Interview with Mark Kozak

What's the story behind Cat & Cat?
I graduated from Ohio University with a degree in Creative Writing all the way back in 1989. I've started maybe twenty projects since then, but the 9-5 workaday always derailed my trains of thought before they even left the station. When I lost my job in the crash of 2009, I suddenly found I had LOTS of time on my hand. My wife and brother both suggested I use the the opportunity to write the novel I always talked about. After a few fits and starts, I got enough steam going to pound out the first "movement" before finding gainful employment once again. By that time, I was so into the process that I spent every weekend writing until in May 2012, I finally completed the first draft. The beginning of Cat & Cat is very autobiographical in the emotional sense, and it's the only thing I really kept from my first efforts in 2009. The rest of the storyline - the missing kids, Ryan Leach and the mystery woman - came later.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
I kicked around quite a few majors while I was in college - Journalism, Broadcast Journalism, Criminology, Education - before settling on English/Creative Writing. For my four-plus years at OU, I was in the Honors Tutorial College program. So aside from the intensive study in English Lit, I could pretty much take any courses at any level I chose. From my sophomore through senior year, my course load ran the gamut from Senior Level History and Criminology classes to graduate level Creative Writing workshops. I also found time to teach Middle School and study/teach in Sheffield, England for a semester. I loved everything about college, but most of all I loved to write. It was more than love, actually. Writing became a compulsion bordering on obsession. When I finally graduated, I decided to venture into the "real world" instead of staying in the academic realm. I was convinced I could work 9-5 and write on evenings & weekends. I didn't want to be one of the "ivory tower" writers I encountered while at OU. I had a very naive, romantic notion that I could write as "one of the people." Within months of graduating, I entered the work force and gradually lost the fire, so to speak, for twenty years. I finally found it again by happenstance, and once I started writing again in 2009 I couldn't stop until I'd finally seen Cat & Cat to conclusion.
How has Smashwords contributed to your success?
I'm still looking for success. I don't know when I'll actually be able to say Cat & Cat or my career is successful. Smashwords is giving me the opportunity to be successful. The rest of the journey is my responsibility. I'd love to answer this same question a year from now.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
Getting in that zone where you're just sitting, mind's eye open, and the characters are speaking and acting in real time - without any influence on your part - and you're just typing frantically trying to keep up. Enjoying some dark-roast coffee or a beer and listening to good music only adds to the experience. I can lose hours in this state. It's a high that's very hard to explain to anyone who's never experienced it.
What do your fans mean to you?
Being a newly published writer with my first novel, I really don't have any "fans" yet. The family, friends & acquaintances that have read Cat & Cat over the last two years have been very encouraging and supportive. I am waiting for that first complete stranger to tell me "Hey, I liked your book, When's the next one coming out?" The first time that happens, I'll probably be so stunned I won't know how to respond. Once again, this is the kind of question I'd love to revisit a year from now.
What are you working on next?
My next novel, Stalking Mule, follows up with the main characters from Cat & Cat a few years after the novel's conclusion. Chris Telamon's new-found career has hit a snag, and through his agent he starts a writing project involving the world of Civil War reenactors. The tone is definitely lighter than Cat & Cat, and the plot is substantially more textured. One reader of the rough drafts has deemed Stalking Mule the "Gone With the Wind of Civil War reenactment mystery novels," which is a pretty funny quip not to mention a fairly accurate pitch. In addition to Stalking Mule, visitors to my website will have the opportunity to peruse some of my shorter pieces in a free collection entitled "White Picket Jungle." One of these pieces is actually a bridge between Cat & Cat and Stalking Mule, which will fill in some of the details in Chris Telamon's life between the two novels.
Who are your favorite authors and writers?
Homer, Thomas Mallory, Shakespeare, Alexandre Dumas, Thomas Hardy, Virginia Wolfe, James Joyce, Flannery O'Conner, James Wright, Galway Kinnell, David Mamet, Joyce Carol Oates, Tobias Wolfe, Alan Moore, Shelby Foote, James Ellroy, John Grisham, George R.R. Martin, Armistead Maupin, Douglas Preston, James Renner. I recently discovered Marisha Pessl's "Night Film," which I really enjoyed. I also read a lot of science, history and esoterica. Basically anything that catches my interest.
