Before I begin, Kristy, I’d like to thank you for your patience. I apologize for taking so long to answer these questions. This is a wonderful set of interview questions, and, besides doing a hundred things at once, I wanted to honor these question with a worthwhile response. I hope I have.
I appreciate you taking the time. You went above and beyond what I’d dare hope for.
Oh yeah…my publisher, Marcher Lord Press, will disown me if I do not mention upfront that The Dark Man features attack helicopters.
It does indeed feature attack helicopters. Pretty cool ones if I may interject. So -- if anyone is surprised to see attack helicopters in this book, it isn’t because we didn’t warn you! =)
Alrighty, so without further adieu, questions and answers pertaining to author Marc Schooley’s The Dark Man:
The main character, Charles, has a wooden puzzle with blocks that, when combined in different ways, can morph into an infinite variety of faces. Where did you come up with the idea for the puzzle, and where can I get one?
Since an actual infinite most likely does not exist, a point I may revisit below, let’s call it nearly infinite, or the like. I did not come up with the idea; it appeared to me as I was writing the first scene. I saw Charles sitting on the balcony, watching the gut-wrenching dissolution of his parent’s marriage through the balcony railing. When I looked a bit closer, I noticed he was mindlessly rummaging through something on the floor. I looked closer and it was the puzzle. Very odd.
Thus, the dark man himself was not present or conceived of when I began writing. He suddenly appeared in the puzzle, once I had seen it, and was “born.” He then becomes the main symbol undergirding the novel. That’s why I say ditch the outlines! It’s so much more fun to watch the story unfold in front of you. It is to me, anyway. So, I’d say you possess a built-in puzzle. There’s no need to search any further for one…just look around you and pieces will begin arranging themselves. They do for me, that is. I suspect they might for you as well.
Characters do seem to do that. They appear out of nowhere, go left when you think they should go right… they’re like ill-behaved children. But that makes the process exciting.
When Charles and Julia have their first date, you have them lying on the hood of a car outside of Hobby Airport. I've seen this in movies before, where the plane flies so low on approach that it looks like you can reach up and touch it. Is there any symbolic significance to that particular activity? Have you ever done this in real life?
In the old days, and maybe still, though I haven’t been to the spot in decades, you could park along the backside of Hobby Airport and watch the planes fly over just so, which is where this scene was imagined. Almost anyone’s local airport should conjure up an adequate setting.
Is there any symbolic significance to that particular activity? Well, let’s just say that this was Charles’ and Julia’s first date in the book, but not their first date. They were very close by this point, and if you revisit the scene with this in mind, the symbolism should leap off the page, though the five or ten minute airplane landing intervals should not be taken literally.
As a huge fan of 1984, I can see some parallels between Orwell's story and yours. Where his novel is focused on the complete mind control of a society, yours is focused specifically on the banning of religious activities. Did his story influence you in anyway?
Kristy, I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve never read 1984. Your question caught me off-guard, as I love Orwell. Animal Farm has always been the one for me, and I like Orwell’s thought in essay form, in, say, Politics and the English Language. It contains some great thoughts for writers, especially if the writer in question enjoys writing non-fiction as well. I especially enjoy Orwell’s incisiveness; he’s ever the exposer. I’ll remedy my 1984 blindspot ASAP.
Inconceivable! Yep, you definitely have to remedy that...
Did you catch any flack for the explicit nature of the reclamation center scene?
Inside, by the light of a green prism, two men in white coats operated on a prisoner secured to what reminded Charles of a dentist's chair. Every portion of the prisoner's body was restrained--the head by a claw suspended from the ceiling.
The men were attempting to implant a crystalline object into the person's forehead. The prisoner writhed in agony, struggling against the restraints, but no screams escaped the glass cell door. Charles was not certain if the prisoner was male or female because its face had been removed. It looked as if it were wearing a porcelain mask. A featureless mime behind noise-proof glass.
The hallway darkened then switched to blue as Charles staggered back against eh cell door on the opposite side of hte hallway. The doctors continued their operation on the faceless creature. Charles averted his gaze by turning and leaning on the cell door he had backed into. His head leaned on his forearm, which rested against the glass of the cell.
Charles swiped his forearm across his eyes and tried to focus on his mission. When he gazed into the cell door in front of him, a creature was staring back at him an inch from the glass. It stood as motionless as a zombie, its mouth a gaping pit, its eyes black and hollow. A tiny aperture in its forehead glowed blue in tandem with the pulsating of the prisms. It also had no face.
Charles scrambled away from the glass, his hands over his face. "It can't be. No. It's impossible. It can't be."
None whatsoever, at least to this point. I thought the scene was restrained from depicting the evil present there in its true form. If I had it to do over again, I might write it a bit more intensely and vividly. Interestingly, the scene was not present originally. During the editing process, my editor, Jeff Gerke, suggested the reclamation center ought to give the reader a better sense of the nasty stuff occurring inside. It was the decision of a professional, that one, and I’m indebted to him for that. Moral of the scene: find yourself a good editor and trust him or her.
What is your writing ritual like?
