The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Mark Devine

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The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Mark Devine

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Summary: We're used to women's fiction being a little less exciting than Dragon of Life: Raining Truth and Dragon of Life: Minor Gods so we had quite a few questions to ask author Mark Devine when he popped in to see us.
Date: 18 June 2012
Interviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee

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We're used to women's fiction being a little less exciting than Dragon of Life: Raining Truth and Dragon of Life: Minor Gods so we had quite a few questions to ask author Mark Devine when he popped in to see us.

  • Bookbag: When you close your eyes and imagine your readers, who do you see?

Mark Devine: Perhaps, it's what I had for lunch. First there's Almighty God, rather intimidating until I reason if He didn't have profound patience we'd all be fish bait, though He's not to be ignored. Next, I see my deceased father, mother and wife of 40 years, each holding a pair of Dragon books and talking, though I can't hear what they're saying. Finally, I'm in a huge room with dark paneling, lots of wingback chairs scattered about and a fireplace barely confining a source of winter heat. The chairs are occupied by almost-smiling mostly mature ladies except for one terribly serious teenage female, and each occupant is too engrossed in one or another Dragon book to look up. Beside the fireplace, there's a group of loud backslapping men, and a couple of attractive women. They seem to be taking turns feeding Dragon books to the hungry flames.

  • BB: Your readers demand to know - who is the inspiration for Luke Whittaker, the wealthy entrepreneur who's never short of the appropriate phrase and comes complete with a caring nature? Is it you? I'll confess to having fallen quite heavily for him.

MD: I assure you Luke's flattered, and perhaps you've stumbled upon the reason so many men find the books rather irritating.

Since the Dragon books are nothing but Luke telling fellow spirits about assigned portions of his life as actually lived, it's important for Luke to be real as well as interesting. For the sake of reality, I loaned him some of my experiences and a bit of my thinking before adding flavor enhancing ingredients to elevate the entertainment level.

Both Luke and I come from American pioneer families. My English/Irish/German ancestors immigrated to the western United States before the Civil War. It was a hard life for women, they were irreplaceable and treasured by their men.

Luke has a few weaknesses but he's not undisciplined, and he has some idiosyncrasies but he's not contrived. When Luke and I started these stories, Luke was “working” for me. Soon Luke became the better man; now I “work” for him and enjoy the employ.

  • BB: With two books under your belt are there any more Luke Whittaker stories we can look forward to? Did you start out with one book in mind, or a whole series?

MD: There will be more Dragon books. Number three is about halfway. The goal continues to be a series of eight, not counting the two novels I wrote before starting the series: “Oceans of Snow”, about Luke's great grandparents and how they met near the Rocky Mountains during the dreadful winter of 1886; “Hate is a Season”, tells of Luke's parents meeting in San Francisco. Hard copies nap in a notebook; digital copies slumber on memory sticks.

  • BB: Honolulu, Seattle, San Francisco and now Hong Kong: when I read Raining Truth and Minor Gods I came away with the feeling that you knew these places and that your knowledge wasn't research or a quick visit. How do you know these places so well?

MD: I grew up in Seattle. My late great wife grew up in San Francisco before moving to Honolulu. Together we owned and operated businesses in Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, California, Oregon, Idaho and the State of Washington. Along the way, I filled a few “assignments” in other locations.

  • BB: I've noticed that you never take your setting far from water and there's quite an emphasis on boats. Are they important to you?

MD: You're frighteningly perceptive.

I grew up beside Lake Washington, near Puget Sound, and not far from the Pacific Ocean. For me, all that water meant boats. I was the proud owner of a 12 foot (4 meter) rowboat at age nine, over time they became a bit more exotic. As an adult, there wasn't time for toys, but now Luke let's me “play with them” on paper.

  • BB: Where and how do you write? With or without music? Which parts of writing do you enjoy and which would you rather not do at all?

MD: I write on a computer at home in a room by myself while listening to Tchaikovsky, Gershwin, Copland, Rodrigo Gabriela, Debussy, the Guzheng plus a variety of jazz piano and guitar performances.

I enjoy writing in the first person, present tense—though it was difficult in the beginning—as the logic is obvious. (The notebook novels are third person.)

I spent a lifetime conversing with customers and employees; when I read, I hear each word. It makes me a slow reader but it helps when writing dialog. For me, lots of dialog has another advantage, since people who are not reading from a script don't necessarily speak in proper classroom grammar; therefore, there is a bit more flexibility for the writer, and flexibility means more creativity and more fun.

If required to write like someone else – I'd hate it.

  • BB: Is reading important to you? What are you reading now and what's your best book of all time?

MD: I no longer read fiction for fun, I read novels to learn from writers I have enjoyed reading. Once each year I read “The Pyrates” by George MacDonald Fraser and “Lord Jim” by Joseph Conrad. “The Pyrates” is written with the smiling courage of an author who can and does successfully command the English language to perform according to his will. “Lord Jim” reminds me of my years in Southeast Asia, and I'm continually impressed with the timeless strength and relevancy of this priceless piece of prose.

“On China” by Henry Kissinger is open nearby, and my favorite book is “Doctor Zhivago” by Boris Pasternak. I read it every other year; believe and savor each word, admire the human spirit he presents to the reader and suffer with those humans being displaced (or worse) by the Russian revolution.

  • BB: What's the future of books going to be: digital or dead tree media?

MD: I began using personal computers in '82 and I'd be lost without one. Nevertheless, digital isn't for everyone, so I hope the future will have choices.

  • BB: You've got one wish. What's it to be?

MD: I'd wave my arm and decree marvelous, if not perfect, marriages filled with love and adventure for everyone – who wants one.

  • BB: What's next for Mark Devine?

MD: To work hard, be patient, and pray often.

I'd like to produce the Dragon books in an audio format with an ensemble of actors reading the dialog.

Most of 2010 and 2011 were spent in China with a new wife (a classy fifty-ish Chinese lady from Nanjing – another interesting story) and her always charming teenage daughter. When they received conditional U.S. immigration visas, we quickly moved to the States.

While in China, unable to speak Mandarin or Cantonese, it was superbly “quiet” and I was very productive. Next summer, mother and daughter will receive permanent U.S. immigration visas, then we can go back to China and hunt for a city we are all excited about that has breathable air, reasonable housing costs, good schools, and productive “quiet”.

  • BB: We wish you success with all of that and thanks for talking to us, Mark.

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