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Monday, March 14, 2011

The Making of a Published Author – The Story of Mark Tierno

I have always been an avid reader of a variety of genre.  Science Fiction and Fantasy novels have always intrigued me.  I have often wondered about the authors who wrote these stories, and their impetus behind their work. Mark Tierno, a published science/fantasy fiction author has been gracious enough to share his personal journey to becoming a published author with us in this interview. Many people may think that authors are majors in English; however, Mark has a Bachelor and a Master of Science in Physics with Certificates in Laser Electro-optics, and Electronics.  One of his favorite philosophies is evident in a quote from him, “Wisdom lies in knowing what you are not, and confidence lies in knowing what you are.”

"Mark lives in his home town of Monrovia California, the recipient of a Masters in Physics and a second degree in Math.  A lifelong reader of fantasy and Science Fiction, he finally set his own imagination to paper with the help of his trusty old Amiga computer.  His most joyful hobby is writing books like this."

Tell us about the genre of your work

Maldene is epic fantasy.  Think Lord of the Rings, though it's also been compared to The Wheel of Time series (must read that some time).  To be fair, though, later books in the series start to blend in elements of Sci-fi as well, and rather artfully I'm told.  So, while Maldene starts off as pure fantasy, it really ends up as a mixed-genre, and that is what I like to write.  I'll leave the ordinary pure-genre stuff to everyone else.

While there is a lot of what might be termed "High Fantasy" it's also rather personal as well.  There is always a character around to discuss, or show what is going on instead of just some constant third-person narrative. And the fantasy here has absolutely nothing to do with Earth.  There is no one slipping through a dimensional doorway from Earth, no lost colony, just a completely alien planet named "Maldene".

What are some of your books, that have been published?

Maldene is currently published in two volumes. 
The ISBNs are... Maldene Volume One:  1-4241-6515-6,
Maldene Volume Two:  1-4241-9030-4. 
Maldene starts off looking like one of your groups of ardent adventurers hunting up treasure, only there are various ulterior motives, not the least of which has to do with what an old blind gold-skinned soothsayer foretold about them and their first trip out.  For you see, there is a destiny that Fate has planned for some of them, one that involves standing up against the most evil being ever known, an ancient wizard named Miro.  Older than what they know of as History, and feared by the gods themselves, Miro's motives are not that which anyone wants to see fulfilled.

Thus begins a story that starts with a dragon, takes them around the world and into another, across three continents, encountering a vast array of creatures, wizards, and people, and ends with them finding out that Miro may have planned for their involvement centuries before they were even born.  Volume 1 and 2 comprise the first novel, and yet at over 330,000 words it amounts to but the first chapter in my epic.

Would it scare anyone to know that Volume 1 and 2 are the first in a series of 13 books?  If you want to know more about All things Maldene, Mark’s website can be found at 
I have a series titled, Cyberdawn that is yet to be published.  It  takes place on Earth in an allegedly Utopian future that is perfect except for the supernatural creatures roaming the dark, the paranoid conspiracy warned of by a priest and his new translation of old Bible texts.  This series has only 5 books in it.  If you're a truly paranoid conspiracy nut, then you would just love this one.

Why did you choose this genre?

I grew up reading Fantasy, SF, mythology, adventure, and the like, so I guess Fantasy sort of chose me.  I love the fantastic, the otherworldly, and the unusual.  Magic, alien, worlds, infinite possibilities; it gives me the freedom to stretch my imagination as much as I can (which is quite a bit).  I should mention that I have another (as yet unpublished) series that is more SF-Gothic with heavy fantasy overtones, sort of the inverse of Maldene.  So, sooner or later I'll get around to all combinatorials of Fantasy and SF.

How do you come up with the names of places and characters in your books?