Computer laptop, sprawled out on my bed. Writing generally begins around 10 PM, when everything is quiet. Otherwise, I can’t see the story. I also like to devote a weekend to it sometimes.
Very sporadic; however, during the “on” times, the word count skyrockets.
That was my experience, your muse is either there that day, or it’s not, but when it is, times are good…
I read some pretty positive reviews of your book over at Amazon.com. How does it feel to hear that people connected to your story?
The ones that truly connect, for whatever personal reason they had for connecting, are to be treasured. There’s nothing quite like it, though if we put our heads together I’m sure we could find some similarities. I’m sincerely thankful for all the good feedback I’ve received.
However, there’s also been some negative feedback. I talked at length with some of these reviewers and what I’ve found is that many have disliked the ending. I’m grateful for that, because it seems to me that there was an emotional attachment to the story and characters involved that invoked a heartfelt response, and that’s all you can ask for as a writer.
Interestingly, I’ve had the most negative feedback from Christian readers. This could perhaps be a function of the audience for this book being primarily Christian; however, I don’t exactly understand it yet, as TDM is a blatantly Christian work. I can’t think offhand of a non-Christian who has sent back a negative review thus far, and there’s been plenty who have read it. I’m not sure why this is…
I think Christian readers can be fickle because most have a very black and white view of what their religion is and what it isn’t. If you stray from their personal formula, they don’t tolerate it well. Religion is very polarizing. I didn’t find anything offensive about your book, and you seem to know your scripture… you can only do so much.
What's the best thing that has come from being published? There’s a “Marc Schooley Day” in your home town, isn’t there?
The best thing…hmm. Tough question. I’d say two things. The opportunities since being published are one, kinda like being invited to come to your blog and speak for a while. As time goes by, I have had the opportunity to meet more and more people, be exposed to different groups and activities, and be asked to participate in different events.
The second may not make as much sense. Christians love to tell the gospel story, and TDM is no less than that. It’s a real joy to have an overtly Christian book published. Again, I’m still puzzled why it’s been so well received outside the church.
I’m not a big churchgoer and I liked it. While it was overtly religious, I didn’t feel like I’d been preached to, the religion felt like part of the story so that it didn’t feel blatant. I think in these times, when government is intruding more and more on our lives and making choices for is, it’s a relatable tale. You had a little of everything, mystery, romance, action…
So do your co-workers treat you with the proper respect now that you're a bigshot author? Be honest... I know these people....
No, absolutely not, at least within my own group. You know these people. I’m kidding…they’ve been great. At first I think they were keeping an eye out to see if I was going to quit, but I think I’ve successfully readjusted the whole “bigshot author” notion. I’m not.
The reaction outside my direct working group has been very positive, with a lot of interest.
Why does Farris wear a pearl necklace? I don’t know a single straight guy who would wear a strand of pearls…
I’ll need to ask him why he does that. I never bothered while I was writing the story. I suspect he thinks it’s cool, and that it matches his car.
From the author’s standpoint, there’s an underlying metaphor in the novel of the pearl of great price, from a parable told by Christ in the New Testament. Following this metaphor in the meta-sense of the storyline, you can see the characters react to the metaphor in different ways, even down to the last page. Farris, of course, is lost to the significance of the pearls, which equates to the pearls being cast before swine.
That never even occurred to me, but ‘swine’ certainly describes the type of character he is. Did you model his pretentiousness on someone you know?
No, ma’am…I’d tell you if I did. He’s just greasy, pure and simple. You may not be aware that I once owned a used car lot. Farris is greasy in a used-car sort of way…not with the checkered coat and all, but more along the lines of a flash-cadillac type of car man. Watch out for car men: the half you have heard about it is all true, and so is the other half you don’t know about.
Car men… I could tell some stories… How many characters are based on people you know?
Not one, though, if pressed, I’d have to admit that Charles and Julia both have personal elements of my own lurking deep down inside them.
How long did it take you, from concept to first draft, to write The Dark Man?
Nearly one year. I believe I would have finished it in a matter of months, but the writing was delayed by my graduate studies, and the personal tragedy of the death of my father. The only thing I regret about the entire experience is that my father died before I finished. Thus, he never saw it finished, much less published. That took a while to get over, but, nevertheless, I think he knows.
Sorry to hear about your father. I bet he’d be proud of what you’ve accomplished.
Once you wrote it, how long before it was published? Can you describe the process a bit?
I was very fortunate, Kristy. My editor took a liking to it, and offered to publish it for me through his publishing company. Hence, I did not go through a protracted process of sending out manuscripts to numerous publishing houses.
The process is grueling, however. There’s a ton of work to be done to the manuscript, for the book cover and interior copy, for marketing, and a host of other things that would not come to mind initially. There was one two-week period prior to release that was a busy a time as I can recall.
If you’d like an excellent and easy to read insider’s description of the publishing process, follow this link to one of my publisher’s sites. It’s a great view of the process, and its attendant ups and downs:
BTW-for anyone interested, here’s a link to tips for writers. They were immensely helpful to me. I started from scratch and these made all the difference…that and a good editor:
Those links will come in handy as there are several of us who are in the process of writing, thanks!
