Welcome back to the Author Interview series. Today, we’ll be meeting Mark Fine. A gentleman who grew up in Johannesburg, South Africa and has written a book about his life in that area and some of the atrocities that occur on a regular basis.
With your unique background, did you run into any challenges when you were writing you book?
- Not the will to write, but the daily discipline to do it. And coming to the realization that it was more about the quality of a word, rather than the sheer volume of the many words. I learned to appreciate that even if it was a single perfect word added to a previously blank sheet of paper; that was a good day.
- The South Africa I lived in suffered under heavy officially enforced censorship, that previously so much of the information wasn’t then available to me. Post Mandela’s administration, I had greater access to details regarding the Soweto Riots, and the inner workings of the sinister State Security apparatus.
- Dialog…specifically giving voice to all the women characters. I did not wish to make these women sound like caricatures, so I went rather deep into the story—in order to really get to know them, before adding their voices to the page.
Had you considered yourself a writer before you wrote this one?
- [No. It was not until] my editor admitted amazement at the ability of my craft, and surprised me with her most complimentary commendations.
- As the single parent, my time had been happily devoted to raising my two sons. But about four years ago with them busy with college and high school, I found I had more time on my hands. That’s when I could realize a long term ambition to begin writing a novel.
Is writing now your career?
- Since retired from the music industry I don’t think any more in terms of careers. If I feel I have something worthwhile to say, I will certainly write it down.
What was your inspiration for the book?
- As a fictional form of memoir for my sons because I feel it’s intrinsically important to an individual, a family, or a people that they have some tangible connection to their history, their legend.
With this being a memoir, of sorts, how much of the book is real or draws from real life experiences?
- The fictional characters at the heart of the story, the mixed race lovers Elsa and Stanwell; all their experiences are a figment of my imagination. But the times and places that they pass through, with the accompanying obtuse laws and customs, are cold fact. I can’t give you percentage split but there is little doubt the fictional passion and prejudice stories ride above a firm foundation of fact.
- Yes, personal experiences are laced throughout the story. I needed that for the reader to sense the authenticity on the page.
As you said you were drawing from personal experience, did this include your selection of the title as well?
- “The Zebra Affaire” was originally going to be called “Affaire Zebra” but after living with it for a while it felt contrived to me. As for the use of the zebra motif, that was a natural conclusion. For me the body of the zebra has always represented the single nation of South Africa. However, the discrete black and white stripes symbolized the dramatically different of quality of life the citizens of that nation live, solely due to the color of their skin under the discriminatory laws of apartheid.
Did you have any authors influence your writing, either in person or as sort of a mentor type personality through their writing?
- South African writer, Wilbur Smith was the first big time author I ever met, and autograph I fervently pursued. He definitely encouraged me to pursue writing as far back as 1971! But in contemporary terms, it’s Alan Furst. He relishes the period between the two Great Wars, and artfully and patiently tells such compelling and quietly vivid stories of that nebulous period—yet somehow succeeds making it all so interesting. The first book of his I ever read was “The Foreign Correspondent.”
Were there any books you’ve read that helped contribute to the process?
- “Winds of War” Herman Wouk, “Mila 18” and “Exodus” both by Leon Uris, “The Dry White Season” by Andre Brink—South Africa’s literary giant who died several weeks ago at the age of 79.
Have these helped develop your personal writing style for your work?
- Personally, I define it as “Patient.” By that I don’t mean pedantic; rather it’s my responsibility to weave complete word images of the characters, the setting, the times, and of course the story in a vivid and compelling way. All this cannot be realistically achieved at a constant rat-a-tata-tat unrelenting tempo. Like a trumpeter needing to take a breath between blasts of his horn, I want my reader to take in a deep breath, digest what has transpired, then plunge into the next scene. I’ve chosen to reserve the selective use of tempo and tension when it is truly needed…rather than exploit it gratuitously.
With your unusual storytelling style, and the subject mater of your current work, how did you decide what to do for your cover?
- I designed the cover of Zebra Affaire, and I must confess I enjoyed learning my way around Photoshop. Working with the imagery gave me a mental break from the writing—yet it was equally creative. By the way it was a by-product of the book research process. When I stumbled upon this magnificent image of a pair of zebras, a stallion and mare, with their necks crossed in an embrace—it had to be the cover.
With your choice of tales to tell, I would think that you have had an interesting time finding support. Has anyone outside your family stepped into fill that need?
- In terms of a virtual global community of peers, to share, support and grow together, I must say BooksGoSocial developed by Irish author Laurence O’Bryan has been by far the most constructive vehicle.
Would you change anything about your current project, given a chance?
