Meet Mark D.E. Mobley! Mark is a new author releasing his second book My Soul is Deep and Wide. I asked him a few questions about his book, his writing career, and how he manages time to write.
KIMCHI'S INTERVIEW WITH MARK D.E. MOBLEY REGARDING MY SOUL IS DEEP AND WIDE.
My Soul Is Deep And Wide, a novel by Mark D.E. Mobley.
What is your book about?
It is written in the form of a memoir following the life of Louis, a young man who is the product of the rape of his black mother by a white man in Jim Crow South. Louis looks white, and for the first sixteen years of his life he believes he is white until he finds a newspaper clipping of a rape trial in which the black woman who was raising him was the victim and the accused rapist
looks just like him. Through the course of his young adulthood Louis experiences racism from both whites and blacks which is very traumatic for him, but he still retains his black identity.
He moves to New York City and eventually meets a thirteen year old half-Jamaican half-African-American youth, Terrance, who wants to be a rapper, and meets Terrance’s family and becomes
intimately involved with them and even gets engaged to Charlene, Terrance’s older sister.
Is this your first book?
No. I completed my first novel a very long time ago but threw it out after I got my first query rejection, but not for that reason. I realized that the premise was unworkable. I wish I hadn’t done that, because you never know how you can learn from your past work about how you approach your material and the ideas that you used which you might want to explore in the future.
My heartiest advice to any writer or any creative person at all, is to not throw their work out no matter what they think of it. At least keep a copy on a computer and ideally email it to yourself so that you can always refer to it.
I had a story idea that really attracted me many years before that and worked it up as a stage play but eventually decided that I would be better able to develop the characters in a prose format, so I explored it as a novel. But I was so untrained that I became obsessed with perfecting the plot
and changed it repeatedly while not knowing how to really develop it. I have gone back to that book a number of times through the years and was recently hoping I could finally get it done
after My Soul Is Deep And Wide, but just as I was finishing it I saw a photo on a TV program which threw me into a series of psychological associations regarding my granny who was like my mother to me, and I knew I must write a book based on that next--which screwed up what I
had planned for that old book. But they say man plans and God laughs.
However, this is the second book I have independently published. The first is Unbearable Beauty, a novel which explores the many facets of love and transcendence.
What inspired you to start writing?
When I was a kid I was a voracious reader. When I was four years old, my father was reading me my bedtime story and I grabbed the book out of his hand and started reading it to HIM.
My mother owned a lot of books which I loved to read, and also when I was very young my parents bought me recordings of fairy tales which I listened to constantly, so I got the concept of storytelling at a very young age.
When I got a little older, I fell in love with the old horror movies on TV, and I forced my best friend to help me make up horror dramas which we enacted in my parents’ basement and tape recorded. I was always making up the scenes and telling him what dialogue to say, so even back then I was getting my writing practice.
I wrote my first play at eleven--another horror story--then in school they introduced us to poetry and I wrote a poem based on a picture of a storm-tossed boat and I really got the writing bug then because I felt incredible power of communication both of ideas and emotions. Then I wrote some short stories, and my papers for my English classes became rather florid. I was introduced to Shakespeare, and I was overwhelmed by the beauty of his language, so I started writing poetry and bits of plays inspired by him. I also rewrote story ideas and opera stories, knowing only the bare bones of the plots, and added my own dialogue and character development according to my emotional concepts.
All this time I was reading as much as I could of the great literature from Shakespeare, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Victor Hugo, etc., as well as a lot of poetry. Then I came up with the story idea for and worked on this first novel I just mentioned, and I was hooked.
I studied acting so I could do Shakespeare and merge with the beauty of the language as well as explore dramatic literature and how it is approached from acting and directing standpoints so I could learn to write better, but I put it all aside at one point to study drawing and painting because I love the visual arts.
I was always searching for the most effective means of expressing my intellectual, emotional, and philosophical responses to the world around me, so for some time I was experimenting with everything I could find. But about fifteen years ago, I realized that it had to be writing, which I am glad about because it is the most all encompassing and freeing medium in all the arts and I find unbelievable things coming out in my work.
What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning
I didn’t do any research for My Soul Is Deep And Wide, because it is heavily autobiographical
and touches on my experiences with a number of people I have known through my life, but I did
a lot of research for Unbearable Beauty which takes place mainly in Varanasi, which is the major
city for Hindu pilgrimage in India.
