Please join Britbear’s Book Reviews in welcoming Mark Pople, author of Rogers Park, with an interview in today’s author spotlight.
About Rogers Park:
A high school English teacher and self-proclaimed Alfred Hitchcock junkie from a broken home, Brian has spent his entire life in Rogers Park, the bowels of North Chicago. He longs for a Hitchcockian revenge on the father who deserted him as a child.
Turning into the Farwell-Pratt alley on a bitter February afternoon, little does Brian know that the decision to take this particular shortcut will set into motion a chain of life-altering events. The first link in the chain is a trash bag thrown from a fire escape. The final link is a choice: forgive his father or watch him die. The links between – kinked and tangled, as happens when chains are kept in closets with skeletons – include addiction, F. Scott Fitzgerald, plagiarism, blackmail, and murder.
Rogers Park is a novel about the long road to forgiveness and the harrowing journey one man must endure to reach this destination.
Welcome, Mark. You have lived many places, but your bio says you only lived in Rogers Park, Chicago, for a brief amount of time. What made you choose to set your story here instead of another location, one where you’ve spent more time?
There always seemed to be something lurking in Rogers Park. Some of the buildings sit only a five-foot sidewalk from the street, creating a sense of adventure for any pedestrian approaching an intersection. I admit it was probably just my overactive imagination at work, but whenever I turned one of these blind corners or stepped into a dark alley, I imagined mystery and intrigue awaiting me. Then I was struck by Rogers Park – almost literally – when I strolled through an alley and someone dropped a trash bag from a third-story fire escape into an open dumpster. From this, a story was born.
Your bio also says you draw on your experience as an English teacher. Are you ever concerned about writing too much about the experience, or is the fact that you are retired (unlike myself) liberating in this respect?
Actually, it’s liberating that I can leave the teaching and the headaches that go along with it to a fictional character. As far as my protagonist being a teacher, I wanted to take an ordinary guy and put him in extraordinary circumstances. Making him a high-school teacher felt perfect. There are so many educators out there. It seems they are woefully under represented in suspense novels.
Rich Brown Gravy, South of the Calvary Curve…your novels have really interesting titles. How do you settle on titles for your manuscripts?
Rich Brown Gravy is a short story. The title comes from the story itself as it’s told from the point-of-view of a nine-year-old boy whose mother likes to serve her guests Shepherd’s Pie with “rich brown gravy.” For my second novel, South of the Calvary Curve, I had to come up with a title in a hurry as I was about to enter the first ten pages in a contest (which I won, by the way). I had three people read these ten pages and each wrote down three possible titles. I read all of them aloud, and together we chose the best of the nine.
Congratulations, Mark! Also, I like the idea of crowd sourcing a title.
Besides making the protagonist of Rogers Park an English teacher, are there any similarities between you and Brian Casey? If so, what are they? If not, then why?
I’ve been told by people who have read Rogers Park that I am Brian Casey. Of course I point out that he’s almost thirty years younger than me, but still they insist we’re the same person, and they’re probably right. We’re both easy-going guys who make a point of avoiding confrontation. Of course, that doesn’t work out so well for Brian.
The fact that we are similar is not a mistake. I think that when writing in first-person point of view, it’s easy to become the character, or vice-versa. Also, first-person lends itself to adding an authentic voice to your character. When that voice is your own, the authenticity is even greater.
On your website you say your next publication is South of the Calvary Curve. What might the blurb for this story look like?
It’s still early, and the conclusion of South of the Calvary Curve is playing the usual games, hiding in my subconscious, waiting to jump out and slap me across the face when I least expect it (I hate surprise parties). But if I was to supply a blurb for Calvary Curve right now, it might sound something like this:
Brian Casey, after his misadventures in Rogers Park, may think he’s returned to the mundane life of a high school English teacher. But when a former student, now a stripper named Summer Solstice, asks him to help her retrieve a stolen phone, his life is again plunged into chaos.
Describe the publication process. How did you find your publisher? What was the process like once you signed?
It was daunting, reading over and over again how difficult – next to impossible – it would be to get my debut novel published. Still, I persisted for five months, receiving over twenty rejections before Reagan Rothe and Black Rose agreed to read my manuscript. I found Black Rose Writing on a website called “Predators and editors.” I did my research and felt completely comfortable signing with them. Since signing, the process has been smooth. Everyone at BRW has been great.
Congratulations with that, too.
How do Alfred Hitchcock and F. Scott Fitzgerald figure into the content of Rogers Park?
An unusual combination, I admit. Brian Casey’s passion for Hitchcock is a way for him to vicariously add intrigue to his otherwise mundane life. Ironically, he finds himself entangled in a Hitchcockian web of plagiarism, blackmail, and murder.
As for F. Scott Fitzgerald, Brian is teaching The Great Gatsby to his Advanced Placement English class. As the story of Rogers Park progresses, he comes to realize some interesting parallels between his own life and Fitzgerald’s classic novel. But it is one specific Fitzgerald quote that makes the greatest impression on Brian. From this quote, he learns an important lesson about acceptance and forgiveness. Both of these influences, Hitchcock and Fitzgerald, play a part in the dramatic closing scene of Rogers Park.
Besides these authors, if you had to choose, who would you consider a writing mentor and why?
The authors whose style I have tried to emulate are John Updike and Richard Russo. Ultimately, I’ve discovered that I have my own style, and while I consider these writers to be great influences, I no longer feel the need to emulate anyone.
As for current mentors, I attend Roger Paulding’s weekly critique group here in Houston. Roger is the author of the Seney Chronicle series and the Jazzed series. He’s been a great mentor and I know he won’t mind the plug. You’re welcome, Roger.
Speaking of style and voice, how would you describe your writing style?
Writing should, in one form or another, seduce a reader. This can be accomplished through the use of a plot twist, a seductive suggestion, or even an unexpected use of words. I try to always keep my reader on his or her toes, give them something they don’t expect. As for my style, I guess I would describe it as literary and terse. These two adjectives may seem to contradict each other (see, keeping you on your toes) but I feel it works. Having studied and taught the classics, I find myself paying a great deal of attention to the structure of sentences and word choices. Still, I believe in using as few words as possible as long as every one of those words counts.
Is there anything else you’d like your readers to know about you and your writing?
I’m so thankful for the support and well wishes I’ve received from everyone. I hope you enjoy Rogers Park.
Thanks for the interview, Mark.
Here’s where you can learn more about Mark Pople and his writing:
About Mark Pople:
Born in Cambridge, England and raised in Pittsburgh, Mark’s literary sensibilities were most inspired by his brief stay in Rogers Park, a northern enclave of Chicago. He now resides in Houston.
Like his novel’s protagonist, Brian Casey, Mark is no stranger to the English classroom. His years spent teaching high school English in Houston, while thankfully not as eventful as those of Brian, served to whet his appetite for written words, occasionally even those of his students.
Mark is currently working on his second novel, South of the Calvary Curve. He is a member of HWH and is active on Facebook. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.