Rising Star Spotlight: Marc Sanderson


What were you like as a child?
As a child, I was always the kid who ended up in the creek at a family outing, simply because I wanted to tromp through the water. I loved being outdoors, and because I have a very large mine-your-ours kind of family, I never lacked for someone to play with and get in trouble with. But as a middle child I was also a peace maker, often trying to run interference between warring sides in my big clan. I always wanted to keep things light and happy. One year when I was eight or nine, my mother, who divorced from my father when I was five, was too broke to buy Christmas presents, so she embroidered poems which she’d written for each of her kids, onto orange felt with bright yellow yarn. Mine, which still hangs in my house today, begins, “Warm and sensitive, funny and bright, Marc is a jokester, loves to play…” I like to think of my childhood that way.
Was reading and/or writing part of your childhood?
My mother used to read to us when we were little. When I was about ten years old, my mother, myself, and one of my brothers took a train ride from the San Francisco Bay area up to Yakima, Washington, to visit my grandmother. The trip took two days, and during that time, mom began reading ‘The Hobbit’ to us. It was magical and really my first experience with a story that transformed the world around me. Because I’m dyslexic, reading on my own was somewhat traumatic. I was always in the “slow” reading group in grade school, and I couldn’t really read aloud since the words tended to get mixed up, so I stumbled over every word and became terribly self-conscious. It wasn’t until junior high school that I read my first novel. I remember it was a short western, but I loved it. Then I read a book about a football player and loved that one too. After that I read a lot, and started to jot down stories of my own. When I finally conquered Tolkien’s ‘Fellowship of the Ring’ after the third time starting it, I was hooked as a lifetime reader.
Are there particular books or authors who inspired you to write?
My first loves as far as books go was The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and then all the various fantasy worlds that flowed after Tolkien opened the floodgates. Anne McCaffrey’s dragon series, Patricia A. McKillip’s Riddle Master series, and Katherine Kurtz’s Deryni series all kept me with my nose in books. As a freshman in college, I got excited by Robert Ludlum’s ‘Borne Identity’ and the whole spy genre. And then one day, my little sister Lulu gave me a copy of one of Nora Robert’s earlier romances, a genre which I had turned my nose up at for years, and within fifty pages I was hooked. I found that I loved stories that were centered around a love relationship and had conclusions that satisfied my desire for happy endings. I still read broadly, but I love a love story best of all.
You've studied science, literature, education, history, and law - did all lead to degrees, or are some just hobbies?
I was a professional student and would still be if someone paid me to keep going to school. I started as a biology major and worked for a few years as a marine biologist; then I switched to study history and that’s what I got my B.A. in. Then I went to UCLA for one term in the doctoral program in medieval history, but I disliked the program and so ended up getting my teaching credentials in History, Life Science, and Social Science, but at that time, schools were only hiring people with specific multiple credentials: History/English or Science/Math. One day I was wandering around the Cal Poly campus and ran into a professor friend who suggested I get my Master of Arts in English which would work as a credential—so I did. After finishing my M.A. and teaching at Cal Poly, I went to U.C. Davis in the doctoral program in English Literature. I specialized in early English Literature, especially 14th century non-Arthurian romances. There are some really wonderfully gruesome stories that have complex plots and interesting characters! I finished all the requisites for the doctorate but life intervened, and I never finished my dissertation. After a stint teaching high school English, I studied law and worked in a law office, but my dyslexia made passing the California Bar above my pay grade. But working for a decade in a law office as a paralegal did give me time to write.
What has been your favorite job?
I suppose of all the non-writing jobs I’ve had, teaching English Literature at U.C. Davis was the most fun. Teaching to a large class of highly motivated, intelligent, and thoughtful students gives one a real high. When a lecture is going well and the students are engaged and offering interesting and insightful feedback, it’s probably one of the best feelings in the world.
What inspired you to actually take the dive into becoming a fiction writer?
