Interview with Mark Gabriel

What is your writing process?
Process? Oh. Um. Find old photos. Tell the stories behind them. Add sepia tone. Publish.
How do you get your ideas?
From the photographs themselves. I take a long time selecting the images. Usually they tell the story themselves. I try to add only the words that absolutely must be added for context, and keep the words to a bare minimum.
Hm. Okay. What are your five favorite books, and why?
Like many children growing up, I always preferred the books with pictures. The pictures were a universal language. The better the pictures, the more I liked the book. So if you pointed me at a shelf of books and asked me to pick five, I must honestly say I really would have chosen the ones with best cover art. When it comes to the words themselves, I prefer not to name favorites. I've read so many books! Perhaps I would just choose five genres, and say that I am fond of romantic comedies, action-adventure stories and "true stories" torn from the pages of history. I love memoirs and well-written biographies.
Right. But which five titles you call the best ones?
The best ones? The oldest ones.
The oldest ones? Why do you like the oldest.
Well, let's face it: The classics are classics for a reason. They tend to be very well written. Likewise, the photos and painted portraits of yesteryear were preserved to this day for a reason. If they were bad, they would have been thrown out long ago. The old ones that were preserved tend to be the favorites, the best, the masterpieces. The fact that they are very old does not mean they're very boring. Quite to the contrary, one finds a great deal of good-humor and mirth in old art. Plus (laughing) there's no copyright. That way, when I steal them, I don't get arrested. I look like a scholarly fellow with good taste, and I stay out of jail.
I see. So you are saying . . . you are afraid of being arrested by Mark Twain and Matthew Brady?
Oh yes. And the Lumieres Brothers. Are they in town?
Oh! No, no. I'm sure you're quite safe. So you are saying your mission statement is to rip off every photographer of the 19th century, and retouch their work?
Exactly. Yup. And Photoshop is just so much fun! Real fun. Makes old photos look like new. No more dandruff.
Ok. When did you first start writing?
1967. I'm a bit of an antique myself.
What's the story behind your latest book?
Movie star portraits. From old issues of silent movie fanzines of the 1910s and 1920s. I'm retouching the photos. They're very beautiful. To add words, I am making short summaries of each movie star's life. I call it the Silent Star Series, for Stardust Books. I just saw these photos -- all neglected and buried -- and wanted to save them and share them. I'm certain when people see them, they will fall in love with them too. The series will be coming out soon.
Oh! So you actually have a reason for . . . .
Ripping them off? Absolutely. Honestly, I don't think of "sampling" as ripping off 19th century writers and photographers. I love these people and their photos -- with all my heart. I really, really love them. When you see something that is a true treasure, a photo that is a fascinating, magical window into the past, a photo that has wrongly been neglected or fallen by the wayside to gather dust, you want to save it, preserve it, restore it, share it. Usually, there is a biographical story attached about the subject or photographer that is equally fascinating, and if you can succesfully find that story you want to tell the story as well. I try to knock off a paragraph or two. But the truly magical photos speak for themselves. So I keep words to a minimum.
How has Smashwords contributed to your success?
It provides an excellent platform for sharing these old treasures with lots of people. These are public domain photos that belong to the people. They ought to be free, or at most a dollar or two, and Smashwords is a place where people can find books at a reasonable price. I intend to collect the most fascinating old photos I can find, group them nicely into themes, do basic restoration that brings some badly faded and torn images back to life and back up to modern standards of eye candy, and add biographical info. I will also be adding simple instructions on how to turn just about any public domain image they like into a free e-card. That way, if the reader falls in love with an image, as I have, they can share it with their family and friends.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
Having provided the public with a clean and clear window into the past -- a magical portal, if you will, into another place and another time. I try to do that with my writing, as well as my own photography. The goal is to transport people.
What do your fans mean to you?
If I have fans, that means I have failed in my goal of being an invisible servant. I want to be like the expert projectionist at a movie theatre. If he does his job right, no one really even notices he is there. There aren't too many statues dedicated to expert projectionists. But what does move me, and what does make me happy, is when the theatre is full. That means I have a chance to share some wonderful pictures that I really love. It gives me a chance to present one of the greatest art forms out there -- photography -- and perhaps some of the interesting biography and history behind each picture. I can't think of a happier way to spend a rainy or cloudy afternoon, than a matinee. People go to the pictures to be cheered up, or to learn something new about the world, and If I can provide the same fascination as a movie, that makes me happy.
What are you working on next?
I hope to write some full-length, illustrated biographies for film artists who lived about a century ago. Many of the actors and actresses who lived during the infancy of cinema never really made it to the talkies of the late 1920s and early 1930s. Their careers have been forgotten, and that's a shame. Some of them were genuinely fascinating people. Our great grandparents adored them for a reason!
Who are your favorite authors?
I read most of the works of Mark Twain before I was 15. Got a complete set as a birthday present -- best birthday present ever! As a college student I majored in English literature, and completely fell for the big fat novels of the 19th Century. I'm especially fond of Dickens and his friend Wilkie Collins. The novels of Alexandre Dumas (father and son) have also been tremendous favorites.
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
The hope of finally becoming a published author and getting the books I've always wanted to produce out into print at last. I have Smashwords and their wonderful team to thank for that.
Published 2016-11-26.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.