Friday, October 27, 2023

Interview with Mark Engels, author of Werecats Convergent (Forest Exiles Saga, Book 2)


Today it gives the Speculative Fiction Showcase great pleasure to interview Mark Engels, author of Werecats Convergent (Forest Exiles Saga, Book 2)

We’re here to talk about your Forest Exiles Saga and the books released so far, Werecats Emergent and Werecats Convergent. Who or what are the werecats of the title?

My main characters are a young woman named Pawly and her twin brother Tommy, both of whom as teenagers come to learn they are werecats. Their mother and uncle are too, as were their ancestors going back generations.

Your website features some striking fanart inspired by the books. What can you tell us about it?

Some of the pieces there are fanart, but most of them are commissioned pieces. Being a longtime anime and manga fan, I had first envisioned telling my stories as webcomics or even a series of graphic novels. I had commissioned several pieces as an aid to share my vision with other artists, which I would need for such an undertaking. But I quickly learned artists I could afford were wholly consumed with their own original work. So I set about the business of writing and selling novels, grateful I had these works to use as promotional materials. From the responses you've shared with me, seems they indeed enkindle interest in my books--just what I want from them.

You started out as an electrical engineer designing signalling and communications systems for the railroads in the US. What inspired you to write and how did you begin?

I still do that work which I'm glad to do, having been a train buff and an electronics geek since boyhood. Through it I afford me and my family a decent living. Having lived out of a suitcase for months on end multiple times over the course of my career, writing and all the activity associated with it allowed me to channel my restless energies into exploits far less likely to leave me broke or passed out or in jail (unlike some of my coworkers, but those are stories for another time.)

The protagonist of Werecats Emergent and Werecats Convergent is Pawly, a teenaged girl who discovers her heritage after she transforms at Halloween. How does she deal with the shock of discovering who she is?

Her transformation comes as a shock to the rest of her family too, for reasons explained in the books. Fortunately, she has her mother and the rest of their blended human-werecat family to help her and her twin brother understand and come to grips with who--and what--they are. Which, as they both discover, has its upsides as well...

Why do Pawly’s family ask a Chicago drug cartel for help as they seek an outlet for her and her twin brother’s bloodlust?

The family knows it needs money, a cover, and an outlet for the twins' feral bloodlust. The Noh family is eager to provide all three, just as it did for the twins' mother and uncle a generation before. Until, that is, the twins' grandfather, a renowned scientist and respected university professor, drew the cartel's ire by refusing to help them commercialize their drug production operations. An all-too-convenient leak to the press detailing the grandfather's clandestine research to benefit the twins' mother and uncle resulted in his deportation.

What is Pawly’s family background and how important is her Polish heritage to the story?

One of Pawly's grandfathers, the renowned scientist hailing from Poland, was a key member of a Cold War-era Soviet "super soldier" development program. Her other grandfather was the CIA operative sent to infiltrate the Soviets' organization and smuggle him back to the States. Pawly's ancestral werecat clan was caught in the crossfire as the two humans made their escape, leaving her mother and her uncle as its only surviving members. The four of them, together with the scientist's young wife, fled to the CIA agent's native Chicago. There, in an ethnic Polish neighborhood, they all began to rebuild their lives. Before long the scientist and his wife adopted Pawly's mother and uncle. In the years following, her mother came to fall in love and be married--to the CIA agent's son. To whom she bore twins: Pawly and Tommy. At the time of the story Pawly's grandfather has been deported back to Poland, accompanied by her uncle who himself grew up to be a scientist. There they resume the grandfather's research, desperate to find a way the twins might sate their kinds' lethal bloodlust lest they go feral.

When her uncle Ritzi seeks an alternative solution to the twins’ situation, where does it lead, and what is the result?

He journeys to Poland to help the twins' grandfather resume his "super soldier" development work. But while there Ritzi inadvertently draws notice from an elder werecat representing a rogue state, desiring to exploit the twins' deadly talents for his employer's own ends.

How do Pawly and her brother end up preparing to enlist in the military of a rogue state, and how does their father react?

When a Noh cartel enforcer is found savagely mauled following the twins' first job, Ritzi insists Pawly and her brother enlist in the rogue state's service to ensure their safety. Because he knows firsthand that the Noh family cartel is bad news. The twins' father on the other hand, having just been grievously wounded in a covert operation against said rogue state, knows that it is bad news as well. Each one-upping the other throughout the last half of the first book seeking to resolve their impasse results in...well, let's just say there's a lot of collateral damage.

You mention your “long-time membership in anime, manga and anthropomorphic fandoms”. What influence did this have on your choice of theme and on the aesthetic of the series and fanart?