Pure imagination, sometimes inspired by the oddest of things I will see, or think.  The name for Miro (pronounced My-Ro) I created by tolling sounds around in my head until I came up with something that sounded evil enough.  On the world of Maldene, there is a place called The Sea of a Thousand Islands.   This name for this originated from my childhood.  As a child, I always wondered where the thousand islands were located that the salad dressing, by the same name, originated.
Eventually, I began taking normal names and words like, "Myrtle", and scrambling them.  Myrtle is a name of a street in my home town, and while I was biking I began thinking how I could scramble the word to come up with a name for a character.  For example, if you reverse the syllables, spell it phonetically, and then drop in an apostrophe, it becomes "T'lmyr", which is the name of a minor character in Book 11.  

How is writing fantasy different than writing other genre?

I am in complete control, have complete freedom to reshape whatever I want.  I can even violate the laws of physics, though I prefer to keep everything consistent with its own internal logic; that is the physicist in me.  By placing the setting on another world, it leaves me free to define history, locale, the star patterns overhead, and everything else. Fantasy also allows for fantastic universe-threatening plots, alien vistas, and creatures that might seem impossible to exist in other genres.  However, there is a certain amount of overlap between Fantasy and SF.  One of these overlaps will make itself increasingly apparent in future sequels to Maldene.

Why and when did you begin writing?

The why is simple:  there is a deeply-rooted creative need in my soul, and it had to manifest sooner or later.  Figuring out how the Great Pyramid was built was fine back when I was in High School, but soon was just not enough. I began coming up with ideas when I was 12, a lot through my 20s, and just building up my story elements over time.  I may not have begun typing it in until my 30s, but I'd been "writing" it in my head for considerably longer.
I should mention a major influence at this point was my Mom. As a child, I was one of the top three in my classes. I was good at doing anything that involved my mental capabilities, and so you know my Mom was just waiting to see what would catch my interest and become my life.  It must have been frustrating for her to watch my interests wander, and go from one subject to another. 
When I was in High School, my Dad was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease and everything in my life changed.   The burden of helping my mother to take care of my father and trying to finish my education took its toll.  For seven years, I suffered from depression, but I finally managed to finish my master’s degree.  By that time, I had the responsibility of helping my Mom take care of my father that had become a twenty-four hour responsibly that drained everyone involved in his care.
Then around 1994 the Eaton Canyon Fire burned what used to be my grandpa's house to the ground (He had been long dead, and my Mom never had the heart to sell it).  However, the fire provided insurance money that gave us some monetary relief.  There was enough that I was able to upgrade my computer, and I soon start to write the story I had been mulling around in my head for the previous decade and a half.  I continued to help my Mom with my Dad, so she really did not mind when I began typing... and typing my story.  It wasn't long before both my parents were both saying, “Our son's a writer?  Maybe this is it!"

Both of my parents enjoyed the fact that I was putting my creativity into writing.  It provided stress relief for me and my parents.  I would sort of zone out when I wrote, so it was easy for my Mom to sneak into my room to watch me.  I would feel a presence, glance over my shoulder to see my Mom leaning over me to see what was on the screen.  Of course, I could not write when I was being watched, so she would smile and then leave (for a while at least).  She continued her vigilance even after my Dad passed away in 2000. I was no longer pressured to "get a job", and whenever I would badmouth myself for being so spectacularly unsuccessful in the job market, she'd snap at me and say "You have a job!  You are taking care of me, and writing; now get back to work."  I guess she did not like seeing her genius son downgrade himself so much.

The support was both implicit and explicit.  I would get so involved in writing, that I would forget to eat or drink.  So around three p.m. on the button, my Mom would be there with a glass of water and she would not budge until I drank it all.  Only then would she leave until I would catch her trying to peek over my shoulder again.  My Mom must have read at least a third of my works from four feet behind my shoulder.

What is your writing schedule?

For one of my books, I have a three-day cycle.  On day one I start the new chapter, beginning at 7:30 a.m. writing until at least 5 PM, sometimes longer.  I'm pretty much zoned out during this entire time so much that I that I have taken lunch and bathroom breaks.  Later that evening, I edit what I'd written.  Usually, in a day, I will have written between 12,000 - 13,000 words, sometimes more (I've topped out at 15,700 words once... it was a really good chapter). Day two I finish up the chapter, usually only around 3000-5000 words and be done by lunch, then edit what I wrote that evening.

