This week I spoke to Mark Atley about his writing and the inspiration behind his books.
Tell me about how you came to define your writing style. What drew you towards crime fiction?
Get Shorty by Elmore Leonard is the book that I am truly passionate about and it epitomises my writing style to me. That book was how I found Crime Fiction. Not mysteries. Not thrillers or suspense. Crime Fiction.
I re-read it every year, sometimes multiple times a year. It’s funny but I actually hated Get Shorty the first time I read it. I didn’t understand the book. Been writing for years. Started my novel writing with thrillers. Started there, because of Vince Flynn. Like me, he was dyslexic. Also, he had a dream and executed it. Then, I fell in love with Daniel Silva, and decided I can’t write a thriller like they do. So I decided to write smaller stories. I couldn’t do fantasy. Couldn’t get any of my Science Fiction to work. Figured, I know crime, because I grew up in a cop household—why not start there? For several years, I studied crime fiction, reading all the greats. Started with Raymond Chandler, and then progressed to current greats.
After college, I worked in sales but was told I’m too honest for it so I quit that job to be a cop. I figured there’s nothing wrong with jumping into research with both feet. Started in the county jail. That’s a great place to learn about crime and people. That year, I read a few of Leonard’s books, and didn’t connect to any of them. And then I did. They were good. I saw what he was trying to do, and it clicked. Behind Leonard came Ken Buren.
Then, in my writing, I made the transition to present tense and my mind opened.
What is your career background and how did you get into writing novels?
Career wise, I’ve had a lot of “jobs”, but they weren’t really jobs. I went to school for journalism, because I wanted to write and do live-event production, like what you see on ESPN. I realized I’m too honest for journalism, but loved writing stories from the local crime blotter. I worked in live-event production for a decade producing small gigs around town. Best job in the world, because the production stuff taught me a lot about pacing and storytelling, while working the switchers and directing. After school, there weren’t any jobs in this area so I worked in sales for couple years and did okay. It wasn’t great. During all that, I waited tables and bartended. Except I’m not a great bartender, I can’t remember the drink recipes.
I don’t know what it is like for others growing up, but I wanted to do what my father did. He was a cop. He’s retired. I think he tried to get me to do something else. I don’t know if he wanted me in law enforcement. He’s always said if someone wants to be in law enforcement they need to go to school for something other than Criminal Justice, because everyone has a Criminal Justice Degree. He had several reasons why being different would be good. Journalism was a good choice for me, because gave me all the skills a good investigator needs to have.
As far as writing, I’ve always wanted to tell stories. I challenged myself to write and finish a couple novels. They sucked, but I finished them.
Please tell me about your books and what you think draws readers to enjoy them.
Recently, my novel The Olympian published. I want readers to enjoy it and I want them to be entertained.
The novel follows several people at a Mexican All-Inclusive Resort. It’s pure Crime Fiction. I call it an ensemble novel, because it’s told from multiple points-of-view. I wanted to write a novel based on Michael Phelps. I challenged myself to write a laconic good guy any Leonard fan would recognize and never be in his head. Both ideas turned into The Olympian.
Really, the novel’s setting could be anywhere; I just needed something I was familiar with. It’s not about the resort. It’s about the people. I hope that’s what draws readers.
Are there any particular mediums or narrative troupes you like to use in your writing and why?
I wrote a series character in a trilogy of mysteries that were in first-person. At one point, I had a contract with a publisher to have these novels published. But two things happened, one I can’t talk about due to NDA and I read Adrian Mckinty’s Sean Duffy series. I realized I sucked at writing in first person. I found it tedious and limiting, which made it very difficult to finish the novels. I felt exhausted. It wasn’t very fun. One thing I do to motivate myself to write is read author interviews. I read old interviews with Elmore Leonard. I realized writing should be fun. I wanted to read more stories like his, but didn’t feel like there was anyone out there doing that.
There are, but that’s how I felt. As such, I decided to write the stories I wanted to read, which included weird characters and strange situations. I like writing in scenes. Leonard said he would write from the best point-of-view for that scene. That worked for me.
