Welcome to the Tuesday Author Interview with Christina Boyd for the Who, What, Where, When, and Why.
Last summer, I noticed a recent release titled The Long March Home, a WWII historical fiction about three young US Army soldiers in the Philippines who survive Bataan. Being half-Filipino and having an uncle who was a US Army scout and survived the Bataan Death March, I insisted my book club read it. When I learned that author Mark Brotherton lives in my county here in Washington State, I contacted him through his website and asked if he and his co-author Tosca Lee might join our club for a chat. My little band of readers felt so lucky for Marcus to join our book club here in the PNW to talk about the book. Tosca Lee joined us from Nebraska via Zoom, and they were gracious to answer our many questions. The experience added another layer to an already powerful novel.
CHRISTINA: When did you first think you had a book to write and how did you start?
MARCUS: At the start, I was a newspaper reporter, and I delved into books by doing freelance editing on the side. I went to writers' conferences and developed contacts in the book industry, mostly pitching myself as an independent editor and writing collaborator, although I always had a manuscript of my own in progress that I would talk to editors and agents about.
The first projects I wrote solely under my name were “House-backed” books—meaning a publisher will have an idea for a book and go searching for a writer to fulfill their idea. I also did a number of collaborations right away, so I saw my name in print in the acknowledgments section of several books before I ever saw it on a front cover. It’s satisfying either way.
I had been a professional writer for about seven years before I wrote a book under my name that I actually dreamed up. That was We Who Are Alive & Remain: Untold Stories from the Band of Brothers, a nonfiction oral-history project done with twenty of the last survivors from the famed Easy Company/506th PIR, 101st Airborne Division.
CHRISTINA: You have a remarkable vitae. The people you have co-written with and for... Just wow. Can't wait to read your next project.
In your most recent, The Long March Home, where did that idea originate to write from Jimmy’s point of view?
MARCUS: I wanted to give readers an immersive experience into that time period (World War II in the Pacific). So, I started with the setting, and the story was developed from there. Writing in first person felt like the strongest way to go. I wanted Jimmy, the protagonist, to be an everyman, accessible to all readers.
CHRISTINA: Well, it was obvious from the conversation at my book club that Jimmy's voice was honest, and the story from his eyes brought many tears, happy tears too.
What advice would you give to a writer—ehem, me—working on a first novel?
MARCUS: I always counsel new novelists, even if they’re strong writers to begin with, to read several how-to books first that pertain to fiction writing. Get up to speed on the specifics of a three-act structure, dialogue, pacing, and point-of-view. You’ll save yourself a lot of anguish and time. I recommend Story by Robert McKee, Save the Cat by Blake Snyder, and Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight Swain.
I also advise newer writers to study established, accomplished authors who they admire. I’ve typed out long portions of Hemingway just to let the words of a master craftsman flow through my fingers. I’ve read everything Cormac McCarthy wrote. I’ve studied the early Western short stories of Elmore Leonard, where he perfected writing with a pop and a sizzle. These influences emerge in many of my books today.
Writers are often told to write books that only please themselves. But I would say study and know the market too. Make sure you have readers who will want to buy your book. Publishing is a business where art and commerce connect.
CHRISTINA: Interesting...I've never heard that process of writing out words of the greats. Definitely an unusual but clever exercise. And knowing the market and not losing sight of what readers want. That is really smart advice for any author hoping to make a career of writing.
What’s your favorite part of publishing?
MARCUS: When I was fourteen or fifteen, I used to write short stories for fun. These weren’t assigned by any teacher. It was just me in my room in the evenings, scribbling down stuff for nobody to read except me.
In my neighborhood lived a girl my age named Marnie, and one day I showed her a short story I’d written. It was Catcher-In-the-Rye styled, about a high school kid struggling to grow up and be real.
We were riding home on the school bus together, and Marnie laughed in all the right places as she read it. Then—much to my surprise—when she finished the last page and handed it back to me, a tear rolled down her cheek.
“That really touched me,” she said. “What you wrote about is just like what I’m going through right now. I can relate.”
Her words stuck hard with me. It was the first time I realized you could move somebody through writing. You could connect with people through the shared humanity of a story.
CHRISTINA: Goodness, I wonder if that woman now knows what an impact her words and tears made on young Marcus. You never know how words might make all the difference to another person.
If you could tell your 21-year-old self anything, what would you share?
MARCUS: We have to see the world through other people’s eyes. It all starts there.
Empathy must guide writers, and it’s one of my largest guiding principles today. As authors, we can either write junk that tears people apart, or we can use our talents to bring people together and create a better world.
CHRISTINA: That's a beautiful sentiment and absolutely true. Thank you.
What do you think is your strength as a writer?
MARCUS: I want to write like music makes you feel.
CHRISTINA: Beautiful. With music in mind, my book club thinks that when The Long March Home is made into a film (hear me Hollywood?!) that the closing credits music needs to be In Color by Jamie James.
Thank you for your time with the interview and especially for coming out to join my book club. You certainly have fans out here in the county. Best wishes on your upcoming project. Can't wait to hear all about it.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Marcus Brotherton is a New York Times bestselling author and coauthor dedicated to writing books that inspire heroics, promote empathy, and encourage noble living. His commendations include the Christopher Award for literature “that affirms the highest values of the human spirit.”
His newest book, The Long March Home, (written with New York Times bestselling author Tosca Lee) is the lyrically written and harrowing saga of three young WWII soldiers who struggle to survive on Bataan. Publisher’s Weekly, in a starred review, called the book a “tour de force.” Library Journal, in a starred review, called the book “A great read.” Booklist, in a starred review, called the book a “literary triumph.”
Notable solo projects include Who Are Alive & Remain, A Company of Heroes, Shifty’s War, Feast for Thieves, A Bright and Blinding Sun, and Blaze of Light, the authorized biography of Green Beret medic Gary Beikirch, recipient of the Medal of Honor.
Notable collaborative projects include books with Oscar-nominated actor and foundation CEO Gary Sinise, the elite WWII paratroopers featured in HBO’s Band of Brothers miniseries, the elite WWII Marines featured in HBO’s The Pacific, Civil Rights activist and Alabama restaurateur Martha Hawkins, visionary and theologian Louie Giglio, quadruple amputee and Afghan combat veteran Travis Mills, Super Bowl winner and first deaf athlete to play offense in the NFL Derrick Coleman Jr., foundation CEOs Dr. Sampson Davis and Sharlee Jeter, Bronze Star recipient Colonel Susan Luz, fashion journalist and foundation CEO Lauren Scruggs Kennedy, humanitarian and foundation CEO Susan Scott Krabacher, U.S. Marine and photojournalist Rob Kugler, and the legendary Lt. Buck Compton, who prosecuted Sirhan Sirhan for the murder of Bobby Kennedy.
Four of Marcus’ books are New York Times bestsellers, six are national bestsellers, four have been optioned for movies, and one is an international bestseller. His books have also appeared on USA Today, Publisher’s Weekly, Wall Street Journal, and ECPA bestseller lists.
Marcus appeared in the World War II documentary ‘A Company of Heroes,’ shown on PBS stations nationwide and internationally.
He was the writing partner for internationally bestselling historian Adam Makos on the Korean-War era book Devotion, which was turned into a major motion picture from Sony.
Born in British Columbia, Marcus earned a bachelor’s degree from Multnomah University in Portland, Oregon, and a master’s degree from Biola University in Los Angeles, where he graduated with high honors.
He lives with his wife and their three children in the Pacific Northwest. You can contact Marcus via his website. I did.