On day three I go back over the entire chapter ("Chapter Edit", I call it), making sure the plot lines are all correct, catching any last errors, then spell check the whole thing.  Afterwards, I'll outline the next chapter to be ready for the next day.  Then, the next day is Day One again.

Occasionally I'll finish a chapter in a single session, at which point it is a two-day cycle.  Then at the end of one section of the book (I typically break my books up into three sections), I will give the whole section the once through just to make sure the chapter-to-chapter plot threads are consistent, and that I didn't lose anything.  End of book, of course, merits one last run through.

What kind of advice to you have for someone who wants to write (especially fantasy)?

A database is a writer's best friend.  I keep one with all the characters in it, major and minor, so I can record everything from eye color to personality, clothing, notable items, skin, and anything else that may relate to the character.  It is probably more information than needed, but it is there if I do.  This is also true because by the time all 13 books of Maldene are completed, I will have around 250 characters, and this becomes a necessity.

Do not be afraid to use your imagination, to write whatever you want.  There is no one looking over your shoulder, no one to say "you can't do that".  Be not afraid.  You can always edit it afterwards, bounce it off friends, and get feedback.

Editing is necessary, and along with editing come rewrites. In my case a lack of self-confidence also helps, because it means I'll have gone through the book about 6 times before I'm finished, so when I go "Man, this is great stuff, who wrote it?" then I know I've got something.

The worst piece of advice I heard was "Write the market". Well, I say DON'T.  Write what you love and the difference will show through.

When I write, I put on the music; movie soundtracks mostly.  It helps me keep 100% attention on what I'm doing, and prevents the distraction of a too-quiet room.  I can picture and write a battle scene when John Williams is blazing all around me.  It really helps.  I have never suffered from writer's block, and I written about 8 million words of storytelling, so I guess this is one of the reasons.

Are there any other comments, advice or tips that you would give to beginning writers?

Get thee a day job, either that, or your own patron of the arts or very large bank account to ride things out, because it takes a lot of tenacity before you will make real money as a writer (a goal I am still working on myself).  I was fortunate to have my Mom supporting my desire to write.  By staying around to help her with my Dad, I finally took the opportunity to start writing (it kept me around to look after him without going nuts), and she saw that I was doing what I loved, and smiled.

It also helps if you've grown up reading the genre you want to write.  Writers should also be readers.  And don't be afraid to take inspiration from whatever presents itself.  Persevere.

What “Made It” moments have you experienced.

Can't say as I've really made it yet, at least not financially or having a copy of my book in every store, but
the one moment involved my mom.  After my Dad passed away I had to care for my Mom because of a weak heart, and an accident involving oleander poisoning that left me having to teach her to walk again.  Her health declined, and my caregiving duties increased.

It was during her short-lived recovery that a publisher said "Sure, let's do it".  Then, I was scrambling between the publisher and taking care my Mom.  The book was released, and my old yoga teacher found someone to arrange a little author speaking engagement at a local library.  Well, after so many years of supporting me, my Mom wasn't about to let a weak heart, or even her claustrophobia and her new fear of having too many people around her (from too many doctors crowding around back in the hospital),  stop her from being there.  She walked into that library with her cane, a neighbor on one side and my sister on the other. She sat proudly down front in the middle of the audience.  She finally got to see me read in public the first of the books she had watched me working on all those years, and I am told she looked very proud (I was too nervous to notice).  I would not trade that for experience and memory for anything.
Three months later she passed away.


1 comment:


Sylvia, that was a fantastic interview! You did a thorough job. I'm glad you did more than report only what is writing-related because it is the life of the author as a whole that inspires him/her to write as and what they do. I really enjoyed reading this and look forward to reading other interviews in the future.