Mark Bousquet lives in Winchendon, Massachusetts with his coonhound/harrier pup, Darwin. Born and raised in Winchendon, Massachusetts, he earned two Bachelor’s degrees at Syracuse University, a Masters at the University of New Hampshire, and a Ph.D. from Purdue University. He is the author of multiple novels and short story collections, including Gunfighter Gothic (Volumes 1-3), The Haunting of Kraken Moor, Adventures of the Five (Volumes 1-2), Stuffed Animals for Hire (Volumes 1-2), and Dreamer’s Syndrome.
Interview with Mark Bousquet author of Used To Be: The Kid Rapscallion. 6/18/2015
What is your current release and (without spoilers) tell us about the new book or series.
My current release is entitled USED TO BE: THE KID RAPSCALLION story and it’s a stand-alone superhero novel. Most of my writing takes place in the Gunfighter Gothic universe or with my kids’ books and I wanted to do something that was a little more ambitious and experimental than a weird western or adventure novel. I’m a bourbon drinker, but every so often I like to indulge in a Scotch or brandy, and that’s what this novel is – a little something different. USED TO BE tells the story of Jason Kitmore, the titular Kid Rapscallion, who was adopted by a rich billionaire superhero and brought into the superhero life as a sidekick before breaking out on his own.
The novel jumps up and down Jason’s timeline, so we get the story of what he’s doing today intercut with longer pieces of his history. Whether a given scene is set in 2015 or on 9/11, it’s written in the present tense, which is a style I like to attempt now and then. I like that New Pulp writers push the boundaries of social politics, but I wish more of them pushed the narrative boundaries, as well, and that’s what USED TO BE tries to do. If what you want as a reader out of your pulp is straight ahead, linear, action-packed narratives, there’s a hundred books a month being released that will fill that need. I love those books and I write those books, too, but USED TO BE zigs and zags from the standard path.
What I’m interested in here are the moments between the panels, so to speak. It’s more about the precursors and consequences of the action and not the action, itself. I don’t focus on Kid Rapscallion’s epic fight to save Los Angeles from Mr. Monster, but on what that victory does for him. I don’t focus on Rapscallion teaching him how to be a superhero but on what it’s like to be adopted into a big mansion where the dad is so busy “at work” that he has no time for this young kid who his wife adopted.
It’s also an adult-themed novel — there’s plenty of swearing and sex and drug use, but none of it is written from the position that this is cool. Jason thinks it’s cool when he’s 19 and suddenly on his own and hooking up with Usher’s background singer, but right from the first page where we meet him, he’s a grown man who realizes he’s screwed up a big portion of his life. There are consequences for his actions. There’s an attempt at redemption.
Typically, I’m a pantser on the first draft and a plotter on subsequent drafts. Once I get a story all figured out, I run the risk of getting bored with it, so I like to know my characters as well as possible, come up with a scenario to put them in, and then let things rip. It’s after that story is complete when I’ll go back and plot it out, making sure what I have makes narrative sense.
That’s not always possible, of course. In a story like USED TO BE, I had to do much more plotting ahead of time than normal because I’m jumping around to different parts of Jason’s life. Even then, it’s less about plotting all the details out ahead of time than it is pantsing through a section, and then writing that minutia down and making sure it all connects into a cohesive whole.
Once you have an idea that sparks your imagination do you research your idea or do any world-building exercises, or do you just begin to write and see where the Muse takes you?
Whenever I get an idea for a story that I think I might want to actually put to paper, I sit down and write until I hit the first wall. Usually, that’s a few thousand words. When I hit that wall I stop and take a look at what I’ve got and then decide if I want to go forward. Most of the time, I don’t, but it’s a great way to figure out which story to work on.
If I do want to go forward, that’s when the heavy research and world-building kicks in. USED TO BE is my first real superhero novel but I only did a small amount of world building. I let the story dictate the parts of the world that I built. For instance, the story determined I needed to know who the Avengers/JLA of this world was at some point, so I stopped writing to create them.
I read an article recently that said George Miller has fully realized backstories for every character in FURY ROAD. That ain’t me. I’ve got a villain name checked in USED TO BE called Murdermatologist, but it’s really just a name; the story needed a silly name for a villain because of what Jason was going through, so I sat in front of the computer for however many minutes it took for me to come up with something silly. I don’t have any real idea of who Murdermatologist. If I write another superhero story down the road, maybe Murdermatologist will get fleshed out. Maybe he won’t. Maybe he’s not even a he.
