Today we’ll be talking to Mark R. McCallum. He is the author of the new book Taking Three, a supernatural thriller about Death coming in threes. Mark is a brother in the Lord, friend and fellow church member. He serves us every Sunday morning by arriving extra early to make sure the coffee is brewed and ready to drink before everyone arrives. Let’s get to it!
Give us a little background about yourself. Where are you from?
I grew up in the Atlanta area and currently live in Covington. Attended Presbyterian College as an undergrad and the University of Georgia as a grad student. Spent 10 years as a sportswriter and have worked as a writer/editor for Internet-related companies since 1995. Online, I worked on projects ranging from the defunct baseball web site Fastball.com and Ken Burns’ THE WAR to homedepot.com’s homepage. I’m single with a passion for baseball, hockey, World War II history and writing.
When and why did you begin writing as a career?
My literary career likely began in a Creative Writing class my senior year in high school. I asked if I could turn in a short story for extra credit. When I got an A- on it, I realized there was something to this. I could make something up and get credit for it. I went from there to earning a Bachelors in English and a Masters in Journalism, turning both into a decade-long career as a sportswriter. I’ve been earning paychecks by the word most of my life. But I was always writing for someone else and not myself.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
Probably not long after I no longer considered myself a shortstop. LOL. When you put “sportswriter” on your 1040, you know you’re a writer, but I never considered myself an author until I finished Taking Three. I never believed I could sustain a story long enough to write a novel. My entire career required I tell a story in 15 inches or less, so I was geared to writing short. Imagine how surprised I was to find I’d told a story that kept a reader’s interest for 250 pages.
Do you have a specific writing style?
That’s difficult for me to answer since I don’t really think of my writing as a style. It could be conversational if you’ve talked to me before. You’d probably hear me saying the words I’ve written. I have an attention to detail, so you’d pick up on that, also. While my subject matter might be more Revelation, I’d say my style is more Genesis: symbolic, factual, and hopefully, with a few well-worded phrases.
What books have most influenced your life most?
Outside of the Bible, who knows? I’m not sure I can point to Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, which grabbed me as a kid and took me through some incredible emotional moments. Or step from there into Mordor for Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Or peer through the fog in Jack Higgins The Eagle Has Landed and say this had the greatest impact on me. Maybe John Peterson’s Mystery in the Night Woods, ordered from my Weekly Reader influenced me to wonder at what’s in the dark and be fascinated with what if. I think those books and more probably instilled a desire in me to tell a tale that would make a difference in someone else, to get them talking. And for me, to find that perfect phrase. To so connect with another that you can’t stop reading because you have to know what happens next.
If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
I love Stephen King’s writing style. He does such a wonderful job of painting pictures, creating characters and locking you so into the story that you keep reading.
As you and I have talked prior to this interview you told me that the story of God working through this book wasn’t the topic of the book itself. Rather, you said it was in the actual writing of the book. What did you mean?
Prayer, and faith, played a big part in this book coming together. Before a word had been written, I was going through a miserable work experience. Even my best friend told me “You have lost your Happy.” During that time, I had this horrific nightmare. It woke me 6 am on a Saturday morning in a cold drenched sweat. I NEVER have those kind of dreams. I told myself, “If not now, when?” I started writing down the scene at 6:15 am.
Not sure how good it was, I asked Tom Hallman for his opinion. He’d tell the Emperor he had no clothes and I knew he’d tell me to stop writing if it weren’t worth publishing. He said “You’re not wasting your time.” I finished the first draft in two months and sought a publisher, all the while putting the manuscript in God’s hands through prayer. After four years and 14 confirmed rejections, I was running out of options. I flat asked God for some encouragement. “Help me see if this is what you want me to pursue. If not, I’ll spent no more time on it.”
Two days later, a small publishing house called. They wanted to publish my novel. Nothing tops good news like an answered prayer.
Taking Three is your first book. What inspired you to write it?
Trying to figure how those two characters in the nightmare mentioned above got to that moment in life proved the genesis of Taking Three.
How did you come up with the title?
Originally, I intended to simply call it “3″ since I like being succinct. But all my years of writing Internet copy with calls to action forced me to add an action verb.
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
What drew you to write about a supernatural creature?
My imagination feels compelled to wander into the unknown. I’m fascinated with why things happen in life, knowing we can’t know the reasons for God’s plan until we join Him and experience the big ah-ha. I mean, why does Death seem to come in threes? What evil lurks in the hearts of men. What happens if I turn over this rock? I’m pretty sure the seals breaking in Revelation caught my attention at a very young age.
And how one views life makes such a difference. What you might consider your demons, I might see as angels trying to help you find your way. These are things we can’t see. I want to peel back the curtain and expose the wizard. Or not.
Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
I based some scenes involving Robbie and Duncan on exaggerated past experiences and incorporated time at the hospital and certain locations as backdrops. But the story and events are as real as the characters themselves. Depends on how much you believe in them.
If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in this book?
You are constantly in edit mode, so I know I could find things I wanted to change. But all my years a sportswriter trained me not to dwell on what was in the newspaper yesterday. Move forward.
What was the hardest part of writing your book?
Letting go. There comes a point where you must let your creation make its own way in the world. I’ve found that the hardest part of the writing the next book is recapturing the discipline to write every day. I believed finding the time to write would be difficult, but when this story grabbed me, I couldn’t wait to get to it EVERY day. I had to find out where my characters were going to take me each evening and seeing if each new scene would fit perfectly into the big picture.
Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
How much I absolutely love to write fiction and that sometimes the story takes on a life of its own. In the sequel, I’ve actually had a character write himself back into the novel when I was positive he wasn’t going to make it. Nothing makes writing more fun to an author than characters who come alive off the page.
What book(s) are you reading now?
John Costello’s 10 Days to Destiny, The Secret Story of the Hess Peace Initiative and British Efforts to Strike a Deal with Hitler, Zodhiates’ The Behavior of Belief and The Quarterly Journal of Military History.
Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
I haven’t been able to pick up a new author in a while. I’ve got a ton of historical books on my counter and continue to wade through them. But isn’t it fun to discover someone new? Or even someone you haven’t noticed and discover they’ve got an extensive library published. I loved when I found Robert B. Parker and Stephen R. Donaldson after college and knew I didn’t have to wait for their next novel. It was already available.
What are your current projects that people might be interested in?
The sequel to Taking Three, which advances our story four years into the future. I have promises to keep to several characters.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
Read, read, read. The best thing any writer can do is be well-read. You get exposed to other styles. You become better informed. Anything can spark an idea. Take advantage of libraries. One of the more depressing moments in my life was walking into a gigantic bookstore and realizing I’m not going to live long enough to read everything I want to read. LOL
Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Have faith. It’s the central theme of Taking Three, believing the impossible is possible. That just because it doesn’t make sense doesn’t mean it’s not real. What your father might be teaching you might not make sense. What your friend might be trying to tell you might sound ridiculous. But maybe there’s some purpose you can’t see. Sometimes, you simply have to have faith. Knowing when that moment is makes life what it is. It’s like that great scene in “Field of Dreams” where Moonlight Graham tells Ray Kinsella: “You know we just don’t recognize the most significant moments of our lives while they’re happening.”
Where can people buy your book if they’d like a copy?
If anyone has any questions please feel free to post them in the comments. I’ll get Mark to mosey on over and answer. That or I will sit next to him in church and make him listen to me sing!
I want to thank Mark for taking time to answer some questions and give insight into his world of writing.
P.s. I will be posting a short review of this book along with a chance for folks to get a free, signed copy.