Friday means Starving Review, which also means it’s time to step into the kitchen with the chef of today’s main course, Heart of Earth, which so happens to be Mark Laporta. Let’s find out what makes our latest author tick by going over our usual menu of questions!
Please introduce yourself to my literary foodies!
I’m a writer, composer and science-enthusiast, with a love of languages, art, dance, film and theater.
Do you do any work outside of the writing kitchen? Any non-work interests?
When I’m not lightly toasting a page of prose I work in advertising and spend time with my family. In the margins, I write music.
What is your latest dish to be served up? Are there any past pieces of literary cuisine you think we should take a bite out of?
I’ve recently rounded off my trilogy The Changing Hearts of Ixdahan Daherek. Book 1, Heart of Earth came out last year. Book 2, Heart of Mystery will launch in September, and I expect to bring out Book 3, Heart of Time in the first quarter of 2016.
What made you want to put on the chef’s hat and whip up your own books?
No whipping! Not in my kitchen. Books are to be coaxed. You have to win them over to being written. I write because I have things to say that can’t be expressed any other way. And I must say them!
Do you have a genre of specialty or do you dabble? Why?
I specialize in Young Adult sci-fi. But my books are about characters and what drives them to new realms of self-awareness.
Style! Every literary chef aspires to have their own unique one! What do you think sets yours apart and why?
I won’t go so far as to say I think the word “style” is meaningless, but don’t tempt me. I do have goals, however. I write character-driven stories that share my observations about society and the crisis of sentience with a light dusting of humor.
Even the best of us find inspiration is the dishes of others. Do you have any literary inspirations, heroes, and influences?
Isaac Asimov’s fiction is a major influence. His stories are always great fun and full of insight about the rocky relationship between scientific theory and human culture. I’m also a big fan of Alastair Reynolds, Kim Stanley Robinson and Douglas Adams. Outside of sci-fi, there are, of course, Shakespeare, Anton Chekov, Gustav Flaubert, and Balzac among many others, including the humor of David Sedaris and the popular neuroscience of Oliver Sachs.
Let’s get into the meat and potatoes: the art and craft of writing itself! Do you have a preference of points-of-view when you write?
My personal preference is for third-person narrative. I find first-person too confining, but I do like to experiment with second person short stories. My third-person is a mix, however, of exterior and interior views of what my characters experience. I’m as interested in what they feel and think as I am in what they do, and seek stories that are a direct outgrowth of their feelings, personalities, strengths and flaws.
Sparse or wordy, how do you like your descriptions served up? Are you a Hemmingway man or do you like some saucy adjectives with your nouns?
I don’t think this is something you can have a policy about. As I see it, the best description is the one that moves the story forward. If I need sparse, I go sparse. If I need details and atmosphere I go there. To me, “writing like Hemingway” or like anyone other than myself is a waste of time. I believe that if various authors move you, their influence will be felt on your work. But if you “write like” someone else, you’re spinning out words like a machine. Why be a Hemingway knock-off when you can be the real you?
Picking off the menu of base literary conflicts, what’s your favorite and why?
I have no interest in literary cat fights. There’s no way to “win” literature, as if it were a game show. “Poignant metaphors for 2000, Alex” ? I don’t think so.
What do you think is more important to your recipes, plot or characterization? Why?
I don’t know of a definition of plot that isn’t intimately bound up with characterization. I work to make the storyline and characters interact dynamically. For me, what happens in a story is the end state of a fluid process that grows out of the characters’ desires.
We all know that the first taste means the most! What do you do to get that first bite hook with your readers?
There’s no one thing that “grabs readers.” But I pay attention to the way screen writers tend to start each scene as far into its storyline as possible. They leave out set-ups and frames and tiny details wherever possible to be more immersive. What I look for is the defining moment that sets the story in motion. If I can knock over the first domino, the rest will follow.
The most important of questions: Cake or pie?
Pie. Ever and eternally pie.
Finally, if you could give one piece of advice to aspiring literary chefs out there, what would it be?
Don’t waste any more time aspiring. Just write. Write until you have the confidence of your own voice and the facility to bring it out on paper. Write until the words disappear and you can feel the wind rustling through your character’s hair, taste their food, drink their wine and kiss their lovers. When you’ve written that, you’ll know—and know you’ve written well.