Writer’s Ink: Mark A. King

mark-a-kingI “met” Mark A. King on the Flash! Friday weekly flash fiction contest, and quickly came to look forward to the pieces of writing he submitted each week. He had (has) a way with words that sort of wrapped around my imagination, and it was a treat to get to co-judge with him for the same contest for a few months.

Since those days, Mark has started the Flashdogs, a group of writers with some awe-inspiring skills, as well as published several anthologies of flash fiction. Just this month, he’s released his very first novel, Metropolitan Dreams, and I’m thrilled to be able to share it with you.

Mark is stopping by my website to say hello and intrigue you with his plans for post-apocalyptic world restructure. Just because a genie is involved doesn’t mean it’s easy…

*****

1.) Go ahead and sum up Metropolitan Dreams for us in three sentences (because that’s always fun).
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In the aftermath of a violent crime we follow the connected stories of an injured nightclub bouncer, an ageing crime-lord, a conflicted police hacker, a traumatised Tube-driver, and a vulnerable twelve-year-old girl as they fight for survival, purpose, and redemption in the fractured city of London. Along the journey we discover lost rivers, abandoned underground stations, mysterious forces, and angels (perhaps).
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2.) What first pulled the idea for Met Dreams into your head? Where did you find the seed of your idea, and what made it grow into what you now have on your pages? Ten years down the road, when you’ve made your millions and have topped every international best-seller list, what will you look back on as being the inspiration that began this adventure?

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I’ve always had a fascination with major cities–how they can be tourist friendly during the day and turn into completely different places at night. There are so many things hidden in places and within people. I wanted to set the tale in London, not just because it was where I was raised, but also because there have been so many fantastic SF/Fantasy stories based in the city that I felt like I owed it to myself to start there. Many of the ideas were formed or experimented with in flash fiction competitions, and a significant number of ideas can have their history traced back to Flash! Friday (which my fellow judge and kind host today knows only too well) or The Angry Hourglass. It is fair to say that these competitions were like fuel that fired the engine of story creation. I’m so very thankful to Rebekah Postupak who dedicated so much of her time and energy to the community. There were many fine writers there, too, who not only inspired with their writing, but also their spirit and encouragement, for example Tamara Shoemaker. 🙂
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*Editor’s Note: Aww, thanks!
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3.) Name your favorite character in the book, and tell us what made that character so special/difficult/fun/annoying/challenging to write.

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This is a really hard question. Metropolitan Dreams, like a city, is told from the points of view of many characters. While most books have one or two main characters, Met Dreams has many. Will they know if I’ve picked a favourite? What if they then won’t do what I want them to do in future?
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*Editor’s Note: My characters NEVER do what I want them to do. They are like willful children. If you discover the secret of making them obey, please let me know. 😉
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Okay, I’ll risk it. Cal McKinley. We find him suffering from trauma and self-doubt from the very early stages of the book. He is a Tube-driver who has witnessed a death and is struggling to cope with it. Cal starts to experience unusual events, and he is not sure if he is suffering from a mental illness/disorder such as PTSD. As the story progresses, it becomes clear to Cal that not everything is as it seems. As he progresses through his journey of discovery, he gets to meet many interesting characters and visit some unique locations.
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4.) What are some of the challenges you’ve faced–and overcome–to take your story from your computer and put it out into the big, wide world of readers? What were your fears/concerns, and what were you looking forward to? Is anything like you hoped or dreaded?
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There are too many to count. The English school system was not interested in teaching grammar to school children when I was younger. Despite the fact that I seem to have coped fairly well without it, it has always been something I have been very ware of, and I knew full well that I needed to seek a great deal of help to write a novel. This is where Emily June Street came in. However, it would be unjust to say she ‘just’ helped in this aspect. A great editor–and Emily is one–will tease out central plots, act as a voice of reason, and even help with last minute adjustments to story continuity. Emily has been a blessing. If you can find a wonder editor like Emily (or Tamara), then I would urge you to do so.
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*Editor’s Note: I bow to Emily’s far superior skills. Absolutely agree. She is truly the best there is.
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I was very nervous about sending the draft to Emily. When it left the walls of my e-mail server, it was like sending a child beyond the city gates and having no idea what might become of them.
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Few of my friends knew about my writing, and the entire thing has been one long journey of slowly letting go and facing the fears I have.
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5.) And, because you did it to me, here’s payback. Think fast, put your first impulse answer:
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London or Paris?
London (I couldn’t really say anything else, could I?  🙂 )
Book or Movie?
Book.
Peanut butter or Marmite?
PB – although I do have an allergy to peanuts, but I’d rather that than Marmite.
Disney World or Universal Studios?
This question should be disallowed. Can’t I pick one park from each?
Universal because of Islands of Adventure, or Harry Potter, if I had to choose.
A pic of Disney on our trip Dec 2010, to balance this out a bit.
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London Tube or double-decker bus?
Tube – have you been on a double-decker?
*Editor’s Note: Yes, in both London and Dublin. One thing was for sure: it wasn’t boring… 😉
Mountains or Beach?
This question is really not fair. I choose both. I’ve attached a picture where my family are from. The picture is on the Atlantic coast, a straight line all the way to the East coast US (apart from some rugged islands where they recently filmed Star Wars).
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Instrumental or W/ Lyrics?
Probably instrumental.
Cats or Dogs?
Dogs.
Twitter or Facebook?
Twitter.
Early bird or Night owl?
Umm. Early bird.
Tolkien or Lewis?
Tolkien.
Dragons or Hippogriffs?
Dragons, of course.
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6.) Say the world has ended in a colossal explosion, and you and three others are the only survivors (who apparently now live on an alternate planet). You have the chance to rebuild it, but all you have among you is a train ticket, a ball of steel wire, a dusty old lamp that may or may not include a genie inhabitant, and a piece of Ever-Last gum. How would you proceed? (New world must be built. I look forward to seeing what you do with this). 😉
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This is possibly the hardest (and strangest) question I have ever been asked!
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I’m assuming the three others would be my wife and two children. 🙂
I’ve also assumed I can’t ask the genie for unlimited wishes. That would be cheating. You normally get three, right?
I’d ask for the world to be returned to the way it was.
I’d ask for more equality and justice in the world (I’m not asking for much, am I?).
I’d ask the genie where they would like to go, and I’d gift them the train ticket to that destination.
I’d craft a gift for the genie from the steel wire, lamp, and gum and wish him/her a wonderful life of freedom and happiness. And I’d remind them that they should remember my gift the next time they think about doing something mischievous (it might remind them that bad things happened before, and it might help to avoid them becoming captured again).
metro-d-wide

