Thinking of fall in New England–an interview with Mark Willen

Today I have author Mark Willen joining me for an interview. Mark’s second novel, Hawke’s Return, recently came out, with another ethical dilemma for retired lawyer Jonas Hawke and new challenges for his family and friends in Beacon Junction, Vermont. It’s a great read and a timely one, as this time of year I am really missing the beauty of New England. Mark has a third book in the works for Jonas Hawke, and since he’s a member of my critique group I’ve had a sneak peek. You’ll also want to check out the first book in the series, Hawke’s Point, which looks like it’s only $.99 for Kindle right now!

Hawke's Return by [Willen, Mark]It’s his word against hers, and the stakes couldn’t be higher.

When a teenager accuses a key official of a local charity of blackmailing her for sex—and then abruptly disappears—a mystery turns into a crisis, raising concerns about the girl’s safety, the charity’s survival, and the career and reputation of a man who says he is innocent.

Enter Jonas Hawke, retired lawyer and sage of Beacon Junction. Jonas has just agreed to oversee the charitable group, a friend’s attempt to help Jonas move past his grief over the death of his wife. It’s his job to uncover the facts and ensure that justice will be done.

Jonas is helped—and hindered—by the arrival of Dylan Walker and his eight-year-old son. Why a single dad has chosen to move to a small town in Vermont to start a new life is a mystery that tugs at Jonas, especially when Dylan develops an amorous interest in Jonas’s married daughter.

Hawke’s Return is the tale of a man groping his way back from the loss of his beloved soul mate, even as he struggles with an intractable dilemma.

Q: Where were you born? How many places have you lived?

A: I’m a New England boy, for sure. I was born and raised in and around Hartford, CT, then went to college in New Hampshire, just across the river from Vermont. I eventually moved down to the greater Washington DC area and have lived here ever since, with the exception of a couple of years in New York City.

Q: What sparked your interest in writing?

A: I think I was hooked in the 9th grade when one of my short stories won an honorable mention in the Hartford Courant’s short story contest. In college, I got the journalism bug and switched to nonfiction, which satisfied my creative urge for a while, but when I got promoted and became an editor, I really missed writing. I started to dabble in fiction again, eventually going back to school to get an MA in creative writing.

Q: How long has it taken to finish your novels? How many drafts did you write before you were satisfied?

A: I write in spurts so it varies a lot. Once I know my characters and have a rough idea of what I want them to do, I can bear down, especially now that I’m retired from the 9-5 world. I wrote the first draft of my third novel, due out a year from now, in seven weeks. But of course that’s just the first draft. Revision can take many months. I don’t usually write a fresh second draft, so it’s hard to count those. I just keep rewriting sections that fall flat, cut a lot, and add a lot too. I tend to write sparse first drafts and then go back and flesh out the important stuff, which isn’t always apparent even to me when I’m writing the first draft.

Q: I’m from Massachusetts and I love the small-town Vermont setting in Hawke’s Point and Hawke’s Return. What made you decide on Vermont for the setting of the series?

A: It actually began with the character, Jonas Hawke. I created him as part of an exercise, and once I got to know him, I realized he had to be a Vermonter. And I wanted a small town, and that’s what Vermont is all about. In college, I worked as a news reporter and got to travel to many parts of Vermont, so I felt like I knew it pretty well, though I go back regularly to do more research and refresh my memories.

Q: Do you have a favorite genre to write? To read?

A: The books I write, and many that I like to read, don’t fall easily into any one genre, which can be a real problem when it comes to marketing. I’m fascinated by ethics (I taught journalism ethics for a while), and I like to put ethical quandaries at the heart of my novels. I don’t like the black-white choices; I look for problems with no easy answers and try to put well-meaning people in a difficult jam, where knowing what the right thing to do is far from obvious. So that tends to mean character-driven literary fiction, though I always try to work in some suspense to help keep the plot moving. That’s also the kind of novel I most enjoy reading, though for escapism, I read a lot of mysteries and thrillers.

