Another Column at MyShelf.Com

Between the pages, Past
A Mystery Column
By Dennis Collins

Most Likely to Succeed
Interview with Mark Terry

I first bumped into Mark Terry at a small writer’s conference in Ontario, Canada. There were only a handful of Americans there and Mark and I were both from Michigan and so we naturally chatted a bit. Over the years our paths crossed numerous times at conferences around the midwest and we seemed to frequent the same online writer’s forums. We got to know one another in a casual sort of way and although I always loved the titles of Mark’s books (Catfish Guru is a great title.), I never read any of his work until I read The Serpent’s Kiss, for review right here on MyShelf. If you want to know what I thought of it, check out my August review.

Mark agreed to share some of his thoughts with us so here goes.

Dennis Collins: How long have you been writing?

Mark Terry: I started writing seriously my senior year in college. My girlfriend (now wife) had graduated and moved back home to work and my roommate took an internship for the summer, so I was living by myself—and reading a lot. I stumbled across a collection of essays about Stephen King and he had written the introduction called something like “The Making of a Brand Name.” What struck me most (besides his $400,000 advance for the paperback rights to “Carrie”) was that writers write. They don’t necessarily go to school for it, they sit their butts down in a chair and write and then send things out. It was a revelation and I promptly sat my butt down in a chair and cranked out a science fiction short story called “When Red Eyes Blue” about intergalactic war. It didn’t go anywhere, but I was hooked.


Dennis: What made you settle on writing mysteries?

Mark: Hmmmm. Well, they chose me as much as anything else. I don’t really think what I’m writing now would be considered a mystery. It’s a flat-out thriller, but I understand what you’re saying. Let’s say crime novels. Although I’ve dabbled in fantasy and SF and even a bit of horror, none of those took. The mysteries and thrillers were the ones I finished and in particular it was the thrillers or suspense novels that the marketplace was receptive to. I think sometimes when you find some kind of success in this business, it’s because your particular flavor of skill finally matches the types of books you’re writing. In my case, I have a good sense of pace and can write action well—so I’m leveraging my strengths. I recently wrote a fantasy story for kids and it’s very fast-paced and action-oriented. My agent’s marketing it. We’ll see what happens.


Dennis: I believe that you started out self-publishing but have since moved into mainstream. How did you accomplish that?

Mark: Well, that’s not quite accurate, but as the old-timers used to say, Therein lies a tale. Quite some time back I signed a contract to publish a mystery novel called “Blood Secrets.” The publisher was Write Way, out of Colorado, and there was a ridiculously long period between signing and publication—several years--and they kept moving it around. Anyway, when they finally settled on a pub date, I was trying to figure out what I could do to market it, so I decided I would write a 12-chapter novella featuring the same character, Dr. Theo MacGreggor, and it would be a prequel to “Blood Secrets.” Then I would serialize it on my website, a chapter a month, and I could promote it and that would lead into the publication of “Blood Secrets.” So that’s what I did and the novella was called “Name Your Poison.” Things were going fairly well until about chapter 6, which is when Write Way announced bankruptcy, released me from my contract (I was one of the lucky ones, from what I’ve heard from writers who had their rights tied up in the proceedings), and suddenly I found myself with a novella and no particular market for it.

Fate plays tricks, I think. Almost at the same time, Mystery Writers of America announced that they were doing a limited, six-month deal with iUniverse. In that six-month window, iUniverse would publish any MWA author’s work free, i.e., they would waive what was then a $100 charge.

I figured, why not? So I wrote another novella, also a prequel to “Blood Secrets” but one that took place after “Name Your Poison” and named it “Catfish Guru.” Then I published the collection with iUniverse under the title “Catfish Guru.”

The book has a nice feel, it was well-received, got some reviews and, like the vast majority of POD publications, sold very little. POD publishers have a stated business model of publishing a lot of books by a lot of authors (if, in this case “authors” is the correct word) that sell relatively few copies—a hundred or so per book. Well, that’s pretty accurate.

Although I think “Catfish Guru” stands up, the POD (print-on-demand) publication route doesn’t do much for your credibility—certainly no agents or editors gave a damn—but it was an educational process. I could go on and on about the few occasions when POD might be worthwhile and what the strengths and weaknesses are, but I don’t think this is the forum for it. Maybe some other time.


Dennis: Was there a particular writer who influenced your style?

Mark: Well, as I mentioned earlier, Stephen King influenced my writing, if not exactly my style. In terms of style, I suspect the biggest influences have been authors like David Morrell, Robert B. Parker and John Sandford. These are people whose books I respond to a lot, who also focus on fast pace, action and a fairly high “incident” level—that is to say, the books are about a lot of things happening, not long descriptions of place or lengthy internal monologues.


Dennis: You write about biological/chemical terror attacks. Is there something in your background that led you to this type of story?

Mark: I have not been and am not now a terrorist, if that’s the question. But the answer is, yes, I have a degree in microbiology and public health and spent the better part of two decades working in a genetics lab and an infectious disease research lab before turning to writing fulltime.


Dennis Collins: You have a couple of very strong characters in Derek Stillwater and Jill Church. Will they be doing an encore?

Mark: Derek Stillwater, who is a troubleshooter for the Department of Homeland Security and expert on biological and chemical terrorism, is my recurring character. He first appears in “The Devil’s Pitchfork” and I’m contracted for four books with him. The third is written and scheduled for 2008 and I’m working on the fourth. I also wrote a short story, “11 Minutes” featuring Derek that appears on my website ( He’s pretty much my franchise.

As for Jill Church, the answer is maybe. I liked her character and I thought she was a strong enough character to sort of fight back against some of Derek’s quirks (of which there are many). But as of right now, no, she’s not in the next two books, although now that you mention it, she might work out well in book five…


Dennis: What do you do when you’re not writing books?

Mark: Write other things, mostly. My “day job” as it were, is as a freelance writer and editor. So I’m writing all the time: magazine articles, I edit a technical journal, I write book-length business reports about the clinical lab industry and I contribute to newsletters.

The rest of the time I work out at the gym, go mountain biking, study Sanchin-Ryu karate (I’m about one step away from black belt as of right now), kayak, walk my dog, and hang out with my wife and kids. I also started taking guitar lessons. I used to play saxophone and piano and even taught both. I decided life was short and I always wanted to play guitar, so I’m taking lessons in that now.


Dennis: This is your space to talk about anything you’d like.

Mark: Sort of like giving me a blank check, huh? I know how much competition is out there for readers’ time and dollars. Haven’t all of us paid $7.99 or $13.95 or $24.95 for a book and then when we finished reading it (if we finished reading it) thought: “I don’t know, I don’t think I got my money’s worth. I mean, I paid $7.99 and yet I think I only got about $4.87 worth out of it.” So I try very hard to give you your money’s worth and I hope I succeed.

So who would like my books? Readers of thrillers. Readers who like the books of David Morrell, Gayle Lynds, Vince Flynn, Kyle Mills, John Sandford, Lee Child, would, I think, like my books. Tense, fast-paced, action-oriented, with someone I think is a memorable main character. And if you’re reading this and you think, “Hey, that’s not my kind of book,” I hope you’ll tack on a post-script and think, “But I know someone who would.” And then tell them.

2007 Past Columns

Interview with Mark Terry (most likely to Succeed)

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