A Conversation with William C. Markham

I recently put Night Run back into a few featured giveaways on Instafreebie, and one of them happened to be an “Urban Noir” collection of urban fantasy. The author running the giveaway, William C. Markham, had an excerpt from his book, “Missing: A Mason Gray Case.” The blurb read: “Mason Gray, a former cop, has a knack for solving puzzles, but the corpse on his living room floor is a piece that doesn’t fit.”  Of course, I had to check it out. I ended up reading not only the giveaway sample, but went over to Amazon and got the rest of the book to finish reading that day. I was prepared to buy the series only … well, keep reading to learn more about Markham and his urban fantasy take on detective noir fiction.
Q (Infamous Scribbler): Tell me a little bit about yourself and your path into writing Missing: A Mason Gray Case.
A: 
I’ve always enjoyed writing. I wrote a lot of poetry and short stories when I was in high school. I even worked on the high school literary magazine. But acting was always my passion. In college, I dabbled in playwriting and took a creative writing class with Nikki Giovanni, a published poet who had some name recognition at the time. I started writing a fantasy novel then, but it never amounted to anything. It wasn’t until much later, while I was living in Chicago, that the idea for Missing and Detective Gray came to me. It took me ten years to finish it, mostly because I kept getting distracted. But once I did, I realized that I had it in me to write an entire book.
Q: In Missing, the city of Chicago becomes its own character in the novel. Can you talk a bit about using the city in your novel, and building the world around it?
A: I love Chicago. I lived there for six years and relished the vibe it gave off, the sense of opportunity, the hope of making it big. But there was also this other side, a darker, grittier version of the city that carried its own romanticism in a way. I tried really hard to capture that personality in the book. I wanted to incorporate my own experience there to make it authentic to my readers. Gray’s apartment was one I lived in, and the Deluxe Diner was right across the street. They had great mozzarella sticks.
There’s so many aspects to the city that convey a sense of mystery. Looking at the lights of the all the skyscrapers in the loop at night made me wonder what life was like for the people that lived and worked there. I discovered Butcher’s Dresden Files and enjoyed the feeling of actually knowing the places he mentioned. I wanted to do that in my own story. The idea of mixing reality with fantasy intrigued me.

Q: This novel evokes a gritty noir world with a modern urban fantasy touch. What were some of your influences in creating it?
A: 
The Dresden Files certainly influenced me, but I think the idea really hit me after watching Blade. Something about vampires running corporate America appealed to me.

I also listened to the Prairie Home Companion on NPR a lot. There was a segment with a character named Guy Noir. It was my favorite. Being an actor, I’m a sucker for interesting characters. When I started writing about Mason Gray, it was more an exercise in character development than of storytelling. But then I wondered what would happen if I put that character into a world with vampires. And so the journey began.

Q: Your bio talks about your work both as an elementary school teacher, as well as a an actor and theater company founder. How does your writing life fit into these other creative endeavours?
A: 
In addition to Missing, I have one other book out, The Great Bacon Escape. I wrote it specifically for my fifth grade students last year. I teach writing and thought it would be an excellent way to show them the process in all its messy glory. When I taught about snapshots, I wrote a snapshot of a character. When I taught about problem/solution, I had them brainstorm problems the character might face. I ended up writing the while thing as a present for them in two months. Then we talked a lot about revising. It turned out to be a great experience and I was able to give them all a copy at the end of the year.

For my theatre company [Impressions Theatre] we do original plays for young audiences. The first two shows I wrote myself. Then I hired someone else to write them due to time constraints, though I do come up with the ideas and a rough outline.

I also have four children. As you can imagine, I keep pretty busy and it is difficult to find time to write. I squeeze in time whenever I can, though, but I’m not as prolific as some authors.

Q: What was the most challenging aspect of creating the novel? How did you meet/resolve that challenge?
A: 
I think plotting is my biggest challenge. I started out as a pantser (writing by the seat of my pants), throwing events at Gray to see what choices he would make and where it would take him. I reached a point where I realized I needed more than that. I needed a road map to get to the end and I didn’t know how to do that. So I contacted a good friend of mine, who is an excellent author in his own right, and asked for help. After a couple of brainstorming sessions, I had what I needed and was able to move forward.

Q: My only complaint about the novel is that the sequel isn’t out yet. What is coming next for Mason Gray? When do we get to read the next book?
A:
The next book is called Stolen. I started on it as soon as I finished Missing. I am 40K words into it. Missing was only 52K, but this one is going to be longer. It’s going well and I hope to have it out by Christmas. And I plan to write another kids book this year too.

Q: Anything to add?
A: 
Thanks for your interest in Mason Gray. I love to hear from my readers so visit my website and drop me a line. Make sure to sign up for my mailing list for a free Mason Gray short story: Beaten. You can also find me on Facebook.

 

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