When I switched from a bio major to a double major bio and history, it was with the idea that I wanted to write historical fiction. I had taken just about every history course available at Cal Poly. I loved the stories; the movement of people and ideas. Of course, life got in the way and it was many years before I had the time and gumption to actually sit down and write actual text. I was famous for long intricate outlines and jotting the beginnings of stories. Eventually, I decided if I was ever going to do it, I would have to take C. S. Lewis’ advice and just sit down and write. He prefaced that by saying you had to turn off the radio, so I had to turn off the television and computer games.
What made you decide on the genre(s) that you write in?
I decided to write romances because for me the love relationship in a story is crucial. Love is one of the most powerful motivators of human action, and so it’s one of the most interesting reasons for characters to move through a story, the drive pushing the action along. But romantic fiction comes in an almost infinite variety of subgenres. My first novel, The Emerald Wiccan, was a contemporary paranormal with a political intrigue twist. From there I moved over slightly to contemporary environmentally themed romance for the Jenns Cove series, which is set in a small fictional town on the northern California coast. And because I love family centered series, it follows the loves and struggles of the Gallagher family’s children as they return to their hometown. The last book in that series is ready to send to my publisher now—or after one last read through. After finishing Jenns Cove (for now… might be one more story there that I need to tell), I’m switching to my love of history. My father’s four-times great grandfather left France at the time of the French Revolution on a corsair pirate ship as its surgeon and wound up on the island of Mauritius where he settled and founded our family. Since my father was also a surgeon, I’ve been fascinated by the story. Why did he leave France? How did he end up staying on Mauritius? So, I’m diving deeply into the history of the French Revolution, the age of the tall sailing ships, 18th century medicine, and the history of Mauritius, a French sugarcane and coffee colony with a large slave population and a major port for the French privateers who plagued the British East India Company’s merchant fleet as it tried to bring the riches of India, Sumatra, and China back to England. I only have the bare bones of my ancestor’s story based on a genealogy my uncle Louis commissioned, so I get to stretch my imagination and imagine the world at that time. Good historical fiction, though, requires a great deal of research and care during the writing. I’m currently reading a short treatise on the treatment of wounds and fractures published in 1775. Let me tell you, you did not want to get injured in the 18th century!
What has been your experience in publishing been like?
I began by trying to get a traditional publisher and had no luck—a common story. But the advent of self-publishing first through Amazon, and later with Smashwords opened up a new world for publishing. If you have a story to tell, you are pretty much guaranteed that you can get it published. The catch is twofold. First, if you self-publish you have to not only write a great book, but you have to learn how to be a publisher. Those two skillsets are not at all the same. Just because you write a great story doesn’t mean you can get anyone, other than your mom, to read it. The second catch is that pretty much everybody has at least one story in them, and currently the number of books being published is so vast that it’s very difficult to get your story in front of an audience! Hence back to catch number one. Along with self-publishing came a raft of small, indie publishers, like mine. They help somewhat but don’t have the kind of budgets to do much advertising or the power to get past all the weirdness of Amazon and the web world; so, they help, but the author is left to do most of their own promotion. That’s where publications like InD’tale come in. It’s one of the few platforms where authors can get their work seen, reviewed, and even advertised at minimal cost. Back to catch one!
What would you like to change about the publishing world?
I’m not sure what I would change other than perhaps making Amazon more user friendly for authors. Getting your book published on Amazon is fairly simple… it’s the promotion, hardcopy formatting, all that stuff publishers used to do, that hurts the brain. Smashwords/D2D may be the answer there. I would love to see more reader-writer conferences other than the biggies that cost an arm and a leg. Covid sort of gutted the more reasonable conferences, but hopefully they’ll come back now that things are normalizing. Oh… and I would invent magical editing and rewriting, my least favorite part of writing—that’s why writing is work not play.
What do you most enjoy about being an author?
What I enjoy most is when I get time to sit and write for hours on end with no interruptions, no distractions! Something which happens very rarely. I’m one of the weirdos whose minds constantly churns out stories. I jot down little notes and outlines—I’m an outliner, not a pants’er—so it’s truly heaven when I get to shut out the rest of the world and dive into worlds of my own making. It’s also pretty great when I get positive feedback from readers or get a glowing review. Knowing someone has enjoyed what I’ve written really keeps me writing.