Q&A: Mark Okrant

There are a lot of wonderful writers living in our state. As the Director of the NH Center for the Book  I get the opportunity to talk to many of them. This interview series of Q&As with New Hampshire authors here on Book Notes lets me share that experience a bit with my blog readers. 

Mark Okrant
If someone hasn't read your work yet, where should they start?
All six of my books and one short story are available as e-books. Five of the books have been published in paperback. So, there are ample opportunities. Depending upon the reader's interest--fiction vs non-fiction--I'd start with A Last Resort (fiction), or wait for the forthcoming release of No Vacancy: The Rise, Demise, and Reprise of America's Motels.

When did you first think of yourself as a writer?
Not until graduate school. I was in the office of a distinguished professor at Texas A&M. He had just read my preliminary doctoral comprehensive exams. He looked me in the eye and said, "Frankly, Okrant, I'm shocked. You write very mature geography." Non plussed, I asked why he was shocked. His response cut me to the bone: "Because you've shown me absolutely nothing in my seminar (oral presentations) this term. I wish I could tell you that I focused on his positive comment.

How did you end up living in NH?
My family and I took vacations by car back in the 1950s. I have lasting memories of the Old Man, Lost River, and other attractions. Years later, when a teaching job at Plymouth State opened up, I had to have it. That was 34 years ago; so, it was meant to be.

Where do you like to write?
I don't have a favorite place. I've written a book in a condo in Florida, another in Lamson Library (at Plymouth State University), another in a summer cottage in rural Vermont, and one in my home office. Once I'm in the mood, there's no stopping me.

How important is place in your writing?
Extremely. I have three degrees in Geography. So, the place--usually a resort property, plus the surrounding community--becomes a leading character in my books.

What do you do when you aren't writing?
I love spending time with my wife and daughters. A retired distance runner, now golf is a consuming passion. I also love to tour around looking for, and photographing, remnants of 1950s-60s travel landscapes.

What's the best piece of advice (writing or otherwise) you were ever given?
The best advice I ever received was when my mother told me, "No one is better than you..." Then, pausing for effect, she added, "...and, you're no better than anyone else." That advice has served me well while I'm doing background research for my books. If you were standing in the room while I'm interviewing a subject, you wouldn't know whether I was talking with a congressman or a custodian. I'm comfortable with each, and respect them equally.

What books do you love and what about them speaks to you? I love books that are written well, but are unpretentious. Any book that tells a good story, in an interesting setting, with believable characters captures my attention.  I suppose mysteries have gradually become my genre of choice.

What are you working on now?
I've just finished No Vacancy and am deciding between the next Kary Turnell Mystery and a Western that has been burning in my head for a half century.

What do you want to share that I neglected to ask about?

I love public speaking. It's hard to believe that the young man who stammered so much at Texas A&M loves talking to audiences...no matter whether a handful of people or thousands.

You can learn more about Mark at his websitewww.markokrant.com

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