Halloween Extravaganza: INTERVIEW: Mark Sheldon

Meghan: Welcome to Meghan’s House of Books, Mark. It’s a pleasure to have you here today. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Mark Sheldon: I’m thirty-seven and I live in Southern California with my wife of ten years, Betsy. We don’t have any children, but several nephews and a niece that keep us plenty occupied.

Meghan: What are five things most people don’t know about you?

Mark Sheldon:

  • I was born in Hawaii.
  • I traveled up the Yangtze River a few years before the Three Gorges Dam was built.
  • I lived in Germany for three months when I was in third grade. The only German I really remember is the phrase “Ich bin ein kleines gewerbegebiet,” which translates roughly into “I am a little business district.” I was an odd child.
  • I also write music.
  • My spirit animal is a penguin.

Meghan: What is the first book you remember reading?

Mark Sheldon: First one I read by myself was definitely Green Eggs and Ham.

Meghan: What are you reading now?

Mark Sheldon: Stephen King’s The Green Mile. It’s been on my bucket list to read that one for decades, and finally gotten around to it.

Meghan: What’s a book you really enjoyed that others wouldn’t expect you to have liked?

Mark Sheldon: Ooh, that’s a hard one, because I really wear my heart on my sleeve as far as the kind of books I read. Closest answer I can give is that I didn’t hate The Cursed Child nearly as much as the majority of the Harry Potter fandom did.

Meghan: What made you decide you want to write? When did you begin writing?

Mark Sheldon: I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember – and I’m pretty sure that before that I was telling stories. Earliest story I remember writing was in Kindergarten, and was about a mystical crystal from outer space which created the dinosaurs, and when it’s power died out so did they, and that was why they went extinct. Had pictures and everything.

Meghan: Do you have a special place you like to write?

Mark Sheldon: Someday, when Betsy and I get our dream home, I’ll have a writing nook and all that jazz, but at this point in my life I pretty much squeeze in my writing where and when I can.

Meghan: Do you have any quirks or processes that you go through when you write?

Mark Sheldon: Normally I’m a very thorough plotter. I had sketched out the detailed plots of all twelve books of The Noricin Chronicles before I even wrote the first book. With the Sarah Killian books, I’ve gone for a more free-form approach, where I’m basically just writing as I go along. I have the overall story arc in my mind, but I haven’t done any sketching or pre-plotting on paper before I set down to write each book. It’s proven both liberating and challenging, but I think the freeform technique lends itself well to Sarah’s frenetic personality.

Meghan: Is there anything about writing you find most challenging?

Mark Sheldon: The “afterwork” – promoting, etc. I love writing, I love the editing process, and everything leading up to publication, but I’m a fairly humble person by nature, so “selling myself” isn’t something that comes naturally to me.

Meghan: What’s the most satisfying thing you’ve written so far?

Mark Sheldon: I’ve very fond of my short story, The Life of Death, which was included in Crystal Lake’s anthology Fear the Reaper. As suggested by the title, it’s the story of Death’s life and the events that pushed her to don the cloak and scythe.

Meghan: What books have most inspired you? Who are some authors that have inspired your writing style?

Mark Sheldon: Too many to list for sure, but top of the list would be everything by Douglas Adams. I loved the books of Dean Koontz when I was a teenager, but have kind of grown out of him now that I’m older. J.K. Rowling has had a huge impact on me as a reader and writer – not just Harry Potter, but I am extremely fond of her Robert Galbraith books as well (Casual Vacancy was well-written, but not really my personal cup of tea). Dan Brown is sort of my guilty pleasure author.

Meghan: What do you think makes a good story?

Mark Sheldon: If only it were that easy, heh! I think the characters are the most important part of any story. You could have an amazing plot, but who cares if there isn’t anyone you care about inside of that plot? That said, I have always been a sucker for a good surprise ending.

Meghan: What does it take for you to love a character? How do you utilize that when creating your characters?

Mark Sheldon: I love any character with snark. I am something of a smart-ass myself, so I love characters that can hold their own in a verbal joust. I think that should be fairly evident to anyone who has read the first chapter of Sarah Killian: Serial Killer for Hire.

Meghan: Which, of all your characters, do you think is the most like you?

Mark Sheldon: The trio of Mike, Dan, and Shelley from The Noricin Chronicles are probably the closest representation of the different aspects of my personality. Mike being the socially awkward nerd, Dan being the idealist who believes in standing up for what is right, and Shelley the smart-ass.

