The 2009 3 Day Novel Contest winner Mark Sedore was kind enough to respond to a series of questions recently. What follows is some great responses on his thoughts on what the contest has meant to his writing career, some of the trials that the contest poses to writers, what he is working on currently, and some insights into the writing process.
JO: I know you’ve answered this before, but it has to be asked, what is it like to write a novel in a 72-hour period?
MS: As anyone can imagine it’s very intense, but the structure of the contest is such that it lends itself to extreme focus and forced creativity. I really can’t recommend the contest enough to writers who are just starting out or to those who always wanted to give novel writing a try. Because the deadline is constantly close, so visibly in front of you, you have to work to your capacity and just crank out those words. It’s the kind of skill-building exercise that stays with you throughout the rest of the year.
JO: How different do you think your book would be if you had months, or even years to write it? Does the adrenaline of the 3 Day Novel event make the book superior in any way versus facing no deadline?
MS: If I had had an unlimited amount of time to write the novel, I would have done a lot more research and character building. I think the primary characters in the work stand alone just fine, but there’s a bit of a mythos around the contest that you only have time to develop either plot or character really well, the idea being that 72-hours does not lend itself to high development of both. I think if I had more time I would have learned more about people who live with Asperger’s Syndrome, and I would have learned more about those who have spent extended periods in the Arctic Circle on their own. I myself enjoy reading 3 Day Novels because of the franticness of them. They’re all so refined and immediate and so, yes, perhaps my work would have lost some of that sense had I had more time to work on it.
JO: Brothers, and more generally, family, are significant themes in the book. Can you discuss how you approach these themes in Snowmen?
MS: I’ve written a number of (as yet unpublished) novels before, some of which deal with the theme of brotherhood. I myself am an older brother, but I’ve always – until now – written from the perspective of the younger brother. I wanted to see what I’d produce if I actually put myself in my own shoes. Not to say that my real-life little brother is a rich, evil bastard the way Lawrence is in the book, but I suppose there are some dynamics between me and my brother that have come through in the work.
JO: Mark, how has the 3 Day Novel Contest impacted your writing more generally?
MS: It’s gone a long way towards dampening the influence of my inner critic. This was the third time I’d participated in the contest, and I really feel it’s the kind of skill that you can build over time: being able to write quickly, creatively and under pressure, without feeling the necessity to edit every sentence or paragraph as you go along. You need to be agile when writing a three-day novel. If it looks like it’s going in a different direction than you planned, then you should probably go with it. Trying to force it otherwise is going to end up wasting time and energy, your two most precious resources. I think it’s built a lot of my skills as a writer and I’m extremely happy I first took the plunge back in 2007.
JO: Your admiration, respect and fears of the ‘North’ seem palpable in the novel. Can you discuss this?
MS: I’ve done a bit of reading on winter survival and always enjoyed winter camping when I was a teenager but, really, it’s just that like visiting the cold places of the Earth. They’re alluring, cleansing and purifying. I got the idea for the novel while I was spending New Years up in Whitehorse for a week, when the temperature never once rose above -30 degrees Celsius and was down to less than -40 at night. Even the ski hills were closed because of the cold, the kind of thing I previously thought they took for granted in Whitehorse in the winter, but this was extremely cold weather even for them.
JO: How much advance preparation did you do for the writing of the novel Mark?
MS: I had been reading Oliver Sacks’s Musicophilia when I got the idea for Charles’s talent and occupation, and doing a lot of cold weather non-fiction reading as well. The idea had been brewing in my mind for about nine months prior to entering the contest, so I felt prepared with a lot of built up information, facts and ideas prior to the shotgun start at midnight on Saturday morning. Then it was like just releasing a floodgate of information that needed to be poured out onto the page.
JO: What are some of the things that you hope readers take away from Snowmen?
MS: That the northern and cold parts of the world can be interesting places and worth preserving.
JO: Mark, who are some of your favourite authors? What are you reading at the moment?
MS: Some of my favourite authors are Vonnegut, Palahniuk, Murakami, Douglas Adams and Brian Aldiss. I’m a bit neurotic about my reading choices, and the first book I read every year is always something I’ve read before, usually something from my youth that had a strong impact on me. So, right now, it’s Dune by Frank Herbert.
JO: Would you care to share some of your current projects with us? Do you have any plans to enter the contest again?
MS: Right now I’m working on a couple of novels I’d already written, taking the editing skills I’ve gained from refining Snowmen, and applying it to them. I hope to approach publishers sometime later this year with new work. I would like to enter the contest again eventually, but as part of a partnership with my best friend. We’ve written collaboratively quite a bit, and the contest does allow co-entries from two people. I think it’d be the kind of thing we’d be good at and at the very least we’d produce something really interesting.