"Vampires are the flickering illusions of Hollywood. They don't exist. We do. We are the Athanate."
This week's featured author is Mark Henwick, author of the Bite Back series: contemporary urban fantasy featuring a kick-ass heroine with plenty of heart (my favorite kind!). Amber Farrell is former special forces turned P.I.--and turning Athanate. If you like bloodsuckers, werewolves, lots of action, and snarky humor, I highly recommend Mark's books.
To start you off, Mark is offering a free copy of Sleight of Hand to one of my readers! (Print or ebook, you lucky devils!) Not only that, but if you've read Sleight of Hand, Mark will happily substitute a copy of Hidden Trump, the second book in the series, or the upcoming third book, Wild Card (publication date TBD). So there's no excuse not to enter! (Scroll down for entry form.)
Thanks for coming by, Mark! Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I’m married with three children, the youngest of whom is sixteen. My wife is Singaporean Chinese and I’m from Africa, so one of the funniest things that has ever been said about us is that we’re a normal family. We live in England.
I grew up wanting to be a cowboy, then a soldier or a fighter pilot. I did always think I would be a writer, but was persuaded that engineers find paying bills easier. I ended up spending more time in management than I really wanted to, and so now I am, finally, a full-time writer.
What are three of your favorite things? Three of your least favorite things?
Traditionally, a loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and thou. And I do enjoy eating, drinking and the company of friends. Travel. Reading (of course). Music, film and theatre. Less traditionally: skiing, mountain biking, motorcycling and flying. I can’t possibly pick just three things.
My least favorite three things - hypocrisy, opinionated ignorance, and Bert Smith from class 5 at school, who exemplified the other two. Truthfully, there are a raft of things that irritate me and my three least favorite will generally be based on whatever has bugged me most recently when I’m asked. Ask me after I’ve just done my tax returns…
When did you start writing? What inspired you to start writing your own stories?
When? About the same time I first picked up a pen. "The Mystery of the Black Dagger" was a timeless, handwritten masterpiece of 3.75 pages (including the illustration). It was a genuine mystery, in that no one knew what happened, not even me.
My mother wrote, and I loved to tell tales. Still do. I got serious about it when I was presented with one of those life choices, and realised I didn’t want to keep working in healthcare and commuting to London, as much as I wanted to do something completely different.
What is the Bite Back series about? How did you get the idea for the books?
On the surface, the series is about real vampires, werewolves and witches. By that I mean the beings that have given rise to all the contradictory myths, books and Hollywood portrayals. The Athanate need human blood, but little else about ‘vampires’ is correct. They certainly don’t sparkle. The Were change shape and the Adepts do magic, but to see how different they are, you need to read the series.
Beneath the surface, all readable novels are about the human condition. I’m trying to say something about being different and how a positive attitude will help overcome what life throws at you. Honor, duty, love, betrayal, and lots of things.
The ideas came from frustration about how often Urban Fantasy writers just sweep things under the carpet saying, that’s just the way it is, it’s magic. Even reading UF, we live in a rational age, we want to know why things work like that. I started to think, well how would it work? Everything came from that really.
What drew you do urban fantasy as a genre? Why do you think it appeals to readers?
Urban Fantasy doesn’t really exist, according to bookstores and, until recently, Amazon. It’s untidy. It doesn’t fit in the neat, little boxes. It breaks rules. Even its rules are (putting on my best Pirates of the Caribbean voice) more in the way of guidelines. It allows you to play with ‘what ifs.’ Who couldn’t love a genre like that?
One of the reasons you chose to self-publish is that the traditional publishing world felt that vampires were “over”—that readers were no longer interested in vampire books. However, your books have been quite successful, proving that’s not the case. What gave you the confidence to pursue publication despite all the naysayers? What do you think are some factors that have contributed to your books’ success?
The script was rejected by every agent I sent it to. So I published it on Amazon. What did I have to lose? It wasn’t that I really needed confidence to make that move, but regardless, I was confident about the book and the series. I didn’t believe the feedback that the UF vampire genre was over; all I had to do to was look at Amazon’s ratings. Having said that, I didn’t think it would do as well as it has.
As to factors in the success, I could write a lot about this.
As an unknown, first book author, I had to pitch the price low, I had to invest money on doing a cover that stood out and I sought help with the cover copy. Those are the things that first catch a potential buyer’s eye.