This is a tale of two cities.

Darkness and light.

Sinners and angels.

In the daylight, London sparkles, beckoning tourists, optimists and dreamers from across the globe. The sunlit city weaves together the lives of repentant crime-lords, altruistic nightclub bouncers and resolute detectives.

In the darkness, London festers, drools, tempts and corrupts. It is a world where the desperate are lured, the weak are exploited, and good men wrap themselves in the blanket of criminal rewards. In the seething streets, the hissing underground stations and lost subterranean rivers, the metropolitan dreams of ethical hackers, desperate criminals and traumatized Tube-drivers unfold.

Maria, a vulnerable twelve-year-old from Kerala, India, has travelled half the world in search of her past and hopes for the future. Within hours, violent chaos engulfs her. Maria is tracked, hunted and pursued—she can rescue the city, but first she must save herself.

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Mark is one of the founders of FlashDogs, a global community of talented flash fiction writers. His flash fiction stories have been published in a number of anthologies and magazines. Mark was born and raised in London, works in Cambridge, and lives in Norfolk, England.

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Shackled to an Ungrapeful Audience

This week, we had the challenge of a brooding man lounging in chains, and we were supposed to place the setting of our stories in a theater.

As always, I tried for out-of-the-box thinking before writing the stories. I don’t know if I succeeded, but I enjoyed trying. I’ll post both my stories, the first riddled with emotion and depth, the second one of my first attempts at a humorous piece.

Comfort Zone = Blown Apart. Enjoy!

louis-dodier-as-prisoner-1847-google-art-project

Shackled

Cass’ reflection moved with her, mirroring her hands as they slid her stockings up her legs, the fishnet a linked weave of barriers that formed a prison of her flesh.

Sadie would cry again tonight when Mam had to work.

Cass dabbed her eye make-up, forcing the pain back into the depths of a person she once knew but no longer remembered. It was a vacuum, a bottomless hole, and everything she did disappeared into its swirling blackness.

Except Sadie. Pudgy fingers would pat Cass’ weary face, spotlight stained and riddled with mens’ touch. Sticky lips would kiss Mam’s cheek that lay buried beneath the blush of rouge and powder.

Cass draped the feathers across her neck, adjusted the cheap crusted jewels in her hair, surveyed herself in the mirror.

In another life, she would be a shop girl, a lady’s maid, a seamstress, or a housekeeper. Fate laughed behind its cruel hand and bound her in shackles to this life instead.

Cass took a deep breath and stepped from behind the curtain into the dizzying lights of the burlesque and the approving roars of a multitude of leering men. Sadie was waiting, but pain chained her to the theater.

And now that I’ve just shredded your heart to pieces, here’s another one to (hopefully) cheer you up:

Ungrapeful Audience

“What’s he doing?”

“What do you mean what’s he’s doing?”

“He’s just lounging there like some god straight from Olympus. Who does he think he is? Thor?”

