Mark Bouton earned degrees in sociology and law, then joined the FBI, nabbing killers, kidnappers, and bank robbers across America for 30 years. He played a key role in solving the Oklahoma City bombing. He uses his background in tracking down criminals to write mystery/suspense novels.
I worked eight years on my first novel, and it was sold to a good publisher. Then about a month before it was due to be printed up, my agent called to say that the publisher had hired a new marketing manager who decided that they would no longer publish mystery/suspense novels. They killed a couple of dozen books that were about to come out. It took me another seven or eight years to sell a different novel. Since then, I’ve had three mystery/suspense novels published, with another, The Second Savior, due out in July, 2009. Most authors I know have had similar “incidents” in dealing with the publishing world.
Do you think an author is born or made?
I think it’s a bit of both. Someone has to have the inner drive to write down his ideas and feelings and the stories he wants to tell. Then it comes down to learning the craft of writing if he’s to see those ideas and stories in print anywhere besides the copy gathering dust in one of his desk drawers. It takes a great deal of persistence and patience to make the writer’s journey to publication.
What is the first book you remember reading?
First I read a lot of books about Native Americans and cowboys. Then I read The Hardy Boys and more advanced detective stories such as Sherlock Holmes and stories by Edgar Allen Poe and Chekov. The book I recall as grabbing me by the shirt front and slamming me against the wall with the magnificence of its writing and the power of its story was The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane. After reading that,
I was hooked on savoring the divine experience of reading fine literature.
What common qualities do you find in the personalities of published authors?
To me, authors all seem to be curious, empathetic, observant, introspective, and driven. Of course, despite the similarities, there are many differences among writers, just as there are among any other group. So, the flavor of each author’s personality will make his work totally different from any other’s.
How do you know if you have a seemingly “stupid” book premise that is doomed to fail versus one that will fly high?
While I’m writing a novel, I always vacillate between thinking “this is great” and “this is totally stupid, I’m not doing it right, and who cares about this, anyway?” What I do is write about ideas and people that I care about and think are worth visiting and thinking about, and I hope the reader will share my enthusiasm.
What is the theme of your latest book?
The theme is that religious beliefs, whether organized or personal or uncertain, should be flexible enough to allow others the freedom of their ideas and beliefs.
At what point did you stop juggling suggestions and critiques and trust yourself (as a writer)?
That’s an ongoing process. I still have people I trust go over some of my work. Other people will see deficiencies, mistakes, and problems that I didn’t notice. When it comes to how the plot works, I feel that I usually have the best handle on it and will seldom make changes in that based on others’ thoughts.
Are takeaway messages (in your book) important to you?
Yes, I write about ideas I consider important—organized crime in America, the critical threat of cybercrime, the effect of racism on our society, and how religious beliefs affect our culture. My next book deals with the vital importance of children in the world. So I do hope that readers will consider the ideas I’m bringing to their attention. But I also strive to provide action, conflict, emotion, love, and humor.
When do you know you’ve got the finished product and it’s your best effort?
I feel I’m finished when I’ve answered the questions that I brought up during the book, when the characters have completed their battle or journey or quest, and when I’ve reviewed the writing enough that it is lean and moving and correct, and that it still has vitality and a spark of spontaneity.
Any anecdotes about the research or writing of your books?
I find it fascinating that every book requires a number of different questions be answered about how something works or what something is called or why things interact as they do, and often I will find the answers to many of these questions not by hard core research, but by serendipity. I’ll see an article, run across someone who knows the answer, or see a book in a random stack on sale at a book store that will speak to the issue in question. I think people and ideas in this world are more interconnected than we know.
How would you pitch this book to your intended audience?
What if Jesus were alive and well in L. A., and he was caught in a gang drive-by shooting?