Raven House Interview: Mark Morris

Mark Morris is a man for all seasons. A gifted writer with a number of best-of-genre novels to his credit, he publishes the wittiest blogs on Facebook. In addition to writing, Mark founded Mark Morris Editorial Service, offering full service help on manuscript preparation. HWAColorado is fortunate to have Mr. Morris on its pages as an approved resource.



How did you come to write The Wolves Of London, Obsidian Heart?

As with all my novels, it was a long, organic process. Whenever I’m writing a book, I tend to be already looking ahead, mulling over what I want to write next. I start off by thinking about things like setting and mood, characters, situations, the approach I’m going to take. With the Obsidian Heart trilogy, I knew I wanted to tell a big, sprawling, complex story in three distinct parts. I knew I wanted not only to use time travel as a central theme, but to push it to its limits – to create paradoxes, convolutions, to really think about what it would mean to how you would not only view past and future events if you were truly able to travel in time, but also how you would manipulate them.

Additionally, I knew I wanted to mix genres – to include elements of horror, science fiction, fantasy, mystery, war and historical in what would hopefully be a rich and diverse stew.

And finally, I knew I wanted to create not only a strong central character, but a damaged central character – one who’d been battered by life, and left a bit of a mess behind him, but who was gallantly muddling through as best he could. I wanted this guy to be tough and resilient, a survivor, someone who would be forced to undertake a high-stakes mission, and who would be swept along by events for a while, before eventually getting to grips as best he could with what was happening to him.

I had all this in mind before I put pen to paper, and at times writing the book was like trying to untie a massive knotted ball of wool, whilst at the same time desperately hoping that my efforts wouldn’t ultimately just lead to me tying the knots so tight that I wouldn’t be able to unpick them.

With each book in the trilogy I deliberately set myself puzzles to solve and mysteries to unravel.

But what can I say? I love a challenge.

In your own writing, how many drafts do you write to reach a finished manuscript?

It varies. I tend to work slowly and painstakingly. I’ll write a sentence, look at it for a while, jiggle it around a bit, and then, when I’m satisfied, move on to the next sentence. By the end of a working day I’ll generally have somewhere between 1000-2000 words I’m reasonably happy with, and then I’ll invariably spend the first couple of hours of the next working day re-editing what I wrote the previous day before forging ahead with another 1000-2000 new words.

I’m not the sort of writer who splurges everything out on to the page in a messy, stream-of-consciousness type way, and then goes back and ruthlessly edits it afterwards. I tend to edit as I go, and so generally hope to have a piece of work that is something like 80% there after finishing the first draft. Having said that, I often return to the work with fresh eyes some weeks later (more often than not armed with a sheaf of editor’s notes) and find that certain sections need completely re-writing, whereas others only need a few light tweaks here and there.   

At what point is an editor most helpful?

Whether you’re a much-published author with years of experience or a complete novice, a good editor is invaluable. It’s easy as a writer to become too close to your own work, sometimes to the extent that you can’t see the wood for the trees, and what an astute editor will do is both provide a fresh pair of eyes, and look at the work from a reader’s perspective. He or she will ask questions, point out flaws, and suggest ways that the work can be improved – whether that be simply through editing, or by changing certain aspects of the story or the characters. For a writer this often feels like an outsider is prodding at sensitive wounds, but it’s important to listen to what an editor says. Admittedly I haven’t always agreed with my editor’s opinion, and sometimes I haven’t acted on his or her advice, but it’s nevertheless important to establish a dialogue, a discussion, or at least a situation whereby you as the writer can re-consider the work in light of an editor’s viewpoint. 

As for when an editor is most helpful, I’d say in the early stages of a new project, and at the end of it. A writer will often instinctively feel precious and protective of a new project during its initial gestation, but it’s important, I find, to discuss with your editor where you intend to go with your ideas before embarking on your journey. At best, a good editor will give you reassurance that your instincts are good and your ideas solid, and at worst he or she will make suggestions to prevent potential pitfalls along the way, or even, on rare occasions, warn you that your mission is doomed from the outset. What I tend to do is talk to my editor when my new project is still at the ‘idea’ stage, then talk to them again after they’ve read the first 50 pages or so, and maybe a rough synopsis of the rest of the book, and then again, of course, at the end, once the book is complete.

Best advice on how to work with an editor?

Treat an editor as a friend, as a sounding board, as an outlet for advice and ideas, and – perhaps most importantly – as your potential target audience. Any writer’s ultimate aim is to communicate with their readers, and your agent and your editor are invariably not only your first readers, but also the ones best placed, due to their experience and judgement, to give you an honest assessment of your work. Unlike a spouse or a friend, a good editor won’t soft-soap you; they’ll tell you bluntly if your book isn’t working, and additionally they’ll tell you why it isn’t working, and what they think you have to do to put it right. Though as a writer you might not welcome such an opinion, though you might sometimes find it painful, even demoralising, the hard truth is that you need that honesty and that bluntness if you’re going to get anywhere. Ultimately, remember that no editor worth his or her salt gives you critical feedback simply to put you down. They do it because they want your work to be as good as it possibly can be.

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