Tuesday, July 14, 2009

[Interview] Clifford Lane Mark

Clifford Lane Mark's first novel, Ecumensus: The Next Vision (IUniverse, 2009) has won a number of awards and has been described as having "an almost supernatural energy of truth around it".

In this interview, C. L. Mark talks about his concerns as a writer:

Do you write every day?

No, I’m a muse-driven writer. When the thoughts and inspirations have accumulated in me over a few days or a few weeks, they come rushing out of me in a torrent and only then can I write.

When I start an inspired writing session it may go on for an hour or two.

I usually return a little later or the next day to what I’ve written so I clean it up, punctuate it, find the most accurate words and make sure it is communicating as precisely as the feelings I had when I was inspired to write it.

I’ve always been a wordsmith of sorts (newsletters, essays, a few poems, industry articles, that sort of thing) but Ecumensus, my first novel, was so involved that it took many years to fully grasp and complete. The story line itself is captivating and unique in premise but it also required that I integrate understandings and insights into the story so that it could be read and understood on a deeper level. Many of these insights and understandings came to me even as I wrote through the years and it then became necessary for them to adhere to a logical progression so they could be easily followed and believed.

Eventually, the novel took on its epic and visionary aspect. It challenged me as a writer and somewhere along the way it taught me how to write.

I was blessed with two good editors as well.

The writing style is being praised in many quarters so, hopefully, the quality of the writing is self-evident.

What compelled you to start working on the novel?

When I started the book in 1995, I had come to believe that the next great frontier to be explored was not outer space or medical advances that result in longer lives or even information technologies that bring the world into closer proximity.

It seemed to me that the next great frontier was the need to better understand the ultimate identity, purpose, and destination of humankind and how to envision a roadmap for all humans that was something more than war, greed, hunger, persecution and competition.

As a political philosophy and history major in college, I had developed an ability and a desire to see past the conflicts and arguments of men to some higher ground or collective common purpose that must be found in order to survive an undeniable trend to higher populations and fewer resources over which we will either fight to the death or learn how to share. This kind of “mind change,” in turn, requires a transformation in our “base” philosophies, tribal traditions and religions that are entrenched in our cultures and have become just as competitive. I thought I knew how to communicate this roadmap -- not through prescription but through a story that engages the emotions as well as the conscious mind.

It was always my hope that I could write such a story and only when the ten “trial readers” were unanimously moved to encourage me to publish the novel did I dare to believe that I had perhaps succeeded.

What would you say Ecumensus is about?

When the seven organizers of the most important event of the next millennium (a black man, an Asian woman, an old Catholic Priest, a blind Muslim boy, a Jewish financier, a young Mexican girl and a Native American Councilman) are informed of their purpose to re-vision the world, they are intrigued but skeptical. When they finally find themselves atop a sacred mesa with the sages and wise ones of our time, they are astounded by the insights and understandings that await them and by the dramatic events that unfold there; events that will inspire the enlightened survival of humankind for the foreseeable future.

It took some 15 years to outline, write, edit and publish the novel. It was published in June of 2008 and has won a 2008 Publishers Choice Award.

How did you choose a publisher for the book?

For some, I suppose, a traditional publisher is a choice but it is an agent-driven process and not one that is friendly to unknown or first-time authors. It’s not like anyone was rushing to my door.

In order to keep some aspect of “control” of the process, especially in terms of timing, I chose a hybrid publishing process called supported self-publishing. I saw an interview on television with the IUniverse CEO and liked what I saw, heard and felt, so I engaged their services.

What advantages or disadvantages has this presented?

The reputation of the “self-published” or “vanity publishers” has been pretty spotty through the last century but the face of publishing has changed greatly since 2000 with the advent of desk-top publishing and other computer advances.

The disadvantage of this previous reputation has made getting reviews from traditional established sources (newspapers, periodicals, radio and television) much more difficult.

The advantage is that there is some control of the timing of the process and, if the book is good enough, there is no requirement to endure the corporate politics or unimaginative mentalities that can be encountered when one is “beholden” to a traditional publisher. If my book provides an experience that enriches reader’s lives on any number of levels, it will get into wider and wider circulation almost on its own. All of us know that word-of-mouth advertising is ultimately the best kind.

In addition, there is still a strong likelihood that a more traditional publisher will express an interest and will choose the book for wider distribution.

Either path is suitable and is just exactly what is meant for this novel.