Meghan: Are you turned off by a bad cover? To what degree were you involved in creating your book covers?

Mark Sheldon: I wouldn’t necessarily say I’m turned off by a bad cover, though an intriguing one certainly will catch my eye more. For The Noricin Chronicles, since I was self-publishing and had a budget of $0.00, I designed all the covers myself, except for the first one. For the Sarah Killian books, both covers were designed by Ben Baldwin, an artist with Crystal Lake, so I wasn’t quite as involved with those designs obviously, but I gave Ben some basic ideas about the books’ themes, events, and Sarah’s character, and he went from there.

Meghan: What have you learned creating your books?

Mark Sheldon: I think most people imagine authors as sort of fantastical gods, creating their worlds and characters, divining the events and trials that their subjective characters will have to face. The truth is, at least as I and several other writers I know have found, we don’t have nearly as much control over what we write once the pen starts moving. Amy Reyshell in The Noricin Chronicles was particularly stubborn about doing what she wanted, regardless of what I had sketched out for the plot ahead of time.

Meghan: What has been the hardest scene for you to write so far?

Mark Sheldon: I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but the end of The Relics of Time (Book 5 of The Noricin Chronicles), was definitely the hardest scene I’ve written so far. I had to do things in that book that made Betsy stop talking to me for a few hours. That said, the first scene of Sarah Killian three is going to be extremely difficult for me to write when I get to it – I can’t really get into why without spoiling the end of Book 2 – and will almost certainly surpass The Relics of Time in becoming the hardest scene I may ever write.

Meghan: What makes your books different from others out there in this genre?

Mark Sheldon: For the Sarah Killian books that’s easy, because I’m not aware of any other horror-espionage books out there. Not saying they don’t exist, but they haven’t come across my radar yet if they do. The Noricin Chronicles was written to be more of a mainstream work, however it’s still relatively unique, I think, in the way that I blended history and literature into my original story. Other writers have certainly tackled blending history with an original story or pre-existing literature with a new story, but there aren’t many books out there that did both to the extent that I did in The Noricin Chronicles.

Meghan: How important is the book title, how hard is it to choose the best one, and how did you choose yours (of course, with no spoilers)?

Mark Sheldon: I’d say the title is even more important than the cover – especially in the current age of digital books, there are instances where the title is the first and maybe only impression a reader will get before reading the summary and deciding if they want to buy. For Sarah Killian: Serial Killer for Hire, the title was really what came first, so that was easy and the rest of the story just evolved out of me figuring out exactly how a serial killer who worked for hire would function. The title for the second book – Sarah Killian: The Mullets of Madness – came to my mind as I was writing the first book, when early on Sarah mentioned that there were few things in the world she could stand less than a man with a mullet. As soon as she had said that, the title Mullets of Madness struck me as a good name, and I knew that I would be using it for her at some point in the series.

Meghan: What makes you feel more fulfilled: Writing a novel or writing a short story?

Mark Sheldon: There is certainly more of a buildup for the completion of writing a novel. Months or even years of writing, re-writing, re-re-writing, so of course the satisfaction of finally having come to completion on that is really incomparable. However, there’s also something very satisfying about being able to tell a complete story in such a succinct format as the short story form. So I’d say both are very fulfilling, just in very different ways.

Meghan: Tell us a little bit about your books, your target audience, and what you would like readers to take away from your stories.

Mark Sheldon: Like I mentioned earlier, Sarah Killian is a very unique blend of horror-espionage. Sarah works for a secret organization known as T.H.E.M. – the Trusted Hierarchy of Everyday Murderers. T.H.E.M. contracts out various types of killers – such as your standard assassins – but Sarah’s branch of Professional Serial Killers is a somewhat more specialized breed of killer for hire. When put on assignment, Sarah will blend herself into a community for months – maybe even years – at a time, creating two separate personalities within that community: the “dupe,” who is the everyday person that Sarah pretends to be while on assignment, and the profile of the killer who will be taking out the group of people that she has been contracted to exterminate. She uses various tools out of the James Bond and Mission: Impossible playbooks to help her create these personas and blend into the community without raising suspicion.

Meghan: Can you tell us about some of the deleted scenes/stuff that got left out of your work?

