Marc Kuhn is the author of best-selling books, Dead Letter and the Pope’s Stone. He has also written About A Farm. He is a retired radio executive. Catch him here.
NAW- Without giving away too many spoilers, can you tell us about your book, Dead Letter. What is it about? How did you get the idea for it?
DEAD LETTER is a love story that leads to a mysterious search to find the intended recipient of a 40-year-old letter. The end is totally unexpected after taking the reader through an exhaustive thrill ride that transgresses 4 decades along the shores of the great Chesapeake Bay and Maryland’s historic Eastern Shore. The idea, at least for the initial concept of the story, came to me after seeing a television show that showcased the old “Dead Letter Department” of the U.S. Post Office. Here, a special group of people were assigned the task of locating the intended recipients of letters whose envelopes had been destroyed to the extent that names and addresses were unclear. Many were mailings by soldiers in World War I. The dead letter in my book was written by a soldier who fought in World War II.
NAW- Tell us about the characters of Robert and Sandra. How did you develop the characters?
Robert and Sandra live in small town Centreville, Maryland where they are high school sweethearts. It’s 1943 and World War II is underway. After graduating high school, Robert enlists in the Marines, but before departing he learns something disturbing that will affect his and Sandra’s relationship. There is an early surprise in the story that will have readers reeling and subsequently leaves Sandra to deal with the adversities of misdirected jealously.
NAW- Tell us about your book, About a Farm. How difficult (or easy) is it for you to write for children?
I have seven grandchildren so young people are always around, not to mention that I am a kid at heart despite my age. So writing for young people doesn’t seem to be a problem. I also “test drive” my books with targeted readers before I publish just to make sure they are relative. ABOUT A FARM offers young children a series of life’s lessons as the farm animals learn to deal with the challenges we all face in our day-to-day relationships with others. I am very proud that this book won first place in its category (Chapter Book) in the 2013 Literary Classics International Book Awards. Since ABOUT A FARM makes a perfect book for classroom reading, I recently published a teacher’s “Lesson Guide” that supplements the book.
NAW- Tell us about your other works.
My first children’s book is titled “NEVER GOOSE A MOOSE…and a bunch of other things you should never do.” This book consists of whimsical rhymes about things young children should never do. Some are very real; others are just silly. There is a wonderful illustration for each poem, drawn by Lynda Mangoro, an artist/author who lives in the United Kingdom. We have never met, but work together purely via e-mail on the Internet. We are currently working on our third book together.
My first adult novel was THE POPE’S STONE. This is an historical novel that weaves a fictional story among many real events that have happened in the past. The story is about two descendants of a family that share a number of similar circumstances as they grow from young boys to adulthood….yet they lived a century apart. The only connections between them are the journals they each kept, their family heritage…and a piece of broken engraved stone that was meant to be part of the original construction of the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C.
NAW- How do you decide the names for your characters?
If I am writing a period piece, I “Google” names that were popular during that era and select from the list. Sometimes I give first names to characters that I “borrow” from people I know, but there is no intended connection between the two except the name. Still other times I merely gaze at the wall and pick something at random out of my mind.
NAW- Tell us about your publishing journey.
I tried the traditional route of attempting to lure an agent and professional publishing house. I had little patience with the “game.” Since I was writing for the enjoyment of it all, becoming a best-seller author was not forefront in my thinking. That would be nice and I’d get very excited if it ever happened, but I do not have false expectations. Besides, writing is like anything else. It takes practice and exposure. So maybe my best-seller is still to come. I turned to self-publishing and after six publications, I have a pretty good handle on the mechanics. I do not do well, however, with the marketing. That takes money and connections…this is where a good publishing house makes a difference merely because they can get on the shelf at the retail level. All my books are on amazon.com, but getting readers to find them is the challenge.
NAW- Tell us about yourself. What do you do when you are not writing?
I am a retired radio executive. I worked mainly behind scenes as a program and marketing director. I have always written during my career, but mainly news and promotional materials. Once retired, I began writing books. When I am not writing, I read what others write. Also, I have a good camera and spend time looking for good pictures to take. I am blessed with seven grandchildren and several good friends, so I spend time with them. I am also married to a saint for 47 years and she keeps me busy some of the time. Beyond that, I do one thing well that all retired people do: I sit on the back patio just to relax and enjoy a good cup of coffee.
NAW- Who are your favourite writers?
I like history so David McCullough is one and Doris Kearns Goodwin is another. I also like most of the books Malcolm Gladwell has written as well as Bill Bryson. James Michener’s Chesapeake is a favorite since the Chesapeake Bay is my favorite place.
NAW- How do you write, planning the complete plot beforehand or do you let the book take its course? Take us through your writing process.
I need the plot pretty much lined up ahead of time. I may even write a brief synopsis just to keep me on target. Once I have the idea for a book pretty much complete in my mind with a clear picture of the main elements, I begin writing. I usually write daily from start to finish for the first draft. Chapters are the building blocks for me. At the beginning of each chapter I formulate an idea of what it is supposed to accomplish and the things that need to happen. Keeping these factors in mind, I just wander as I go from there and whatever comes up, goes down. I just want to get the thoughts down in some semblance of order. I will worry about straightening them out when I am done. Once started I move pretty fast. Then after the draft is done, I put it away for a few weeks and then pick it up to see how awful it is and how much rewriting I have to do…this is where the real work comes in.
NAW-What are you currently reading?
Right now my reading is purely clinical. I just bought my first copy of the Chicago Manual of Style—the latest 16th edition. This is the book that has become the editor’s “Bible” and it is loaded with good editing advice. No, it’s not the most stimulating read, but the book has lots of information that will help make me a better writer.