“I am Merlin. You must help me.” When Merlin awakens from a fifteen-hundred-year slumber, the world is not quite right. After following an aethereal thread across the Atlantic to King Arthur, he discovers no one in the great nation of Texas knows the history or legends of the great king—or his druid magician. Alfred Marlborough spends his days looking for a job after being laid off. He encounters an ancient beggar who demands his help and sends him on a quest that leads to a wooded suburbia as well as dropping him into Arthur’s battles in the sixth century. Their quest to return King Arthur to his own time takes an unexpected turn when they follow the tangled threads to the founder of a software gaming company. Merlin must find a way to reconcile fate with free will and repair the tapestry of history.
Mark Andersen has been wonderful enough to come back to chat with me today about his novel Merlin’s Knot. Mark thanks for returning for a second visit, I’m always happy to welcome returning authors back to chat about their work, even if we’ve talked about the book before. The last time we caught up, we have talked about where the idea for Merlin came before, but I thought it was really poetic so I’ll get you to take us through it again :).
The idea of the book came from an image of Merlin, who looks like a dirty old wino, approaching a man in a parking lot. He says “I am Merlin. You must help me.” The person reacts much the way most of us would, he tries to disengage from the bum, politely. That doesn’t work, and our protagonist gets pulled into the old man’s world step by step.
As the protagonist is pull into Merlin’s world, was it a conscious choice for you to think about which subjects or motifs your characters would need to explore?
Yes, I did make a conscious decision to follow themes. The biggest issue in Merlin’s Knot is the conflict between free will and fate. Others appear in the book (appearance as illusion, identity, the price of vengeance) so themes do drive parts of the story.
And obviously the characters also drive other parts of the story. How did you tackle writing characters ranging from the Arthurian Merlin to a modern day engineer?
Merlin is my imagining of the mythic druid magician from the Arthur tales. Arthur’s character brings a surprise package to the reader, and parts of that characterization were a conscious effort to follow Conrad’s heart of darkness. The protagonist, Alfred, was meant to be an outsider who doesn’t believe but finds his fate swept into the conflict between the mythic characters.
During this conflict and fate that is addressed by the book, did you find that you developed strong enough relationships with any of the characters to the point where you would meet with them in real life if you had the chance? If so, who would you want to meet?
Neve, who is a healer, is an intriguing woman who would be interesting to sit down with and have a long conversation.
Do you feel like you relate to any of the characters in the novel strongly, apart from Neve?
Although the protagonist, Alfred, does not represent me, I had also spent a discouraging period of time searching for a job after a massive industry layoff.
What industry were you laid off from?
I am retired from the oil industry. The protagonist of Merlin’s Knot is also a petroleum engineer, and some of my experiences found their way into his story. My background as a research scientist makes me quite comfortable delving into background materials to better write my characters and put them into a believable space. For example, I bought a couple of books about carriages to find out what was current in early 17th century France.
So research was essential to making sure that Merlin and Alfred’s experiences rang true?
Yes. I have about ten feet of bookshelf devoted to King Arthur and the sixth century in Britain and Europe.
That is about four feet more than you had last time we chatted! I like to see that people are committed to investing in filling their bookshelves :). Speaking of filling bookshelves last time we talked you mentioned that you were working the sequel to Merlin’s Knot and another book as well. How are they progressing?
The sequel, Merlin’s Weft, releases on November 18. The point of view character shifts to another character. I was intrigued by that character and wanted to see what happened to her after the first book and this book follows her own quest to define and establish her identity. Although the first book does not end in a cliff-hanger that requires the second book to understand it, they do follow much the same group of characters.
I recently completed a completely separate book and will be editing it for some months to come. It is a swashbuckler that is a response to the Three Musketeers.
That’s very exciting to hear that the sequel to Merlin’s Knot is so close to being released! You must be very excited to see it available on the digital shelves. How is the editing process progressing for your swashbuckling tale?
My writing day starts with editing the previous day’s work. It gets me back into the story, and allows me to do a bit of cleanup. When I finish, I edit extensively both at the line level and at the story level, looking at how I handled the themes (and discovering some I didn’t know I had). Once I am happy, I hire the services of an editing team to bring the work to publication quality.
As you are narrowing down the days until the release of the sequel to this novel, and have had multiple experiences of maintaining that publication quality, what have you taken away from the overall journey of writing and self-publishing that you can share?
Get professional help for editing, layout and cover design. Concentrate your efforts on creating content that you are proud of. Write what your inner self tells you.
Taking that advice from my own inner self I’d like to wade into the pool of random fire questions where I want to see if we can elicit some unknown aspects of your personality and way of thinking. We’ll start with a nice easy one, how about who is your favourite literary character?
Gandalf. He is constant, and yet he transforms several times in the story.
Who are your favourite authors, and do you think that they have effected your writing?
I’m a pretty eclectic and wide-ranging reader. One of the few books I’ve reread several times is JRR Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings. I’ve also read several books by Geoffrey Ashe on the quest for the historical Arthur. That influenced my ideas about a post-Roman British emperor.
What is your favourite quote from another author?
Galdalf to the Balrog: “You shall not pass.” It’s dramatic and yet so simple.
Strength in simplicity is a mark of a good writer. Do you have any philosophies that you live by?
We live in an interdependent web of existence.
I like that one, I think I will borrow it and stick it in my book of philosophies & quotes :).Is there a book that you wish that you would have written?
Song of Ice and Fire, by George RR Martin. I am constantly impressed by how he turns the reader’s perception of so many characters by 180 degrees through the course of the story.
I think that ability is one of the reasons why his writing is so popular. What is your favourite quote?
“I make stuff up.” It’s on my mouse pad.
That’s a good place to put a reminder :). What are you currently reading?
I just completed Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. I read a lot of fantasy, mysteries, and science fiction. Over the past year, I’ve read some historical fiction.
If you could steal one thing without consequence what would it be?
All rights to Song of Ice and Fire.
And finally, is there something that you think we didn’t discuss today, but you think we should have at least touched on?
Why do my books deal with dark, human themes? I get this question sometimes because I’m writing in the fantasy realm. My characters are dealt extreme blows that are realistic, personal, and of human scale. I made a decision early on that traumas created some of the personas I write about, and those events had to be realistic. I’m writing a contemporary story, so murder, vengeance, human trafficking, rape, and abuse find their ways into the story. I mix humor and light fantasy together with these darker events, because that’s the way life treats us. I hope the reader can come out on the other side with a feeling that the path was well taken.
I hope your readers can take away a worthwhile feeling from reading your work too. Mark, thanks again for joining me today and I hope that we get another chance to catch-up in the future to riff more on your new work Merlin’s Weft.
Want to find out more about Mark? Connect here!