- Just add a powerful anti-Poaching scene within the final safari climax of the book. It would not detract from the narrative—probably add more tension, and at the same time allow folks that moment to question: what on earth are we are doing to the diminishing, precious wildlife on our watch—just burying our heads in the sand, looking the other way—so yes, maybe I will still go back in and add this change…it’s that important!
While you were writing, did you leave a message in your work for readers to find?
- In contemporary terms the word apartheid is splashed about like cheap cologne. In my opinion that makes a mockery of the uniquely awful struggle the black people of South Africa experienced; and as such diminishes the true value of the word, and the ghastly pain it caused for the majority of a specific nation’s inhabitants. My other underlining message is the destructive nature of tribalism, which to this very day undermines democracy throughout Africa—which tragically manifests itself in cronyism, corruption and incompetence. For some reason, this tribalism problem is never blamed for the continent of Africa’s ills—but it is the source of much of the decay these countries face.
Do you have any news about ongoing or future projects you would like to share?
- After receiving a review from a reader, enamored by the wildlife vignettes told in “The Zebra Affaire” but angry about the current savagery of poachers in modern Africa—I’ve decided to get involved in the anti-Poaching campaign. It makes no sense to stand on the sidelines as rhino and elephants are forever eviscerated, just because some dilettante desires an ivory bracelet or some Romeo jerk has ego and libido problems.
- “The Zebra Affaire” remains very much a current project. I’ve chosen to view it as a “living document” and allow it to evolve based on the feedback I receive from readers. I’ve enjoyed using wildlife as support characters in the book; but there is a drive by some fans to build that into an anti-Poaching campaign. With enthusiasm I am happy to sign on to such a critical initiative—I’m terrified that within a few short years the rhino will join the mythical world of unicorns, unless something is done, immediately! If your readers wish to participate, and help save South African rhino, they are welcome to sign this petition at “SAY NO TO LEGALIZING TRADE IN RHINO HORN” https://secure.avaaz.org/en/petition/SAY_NO_TO_LEGALIZING_TRADE_IN_RHINO_HORN/?azBixeb
I know you mentioned you’ve read many historically significant books, and classics from South Africa. Have any current authors captured your attention?
- An enthusiastic yes! I enjoy the indie music scene—for me that’s where the dynamism and creativity truly resides. I’ve decided to echo that and chase down some indie published authors. It’s been a revelation. Some current favorites: Benedict Martin “Charlie Robot”, Geoff Nelder “ARIA:Left Luggage”, Jackie Parry “Of Foreign Build”, Rochelle Carlton “The Quilt”, Florian Rochat “The Legend of Little Eagle”, Glen Barrera “The Assassin who Couldn’t Dance”…and more
Are you reading something from one of those authors now, or have you returned to your old favorites?
- I’m currently immersed in a Beta read for a forthcoming political book designed for the 2016 elections. It is a based on the principle that Washington is broken, a pox on both their houses (both Democrat and Republican) and suggests new tech solutions, such as an egalitarian, neutral use of internet as a surer, purer way of cleaning up the system. Thus by-passing big money, lobbyists, unions, etc. Coming from apartheid South Africa, with its authoritarian and discriminatory rule of governance—this is a fascinating project.
::Chuckles:: Fair enough! Seems you take your own advice for your fellow readers to heart. (Yes, I’m cheating, I’ve read it already.) Mind if I share it now?
- Read beyond your typical comfort zone. If you only read male writers in the past, it’s time to stretch and experience the fantastic writings of women authors. If fiction is your staple diet, then try a solid helping of Historical fiction, then memoirs, biographies. In other words, don’t limit your imagination and knowledge by niches and categories.
And the dreaded question for most writers – any words of wisdom for other up and coming authors?
- I know it seems counterintuitive, but map out and draft the conclusion of the book first. I’m not a lawyer, but for me it’s all about the “closing argument” and the preparation and build-up toward that closing argument. By defining upfront the plot’s final “destination” it ensured I didn’t stray too far off the path, during what turned out to be a complicated and lengthy writing process.
Thank you Mark. Do you have any last words for our readers today?
- [Nothing right now.]
- I’ve substituted my website with this cool platform created by Booklaunch.io. In a single long scroll of the page, all the information needed is quickly and elegantly accessible.
::Grins:: I’ll leave the link as a website, though I do remember glancing at the platform information. I agree, it does look interesting.
If you have enjoyed the interview, and wish me to host an interview for you, please stop by the offered services page, and send me a submission.
If you are interested in Mark’s book, you can head over to to his page here to pick up your own copy. And, be sure to come back in a couple of days, because the real Mark will be returning with the character Mark for the character interview. Thank you everyone, and I look forward to seeing you back!