Today I’m delighted to host an interview with Mark Leichliter, author of The Other Side which is published by Level Best Books this month (June 2021). The novel is a tense mystery that asks the question: How do you start an investigation when you have no evidence that a crime has been committed? It certainly made me want to find out more! Here’s what Mark had to say…
Please can you introduce yourself and your work?
Thanks for hosting me, Rebecca. My name is Mark Leichliter. I write crime fiction under that name and I publish literary and mainstream fiction under the name Mark Hummel. I’ve been writing nearly all my life, making up tales about the animals I played with as a kid. I’m old enough that, growing up, you could send away for small molded plastic animals with coupons you found in the backs of books.
The Other Side is my crime fiction debut. It’s set in the valley where I live in Northwestern Montana in the US. The book centers on the disappearance of a seventeen-year-old girl who goes missing from a sleepy tourist town on the shores of Flathead Lake, west of the Mississippi River. As the case escalates and they suspect Britany has been murdered, they have no body, no cell phone, no clear geographical point of disappearance, and no obvious suspect. What they do have are plenty of dead-ends, lots of questions, and eventually, the discovery of other crimes.
The novel offers a realistic treatment of crime investigation and the upheaval such a case has in the lives of family, friends and investigators.
At what age did you start writing and how/when did you know you could make a career from being an author?
I’ve literally been writing since I could hold a pen. My elderly mother, bless her heart, dutifully saved stories I wrote when I was a little boy. Quite dull stories I must say in hindsight. Those plastic animals I introduced you to, well, I kept one drawer in my chest of drawers empty; I fitted a piece of paper inside of it on which I’d drawn an elaborate floorplan of what I saw as penthouse style apartment in which my favorite half dozen or so animals lived. From that venue, I wrote little stories about their adventures.
I probably should have stayed with that theme, for perhaps I could have sold a children’s series and made a living off of writing. As it is, I do make a living from writing, but in a rather complicated way. So, how did I know I could make a career from being an author,
you ask; well, if a career also means paying the rent and buying groceries, then most working writers will tell you it’s essentially impossible. Hence the popularity of the “starving artist” theme. It’s true though, only a tiny number of authors earn enough to write full time. For me, I cobble together many writing related things in order to support my habit and write the books and stories I want to write. I was a writing teacher for more than two decades, and I still teach the occasional course or workshop. I do a great deal of editing and work regularly—something I absolutely love—as what I term a “writing coach”, helping dedicated writers improve their craft, get critiques of their work, and learn about the publishing industry. I also do a great deal of ghostwriting, producing several books a year for thought leaders throughout the world who are CEOs, leaders of nonprofits, professional athletic coaches, and others.
In the end, it’s all about balance. I literally balance my days in a way that I can write on my own projects from the time I rise through until lunch time, then I shift direction and write and edit on the behalf of others—work that offers a paycheck rather than being dependent on the purchases of readers.
How do you approach writing a new book? Are you a plotter or a ‘pantser’ (someone who makes it up as they go)?
I am absolutely a ‘pantser’. 100%. Every writer approaches their work differently, as they should. It’s important you find what works for you. We all have different needs. I have writer friends who plot every aspect of a novel and spend years meticulously doing research for it. While I’m a stickler for research and spend important time consulting experts in fields that are vital to what I’m writing at the moment, when it comes to process, I relish not knowing where a book is going. It’s actually a topic I’m passionate about, for I find tremendous joy in the act of discovery that comes with writing. I believe in the E.L. Doctorow idea that writing is like driving at night with your headlights on; you may only be able to see what’s immediately ahead of you, but you can make a whole trip that way. As long as I begin to see the next scene at some point while I am writing a current scene, I trust that I’ll find my way to the end. For me, this allows me to get out of the way of the book, listen to its rhythms and patterns, hear my characters’ voices. I learn to put my trust in discovering the characters’ stories rather than telling them what to do. I find it a more authentic process. Of course, my process could never work for another writer. And it greatly complicates the revision process where I spend a lot of time moving material around into a new order. But I find tremendous energy in this silly approach. I take that to heart in all my work; indeed, The Other Side was written in this manner, defying the sort of “who-done-it” where, for a good part of the writing process, I remained open to the “who” of that question.