Q: Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

A: Don’t give up your day job! Actually, my advice depends on their answers to a key question – why do you write? There are all sorts of excellent reasons, but it’s important to know what yours are. Beyond that, I tell them them to read a LOT and to keep writing and experimenting until they find what works for them. There are good courses and critique groups, and they’re great for getting early feedback. But be discriminating and know you’ll never make everyone happy. Writing is so subjective. Keep an open mind when someone criticizes or offers suggestions, but you have to stay true to what you want to do.

Q: Name a few authors who have inspired you and why.

A: The list changes all the time as I discover new people. This year, I’ve been wowed by Nathan Englander, Patrick Modiano, Miriam Toews, and Anthony Murra. Long-term influences include Richard Russo, Ward Just, Elizabeth Strout, Jane Gardam, John Williams, and Penelope Lively. Whenever I read a good novel that touches something inside me, it inspires me to rush to the computer and try to do that for my readers. But it also can be discouraging because a part of me keeps saying, “but you’ll never be that good.”

Q: Tell us about your current writing project.

A: I don’t have one!! I’ve just turned in the manuscript for the third book in the Jonas Hawke series, and I haven’t decided what to do next. I have one more book due in my contract, but I think it’s time for a break from Jonas. Fortunately, my publisher is open to something different. I’m going to take the next few months to play with some ideas and see what grabs me. (As a member of my critique group, you’ll probably get an early peek.)

Q: What books are you currently reading or on your to-be-read list?

A: I’m currently reading—and loving—A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles, and next up will be John LeCarre’s new one, A Legacy of Spies. Then it’s Marilyn Robinson, whom I’ve never read (shame on me!). Not too far down the road, I hope, is your book, the sequel to Thief of Hope.

Q: Coffee, tea, or hard liquor? (or all three?)

Hard liquor, I’m afraid, though not until after the day’s writing is done. Straight water until then!

Q: If you could be a character in one of your favorite novels, which character would you be and why?  

A: James Bond, of course. (But I’ll settle for George Smiley.)

Mark WillenMark Willen was born, raised, and educated in New England, where he developed a special appreciation for the values, humor, and strength of its people, as well as the sense of community that characterizes so many of its small towns. As a journalist, he has been a reporter, columnist, blogger, producer, and editor at The Voice of America, National Public Radio, Congressional Quarterly, Bloomberg News, and Kiplinger. His short stories have been published in The Rusty Nail, Corner Club Press, and The Boiler Review. His first two novels, Hawke’s Point and Hawke’s Return, were released by Pen-L Publishing, and the third book in the series is due out in 2018. Mark is also a regular contributor to Late Last Night Books, a blogzine about reading and fiction. He lives with his wife in Silver Spring, Maryland.

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Star Touched, dogs, and wolves–oh my!

I’m excited to welcome A.L. Kaplan to the blog today! Her first novel, Star Touched, was recently released and she was kind enough to do an interview for me. She’s been a member of my critique group for a long time and it’s really exciting to see the book she has worked so hard on finally make it into print! As you’ll see by her answers, she is rather fond of wolves. And dogs. First, check out Star Touched:

Eighteen-year-old Tatiana is running from her past and her star-touched powers. Her power to heal may be overshadowed by more destructive abilities. Fleeing the persecution of those like her, Tatiana seeks refuge in a small town she once visited. But this civil haven, in a world where society has broken down, is beginning to crumble. Will Tatiana flee or stay and fight for the new life she has built? Only by harnessing the very forces that haunt her can Tatiana save her friends…and herself.



It’s a great book and I love the cover! Now on to our questions!

Q: Where were you born? How many places have you lived? Are you the kind of person who likes to move around a lot, or do you prefer to live in one place?

A: I was born and raised in beautiful northern New Jersey only 45 minutes west of New York City. If you count college, I’ve lived in five different places, but two of them were in the same city. When I moved out of Baltimore I swore I would never move again. The whole process of packing my life into boxes and dealing with a moving company is not my thing. I like stability.

Q: What sparked your interest in writing? How long have you been writing?

A: For as long as I can remember I’ve created stories. When I was young these ideas would keep me up at night as I rewrote them in my mind multiple times. Translating to the written word was entirely different, and I often felt frustrated and stifled. All those wonderful speeches in my head wouldn’t transfer to the written word. My ‘artistic’ handwriting and ‘creative’ spelling got in the way. For some reason, my teachers just didn’t appreciate that kind of creativity. Instead, my stories became the subjects for paintings and sculptures. It wasn’t until college that I finally gained the confidence (and an introduction to computers) to write creatively. Finally, I could get all my ideas out, not just the still images I used in my art. The images I saw in my mind finally gained a literary narrative and eventually dialogue.

Q: How long did it take you to finish Star Touched? How many drafts did you write before you were satisfied?

A: Oh my. I started Star Touched ten years ago and I’ve completely lost track of how many drafts there were. Suffice it to say, there were many. Several years ago, I had a sit down with an agent who got to read my first few chapters in advance. The first words out of her mouth were “I’m confused.” After I got over the disappointment, I realized she was right and wrote a new first chapter. It was one of the best moves I made.

Q: I love the theme of acceptance of those who are different in Star Touched. What do you hope your readers will take away from your book?

A: This world is made up of different people. Each have their strengths and weaknesses, but all are important. We are stronger with all our uniqueness. Refusing to accept one type of person is like cutting off a toe.

Q: Do you have a favorite genre to write? To read?

A: For reading I lean toward science fiction/fantasy, although I love a good historical fiction. My writing is similar, although my short works and poetry go all over the place.

Q: Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

A: Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t succeed. You can, no matter how tall the roadblock. Follow your dreams and always travel with some method to record your words. You never know when inspiration will hit you.

Q: Name a few authors who have inspired you and why.

A: Where to start? I’ve always loved reading. I grew up reading James Herriot, Jack London, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Albert Payson Turhune, and of course J. R. R. Tolkien. Nature and animals have always been a big draw. Lord of the Rings may have birthed my love of fantasy, but there are three other books I read that were a huge influence: Island of the Blue Dolphins, My side of the Mountain, and Julie of the Wolves. On a more theatrical note, I also love Annie and Oliver. I guess I have a thing for orphans and kids surviving on their own.

[Oliver is one of my favorites also! I have a thing for orphans and pickpockets. Tatiana and Sydney would make an interesting pair.]

Q: Tell us about your current writing project.

A: I have several short stories in the works and a sequel to STAR TOUCHED. There’s even a story about Fifi – Well, sort of.

Q: What books are you currently reading or on your to-be-read list?

A: My to-read stack is huge. There are so many out there. At the top is Closer to Home by Mercedes Lackey and the rest of her Herald Spy books.

Q: Coffee, tea, or hard liquor? (or all three?)

A: I’ll go with yes, but I do prefer tea. My tea cabinet is rather large.

Q: If you could be one animal, which would you choose and why?

A: That one is easy. I’d be a wolf. When I was in high school I had a dream about wolves. The next day I went to the library and started reading. The more I learned, the more I liked. My collection now includes books, art, toys, and a few odd things like a howling cookie jar. Wolves have also inspired several stories, including my short story, Wolf Dawn, which is in the Young Adventurers: Heroes, Explorers, and Swashbucklers anthology.

One added note: I love wolves, but have no illusion of what they are — wild animals, hunters. I’ve met people who have had wolf/dog hybrids and have been lucky enough to have a great companion. For every story of a good hybrid pet, there’s another about an uncontrollable animal. A wolf is not a domestic dog. They think and behave differently. Think very carefully before you consider taking on the responsibility of adopting a hybrid. I opted for an Alaskan malamute – wolf like appearance in a domestic dog. If you’d like to learn more about Praeses, check out For the Love of Canines: Praeses part 1 and 2 on my website.

Q: If you could be a character in your one of your favorite novels, which character would you be and why?

A: So many to choose from. I’ve Gumbied into lots of novels over the years. The problem is, a lot of those characters go through heck. I’m not sure I’d like to walk in those shoes. Let’s go with Firekeeper from Jane Lindskold’s Through Wolf’s Eyes. She could talk to wolves and even thought she was one. There I go again, another story of a girl growing up in the wild.