At some point, the ego of the writer has to get out of the way and the merit of the writing; the value of the reading experience, will find its audience.

Which were the most difficult aspects of the work you put into the book?

In some ways, the length of time it took to create the story was the most difficult because my own impatience kept rearing its ugly head and trying to hurry a process that seemed to have its own timeline -- whether I liked it or not.

Over the last few years I have finally come to accept (almost) that this work has its own pace and, in many ways, I am just a tool of sorts. When I finally began to accept that my ego was not as much in charge as I first thought, everything was much more enjoyable and much more productive.

Why was this so?

A visionary work has hundreds of influences and “ghost writers” if you will. Once I was out of the way and let the stories and characters come to me or through me rather than forcing the action, the novel took on an epic aspect that I never saw coming.

Once the rough draft was complete, the passages that I wrote outside this process needed the most editing and the most revision.

I found that rather enlightening.

What did you enjoy most?

I enjoyed the self-discovery I experienced in writing Ecumensus, for one thing, and I enjoyed the fact of completion.

I told some people when I was done with the rough draft that getting it published was not critical to me at all. Facing the blank page for 15 years and finally typing the words, “The End” carried with it an incredible sense of completion, accomplishment and satisfaction. It was only when the trial readers of the rough draft unanimously encouraged me to publish it that publication became a more important desire for me.

The next most satisfying moments, after publication and presentation to the world, were the following comments of three readers who wrote to tell me that the book was “nothing short of brilliant,” (one reader), “was the most impactful book they had ever read” (another reader), and that it “has an almost supernatural energy of truth to it that cannot be denied” (a third reader).

These experiences are both heady and humbling. Completion is its own reward. Knowing that you’ve reached a reader in a very positive way is gratifying and makes you think maybe the trial readers were right and that a wide audience will eventually enjoy it.

What sets Ecumensus apart from other things you've written?

Longer, more complete and published.

In what way is it similar?

Uniformly good feedback.

In the writing you are doing, which authors influenced you most?

Thinkers like Ram Dass, Alan Watts, and Dan Millman helped to influence my thinking.

Storytellers like James Redfield and others convinced me that there is a market for “visionary storytelling.”

The best measure of a writer is to evaluate whether the words resonate as “true” with the reader. The same is true of all writers I’ve read, i.e. if they resonated with me as true or possible or probable then they had their influence on my development as a person as well as on my development as a writer.

How have your personal experiences influenced your writing?

When one is writing a book for seekers and searchers, one is unable to avoid the separation between their writing and their personal experiences.

My thousands of personal experiences, thoughts, dreams and hopes are on display in the writing I do -- not in my name but in the characters and the thoughts they express.

The novel has the stamp of my person throughout its pages.

That said, it also has the stamp of hundreds of others who have, in their way, influenced me, taught me, showed me, shared with me and tried to enlighten me by offering me their truth.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

My main concern is whether what I’ve written is logical, accurate, moving, well-phrased and fair. I am a stringent “judge” of these standards and am open to any well-stated opinions to the contrary.

I think any self-described visionary writer struggles with the reality that they themselves fall short of their visions. That gap is a constant reminder to continually grow myself into the hopes and visions that have been imagined through me. I pursue that every day in some way or another. Writers are on paths, too, and are not yet everything they would eventually like to become.

How would you describe your writing?

I’ve come to view myself as a trans-religious intuitive thinker and my writing is about religio/socio/political intuitions and future hopes for all of us as seen and told through the eyes of characters who are growing toward the future -- a future that will be continually and wholly different with each passing year.

This future will require all of us as people to grow into renewed visions for the race, renewed optimism for the planet and renewed energy to create growth in ourselves as we learn to negotiate that ever-changing future.

Rather than a prescriptive or instructive writer, I am a teller of stories, parables and allegories that reach an audience emotionally, intellectually and intuitively.

How would you describe your target audience?

The target audience members are seekers, searchers, and folks who know there is more to who they are and are looking for a world we can create together through our thoughts, our words, our actions and our highest dreams for ourselves and the world.

These type people are in every walk of life but are probably educated to some degree, past 30 years of age in most cases and understandably concerned that previous ways of thinking and relating have led us to where we are today. They realize that progressive thinking -- not past beliefs but improved versions of our beliefs -- will better serve us moving forward.

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

I’d say that “achievement” it is still ahead of me... I certainly hope that is the case.

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