all day long at the hotel trying to ignore her. But Pawly makes a *very* convincing argument with fangs and claws, and she wanted out of my head. Weeks later, I caved and began writing.

A few years later now and my first book is published. My series outline, detailing travails of three generations of Pawly's family from the height of the Cold War to the present day, suggests I'll need two more books to tell their stories. Maybe three? The same obsession drives me--share Pawly's tale with the world. She deserves to have it told.

When I finish in the next couple of years, I'll gladly go on with life and obsess over something else. I'll have accomplished what I set out to do. And I'll encourage my son to do the same.

3- What ignited your passion for writing?

I wanted to tell stories about things I'm knowledgeable in or excited about. Something that works me so much that I can't help but share with others. That's why I wrote fan fiction for various anime, manga and anthropomorphic comics beginning in the late 90s. I came into the fandoms too late for the APAs, but oh, there was Usenet! With small, supportive communities of raving fans who dug the same things I did, wrote things I enjoyed reading, and enjoyed the things that I wrote too. Fun times. I did not write often, though, as I really had to feel the burn before I did. That the creators left money on the table, rolling the credits on the series finale before telling us the "whole story." Or not tilling what I thought fertile ground in "the space between", the months' or years' worth of time skips. Where I felt so moved and saw gaps I wanted to see filled, I set out to do just that.

The trend continued as I began writing articles for railroad and rail transit industry trade publications, focusing on my specialty--signal & communications systems design, construction, testing and maintenance. Having been a train buff since my boyhood and an electronics geek since my dad convinced my mom I could wield a soldering iron without burning the house down, I was once again writing about topics I knew about, enjoyed immensely, and wanted to share with others. The fiction bug struck again on a job site back in 2013 in the form of Pawly. And you know the rest already.

4- What's one fact about furries that people should know?

We're a large and diverse group. Including many intelligent, creative, enjoyable people.

5- Would you share a picture with us of your book with your dog?

Meet Mark J. Engels in this Debut Author Spotlight

6- What are some of your short and long term writing goals?

I'm writing the next book of my werecat family saga series now and should finish around New Year's. My series outline suggests I'll need at least three books to tell all the stories I wanted to about Pawly and her family, going back three generations to the height of the Cold War. Might go four if resolving all my plot threads bloats the third book's word count significantly above genre expectations. I plan a year or so to draft each book; I'll be switching back and forth between it and editing its predecessor. So all Pawly's stories should be out to market within the next three or four years.

What then? Who knows. To quote fellow author Hannah R. Miller's Twitter profile "I didn't write these stories to become an author. I became an author to tell these stories." (@HRuthMiller) After I "green off" all the lines in my series outline, assuring me I've told the whole story I set out to tell, I have no idea what I'll do next. Aside from enjoying a long rest, that is. Because I don't have the urge to write, per se. I *do* have the urge to tell the stories within my heart to tell. Will I hit upon another one I want to tell every bit as much as this? Will I venture forth into other storytelling mediums, such as webcomics or graphic novels? Hard to say. Guess we'll all have to wait and see.

7- Are you a Green Bay Packers fan?

Not particularly, no. I cite the fact that I'm a Sconnie transplant, born and raised in the Detroit area. I'm not all that interested in most professional sports, either. Football, baseball, basketball all earn a "meh" from me. Now ice hockey, though, well that's a whole 'nuther story. Two words--GO WINGS!

8- Who is currently your biggest fan? What does that person love most (or "ship") about your debut novel?

Oh, geez, answering that's like asking a parent with a house full of kids which one they love the most. Or someone with a lot of pets just which is their favorite. I'm fortunate to have a number of supporters and caregivers, including those who do me the honor of allowing me to support them in their creative endeavors--as they have mine. When I put this question to them, they credited me with having fully developed characters, gripping backstory, detailed and well-researched settings along with heart-stopping action sequences. About fell over when one woman shared she felt compelled to take her laptop along on a family Fourth of July fireworks outing, just so she could finish reading my story's climax.

One in particular I'd like to recognize is the fellow who did most of the substantive editing on my book for Thurston Howl Publications. He goes by Hypetaph on Twitter but is listed as "C. L. Methvin" in my novel's Acknowledgements page. Though THP's founder and editor-in-chief Jonathan Thurston told me he'd stayed up the whole night reading to the end of my book before sending his offer letter, he was quick to point out Hype has been my most avid supporter in-house. That came as no surprise, given how he frequently said how much he loved my book as we worked through the edits. Which was quite affirming indeed. In answer to your latter question, he writes:

"If I had to choose anything, it would be Pawly's conviction in what she does. While I won't spoil too much in my answer for a prospective reader, her decisions are tough to make, but she makes the hard choices at the benefit of others and sticks with them. She receives a lot of questions, confusion, and criticism for the decisions she makes, but that does not stop her from defending their intentions. She is a strong woman (both characteristically and physically because, duh, she's a werecat), and I'm always appreciative of a powerful female protagonist."

And my other supporters agree, complimenting me on depicting Pawly's clarity. She navigates through doubts and despair with a kind of realism I'm told makes the rest of the worldbuilding feel so much more legitimate.

9- Your Twitter feed has several tweets about the importance of book reviews.
#LeadByExample About how often do you leave a review for the books you've read?

The landslide majority of books I've read recently have been from self-pubbers or small presses. I've made it a point to review every one of those on Amazon and tweet about them afterward. Soon I'll go back and do likewise on Goodreads, because I hadn't set up an account until my own book was released. Plan to do likewise for the forseeable future. Aside from buying the book, leaving reviews in public forums is the single best way I know to help an author and their publisher (especially if it's themselves.)

I do, however, reserve the right *not* to review a book if it has hundreds of reviews already. Because what affirmation or criticism might I share that hasn't been a dozen or more times? Since I too read reviews before I buy, I find seeing so many off-putting for my buying the book in the first place. Though I suppose for books and their publishers, it might be something of a good problem to have...
#quote  Aside from buying the book, leaving reviews in public forums is the single best way I know to help an author -Mark J. Engels

10- What emotions do you hope your book will evoke for the reader, and is there a particular scene you hope will resonate with readers?

Empathy, mainly. Empathy for flawed people who make rash decisions without a firm grasp on the facts. Who make judgements about reality and their place in it based upon their own biases, their own myopic points-of-view. Just like I'm wont to do, in fact.

I still cry at the end of Dory's visit to Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, DC. And if my readers do likewise? Well, sorry/not sorry.

11- What most helped you to improve your writing craft?

Two things tied for first, to my mind. First is being a member of a real-life writer's group (Allied Authors of Wisconsin). I'm grateful for my critique partners but they come from a somewhat niche group of speculative fiction writers and fans. Members of my real-life writer's group come from a wide variety of backgrounds spanning the writing spectrum: non-fiction, memoir, journalism in addition to genre fiction. They give me a well-rounded perspective that I wouldn't have been able to avail myself to otherwise.

The second I picked up as a recommendation from the Awesome Indies web site. While I debated whether to self-pub or seek out an agent/publisher, I reviewed their site to find a recommendation in their submission guidelines authors edit their work using the principles outlined in Browne & King's "Self Editing for Fiction Writers." I bought the book, read it, swore at it, swore at my manuscript, swore at myself. Then I sat down to fix All The Things. I'm confident my book improved immensely as a result. Or, at least, that's the delusion I labor under given how stinkin' LONG it took me to do so.

12- What is the most memorable trait or visual oddity of one of your characters?

I can't say what will stick out in my readers's minds, but to me it was Hana's hair chewing. In both her human and tigrine forms.

13- #DiversityBingo2017 What's your favorite book that covers a square on the card?

ILAVANI, the first of Kaelan Rhywiol's "Ilavanian Dreams" series.

Though I'm excited too for my TBR list's latest addition: THE OTHER PLACE by Elizabeth Roderick.

14- Which character has your favorite Personality Contradiction?

Hana, a weretigress and one of the main antagonists. She's waifish yet lethal.

15- Can you think of any small change in the world you could make to potentially benefit hundreds of other authors or readers?

Believe in someone. Give them reason to believe in themselves. Reason to believe in their words. Offer a hand up and a shoulder to cry on to my fellow writers, regardless of where they are along their creative paths. Show my belief in tangible ways. Buy their books. Review their books. Plug their books. Demonstrate that yes, I have confidence in them. Show them they're worth my investment of time and money and energy and effort.

And then, maybe, they'll go forth and do the very same for others. Hundreds of others. Just like so many have already for me. (To all of you, "thank you.")

16- As a reader, what most motivates you to buy a new book to read?

Is the book something like another book I'd read and enjoyed? Or is the book about something I want to learn more about? More and more, though, I buy a new book because I've met the author through social media or at a con. Or perhaps they're a friend of someone I have. After meeting them and becoming invested in them, I invest in their book. And get a great read out of the deal. What's not to like?

17- How will you measure your publishing performance?

I'd be lying if I didn't admit to stalking Sales Rank Express. That old line from "It's a Wonderful Life" about an angel getting its wings comes to mind every time I see a spike on the chart. A book's been sold! Someone else has placed their trust in me to tell a good story! Reviews are a measure how well I did just that, so both are important. And I'm glad for them all.

But the real success comes when I start getting emails and mentions from people I don't know telling me how the book impacted them. What impressions it left. Asking after the next one. Or strangers start showing up at my genre convention panel discussions and book signings to tell me themselves in person. I would have written the next books in my werecat family saga series anyway, if only to tell the story to myself. But if I finish this journey with a group of friends and fans bigger than when I began, I'll know my endeavors have been eminently worthwhile.

18- What was the deciding factor in your publication route with Thurston Howl Pub?

That THP serviced one of the primary market segments from which I intended to seek out my book's audience. They had also been around a couple of years by the time they offered too, suggesting they had staying power. They had published other shifter and furry books as well. I concluded my book fit well within their existing catalog. At the time they were soliciting submissions similar to my book, leading me to believe they planned to grow that part of their catalog too. And they have! Have made some great new friends from amongst my THP stablemates.

19- What is one question or discussion topic which you would like the readers of this interview to answer or remark on in the comments?

How can each us, as readers AND writers, help one another indentify and engage our books' respective audiences? Even if an author's book may not suit our particular individual interests or tastes, how can we get their book in front of the people we know who would LOVE it?

20- Anything else you would care to share about your book and yourself?

A distant daughter. A peculiar device. A family lineage full of secrets. When were-lynx protagonist Pawlina Katczynski resurfaces, location previously unknown to those closest to her, her welcome is as frosty as a midwinter’s night. Follow Pawly though dark ops and ancient inter-clan feuds across three continents, trailing a secret device that could save her people from their lethal bloodlust—or doom them all. “Always Gray in Winter” is 180 pages of non-stop action and intrigue, perfect for anyone seeking a fast-paced read through a shadow society dwelling just beneath the surface of our own.


Boyhood interests in trains and electronics fostered Mark's career as an electrical engineer, designing and commissioning signal and communications systems for railroads and rail transit agencies across the United States. Along the way Mark indulged his writing desire by authoring articles for rail and transit industry trade magazines. Coupled with Mark's long-time membership in anime, manga and anthropomorphic fandoms, he took up writing genre fiction. Growing up in Michigan, never far from his beloved Great Lakes, Mark and his wife today make their home in Wisconsin with their son and a dog who naps beside him as he writes.

Mark is a member of Allied Authors of Wisconsin, one of the state's oldest writing collectives. He also belongs to the Furry Writer’s Guild, dedicated to supporting, informing, elevating, and promoting quality anthropomorphic fiction and its creators.

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Always Gray in Winter

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