Interview conducted via e-mail by Pat Stoltey
Mario, thank you so much for consenting to this interview for Chiseled in Rock blog. For those readers who haven’t met or heard of Mario before (and I’m sure there must be one or two), he is a handsome fellow with a dry sense of humor, author of the Felix Gomez vampire mystery series, and currently president of the Rocky Mountain Chapter of Mystery Writers of America.
Your website bio is fascinating, Mario, but our readers can go here to check you out. I’d like to dig a little deeper with my first couple of questions if I may.
Pat: At the time you requested a machine gun for Christmas, what did you plan to do with it?
Mario: Shoot holes in things, what else would you do with a machine gun? However, I didn’t shoot a machine gun until I was 17 and the experience was orgasmastic.
Pat: You flew attack helicopters for the Army. Was flying something you always wanted to do (like shooting machine guns)?
Mario: I was fascinated by flying machines since I can remember. I did become a pilot in the army where I flew Cobras. While I was a good pilot, I wasn’t a great pilot since I had a lousy sense of direction. I kept confusing up and down.
Pat: Let’s talk a little about one of my least favorite subjects: vampires. When did you develop the idea for the Felix Gomez series?
Mario: My big reveal: I’m not much of a vampire fan either. In fact, growing up, I didn’t like watching vampire, zombie, or supernatural movies. The special effects were cheesy and I never found them scary. I also didn’t read vampire novels and Charlaine Harris’ Dead Until Dark was the first vampire book I ever read cover-to-cover. Loved it and learned I could reinvent the fantasy tropes to my liking.
My idea for Felix Gomez began like this. I tried for years to get a novel published and after my sixth manuscript was rejected--a hard-boiled noir story--I decided to write the most ridiculous story I could think of: A detective-vampire investigates an outbreak of nymphomania at Rocky Flats. The concept was different and loony enough to get both an agent’s and editor’s attention.
Pat: Why vampires and werewolves instead of regular old people?
Mario: Nymphos was accepted on the condition that I write a series so I had to become an expert of the supernatural and weird--not a stretch as it turns out.
Pat: Is Felix the protagonist in all of the novels you’ve written since?
Mario: All the published ones. The other protagonists were ordinary guys in over their heads, much like me--minus the goons and gunplay.
Pat: How long did it take to write the first draft of The Nymphos of Rocky Flats, and how many times did you revise it before you made the sale?
Mario: It took me about 2 1/2 years to write Nymphos. I can’t say how many times it was revised because the manuscript was in a state of constant revision as I wrote it. Maybe a gazillion.
Pat: Your bio says you have “six unpublished manuscripts gathering dust” under your bed. Do you plan to revisit any of those early projects, or are they hopeless?
Mario: Hopeless, I’m sure. It’s easier for me to start a new story than rework those valiant if failed crash landings. But the manuscripts do serve a purpose. My pet silverfish find them yummy.
Pat: You tried submitting them to agents or publishers with no luck. Did anyone give you feedback that helped in later projects?
Mario: Ironically, it was when I was first sending queries that I got the most productive feedback. Later on, the replies were more terse: Dear writer. You suck.
Pat: Were your earlier novels mysteries? Who were the characters you developed and why didn’t they work out?
Mario: I was all over the place with my characters. Lots of failed heroes and femme fatales. I guess the stories didn’t work because they stank.
Pat: (Wondering if Mario's first works are really that bad and wishing I could take a peek at one to see...) What's the title and subject of your most recent publication?
Mario: I have a short story, “No Soy Loco,” in the YA anthology, You Don’t Have A Clue, and my graphic novel, Killing the Cobra is available from IDW Publishing. I also have, ‘Cowboy Up” in the collection of essays on writing, An Elevated View.
Pat: What are you working on now?
Mario: A variety of top-secret proposals, that if they succeed, will make me filthy rich and insufferable.
Pat: You partnered with another vampire expert, Jeanne Stein, for the blog the biting edge. Please tell our readers, especially those who don’t love vampires, why they should follow your blog anyway.
Mario: Because we have the most awesome blog in the world. At least when I post. You’re taking chances when Jeanne writes something. (Thinking we need to interview Jeanne and see what she has to say about that...)
Pat: In addition to your other talents, Mario, you’re an artist. Your military paintings are my favorites. Do you paint from photographs or memory?
Mario: My memory is not that good and I’m not that good of a photographer, so by combining the two, I manage to paint a decent image.
Pat: As a combat artist during Desert Storm, did you have the freedom to paint what you wanted, or did the Army give you specific assignments for the Center of Military History?
Mario: I had the freedom to paint what I wanted. But whatever I did, it was going into the Army’s archives to hang with the work of many outstanding artists, so I had to not suck.
Pat: What led you to Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and how did this organization help you in your writing career?
Mario: An agent said I needed to work on my synopsis. Shortly after that, I found a class for synopsis writing sponsored by RMFW, which I attended. There I met Jim Cole who invited me to attend his critique group. Belonging to RMFW has been a great help and taught me to be wide-eyed about the batshit-crazy publishing business.
Pat: What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about the writing life and the best piece of advice you can give to unpublished writers?
Mario: Read, read, read. Write, write, write. Grow a thick skin and above all, be completely delusional.
Mario, thanks again for being here today.
Thank you. You had great questions and I hope they helped. Happy fanging.
As part of the faculty for RMFW’s Colorado Gold Conference September 9-11, 2011, Mario will team up with Jeanne Stein and Warren Hammond for two workshop sessions, one on Writing Paranormal Worlds and the other on How to Keep Your Story on Track.