“I think he forgot his lines.”

“No one’s saying anything. This is awkward.”

“Maybe if I go up there and feed him grapes…”

“Do it. He might be hungry.”

*****

“I don’t understand this show.”

“You don’t understand two hours of a man lying on a stage saying nothing?”

“It seems like he should at least talk to a skull or drink poison or something.”

“You’ve watched too much television.”

“Television!”

“Go feed the guy grapes. Honestly, it would probably cheer him up.”

*****

“Well, that was a wasted evening.”

“At least we got a close-up look at the strong arm of the law.”

“Yeah, I’ll be sore tomorrow.”

“We went out in a blaze of glory, though.”

“That’s us. We should make this a thing.”

“A thing?”

“Yeah. You know, visit all the plays, force-feed the actors on the stage, get escorted off by security.”

“The brute who handcuffed you looked hungry. You should have given him the grapes.”

The Lighthouse

I’d like to dedicate this week’s flash fiction attempt to my grandmother, and my husband’s grandmother, and the countless others who have struggled with this disease; to the families that have faded into the background, but still remain constant, the caretakers that come alongside, even if they’re not remembered. This story is for you.

victoria-fallsThe Lighthouse

I stand at the precipice as the light flashes across the sweeping currents. Oceans of emptiness, misty ridges, and forests of oblivion blend into one conglomerate mass that shake my inner core, shattering it—creeping cracks crawling through crumbling crevices.

Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls. All your waves and breakers have swept over me.

Mom, you left the door open last night. The whispers plague me. Doctor visits, the dreaded diagnoses. She’ll need a full-time caretaker, you know.

I study the wrinkles that crease the back of my hand, the age spots that dot the surface. I do remember the whisper of cherubic lips on my cheek, pudgy fingers offering dandelion bouquets.

I don’t understand why I can’t find my children. I search the panorama, but they’re hidden in the mists.

Deep calls to deep…

Only one thing remains constant—the light in the mists of oblivion. All your waves and breakers have swept over me.

I close my eyes and step over the precipice. Tumbling, flying, falling, I hit the emptiness, the ebb, the pull of current. The world says I am lost; I’ve forgotten and will be forgotten.

I wipe the tears from my eyes and swim toward your light where home lies beyond.

Escape

It’s been a good week for writing. This past week, I won for the first time over at Three Line Thursday, and then yesterday I picked up a 1st runner-up at Flash! Friday. Loads of incredible competition, too. Check out this link for some of the other winners.

I was supposed to write my story about the below prompt and include a Catch-22. This particular picture was a huge challenge for me. Normally, I’ll write two stories per competition (the limit allowed), but I just wasn’t feeling it. However, these words managed to eke from my uninspired fingertips.

keys-apionidEscape

Shadows tinge my mind, graying the edges of decision.

You wrought my prison when your lungs emptied of air.
When your heart ceased its rhythmic dance, you escaped to your freedom
And left me a prisoner behind bars of loneliness and pain.
You smoothed my cheek and told me to live.
You dimpled your smile and told me to laugh.
You freed my burning eyes from tears and told me to love again once you were gone.

In your pitiless mercy, you turned your back and slipped from my life,
A breath of wind that stirred my hair,
And a tornado that ravaged my heart.
You allowed Disease to lead you away, to close your eyes,
And you left me the keys to freedom from a cage of your making.

The shadows of those keys cavort on the wall in a dichotomy of regret and opportunity.
Either I free myself from the bars and watch you fade into a wisp of memory,
Or I shackle myself to Yesterday and shred my lungs with the pain of simple breath.

You are my jailer, and you’ve given me the keys.
But now you’re gone and I am lost in the shades of indecision.

Journey

milf-thrill-seeker

I’m floating in introspection today. I don’t know why; usually I like to keep my mind on the business end of things. Housework! Play with kiddos! Write! Write, write, write!

Today, I caught myself staring out the window for five minutes straight, and I was sad. I couldn’t find a reason. It might be the mist that blankets our yard, it might be the cold, the dim light, the snow forecast for tomorrow. It might be a whole host of things, who knows.

Whatever the reason, when I went to check the photo prompt for #WarmupWednesday, this picture spoke these words to me. I hope the story wraps you up as much as it did me.

Journey

Heaven’s light bathes me now. Warmth and brilliance soak my skin, submerging me in anticipation.

Before, when I could play without tiring, run without wearying, dance without collapsing, the light appeared like a pinpoint, so distant, like a breath of a feather dream.

Now, the shades of color around me are muted in the brilliance from above. My mother’s laugh is tinged with shadows. My father’s hugs grasp me in an agony of desperation.

I don’t mind, I try to explain. See the warmth of the rays?

But they can’t see. They can only watch me climb closer to Heaven.