Mark Sheldon: There really isn’t too much from Sarah Killian that ended up on the cutting room floor. My editors at Crystal Lake have been very generous with the editing process and been more interested in technical details than re-working my vision, so I’m very grateful for that. I mentioned earlier that the character of Amy Reyshell in The Noricin Chronicles gave me some difficulty – as I’d originally drafted it, she and Dan weren’t supposed to start dating until around the fifth book, however about hallway through book four I think it was (it’s been almost ten years since I’ve published them, and I’m not one to re-read my own books after they’ve been finished), she said to me, “To hell with that shit, I’m not waiting any longer” and made out with Dan in front of the whole school.

Meghan: What is in your “trunk”?

Mark Sheldon: Not sure if this entirely qualifies, but I have a book I wrote called The Motif which I finished a few years ago and is waiting for the right home to publish it. It’s a suspense novella about a song that drives people to murder-suicide when they hear it. Sort of like The Ring, but with an MP3 file instead of a video tape.

Meghan: What can we expect from you in the future?

Mark Sheldon: Sarah Killian 3 is the next project I’m going to start working on. Sarah’s primary story arc will be completed with that book – not saying that this will be the end of her books, I will always be open to continuing on with her story if the inspiration strikes, but for now I will be wrapping up her current storyline with the third book. After that, I have a sci-fi horror book that’s been plugging around in the back of my brain for a while that I would like to actualize. And from there on – who knows?

Meghan: Where can we find you?

Mark Sheldon:

Facebook: Author Mark Sheldon, Mullets of Madness, Noricin Chronicles

Twitter: I sadly had to retire my Twitter account, due to being hacked, and
have not had the time or energy to start a new one from scratch.

Website ** Email

Meghan: Do you have any closing words for your fans or anything you’d like to say that we didn’t get to cover in this interview?

Mark Sheldon: Just thank you for this opportunity, and I always love hearing from people who have enjoyed my writing!

Mark Sheldon is the author of The Noricin Chronicles and the Sarah Killian series. He has also published a collection of short stories titled Mores From the Maelstrom. He lives in Southern California with his wife Betsy.

Sarah Killian 1: Serial Killer (for Hire!)

Meet Sarah Killian, a professional serial killer (for hire!) with a twisted sense of humor.

Sarah Killian is not your average thirty year-old single woman. Foul-mouthed, mean-spirited, and a text-book-case loner. Also, she is a Professional Serial Killer. 

In this Crime Fiction / Thriller novel with a twisted sense of humor, Sarah works for T.H.E.M. (Trusted Hierarchy of Everyday Murderers), a secret organization of murderers for hire headed up by the mysterious Zeke. You’ll be surprised to learn who their biggest clients are. Conspiracy theories, anyone? 

But a wrench is thrown into the clockwork of Sarah’s comfortable lifestyle when, on her latest assignment, she is forced to take on an apprentice, Bethany—a bubbly, perky, blonde with a severe case of verbal-vomit. In short, Bethany is everything Sarah is not. 

Will Sarah be able to adjust and work with her new apprentice, or will she break her contract with T.H.E.M. and murder the buxom bimbo?

So if you’re looking for a strong female lead that doesn’t care what you think, in a book similar to the best of Dean Koontz and J.A. Konrath, then look no further than Sarah Killian – Serial Killer (For Hire). 

Just don’t call her an ‘assassin.’ You might not live long enough to regret it.

Sarah Killian 2: The Mullet of Madness

Have you ever woken one morning with a burning, insatiable desire to go out and kill someone?

Sarah Killian, a notoriously foul-mouthed and mean-spirited serial killer for hire, along with her cohort assassin Mary Sue Keller, are back on assignment for the Trusted Hierarchy of Everyday Murderers (T.H.E.M.).

After receiving an ominous warning from a mark-gone-wrong, it becomes clear that Nick Jin—Sarah’s former nemesis—is still at large and singling her out.

Sarah and Mary Sue are dispatched to Tennessee to discreetly kill off an accused family of KKK organizers, but their true mission is to lure Nick Jin into a trap. But will Nick—always several steps ahead of T.H.E.M.—see their bait for what it is? One thing is guaranteed: blood will be shed.

In the spirit of Sidney Sheldon, Dean Koontz, and Joss Whedon,The Mullets of Madness is a truly unique blend of horror, suspense and espionage.

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