These books are my way of giving back to the anime, manga, and anthropomorphic fandoms which I have given me such joy through the years, fandoms which enabled me to meet kindred spirits including several of my closest friends. Pawly and her antagonist Hana are each an amalgamation of several of my favorite anime and manga heroines. My books include an ensemble cast and a numerous flashbacks in part because so many of my favorite anime and manga creators employed such devices to tell their stories. Since I first had a webcomic or a graphic novel series in mind when I first sat down to write my stories, I think the narrative would still well suit one of those formats. Any artists who believe they would want to work with me to make that happen, please look me up!

Avoiding spoilers, where is Pawly at the start of book two?

Smack dab in the middle of a firefight along with the rest of her Navy unit, pierside near the Gulf of Oman. Fighting tooth and claw against an enemy werecat--Hana, in fact.

You mention that you are a member of the Allied Authors of Wisconsin, one of the state's oldest writing collectives, and the Furry Writer’s Guild. What can you tell us about these writers’ groups?

Allied Authors traces its roots back nearly a hundred years to the Milwaukee Fictioneers. Among the groups more recent members was a fellow named Gene DeWeese. His works included an 80s era young adult novel called  The Adventures of a Two-Minute Werewolf; I read my Weekly Reader Book Club hardcover edition over and over again until the spine finally split. (If the premise sounds familiar, it might be because the book was made into an ABC Weekend Special miniseries--not all that long before the original Teen Wolf movie came out.) To say DeWeese's book left an impression on me is an understatement. I write what I write now because I read what he wrote then. Sadly, Mr. DeWeese passed away a couple of years before I joined.

The Furry Writers’ Guild is a group of writers whose works, running the gamut of formats, all feature anthropomorphic animals. A writer's characters, however, need not be furry all the time for a writer to qualify for membership. For that I'm grateful, as several of the friends I've made there number among my werecat books' staunchest supporters (and my trusted confidants.)

The Forest Exiles Saga interweaves tropes of magic and shape-shifters with modern geopolitical combat. How do you blend real-life themes with urban fantasy?

I puzzled over this question for some while, yet have little to show for it by way of explanation. How does a squirrel know how to climb a tree? He doesn't, you know, he just goes and does it. So blending real-life themes together with urban fantasy wasn't really a conscious choice near as I can recall. What was, however, was the realization that these were the books I had in my heart to write, the books I wanted to read and couldn't find. I am over the moon that other people enjoy my books' genre fusion aesthetic, too.

How important is the landscape and nature of Wisconsin and the Great Lakes to your writing and imagination?

I write both out of the abundance of my heart and out of the deep, aching longings within it. Parts of my books are inspired by the life I've lived, others by the life I wish I had. And many of both types were themselves inspired by numerous locales around the Great Lakes region, especially Wisconsin where my family and I now live. Readers can take heart that whatever mental picture they formulate of one setting or another, I've likely beheld that very same scene with my own two eyes.

Book 3 of the Saga, Werecats Resurgent, is due out in December. When that is published, what are your plans?

I've made no commitments beyond marketing the complete series. Need a writer panelist or a writer guest-of-honor for an upcoming con? Have books, will travel. My muse hasn't told me yet just whether there are more stories to tell, though rest assured she will make it abundantly clear if there are. She has claws and fangs and knows how to use them! Readers can join my mailing list via the "Subscribe" link on my web site to stay abreast of my writerly goings-on. (And they'll receive excerpts from my first two books to read and enjoy.)

What has your experience been as an Indie writer negotiating the landscape of Amazon and marketing?

There is a ridicustupid amount of information out there about writing and publishing and marketing. Something I learned the hard way is that what might have worked for them/there/then may or may not work for me/here/now, though it might be worth considering. I recommend one read a lot and listen to a lot then chart their own course, being prepared to re-chart their course as needed in light of new information and insights. The Kindlepreneur site has become a trusted and valued resource to help me do just that, one I can heartily recommend to any and all fellow writers regardless of genre or target audience or the manner in which they seek to publish.


About Mark Engels:

Boyhood interests in trains and electronics fostered Mark's career as an electrical engineer, designing and commissioning signal and communications systems for railroads and rail transit agencies across the United States. Along the way Mark indulged his writing desire by authoring articles for rail and transit industry trade magazines. Coupled with Mark's long-time membership in anime, manga and anthropomorphic fandoms, he took up writing genre fiction. Growing up in Michigan, never far from his beloved Great Lakes, Mark and his wife today make their home in Wisconsin with their son and a dog who naps beside him as he writes.

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