I had already done a lot of reading about the Hindu religion
and even followed it for a few years, so I already knew the philosophical concepts I would be
writing about, but I lived there for a short while to do location research, mainly to explore the
dynamics of how women are treated in that society as well as their interactions with their
husbands, and to also get a feel of the sights and sounds—and smells, since Varanasi is a symphony of smells from incense to the dank Ganges to decaying corpses.
I also watched a lot
of Hindi serials and other television, with English subtitles of course, so I could pick up Hindi
English which I use for most of the characters in the book. I also studied some Hindi just to get
into the groove and to get a chance to throw in a few Hindi phrases to make it a little more relatable.
However, my one of two protagonists, Neville, was born and raised in Jamaica, and I covered some significant events in his youth there, so I really wanted to visit Jamaica to get the feel of it, especially the flora since Neville spends a lot of time in the jungle with his mentor, Leed, who has taken the responsibility to make Neville a great reader of people’s past, present, and future. But, unfortunately, finances kept me from doing that.
The novel I am working on now runs the range from a picture book of the Civil War to an Indian reservation and Native American spirituality, to the Black Church, to the professions of my characters of which I know only anecdotes, but I feel the weight of needing to become as familiar with the material before I attempt to write about it.
One of my characters was a child
minister, so I am also studying the writings of Dr. King and certain parts of the King James Bible as well as watching online services from Abyssinian Baptist Church to get a better sense of language usage in that venue. So, to answer your question directly, I start with the idea for a character which is usually a psychological response to something I read or see or from my own experience, then I develop that character in relation to other characters that come upon my
mind—generally someone who symbolizes the struggle that my main character has to deal
with—then I get a vague idea of the plot.
Now, to develop my characters fully I do research on how they fit into their culture/society/moment in history, etc., then as the plot and place develop I do necessary research on what can make them more real. For example, one of my characters in Unbearable Beauty spends a number of years begging with her husband who has gone to Varanasi to die but he never does. He insists to live next to the wall of a hospice where priests read from the Ramayan to the patients there so they can get spiritual liberation upon their deaths, and though he wasn’t allowed inside the hospice, there is a legend that just to die next to it one would get liberation.
I never would have been able to give this character that experience, as well as a richer revelation of the culture of Varanasi and the Hindu world, unless I had read several
books about Varanasi in particular.
So, one element of the writing process builds on the other, not necessarily in order, and I keep going from one element to another as they all develop.
How do you research your books?
In every way in which I can find information and “feel” people’s psychology, sense of location,
cultural and historical facts, language usage, etc.--which can be reading books, talking to people,
traveling to a location if necessary, watching You Tube videos, and researching at the library
which I love to go to anyway because they are cathedrals of knowledge.
Google is a great resource for just about anything though when getting into the nitty gritty a book about the subject is more ideal. However, I have gotten a lot of information on Facebook of all places, mainly articles that are posted. In fact, I got the idea of one of my minor characters while reading an article on Facebook which discussed the experiences of children during slavery, which is not a topic that is often dealt with.
How do you select the names of your characters?
For My Soul Is Deep and Wide, I got the name Louis from my granny’s name Louana, and
Charlene and Terrance from a Jamaican friend who used to rent a room a house I was living in,
and her Jamaican boyfriend. They were about the nicest people I have ever met, and Terrance
had an incredible sadness about him as well which endeared me to him. I wanted to give honor
to both of them, so I purposely used their names.
Almost all the names I use in my books are from people I have known or sometimes read about, and they always have some kind of spiritual or symbolic significance.
How do you come up with the titles to your books?
I pick them out during the course of writing. I did have a working title for My Soul Is Deep And Wide, which was Racial Congress, because the book deals with the interactions between blacks and whites, but Terrance writes a poem beginning with, “My Soul Is Deep And Wide,” and one day I realized that had to be the title because it fits the spiritual scope of the book better.
For Unbearable Beauty, I got the idea from a line of dialogue from the end of the book, and it encapsulates the overall theme.
Describe your perfect book hero or heroine.
Someone who goes deep inside themselves to face their pain and ambivalence and comes out on
the other side with greater self-awareness and a revelation of their inner beauty.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I don’t think I really have, lol. I always want to, always have wanted to, but Toni Morrison said
she didn’t really feel that she could call herself a writer until she had published several successful
books and she started work on Beloved. She is one of my writerly role models, so I take her words with a lot of weight, but essentially if someone works at something they are that something.
If someone works in business, they don’t have to become the CEO of a major corporation in order to be called a businessman/woman. There is a lot of pretense in the writing world in which the self-appointed elite negate the work of the less successful or less skilled, as well as the pretensions of some people calling themselves writers when they have never even
read a book--and a lot of people have the idea that you can’t be called a writer until you have a
successful book published by a house.
In order to avoid confusion I call myself a writer of literary fiction and poetry, but I am most comfortable with just saying that I am working on xyz project which is the essential thing—working and engaging with your material. The literary world is so fickle and unpredictable that if you aren’t centered in working for the sake of working and exploring life and your own depths through it that you can get lost before you even
Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?
No. I’m very heart on your sleeve, and my essential desire is to communicate. There is no way
to communicate if you are withholding information unless you are doing it to enhance the plot and will reveal it eventually.
How many hours a day do you write?
I shoot for three, but as I mentioned before, I struggle with depression as I have bipolar disorder, and between depression-induced lethargy and often medication side effects, I can go for days without writing which is very against my work ethic but I can only do what I can. But generally,
three hours until my cognition starts to dwindle. Though when I am revising I can work for eight
or nine hours at a time.
How many unpublished and half finished books do you have?
The one I am working on right now, which is about the desperate effort to achieve a sense of
wholeness against the limitations of racism and grief; that first one I told you about which I
really hope to finish some day if only to prove wrong a teacher in college who tore up my
manuscript and shouted that black people are destroying the English language and also shouted
in my face that I don’t have the capacity to write a historical novel instead of showing me how I
could learn to write one; a book about the 1984 anti-Sikh riots; and the one I hope to complete
next which I started drafting about seventeen years ago which is a compilation of short stories
held together by a central theme and witnessed by a central character through which he learns
about the meaning of life.
Does writing energize or exhaust you?
Both. Writing is the only time I feel really connected to myself, and at least the prosidy part comes very easy to me, and that makes me feel good about myself as well as intensely excited by the creative experience, or gestalt if you want to get philosophical. But I write from my gut, and my material is generally regarding issues and experiences that are a matter of life and death for me, so I can be in a lot of turmoil. But even that can be cathartic at times if I am lucky.
Unbearable Beauty was extremely energizing for me, very uplifting for the most part, but My
Soul Is Deep And Wide was daily torture during which I wept every time I thought Of Terrance.
I conceived it upon hearing of the murder of Nipsey Hussle which to me was yet one more in a
countless string of the unnecessary death of blacks, mainly men, and it also reopened my grief
over Tamir Rice’s death. He was just a child--just a child. And I can barely imagine the immensity of his mother’s grief. That is what compelled me to write My Soul Is Deep And Wide, and Terrance and his mother, Clarissa, are my homage to Tamir and his mother, Samaria Rice.
The day I finished it I felt like a two ton brick was lifted off my shoulder. I was so relieved to have finished it and wouldn’t have to be dredging up such pain every day.
Writing can be an emotionally draining and stressful pursuit. Any tips for aspiring
Do your best to set a reasonable time to write five or six days a week and approach it like you
would a job, though a job that you love. Even if it’s just two hours a day, or even one, try to be
as a consistent as possible. Write down ideas as they come to you during the day in a notebook,
though try to get some kind of emotional distance from your material when you are not working.
Go for a walk, lift a few weights, or cook dinner or whatever. And definitely read other books so
you can improve your skills as well as get some detachment from what you are working on.
Don’t ever take away from yourself your permission to write! You should always be reading
books in the genre you are working in as well as others.
Don’t just read for enjoyment, but be aware of how a certain character or plot or line of prose affects you emotionally and determine to understand how you can put those elements into your own work. But most of all, don’t ever let anyone tell you that you aren’t good enough or that you aren’t a real writer or you can’t write, or anything other than well-informed constructive criticism based solely on the technical aspects of your work—which you can always improve on by studying, through your next work, and even through rewrites of your current one.
Live by the dictum that any good writing has been revised
a number of times and that at the beginning you are writing down your ideas and impressions
and they don’t have to have any real cohesion until rewrites. Also, don’t follow other people’s
self depreciating comment that what they wrote at first is shit.
Every single thing you write,
every idea, every turn of phrase or description, are the seeds of something unique and incredible.
Most ingredients for a food recipe generally taste terrible when eaten alone, but when they are
joined together with effort and time result in a delicious meal or treat.
The one thing I learned
from my few writing classes in school was Henry James’ statement that a writer is someone upon
whom nothing is lost. So be aware about the world around you and what makes people tick.
There is a very good book on story structure regarding development of character and plot that I
have begun to work out of. The Anatomy Of Story, by John Truby. I wish I had this book twenty years ago. It would have saved me a lot of time not wasted on pure trial and error, and I could have finished more writing by now had I read it back then.
Both books are available on Amazon.
My Soul Is Deep And Wide: