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Tuesday, 25 September 2018

Interview: Mark Zaslove

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Mark Zaslove, author of fast-paced thriller novel Death and Taxes, is here on The Writing Greyhound for a quick chat about the book, his writing and where he gets his inspiration...or doesn't!

With so much to talk about, what are you waiting for? Keep on reading to learn more...

Firstly, please could you introduce yourself? 
I’m a long-standing writer/director/producer in live-action and animation, scripting for both movies and television. I’ve worked for all the major studios, including Disney, Universal, Paramount and Warner Brothers, and am a two-time Emmy Award winner, too, among other awards (some of which even pay prize money!). Aside from that, I write short fiction and right after college (where I studied astrophysics), I served as senior editor for various magazines. I like to do astrophotography up in the mountains, I’m a single parent for my kid, and there’s a hostile bunny that we have that often threatens my life.
How did you first become interested in writing? 
My dad was a fine artist (head of drawing at Otis Art Institute)/animator, my mom was a therapist who used to teach piano, one of my sisters is a classical/opera singer, and the other sister is a photographer. So, I couldn’t be any of those things. For whatever reason, I sorta played around with writing in 9th grade, then in 10th grade, I had a wonderful English teacher who thought I could write. I, of course, didn’t believe her (I mean, I knew I could write, but I didn’t believe her); so, instead, I went to U. C. Berkley to study astrophysics…and become a poet and novelist in my spare time. Oh, and a buddy and I wrote movie scripts over the summers. And, well, I quit the science part and kept the writing part, and here I am.
Tell me about Death and Taxes. 
It’s a fast-paced thriller with laughs. Hopefully lots of laughs. It follows IRS agent Mark Douglas and his IRS buddies as they take on the Mongolian mob, a eunuch hitman named Juju Klondike, some plastic-surgery enhanced terrorists, and a partridge in a pear tree in an attempt to find justice for his murdered friend and boss Lila. Oh, and there’s a conman magician, a romantic magician’s assistant, a strange BBQ-lovin’ billionaire, and a deranged and dilapidated ex-Mexican police force drug-sniffing dog, too. So, you know, the usual.
Why did you decide to write in the thriller genre? 
I was supposed to write a serious novel earlier in my life but got side-tracked with movies and TV and Ferraris and single malt scotch, and was getting frustrated with the script form, but didn’t have a serious novel idea at the time. I was reading Robert Crais and Janet Evanovich and Carl Hiaasen and thought: “Wait, I like this stuff a lot, it’s fun and breezy, why should I kill myself trying to do something serious? Why don’t I just do something fun?” So, I did. Of course, I now have a great serious novel idea that I’m in the middle of. Ain’t that the way it always works?
Did you have to do any research for the book? 
I always do TONS of research for everything, but since I didn’t bother to outline this book (I mean, I’m the king of structure in scripts, so I’ve done too much structuring in my life already), I did semi-real-time research. As I went along, I’d figure stuff out and look stuff up and that sort of thing. I’m always curious, so research is just something I call my curiosity when I’m working.
Your background is in visual media – how did you make the transition into writing fiction? 
Writing is writing. It’s ALL the same. The medium and media contextualize different structures in certain ways that you must be aware of and make use of, but a good story is a good story. Good dialogue is good dialogue. 90% of everything is the same.
How did you get inspiration? 
No such thing. My Dad always said that if you’re a professional creative person you must be able, day in and day out, to hit a certain bar/level of suitable output no matter what. There are no muses, no inspiration. At least, not for a professional. I totally believe and work that way.
mark-zaslove, author

What happens on a typical day in your life? 
Roll out of bed, do my 45 minutes of PT for core and back, take a shower, grab some tea or coffee and by 6:30 am I’m working. Shop for groceries at 10am, generally have my writing stuff done by noon. Take meetings all during that, edit other people’s outlines and scripts, and in the afternoon, I deal with studio execs and producers.
What do you love most about writing? 
The world I’m stalking is alive while I’m writing it. Other writers seem to live in their finished works, but the worlds I write are only really alive to me while I’m writing them and the unexpected rears its head. After I’m done, it’s onto the next thing, unless I reread my old stuff again. So, the process is the best part.
Which authors inspire you? 
I read EVERYONE when I was young. Salinger and Fitzgerald inspired me the most while starting out (not Catcher though), Joyce and Faulker for style, Proust almost ruined my writing rhythm, Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude was a masterpiece (if his only thing at that level), Borges, a TON of writers south of the border all the way down to South America, Samuel R. Delany’s Dahlgren (in both a good and bad way), the list goes on and on and on. The only writers I measure myself against, though, are all dead.
Do you have any tips for aspiring writers? 
Never ever force a character to act in a manner they’re not capable of. If you want a character to do something (like save the day by out-gunning some overly-armed rogue paramilitary types or be completely irresistible to the opposite sex and seduce a certain someone) design the character to have the attributes necessary to accomplish those goals (sniper background, say, or perfect cheekbones and a vivacious air), wind them up, and then watch them accomplish it truthfully. And if they don’t/can’t, then you have the wrong character (or a different plot than you were angling for).  
Nothing is worse than a writer designing a weakling character with no athletic abilities and a coward to boot and then in the next chapter they’re suddenly – and artificially – a hard-punching, gun-toting action hero or bending over backwards in an attempt to make a really repulsive character attractive. Sorry, life and good literature don’t work that way. It’s so false, and it makes for awful untruthful writing. Design the character, let them loose and then see what they do in a real manner. Everything else is a crutch. There’s a reason Lord Jim is a great book, ya know.
What are you currently working on? 
A serious novel (it’s going to be a very controversial highfalutin book) and the sequel to Death & Taxes, oh, and story editing a TV series and writing for two others.
What are you reading at the moment? 
The Thief Who Wasn’t There by Michael McClung with Mornings on Horseback by David McCullough in the wings. I seem to be working through the “McC’s” at the moment. But I go through books like peanuts, so by the time you read this, I’ll have finished a baker’s dozen or more.
Death and Taxes is available to buy now.

Will you be reading the book? Let me know in the comments below!

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