What are you working on right now and when will we be able to get our hands on your latest release?
I have two novels in progress at the moment. One is a standalone mainstream novel. It has historical overtones and focuses on the life of a woman who, at forty, walked out of one mundane version of her life—empty job, a deceased spouse, no close family—took a risk and walked into another, going to work for the US Army. Within a couple of years, she moves to the State Department and is sent to work in the US Embassy in what was then Saigon, Vietnam, right in the heart of the war, arriving in-country in 1966. I’m intrigued by the sort of independence that would allow a person to make such a dramatic change in their life and in the prospect that she finds herself through her work and the independence it demands. She ultimately serves a career in a variety of hotspots, including postings in Sri Lanka and Afghanistan. Her story is discovered by another young woman, one who rents the house my character eventually retires to; and there we discover old notebooks that slowly reveal her life.
The other book is back to crime fiction and again features Steve Wendell. It focuses on the human trafficking trade that is all too sadly common throughout the world and where young women are often the prey. Where I live, the most vulnerable young women are Native American girls. Not only are they often the victims of criminal acts, there is seldom equity in how their cases are investigated. The novel is sparked by the disappearance of a girl from Flathead County, Montana, a county that is adjacent to but not the home of the reservation where most of the girl’s family lives. Investigating her disappearance leads Wendell to the discovery of several other missing girls and eventually to a trafficking ring that has found an unusual way to stay invisible in plain sight, an aspect of the book I think readers will find compelling and surprising.
There’s lots of work to be done on both books, but I think it is realistic for the latter of the two to appear in late 2022 or very early 2023.
This current book The Other Side, releases on June 8, 2021 and will be available anywhere readers like to buy their books. You should support whatever entities work best for you and fit your lifestyle, for every book purchased helps keep a whole slew of people employed, but I strongly encourage you to support your local independent bookseller.
What do you typically do on the publication day of a new book?
Publishing a book is no solitary activity; I’m indebted to so many other people. So publication day means a day of real thanks to all the people—editors, publishers, trusted readers, other writers, consultants, family members, reviewers, and others who make publication possible. I do it with a party! It takes years to write a book, and once under contract, it’s still a solid year of real work to get it through the editing and production process, so there’s a lot to celebrate. Friends, good food, live music, a bonfire by the river, and a good bar—it’s truly a party. It’s also a time to give thanks to all those who stand by me and a shout out to those who spend part of their lives in the world of books.
How easy or difficult has it been getting published? Have you got any advice for budding authors?
Getting published is exceptionally difficult and probably gets more difficult with each passing year. If you’re serious about publication, you absolutely have to become resilient and relentless. That also means growing thick skin; you will be rejected again and again. I seldom have a day go by—and I mean this quite literally—that someone doesn’t tell me no to a book, a story, an essay, or a marketing request. You have to believe in yourself so strongly that you can face that kind of rejection and send the next story out. And then you go write another one. This means not only persevering in the face of adversity but opening yourself to learn every day. Hone your craft. Read others and read them with care. Write those books and stories that will never see the light of day (and probably shouldn’t) and then learn from them to write the next thing better. Don’t give up. People will line up to tell you “no” but you’ve got to do the work and then be ready when the one person tells you “yes!”
What’s next for you – is there anything you can reveal at this stage for us to look out for in future?
Nothing I can announce yet, but there may be the release of another book, one already written, on the horizon. Readers who sign up for my newsletter can be the first in the know if this comes together. If you end up loving The Other Side, there definitely are other books in the works that feature this locale and some of the investigative characters from it, including the book I’ve already discussed.
And finally, what is your favourite book (or books if you can’t choose just one!) and why?
Whew!, this is like asking me to choose a favorite child. I can’t truly do it. I read all the time and am always discovering new loves. For example, I’ve been reading a good deal of Viet Thanh Nguyen of late and have rediscovered Laura Lippman. As far as in the realm of don’t leave me on a deserted island without, I’m force my hand and pick three: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doer, A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan, and They Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien.