Interview with Mark T. Arsenault

Published 2017-10-07.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
I got involved with indie press and small press early on. I began writing professionally in the '90s, when I collaborated with a friend on a game book. Since that project, I met other publishers in the game industry and got involved with other projects. Many of the publishers became friends and I learned what it took to publish a book. Creating and publishing just went hand-in-hand. At that time, the Print on Demand (POD) and digital book (eBook) technology were just emerging. One of my friends, Steve Peterson (then co-owner) of Hero Games, was the first one to sell books in PDF format, on 3.5-inch floppy disks! But, I digress. I've been involved with indie publishing and small press for a long time.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
The greatest joy of writing is bringing my ideas and my vision to the page for others to enjoy, but each reader will enjoy it in their own uniquely personal way. I don't write to a particular audience. My philosophy is not to chase fans. I don't write to please any group of people or demographic. I write for me. I believe if I do that, my fans will find me. And those fans will be the truest.
What do your fans mean to you?
My fans are incredibly important to me. The fans are responsible for the financial success of a product, obviously. The more people who read your work, the wider your audience is, the more minds you can entertain or influence. But, as I mentioned earlier, each reader's experience is going to be unique. No one else can subvert one reader's experience with a book. They can certainly share some commonalities in their experiences, but each still has their own experience with a book. At the same time, that "ownership" of their experience with a book doesn't give them permission to push their experience on anyone else, including the author. I think that's hard for some fans to understand. With that being said, I enjoy the fans and I appreciate and respect each interpretation and experience had with my books.
What are you working on next?
I'm working on a crime fiction novel about a man who's the son of a white supremacist in prison. It's about how he deals with his father's reputation, expectations of him by his peers, and how he deals with all of the forces that he believes are tossing his life to and fro. He feels powerless and angry and ends up in jail, where he ultimately has to make a life-changing decision.
Who are your favorite authors?
There are so many good ones to choose from. It's nearly impossible to name just a few. I enjoy classic sci-fi, like H.G. Wells. I also enjoy books on leadership and personal development, of which John C. Maxwell is a great mentor and author.
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
Life! Every single day is a gift. I'm a cancer survivor and a war veteran (Deserts Shield, Storm, and Calm), so I'm acutely aware of the fragility and fleetingness of life. I try to begin each day with gratitude. As soon as I think of it - usually before my feet hit the floor - I say "Thank you, thank you, thank you!" to God for giving me another day. More than anything else, time is priceless. Once a day is spent, its spent. How you use it - or invest it - is up to each of us.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
I enjoy spending time with my family, watching movies, and helping others. I'm a speaker, trainer, and coach, and my passion is adding value to others. I've been a foster parent and respite care provider for other foster parents. I also run a nonprofit to help ex-offenders turn their lives around. Helping others is something I'm very passionate about. It's the common thread that runs through all of my books.
How do you discover the ebooks you read?
Most of what I read come from recommendations from friends or from the authors I'm currently reading. For example, I once read something by Tony Robbins, and learned that one of his early mentors was Jim Rohn. So I sought out material by Jim Rohn, who I found out was inspired by his mentor, Earl Shoaf. Thought leaders who tell you they are inspired by a particular author are giving you a golden nugget. It's what in law enforcement we called "a clue."
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
No. I'm sure it was something I wrote as a child. I wrote many of them.
What is your writing process?
Once I'm inspired, I look for my "flow," that stream of ideas that comes pouring out through the keyboard into my digital document. When I'm not inspired, I either look for the inspiration or I simply do something else. When I'm focused, I can write as many as four or five thousand words a day. When I'm not inspired, I may go days without writing anything. Now that I'm retired from my "real job," I have more of the former and fewer of the latter, thankfully.
Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
I don't remember THE first story, but I remember some of the early novels I read as a pre-teen. I read Jaws by Peter Benchley, Shōgun by James Clavell (yes, all 11,500+ pages of it), On a Pale Horse by Piers Anthony, and the "Myth" series by Robert Asprin. I was also a big comic book fan. Despite the bad rep that comics still have with some folks, some of the writing has been fantastic. Chris Claremont and Kurt Busiek, in particular, stand out as fantastic writers. Sharks, samurai, death, wizards and demons, and superheroes. All fodder for a pre-teen boy, yes?
How do you approach cover design?
First I ask, "What emotion do I want to evoke about this book?" Once the answer is known, I design from there. A cover for a happy romance novel set in the modern day probably shouldn't have dark colors, rolling storm clouds, and a castle on the cover. Simplicity is sometimes very powerful, as well. It all depends on the subject matter, however, and the emotion you want the cover to evoke.
What do you read for pleasure?
I enjoy many genres of book. Novelizations of movies, classics, sci-fi, fantasy... anything by some of my friends, like Mike Stackpole, Matt Forbeck, and the late Aaron Allston, are always a fun read. I also read a lot of personal development books. I don't read them for pleasure, per se, but they do help me to reframe my circumstances and allow me to choose to be happy in life. So that's a win.
What is your e-reading device of choice?
Actually, I read ebooks on my phone with an app reader.
What book marketing techniques have been most effective for you?
Blogging, social media promotions, third-party promotion sites, and blogs, seem to work well. I try not to do much paid advertising. I'm building up to that.
Describe your desk
It's a "TV-tray" set up in front of my comfy chair in the family room. I have an actual desk but I don't the feeling of being too separated from my family. I appreciate isolation at times, but I loathe it others times.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up in Eastern Sacramento County. My family moved there from New England when I was four. I lost my native accent a long time ago. Well, almost lost it. I can still speak with a wicked Boston accent but only when I think about it or I'm around other Bostonians. (Laughs) Growing up in Sacramento, itself, hasn't influenced my writing, per se, except, perhaps, because of the diversity of the region. Sacramento is one of the most culturally diverse cities in the country, so I grew up with people from all different cultures in the community. As a result, I have a respect for many different cultures. I think that has influenced my writing.
What's the story behind your latest book?
A New Home is the first book in The Jen-Jen Chronicles series, that follows Jennifer, a young 10-year-old girl who lives with her dad, who she met for the first time less than a year ago. She's never known him her whole life until recently. Unfortunately, Dad has issues with substance abuse and leaves Jennifer alone a lot. To her it's normal but clearly, she's being neglected. Well, they get evicted from their home and dad sends Jennifer to stay with her best friend from school and her family, the Arnolds. A weekend stay turns into a week, which turns into a month, which turns into the Arnolds being awarded guardianship of Jennifer.

The series was inspired by many of my experiences working in reentry services in the jail, as well as providing foster care. We cared for one young lady, in particular, who's much of the inspiration for the main character. I've fictionalized and added things, however. The events are representative of issues we've dealt with as foster parents, rather than a retelling of any "real" events.

The books were written for younger readers. The covers say they're recommended for kids 11 and older, but I think kids as young as 8 or 9 could read and enjoy them, as well. Make no mistake, however, these books deal with some tough subjects, albeit in an age-appropriate way. Children who are in foster care, a guardianship situation, or even in an adopted family, as well as their caregivers, can get a lot from these books. I encourage caregivers, social workers, counselors, parents, and guardians to engage children in discussion around these stories. I think they'll provide a great context for kids to help them understand some of what they might be going through.
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