What I do want to figure out as early as possible though is who my main character is – what are his defining characteristics? What music does he like? What does he want out of a partner? Romance? Hot sex? Cover for his secret relationships? What’s it like being the teenage sidekick of a superhero? You know there are going to be rumors about grown men running around with a teenage boy, so what does that do to the boy? I think, for me, it’s about finding that core, defining characteristic about a character and for Jason, it was the answer to that last question.
Are you a full time writer? If so when did you make the decision and what factors led to the decision? If you are not a full time writer…Is your plan to one day being a full time writer?
I’m a full time writer by passion but not vocation. I’d love for this to be the way I pay the rent but I’m not anywhere near that level of income. That said, I write all the time, whenever I can.
What is your daily writing time like?
There’s no set schedule, but whenever I get the chance, I’m in front of the MacBook, putting words on the screen. I try to set a goal of 1,000 words a day and 10,000 words for the week and I can usually make that happen.
Can you tell us about your publishing experience? Are you Indie, Traditional, or do a bit of both?
I’ve been published by a couple of the New Pulp presses – White Rocket Books and Pro Se – but I prefer to self-publish as much as possible. It just comes down to being a control freak, I suppose. I’ve started a new publishing imprint called Space Buggy Press, and for the first time I’m really looking into publishing the work of other people, and not just my own work. Our first anthology, DREAMER’S SYNDROME: NEW WORLD NAVIGATION is out now and it has the first published stories from several authors. That feels good. I like being able to do for writers what Van Plexico at White Rocket did for me back in the day — take a story that exists as a computer file and put it on a shelf.
Everyone likes to know where an author gets their ideas from, but what I want to know is what is the strangest thing to inspire one of your stories?
THE HAUNTING OF KRAKEN MOOR was inspired by me being sick of hearing people say they wanted to write a novel but didn’t have the time, and being sick of the millions of internet articles that promise “20 steps to become a writer” or some nonsense. KRAKEN MOOR is a Victorian horror novel, written as entries in a journal by a young Southern belle now working as a maid in an English mansion. I wrote each day’s entry and published it to the web as soon as I finished. I wanted people to see the process, to see how sometimes a good day is writing 200 words and other days it’s writing 3,000, and maybe some days it’s acknowledging it’s zero words. I largely wrote it in “real time,” which is to say if I had time to write at 3 in the afternoon on January 7, 2013, then Beatrice had time to write at 3 in the afternoon on January 7, 1864. I wanted to show how it’s about moving forward, about making the time to write, and actually writing. I wanted to demonstrate that you can write a novel in two months just by being steady.
Can you tell us about some of your other writing (fiction or nonfiction) and any appearances or signings that you have planned?
I’ve got two main worlds I write in, one for grown-ups and one for kids. My Gunfighter Gothic stories are weird westerns for grown-ups. I say they’re weird westerns, but Hanna and Jill are currently traveling in Europe in the aftermath of the United States Civil War, taking on all manner of supernatural opponent. Jill is a merchant’s daughter and Hanna is her ex-servant, ex-lover and they’re figuring out what it means to be equal partners in solving supernatural mysteries. They’ve fought every kind of foe from Celtic Gods to alien robots to a sun-worshipping cult. The most recent release is the third volume, entitled BLACK CHRISTMAS and it’s one of my favorite kinds of novels: one that’s made up of short stories that you can enjoy on their own, but taken together tell a larger story of what happens to a person when a nut job at the end of time decides to play havoc with your timeline.
I have two kids series: ADVENTURES OF THE FIVE, about a group of furry animals who live in a meadow and go on fantastic adventures, and STUFFED ANIMALS FOR HIRE, which is essentially what I’d like to think we’d get if Jim Steranko was writing the A-Team for kids.
I’ve also published a book of movie reviews covering all the Marvel-related movies from the old 1940s Captain America serial through the first Avengers movie. It’s called ATOMIC REACTIONS: MARVEL COMICS ON FILM.
As an author what inspiration or advice would you give to a writer who is working to make the transition to Author?
Don’t overthink things. At the end of the day, you are either someone who writes or someone who doesn’t and the only one who can determine that is you.
If I want a good story, it’s Mark Twain. Whether he’s writing fiction or nonfiction, Twain is the best storyteller we’ve ever had and the most versatile. He can be a beautiful crank, a hopeful cynic, and a romantic malcontent. He’s as accessible a writer as we’ve ever had, and reigns as both our most important novelist, our best travel writer, and one of our most important social critics. I’d suggest starting with Roughing It, which details Twain’s travels in the American West.
If I just want to be awed and inspired by the art of writing, it’s William Faulkner. His writings can be hard to understand and exhausting to get through, but it’s always worth the effort. Start with Go Down, Moses, which is a collection of interrelated short stories.