Today, Hartford Books Examiner welcomes Mark Magro.
Magro is the debut novelist of the forthcoming YA thriller Surfacing (Jolly Fish Press, $14.99), due out on October 20th of this year. He grew up on an island in New York (and boats of escaping with only the slightest hint of an accent), eventually graduating Wagner College with a Bachelor’s Degree in English and a Master’s in Adolescent Education. Magro then taught in New Jersey before relocating to Pennsylvania, where he currently lives in the Lehigh Valley with his wife and their dog. His favorite pastimes include gaming, running, and spending time with family. Oh, yeah—and writing.
From the publisher:
In a postapocalyptic world, two students discover that the worst thing about searching for the truth is actually finding it
After a nuclear war has ravaged the planet, children of the few survivors are sent to renowned scientist Dr. Parkman and his subterranean Parkman Institute of Science and Solutions. There, they learn, create, and test the latest technologies until they turn 18 and are sent back to the surface to help rebuild society. Sixteen-year-old students Balt and Zoe have begun to realize something is amiss when Zoe is given a glimpse of an entirely different reality during a freak accident, one completely foreign to what Parkman has always described to his students. With the help of Balt and his midterm robotics project, the talkative head of an A.I. called Smith, the three devise a plan to escape the institute and travel through the ruins of the old labs to get to the surface. As they draw closer to their destination, they begin to see that their biggest threat might be each other. The old lab is full of secrets, and some answers are perhaps better left buried.
Now, Mark Magro offers readers a sneak peek at Surfacing …
1) What inspired you to write SURFACING – and how do you feel that your book differs from other post-apocalyptic fiction?
SURFACING is really a hodgepodge of things I love, but one of the biggest influences on it is definitely the games Portal and Portal 2. For those unfamiliar with this series, these games put you in the shoes of a silent protagonist as they navigate puzzles in the ruins of an abandoned science lab. While playing, if you look hard enough, you can find little hints here and there through hidden rooms and graffiti on the walls about what happened in that world that led to its downfall. Finding those always got the gears turning in my head. Long after finishing those playthroughs, I just couldn’t help but think back to that world and imagine more about how it developed and what other secrets it might have held.
The other really big influence I drew from was the novel Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan. I love the alternating narrator style this book uses and really ran with the idea when writing SURFACING. Ultimately, I think it’s what really helps SURFACING stand out amidst other post-apocalyptic fiction. The genre is built upon really rich words with interesting histories, but I wanted to take a different approach and give the reader a chance to experience it all through multiple avenues. I think it just adds a new layer of depth to be able to see how, not just one, but two characters can view the same events, same characters, and same setting and come away with very different conclusions.
2) Teacher man … Please tell us: how does the role of educator inform your writing – and your understanding of the characters you create?
In a lot of ways, being a teacher is really an invaluable resource when it comes to writing for young adults. Over the course of every year, I get to know a lot of really amazing kids and I can honestly say not a day goes by where I don’t learn something from them. Being a young adult is just such a fascinating time where, for the first time in a lot of ways, you start to feel really in control of your life and able to make your own decisions. But, at the same time, you discover how truly great or truly wrong those choices can go. I’ve been able to witness many of my students go through so many experiences, some great and some challenging, and am always left feeling better informed not only with them as people, but with their age as a pivotal time in life. I think these observations not only drew me to the YA genre as a whole, but have made me a better writer as a result of it.
3) As an avid gamer, do you have any thoughts you’d like to share on how alternate realities can help us to deal with “real world” issues? Also, if you had to make an argument for reading as an equally powerful leisure pursuit, what would you say?
Well, I think the power of sci-fi and other alternative reality genres really comes from, at their heart, dealing with real world issues, just through more fantastical means. The core tenets of truth are still there, and the rather unusual context they come up in just speaks to how those issues and feelings are universal. SURFACING is very much set in a reality that seems far removed from our own, but its protagonists still deal with issues that teens face today – feelings of displacement, struggles with loss, and confusion with identity.
Stories like this always interest me, whether it comes from a book or a video game. I think video games, being a very young medium, are just now starting to really hit their stride in terms of telling really thought-provoking stories while, at the same time, giving their players agency in the experience. Sometimes in granting that agency though, things like narrative flow and a consistency in message are lost. Books, for the thousands of years they have been created and read, have always excelled in that – allowing a reader to journey through a perfectly crafted narrative. So I would say, hey, both are equally powerful leisure pursuits worth your time!
4) How did the experience of writing (and writing … and writing) your debut novel compare to your initial expectations – and what advice would you give to those who struggle to find the time to fulfill their creative aspirations?
I think the biggest thing I’ve learned has been that the persistence and, for lack of a better word, the fortitude the road to publication demands was more than I thought it would take. And more than I thought I had, quite frankly. Writing is a very personal experience. Even when the characters and story aren’t about you, pieces of you are in there. It’s unavoidable. So when you face rejection, which there is a lot of in this field, it naturally feels like a rejection of you, not just your work. I think I knew that it would be tough, and it’s an ongoing struggle to really separate myself from those feelings. Really, critiques are super essential and being forced to change and edit and adapt your work over and over again helps you end up with a better piece of work in the end. For those struggling to find the time to write, I think they just need to remember that all writers have been there time and time again. It’s just important to push through. Seek out the feedback of others and, whenever you feel ready to dive into your writing, whether that be an hour before bed, twenty minutes over coffee in the morning, or whenever else, don’t be afraid to keep writing and refining your work.
5) Leave us with a teaser: what comes next?
Hopefully more books to share! I’m really happy with how SURFACING turned out and am curious to see how it’s received. It’s very surreal to think that, in a few months, these characters and this story I’ve had in my head for so long will be out there to be experienced by others. I’m happy with where the book leaves off and wouldn’t mind letting it stand on its own rather than being a part of a series. Then again, if there is a demand for the story to continue, I have a few ideas I would enjoy exploring in that world.
Right now, I’m wrapping up a YA realistic fiction manuscript that is inspired by my part-time job during college as a doorman for a Manhattan apartment building. It’s a coming of age story at heart with an interesting mystery element to it. Hopefully I can find a home for it and be able to share it with others. After that, I’m planning on getting back to another manuscript I wasn’t able to finish that is very much in the same spirit of SURFACING, a YA thriller with alternating narrators. It’s definitely my most ambitious piece of writing thus far and, hopefully, it all comes together. Thanks for asking!
Surfacing is available for pre-order from your favorite independent bookseller as well as Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
With thanks to Mark Magro for his generosity of time and thought and to Kirsten Yauch Hess, owner of Let’s Play Books in Emmaus, Pennsylvania, for introducing the author to HBE.