Sunday, January 12, 2014

Meet Mark Cain!

I stumbled upon Mark in a forum thread on authonomy, where he kindly told everyone that he was having an Amazon free day for his book. I thought, hmm, a book titled Hell's Super, should be fun, and a guy named Mark Cain, hmm, that's either a pseudonym or proof that his parents had an interesting sense of humor...however, 
I got myself a copy, and boy, was I glad that I did that.
Which is why I don't have the slightest qualms
about banging a few drums for him.

That's him, by the way. Cheers, Mark!

And now, for something completely different...

Who are you?

Hi, I’m Mark Cain. I’m a writer and musician. Of course, everyone where I live is a musician. We must have a million guitarists here. I also do occasional management consulting for institutions of higher education.

Where are you?

Here would be Austin, Texas.

How are you?

I’m good, thanks. My wife and I have a nice house on the edge of the Texas Hill Country. We live close to nature, but also close enough to town to arts and theater.

Which book do you want to talk about? Tell us briefly what it is about.

Hell’s Super is my third novel. It could be described as a comic fantasy, though many readers call it a satire. Hell’s Super is about a very different version of Hell than the one we first thing of, you know, with all the fire and brimstone and sharp and pointy pitchforks. My Hell takes the everyday aggravations of life and magnifies them to ridiculous proportions. Think of a bad day at the office and magnify that by about one hundred, throw in some devils with really juvenile senses of humor, and you have a rough approximation of this particular version of the Inferno.
The plot of the book revolves around Steve and his assistant, Orson Welles (yes, that Orson Welles) trying to fix Hell’s Escalator, which runs from the Pearly and Infernal Gates down to the bowls of the Underworld. Along the way, they meet famous historical figures, a bunch of devils and demons, and one particularly large and lovable vampire bat. The whole story is pretty ridiculous, but a good time is had by all.

Why did you write it?

Oh, that’s kind of a fun story. My wife and I were walking along a beach in Florida, and I was thinking about an epic fantasy series that I’d just begun to write. All of a sudden, it hit me: I didn’t want to write epic. I wanted to write funny, to make people laugh. Since writing ideas tend to come to me fairly easily, it was only a matter of minutes before I had the basic idea for the story.

Tell us about your main character. What does he/she look like, love, hate, dream of? What qualities/flaws/principles does he/she have?

Steve is one of the damned. In life, he had been a tenured professor of economics. The one thing he hated more than anything was a home project. He was clumsy with tools, botched almost every house repair he attempted. So naturally when he was placed in Hell, he was assigned the job of Mr. Fix. Steve is the SUPERintendent of Plant Maintenance in Hell, which is the pun implicit in the title of the book.
Steve looks middle-aged, has male pattern baldness, and a nose bigger than Cyrano de Bergerac’s. He loves a woman down in Hell, but I can’t say more than that without creating a plot spoiler. He was damned for committing the sin of Pride. Steve is basically a really nice guy, though he can be a little cruel to people he doesn’t like. He doesn’t have many dreams for the future; being damned tends to put a damper on that. He is pretty brave and extremely sarcastic. Steve has a strong sense of fair play and exhibits a great deal of integrity.

Is there a song you'd associate with your book?

The Gershwin brothers’ I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise. That song plays a role in the plot. 

Sorry to interrupt. Just wanted to mention that I absolutely loved that scene. Those poor guys. It must have been hell...well, it was. Next question.
Which actors would you cast for the movie?

John Cusack would be a good Steve. Orson would be tough: maybe Paul Giamatti. Steve’s love interest: Marion Cotillard, but she’d have to learn to speak with a British accent.

If you could make up your own genre for this book, what would it be?

Satiric fantasy, I guess.

Is there a message in your book? Do you want your readers to take something home?

Yes. First off, you have to remember that this is Hell, where there is little chance for self-improvement or good things happening. Yet the damned fight against their fates, and it plays out again and again in the story. In short, Hell’s Super is about the indomitability of the human spirit and the nature of hope.

What are you currently working on?

I’m working on the sequel, A Cold Day in Hell, about the breakdown of Hell’s HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning) system.

Which target audience do you write for? What do you think makes your book especially appealing for that audience?

I’m looking to attract fans of Terry Pratchett, Tom Holt, and Christopher Moore, all of whom write comic fantasy and all of whom explore our world through wry but critical lenses.

Why are you a writer? Were you born to be one, did it just happen, was there some moment of epiphany...?

I’ve been writing since I was eleven, though I didn’t get serious, that is, write my first complete novel, until I was in my late twenties. I like to write, but I’m not compelled to do it. That takes a little pressure off me, I think.

Where do you get your ideas? What inspires you?

If you’ve ever heard of the Myer’s-Briggs Personality Type Indicator, you’ll know that it categories people by certain personality traits. One of them is where you get your information, from the external world or from the internal world or some combination. I am extremely intuitive, living frequently in my head, on my own internal landscape. Most of my ideas come from inside.

Plot or characters? Which is more important and why?

They’re equally important. I think of plot as like a musical phrase, and the characters as notes within that phrase. You can’t make music without both of them.

Do parts of you shine through? Are some characters like you, or friends, or family?

I confess that bits of my own personality frequently show up in my protagonists. As for my other characters, in Hell’s Super at least they are inspired by famous historical figures.

How does a typical day for you look like? What do you do when you're not writing?

I’m a runner, do some weights too. I’m a serious musician, playing in three musical groups, a British-style brass band, a brass quintet and a traditional jazz band. I play tuba. I go to plays and concerts a fair bit.
When in writing mode, I sit at my desk until I write at least 1000 words, Monday through Friday. In this way, I draft a novel in about four months.

Who is your favorite author?

Kurt Vonnegut, jr.

Is there an author you'd love to be compared to?

Kurt Vonnegut, Christopher Moore or Tom Holt. I’d be proud to be compared with any of them.

Who is your biggest supporter?

My wife, Linda, though I have a number of writer colleagues who have been wonderfully supportive of me over the years.

What's your favorite book of all time and why?

Like so many people who write fantasy, I’d have to say The Lord of The Rings. I read it when I was fourteen, and LOTR opened my imagination to full throttle.

If you could have a superpower, which one would you choose?

I want them all! But if I had to choose, it would be flight. That’s freedom, unlimited possibilities. Flight is a common choice, isn’t it?

What are you addicted to or can't live without?

Coffee, but also peace and quiet. I like the calm of my home, even though I’m a fairly gregarious person.

Coffee! A man after my own heart!
Last question: What's the most stupid question you've ever been asked?

I’ve never been asked a stupid question. The worst I’ve gotten have been ignorant ones. Most people, when they ask a question, feel a genuine need for information. My attitude comes out of years of working in a service industry. I’ve always had a strong desire to help people.

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