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
Coffee. And plenty of it. My wife, my dogs, my writing. Good books, good food, good beer. NOT my 9-5 job. DEFINITELY NOT my 9-5 job.
How do you discover the ebooks you read?
I browse ebooks by subject matter. I read a lot of non-fiction. I listen to fiction on audiobooks during my daily work commute. Even four years ago, I only read hard-copy books. Then my wife bought me a system for ebooks, and I made the switch immediately.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
Yes. I remember them all, which is amazing because I would write these huge long stories on notebook paper as far back as 2nd & 3rd grade. I made up entire universes of gods and goddesses, heroes & villains. It was my version of mythology, King Arthur and comic books. I spent hours writing out the characters and plots, and then the stories. Three decades later, lots of those childhood fantasies ended up in the graphic novel, Worlds Apart, which I did with my artist friend and editor Tony Lewis. Whenever we finish all the artwork and layouts, I'll be publishing Worlds Apart, too.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
Reading, listening to music, watching good TV and films. Hiking with my dog, Ellie. Recently, I've been going to Civil War reenactment events as research for Stalking Mule. What I'd love to do more is see the Cleveland Orchestra and other live music - any style. The problem is I have to work 9-5 during the week.
What is your writing process?
I need to listen to music. Instrumental mood music that resonates with what I'm writing. For Cat & Cat it was a straight diet of jazz. For Stalking Mule, Civil War and Gaelic music. I need to be sipping coffee, tea, iced tea or beer. I take hours sometime to get in the zone. Then, when it happens, I just transcribe the movie that starts playing across the video screen in my brain.
Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
The first books I read were mythology books - Greek, Norse & Egyptian. Those stories imprinted on my brain. Forever after, everything I've read or,written that's had any personal significance is mythic in scope. I guess that's why I gravitated to comic books as a kid, and later Tolkien, Mallory, Dumas, and eventually Shakespeare, Milton and Dante. In college I discovered contemporary poetry, and suddenly I saw how writers like James Wright, Galway Kinnell and Louise Gluck can make the mundane mythic and the mythic mundane. That's really what transformed me as a writer. Even if a story or poem is "small," the text has to resonate with the universe as whole. When I started reading theoretical physicists like Feynman, Michio Kaku and Paul Davies, I stumbled upon String Theory, and further revelations. These days, I see good stories or poems the same way a theoretical physicist might see the universe -- as an invisible fabric of vibrating strings with crisp images and good dialogue.
How do you approach cover design?
I asked a great artist to read my book and design a great cover. Which he did. I'm not a visual artist, and a cover is visual. So I turned that aspect of the novel over to someone I trusted. He delivered!
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I was born in January 1965, and I grew up in North Olmsted, a suburb of Cleveland. As a lifelong Cleveland sports fan, I've yet to see Cleveland win a championship in any real sport. People may say "Only in Cleveland"; but I've lived it. Cleveland's geography - the suburbs, the snow belt, the western lake shore - plays a major role in Cat & Cat. So does the local flavor of our politics, music and beer. Cat & Cat touches on all this, and my collection of short stories, White Picket Jungle, draws an even sharper image of my home town.
Describe your desk
My desk is whatever coffee shop or bar I've decided to make my office. I do some work at home, on the couch with our two dogs, Ellie & Leo. But usually that's only proof reading or redacting the previous day's efforts. To be truly creative, I need to be in a public place with my headphones on, listening to mood music and watching people. One thing I noticed very early in life - people talk more with their bodies than with their words. That's why I use so much behavior in my dialogue scenes.
Published 2014-05-03.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.

Books by This Author

Cat & Cat
Price: $4.99 USD. Words: 146,930. Language: English. Published: April 8, 2014. Categories: Fiction » Mystery & detective » Hard-Boiled, Fiction » Thriller & suspense » Psychological thriller
“While you’re trying to find something, maybe you should also let something find you.” One part thriller, one part confessional and hard-boiled to a steaming conclusion, Cat & Cat propels everyman Chris Telamon into a game of human chess where his every move forces him to face his future by confronting his past.