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On The Table Read, “the best book magazine in the UK“, author Mark Zvonkovic talks about the inspiration behind writing his new book, Belinda.

JJ Barnes editor of The Table Read online creativity, arts and entertainment magazine

Written by JJ Barnes

www.jjbarnes.co.uk

I interviewed author Mark Zvonkovic about his life and career, what inspired him to start writing, the creative process behind his new book, Belinda.

Tell me a bit about who you are.

I live in Rosarito Beach, Baja California, Mexico, with my wife Nancy and our two dogs, Finn and Cooper. We have three adult daughters, who live in New York City and Petaluma, CA. I have written three novels, and I also write book reviews and essays that appear in online publications. Before retiring to Mexico, I practiced law for 35 years at three multinational law firms in Houston, Texas, and New York City.

Mark Zvonkovic on The Table Read
Mark Zvonkovic

I attended college at Southern Methodist University and Boston University, and my law degree is from SMU School of Law. I grew up as an oil company brat and lived in Latin America, Texas and New York.

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When did you first WANT to write a book?

I remember wanting to write a book in high school, when I was the editor of the school literary magazine.

When did you take a step to start writing?

At various times, starting in college, I began writing fragments of stories, but I never did anything with them. I taught junior high school right after college and I would often write the beginning of a story and ask my class to finish it. Law school and the first decade of practicing law didn’t allow much time for writing anything but briefs and contracts. But around 1990 I decided it was time to pursue writing fiction, and for many years I would get up at five in the morning and write for several hours before going to the office. And then, I began to plan for early retirement and became more serious about finishing a book I’d been working on for more than a decade.

How long did it take you to complete your first book from the first idea to release?

I could say almost 30 years, but it was only on the eve of retirement that I really spent significant time on my writing. After that, it was about 2 years.

How long did it take you to complete your latest book from the first idea to release?

About 3 years. I started Belinda around the time my second novel was published.

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Focusing on your latest release. What made you want to write Belinda?

During my years of practicing law at a big law firm, I had the good fortune to mentor several women associates. It made a tremendous impression on me that these women in a professional setting always had to overcome the fact that the prevailing ethos around them was so male slanted. It wasn’t the blatant misogynistic attitudes, like the ones displayed so prominently in my novel by the antagonist, Patrick Brashner. The more difficult obstacles grew out of subtle attitudes and proclivities of many men, which often made the women feel as if their bodies were being evaluated as much as their brains, if not more. And for me this is what Belinda is about, how dedicated this woman was to her profession and how elegantly she managed to make herself a success despite the male ethos she encountered daily. It’s a story that needed to be told about a woman’s career in a big law firm.

What were your biggest challenges with writing Belinda?

The protagonist in Belinda is Lyn Larkin. She’s a woman, obviously, and it was often difficult on account of that alone to put myself in her shoes. Often, I found that my reaction to an event was a man’s reaction, and I spent a lot of time asking women I know about these things, as well as remembering how my women lawyer friends reacted to real situations that arose. I’m sure that I didn’t get it all right. How would I?

Who or what inspired you when creating your Protagonist?

The women I worked with at my law firm, several of whom have been friends for decades and are still friends. Also, and importantly, women characters in novels I love about women. I think that women characters are some of the most enjoyable people in fiction, and there are several women writers who are very adept at portraying them. But in the end, there wasn’t one or even a few women I know or read about who inspired me or on whom my protagonist is based. Lyn Larkin is an amalgamation of a large number of women in my life, including my mother, who isn’t a lawyer.

Who or what inspired you when creating your Antagonist?

Belinda by Mark Zvonkovic on The Table Read
Belinda

That one is easy. Patrick Brashner is stereotypical of arrogant big law firm partners. He may be blown out of proportion for purposes of my novel, but many law firm partners will know someone who is somewhat like him. I didn’t base him any person I knew, of course. He is really only a conceptual arrogant misogynist, so bad that at times he’s almost entertaining.

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What is the inciting incident of Belinda?

That would be Jay Jackson’s return into Lyn Larkin’s life. Everything ultimately relates back to that.

What is the main conflict of Belinda?

Retirement is a greater change in life circumstance than most people realize until they retire. And a mandatory retirement, which Lyn faces, exacerbates the crisis that can accompany it. Why Lyn and Jay decide what they do, and then revise what they decide repeatedly, is driven by their confrontation with retirement.

Did you plot Belinda in advance, or fly by the seat of your pants and write freely?

I had a general sense of what was going to happen. Some writers create their characters to fit a plot. I do the opposite. I create the plot to fit my characters. My novels are character-centric. As I develop my protagonists, I devise a plot around them to make the observations about their lives that I want to make.

Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did Belinda need?

Yes. I worked with a professional editor for two years, mostly in the development stages of the book. At the end, of course, I also used a second editor to do a line edit of the manuscript.

What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a story?

Sit down and spend a lot of time thinking before you start writing. And spend a lot of time reading other works written about the idea you are going to develop. And, finally, find a good professional editor. One doesn’t run a race without training and a coach.

Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?

Character development is what interests me the most about my writing. So, the next novel will again be written around one or two characters. Several of the same characters appear in all three of my novels, even though the plots are very different, and I suspect I may go back to one or two of them. It won’t be a sequel, only a continuation of their lives.

One of my favorite earlier characters is Larry Brown, who appears in my novel The Narrows. In that story he was a young man who dealt with difficult circumstance in the early 1970s. A lot has happened in the world since those years. Perhaps it would be interesting to see how Larry has made his way to the present day.

And, finally, are your proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?

Some days I’m more proud than others. But the point isn’t to be proud so much as it is to believe I may have provided some insight and entertainment for a reader. When I hear a reader react to the novel, even if the reaction is negative, I’m happy that the novel had an effect. The characters in Belinda are who the reader makes them, and I’m satisfied when someone has made the effort to get to know them.

Pop all your book, website and social media links here so the readers can find you:

My website is www.markzvonkovic.com, where my books and social media links are listed and the book reviews and essays I write are posted. I also have author pages on Goodreads and Facebook.
www.goodreads.com/markzvon and www.facebook.com/MarkZvonkovicAuthor

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