A. L. Kaplan’s love of books started at an early age and sparked a creative imagination. Born on a cold winter morning in scenic northern New Jersey, A. L. spent many hours developing her ideas before translating them into words. Her stories have been included in several anthologies, including IN A CAT’S EYE, YOUNG ADVENTURERS: HEROES, EXPLORERS, AND SWASHBUCKLERS, and SUPPOSE: DRABBLES, FLASH FICTION, AND SHORT STORIES, as well as INDIES UNLIMITED’S 2014 & 2015 FLASH FICTION. You can find her poems in DRAGONFLY ARTS MAGAZINE’s 2014, 2015, and 2016 editions, and the BALTICON 49 and 50 BSFAN. She is a past president of the Maryland Writers’ Association’s Howard County Chapter and holds an MFA in sculpture from the Maryland Institute College of Art. When not writing or indulging in her fascination with wolves, A. L. is the props manager for a local theatre. This proud mother of two lives in Maryland with her husband and dog.

Read A. L.’s short works and poems at
Twitter: @alkaplanauthor

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Indies Unlimited Flash Fiction Anthology

I’m excited to be part of the Indies Unlimited 2016 Editors’ Choice Flash Fiction Anthology!

Indies Unlimited 2016 Editors' Choice Flash Fiction Anthology (Indies Unlimited Flash Fiction Anthology) by [Brooks, K. S., Hise, Stephen]

My flash fiction piece titled “Solo” won one of the weekly flash fiction contests last year and was chosen to be included in the anthology. Please take a look, there are lots of fun short pieces to read. It’s free today and afterward only $.99 for Kindle!

Get your copy on Amazon

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Happy May Day

Out of winter comes spring, and out of darkness comes light.

Happy May Day, everyone! I definitely feel like I need to come out of the darkness. I’ve decided to share a lovely spring poem by Wordsworth, which is both sweet and melancholy and seems fitting right now. Of course, don’t forget my alma mater’s May Day tradition, so eloquently expressed by our beloved Professor Bennett Lamond, who sadly passed away last year:

Lines Written in Early Spring
by William Wordsworth

I heard a thousand blended notes,
While in a grove I sate reclined,
In that sweet mood when pleasant thoughts
Bring sad thoughts to the mind.

To her fair works did Nature link
The human soul that through me ran;
And much it grieved my heart to think
What man has made of man.

Through primrose tufts, in that green bower,
The periwinkle trailed its wreaths;
And ’tis my faith that every flower
Enjoys the air it breathes.

The birds around me hopped and played,
Their thoughts I cannot measure:—
But the least motion which they made
It seemed a thrill of pleasure.

The budding twigs spread out their fan,
To catch the breezy air;
And I must think, do all I can,
That there was pleasure there.

If this belief from heaven be sent,
If such be Nature’s holy plan,
Have I not reason to lament
What man has made of man?

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Why I marched

I know the blog has been quiet for a while. I haven’t done much writing over the past month and I’ve been processing the state of affairs in our country. I don’t say much about politics here, but if you know me, you know I’m pretty left of center. That may be evident in some of my posts. I wanted to give the new administration the benefit of the doubt, but the past few weeks have shown that our country is going down a dark path. I fear we are no longer a shining beacon of hope and democracy, a welcoming place for all people, regardless of their religion or country of origin. That’s not right, and I hope that those who feel it’s not right will stand up and speak their minds, because that’s what democracy looks like.

Last month I took part in the Women’s March on Washington, along with hundreds of thousands. I joined women from all over the country, and a good number of men and even some children. Some of them traveled all night to get to DC and were leaving right after the march. The Metro was packed with people all going to the march, wearing pink hats, carrying signs, and the mood was so uplifting and inspiring. We came together for many reasons, but ultimately we were there to lift one another up and demonstrate to those in power that our voices matter. People marched all over the world. We are stronger together and we will not be silenced.

You may not agree with me. That’s okay. We have the freedom to disagree, and we need to find a way to have a respectful dialogue about these issues so we can move forward. But to those who would disparage minorities, immigrants, LGBT, Muslims, women–know that we are watching and we will stand up for what makes our country great. Our diversity and our tolerance make us great. We cannot turn our back on our values. We cannot be ruled by fear and distrust.

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

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