Then the book needed to deliver. There are a lot of UF books out there. I had a different spin on the paranormal, but I also fed in complexity and depth. I’ve been told I would have lost about 20%-30% of the book if I’d gone through a publishing house. Sure, it would have been tauter, maybe easier to read, but feedback shows the readers have enjoyed the depth and complexity.
Lots of other things like timing helped, especially for the second book, but I’m rambling. Last two points…
Firstly, don’t expect random blogger/reviewers to be much help if your book is in any way different. Planning publicity needs a whole article by itself. Those bloggers that liked the sound of the book and came to me have been fantastic. I love them. Those that I approached either haven’t delivered or didn’t ‘get it.’
Secondly, and this last point is really, really important. I invested in a damn good editor. Same person who polished that cover copy :-) Stop blushing, Lauren. (Lauren says: I am blushing. But thanks!)
What’s the hardest part of writing a book/being an author? What’s the most fun part?
The hardest part is keeping confident while you’re writing. I start and end with confidence, but there’s a deep, dark passage in the middle of writing a book, which may or may not be the middle of the book.
The fun parts are the good reviews and good feedback. I cannot do justice to the feeling of reading someone saying ‘awesome book’ on Amazon or Goodreads.
Is there a book or a story that has had a profound impact on you at any time in your life? What was it, and how did it impact you?
Hugely difficult choice, but I’ll go for Dune, by Frank Herbert. Why? Because it stopped me in my tracks and made me aware that carefully constructed worlds can suspend your disbelief effortlessly throughout an epic, and layering secondary characters adds to the immersive experience. I could say the same for Lord of the Rings by Tolkien, which I read at roughly the same time.
Besides Amber, your main character, do you have a favorite character you’ve created? Which character is it, and why?
Bian. She’s wonderfully outrageous. The other characters I had to think through and construct, but Bian just emerged, in an instant, while I was sitting on a train in Denver.
What are the hardest types of scenes for you to write?
I have trouble with conflict between friends.
Do you have a writing routine? Can you tell us about it?
The actual writing gets started early in the morning, and the best is done if I write before I look at the internet. Then I write in bursts throughout the day. By evening, I’m much more likely to be doing editing.
Ideas for plots come best as I wake up and need to be scribbled down. Implementing them in plot structures is best done in the morning.
I work at least a little every day.
What are some of your favorite words? (Syllabub? Xylophone? Whizbang? Taradiddle?)
Words that you don’t use often, but you know just what they mean from the sound they make in your mouth. Lascivious. Quintessential. Flagrant.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
I fit in some time on my bike most days. I fly a microlight. I love travel.
What’s something people wouldn’t be able to guess about you just by looking at you?
I used to have a full head of hair.
If you had a genie that could grant wishes, what would you wish for?
I’ve read Aladdin’s Samovar; I know this ends badly. I don’t want immortality, but wouldn’t it be wonderful to be in peak physical and mental condition for all of your life?
I know you have several projects that you plan to publish this year. Can you give us some tantalizing hints about them?
Raw Deal is due in May. This is a free prequel novella. Raw Deal covers the time Amber spends in the Denver police force, and shows her in transition between her old army persona and the Amber we meet in Sleight of Hand.
Wild Card is due in August. This is Book 3 in the series, and it’s time to find out what make the Were tick, and which one of them is running out of control in Denver and threatening the whole paranormal community.
Bian’s Tale, Book 1, Saigon, is due in the fall. Bian has been so popular and has such a story behind her, I decided I wanted a companion series rather than doling bits out in the main books. It’s a much more challenging writing project because I have to blend Bian’s nine-year-old, Vietnamese voice with her mature American-influenced voice. There’s a taster on the blog:
I expect to publish Bite Back Book 4 in December.
How can readers get more information about you and your work?
Blog : www.athanate.com
Facebook : www.facebook.com/TheBiteBackSeries
There’s a contact form on the blog and I answer posts and emails.
Win a copy of Sleight of Hand! Enter below.
P.S. If you've already read Sleight of Hand, Mark has offered to substitute a copy of Book 2 in the series, Hidden Trump, or Book 3, Wild Card (when it's published--publication date TBD). Cool, huh?
__Lauren Sweet is the author of the Bitter Snow series, a modern fairy tale in nine novellas, and Aladdin's Samovar, the first of a series starring Amber Polaski and Jasper the genie. Lauren lives near Portland, Oregon, where she is a freelance writer and editor.