People are under the misconception that authors make loads of money when they’re published and they can quit their day jobs and are set for life. Most, however, have to keep their day jobs… What percentage would you say you see of the cover price of your book once the agent, the publisher and the tax man take their cuts? (not asking specific income, that’s personal)
Well, I don’t want to discourage anyone, but here’s the cold, honest, and hard truth:
“Here's the reality of the book industry: in 2004, 950,000 titles out of the 1.2 million tracked by Nielsen Bookscan sold fewer than 99 copies. Another 200,000 sold fewer than 1,000 copies. Only 25,000 sold more than 5,000 copies. The average book in America sells about 500 copies" (Publishers Weekly, July 17, 2006)."
The percentage you see will differ greatly, and depend upon the publisher, whether you have an agent or not, how established you are as an author, and how good a negotiator you are. Of course, I once owned a used car lot, so you can do the math ...
Yep, you’ve gotta love writing to do it, because the numbers can be disheartening.
What one thing would you say to someone to prove God's existence?
Personally: read your Bible.
Philosophically: Evil exists; therefore, God exists.
This is a very personal question for anyone. I write about it publically at marcschooley.com/blog. I find the range of natural theology (cosmological, teleological, contingency, axiological, and ontological arguments) compelling, the best explanation for the accounts of Christ’s death, the empty tomb, the post-mortem appearances, and the subsequent faith of the disciples—historical facts generally not in question—to be the resurrection, and my personal experience, including some very striking real-world events, to demand the conclusion I arrive at.
I’m aware not everyone shares this conclusion, and have very strong relationships with atheists and skeptics who write publically from their point of view.
Have you gotten any fan mail that really touched you?
Yes, quite a bit, and I’ve been able to answer all of it thus far. I’m trying to do this because I’m very thankful for anyone who has given their personal time to read TDM. I’ve chosen to be open to the public, and anyone can email me directly through marcschooley.com.
Any crazy ones?
Only one that I suspect, and the person is so nice, that I just go with it…
…sigh… I’m not crazy... totally kidding, I am. =) Any bomb threats?
Nope. All good emails thus far…
What are your biggest vices? I'll go first... I exercise and do charity work... and... Go!
Oh, I see. You’re perfect. Well, I’m not. =)
What are some of your favorite books?
I read very little fiction, actually. The ones that come to mind are the entire Sherlock Holmes collection, Hamlet and Macbeth, anything by Stephen King, anything by CS Lewis, Camus’ The Stranger and The Plague, Crime and Punishment, The Metamorphosis, Animal Farm, Poe, Jude the Obscure.
I’m more versed in non-fiction: the Bible, philosophy of religion, theology, continental philosophy, logic…
It’s slightly odd for me to write fiction. I’m much more geared toward philosophy and theology.
I love me some Dostoyevsky… Crime and Punishment is one of my favorites.
Charles, Reverend Cleveland and Julia all have inner voices. Charles' voice is called The Dark man, kind of mean, a little crazy. The Reverend's seems more like an actual demon. Both seem to be able to physically manifest themselves. Julia's voice is rational, and calls her 'girly-girl'. What is the difference between the voices? Do you think we all have a Dark Man talking to us?
Yes, I think everyone has a dark man. It’s basic Christian anthropology. Generally in TDM, the closer one is to the gospel, the more they recognize their inner dark man or woman voice for what it is.
(Rev) Cleveland has his more or less under control, which can be seen before the demon appears. Charles’ changes as the story progresses, in accordance with the plotline. Julia, as an atheist, and my favorite character, does not recognize a dark “woman” voice. Hers is genuinely a Julia voice, brought on by her logical mind, the genesis of which was the only large portion of TDM which ended up on the editor’s cutting floor. It now functions as the first chapter to the next installment in the series. Julia senses her dark voice from time to time due to her interaction with Charles, but does not know it is there. Farris, of course, has no idea.
Listen closely to yourself, you may be able to detect it. Mine torments me daily.
So that’s what that is…
Charles has a drinking problem. Is this something you’ve dealt with in your life?
I’ve been sober 19 years now. Before that, I was involved with nearly everything at one time or another, and had real problems with alcohol. I can still feel my fingers itching at times, just as Charles does throughout the book.
Since the story is set in Houston, why didn't mosquitos play a bigger role?
They will in part two, Kristy. Thanks for the constructive criticism…
Anytime! Tell us a little about your next story.
Man does not daydream in the dark…
Or does he?
In the Nachthaus, there’s evil in the dark.
And in the Nachthaus,
it’s always dark…
Only one thing stands against the height of man’s cruelty
And the depth of his fear…
Much darker than TDM. Nazis, black forests, creepy things, the undead, ovens, darkness, and one man trying to stand against it all with the help a gypsy girl with eyes shinier than the light of a thousand stars.
Very nice! I wish you much success with both The Dark Man, I really enjoyed reading it and looked forward to sinking my teeth into Konig’s Fire. And thank you for taking the time to answer my random questions!
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