What do you enjoy reading and how does this influence your writing?
I read everything. I love most of what I read. On Twitter, I like to write quick blurbs about what I liked in a book. Sometimes I put what didn’t work. I don’t mention books I didn’t like.
When I’m writing, I can’t read Elmore Leonard, Don Winslow, Lou Berny, William Boyle, Adrian McKinty and many others. I end up trying to sound like them. I wait and reward myself with reading them when I finish a novel.
When I’m writing, I do research, read whatever catches my fancy, and read Science Fiction. Because I’m a detective, I have to take a break from the crime fiction, and I have found a love for Star Trek novels. They are great to read before bed and some of them are master classes in character interactions. Think Spock, Kirk, and McCoy—doesn’t get any better than when they are bouncing off each other in a scene.
Check out James Blish’s Spock Must Die! As far as Trek lore, there are some issues, but as far as story. It really works.
If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, on a writing project, who would it be and why?
With regards to dead writers, I would select Hunter S. Thompson, George V. Higgins, Chester Himes, and Elmore Leonard. I think the reasons are pretty obvious at this point. Thompson would just be fun. The Friends of Eddie Coyle is a must read, and really captures a scene. Himes would just be plain cool. And Leonard, well because he’s the master and it’d be good to have his approval.
When it comes to living writers I would go with Lou Berney, Attica Locke, Walter Mosely, William Boyle, and J. Todd Scott. Berny, because he’s an Oklahoman, too. Locke, because she’s great. It’d be fun to do a different point-of-view novel with her. Mosely, because who wouldn’t want to work at with a master. Boyle, because he’s writing stories I want to read. J. Todd Scott, because he’s just a great guy. He’s been very supportive. I’d love to work with him. Or have a beer.
In fact, I’ll just have a beer with any of them, or coffee.
Have you got any exciting new plans or projects coming up that you’d like to share with me?
Right now, I am trying to find an agent. To be honest, I’m having a hard time finding someone that wants to work with me.
I have rewritten that series character in 3rd Person and hope to bring those characters to the world soon.
I finished two novels this last year: American Standard and Green County, and they are wonderful novels. I hope you get to read them soon. I’m trying to find representation for American Standard.
American Standard is a Crime Fiction ensemble novel, approximately 100,000 words, told in multiple viewpoints, about George Winslow, who steals money from a social media company that’s a front for a cartel, to make good on a gambling debt. The cartel hires Salvatore “Sal” Lambino (The Good Guy) to find George, because he’s the best at finding people. The FBI hires a hit-man, Maxwell—not Max, don’t call him that (The Bad Guy) to find George and quietly bring him in, because the FBI wants to run George against the cartel without tipping off the cartel. The cartel just wants George and everyone else involved dead, including the girl George falls in love with—Sal’s assistant, who has her own intentions—and the tough guy that’s in love with her. Current comparative titles to style and characters would be Lou Berney’s November Road or William Boyle’s A Friend is a Gift You Give Yourself.
The other novel, Green County, is similar in structure and set in Tulsa, Oklahoma. It’s about what happens when an informant dies. The characters in this novel are based on several people I work with, which isn’t something I normally do, but really worked in this novel.
Check out Ink and Sword Magazine (on Twitter) December 2018 Crime Fiction issue to find two of my short stories, including one that stars Sal from American Standard.
As always, I’m working on the next novel and have several planned after that.
Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to going forward?
I’m excited to read J. Todd Scott’s next novel. I’m really looking forward to the last Alex Segura Pete Fernandez novel.
Anything you’d like to add?
I’d love for people to buy my book. What author wouldn’t?
But what I would like is to hear from readers what worked and what didn’t for them. You can find me on Twitter. Let’s talk about books. Also, I’d love for readers to leave reviews for books they have read, including mine. Reviews matter.
Also, if you find yourself on twitter, watch my feed for authors you should be following. There’s some great advice and interactions happening there.
Lastly, listen to WriterTypes Podcast. Those guys are doing some great work.
It’s been great hearing from you thank you for answering my questions and giving us an insight into your work!