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[KR 0003] Mark Rapacz: Ruminating on Writing, Running, and Buffalo

Mark Rapacz (Muddin' and climbing rope, Living History Farms cross country race, November 2011.)

Mark Rapacz: Writer and Runner (Living History Farms Race, November 2011.)

Writing and running: There isn’t a whole lot of glory or recognition to be had in either of these pursuits. After all, the world likes money … and Hollywood … and football. The writers and runners of the world? Well, they’re generally left alone to toil away at their respective crafts in anonymity, outsiders in a society that doesn’t understand their quirks or value the simplicity and beauty of their pursuits. No matter. Simple pleasures are enough to sustain a writer or a runner: a sentence that sounds right, a run that feels right — these things are heaven on earth if you truly know them.

Mark Rapacz (Book cover: Buffalo Bill in the Gallery of the Machines)

Mark's book: Buffalo Bill in the Gallery of the Machines

But every now and then, the world takes notice of a writer or a runner; and sometimes, it takes notice of someone who fits both of these labels. Enter Mark Rapacz: creative writer, long distance runner, and a good friend of mine. This past summer, Mark received what oh-so-many writers only hope for: an offer to publish one of his books. Buffalo Bill in the Gallery of the Machines, published by Burnt Bridge Press, is now available on Amazon.com and a variety of other sites in electronic format, and the print edition will be coming out in March on these same sites. It sure is nice to see a writer/runner get some well-deserved recognition. Cheers, Mark!

Mark and I had the chance to talk at length recently, and what resulted is the conversation below. I’ve included our full audio conversation, as well as a transcript of the conversation’s first 15 minutes. (If you decide to read the transcript, you can finish the conversation by listening to the audio file. If you don’t want to listen to the part of the conversation you’ve already read, go ahead and play the audio file, but then drag your audio player’s location-marking cursor to the 15-minute mark — or thereabouts.)

I’ve also included a table of contents to help you navigate the audio conversation — although I would recommend listening to the dialogue in full to really get the most out of the talk.

And when you’re finished listening, make sure you check out Mark’s book, Buffalo Bill in the Gallery of the Machines. It’s a great read, and at $1.99 for the electronic version, how can you go wrong?

Now sit back, relax, and enjoy this Kindred Road Conversation with Mark Rapacz…

Browse the table of contents:

Note: Each numbered heading 1) lists its respective location within the audio recording (time format — hh:mm:ss), and 2) provides a short description of the material covered within the section.

  1. Introduction to a great guy – (00:00:00)
    Who is Mark Rapacz? Well, a published author for one. Get a short background on Mark.
  2. Buffalo Bill draws attention – (00:01:57)
    A little background on Mark’s new book and how it caught the eye of Burnt Bridge Press.
  3. Gonna be a writer – (00:08:11)
    All writers have their origins, and Mark is no exception. Learn how he picked up the writing thing.
  4. Rejected! – (00:13:02)
    A writer’s life is one of rejection. By sharing statistics from his own experiences, Mark describes just how hard it is to get your work published.
  5. Sometimes you gotta go big – (00:18:34)
    Short stories, novellas, novels, etc. Mark shares his thoughts on determining the length of his writing projects.
  6. Giving a shit – (00:21:50)
    Full of anxiety and OCD, writers must still do their work; it’s how they’re wired. Mark’s laid back, sure, but he still suffers from a writer’s internal struggles.
  7. The perfect day – (00:27:08)
    Learn the three things that comprise Mark’s perfect day, as well as the importance of solitude.
  8. Gotta get the run in – (00:33:17)
    Mark’s a writer and a runner. Learn the importance of running in Mark’s life and how he’s taken his running up a notch recently.
  9. Fantasy vs. reality – (00:37:53)
    Creative fiction, creative nonfiction, historical fiction, etc. What defines these genres? Where are the lines between them? Mark gets at the nuances of these questions by relating them to Buffalo Bill.
  10. A mirror – (00:42:51)
    Writers don’t always set off down a path of self-reflection with their work, but many times they learn a lot about themselves through the characters they create. Ditto for Mark.
  11. Who gets it? – (00:46:20)
    According to Mark, not many people understand writers. But there are a few people in his life who “get it.”
  12. Pretentiousness sucks – (00:49:07)
    Mark discusses the pretentiousness that exists in the literary world and how he’s managed to stay humble.
  13. How he works – (00:59:36)
    We all work differently. Mark shares his working style and how he’s most productive.
  14. Going deep – (01:02:05)
    We finally get into a few passages from Mark’s book … and how I see his life reflected in his own words.
  15. Wrapping things up – (01:13:24)
    Our beers gone, we decided to finish up the conversation. Find out when and where Mark will be reading from Buffalo Bill in Chicago this March.

Listen to the audio:

Play

(If you can’t play/see the audio file using the media player above, go here to play the file.)

RSS note: If you are reading this post with an RSS feed reader, you will most likely find the audio player attached to the very end of the post, beneath the social networking icons.

Audio length: 1 hour, 16 minutes, 30 seconds.

Audio size: 52.5 MB

Download: Right-click this link, and then select the menu option that lets you save the audio file to your computer/device.

Mark Rapacz (Sharing his work at Water~Stone Review's annual publication event.)

Mark speaks! Sharing work at Water~Stone Review's annual publication event.


Read the transcript of the conversation’s first 15 minutes (of fame!):

Note: All text in square brackets (i.e. [ ]) was not part of the original conversation, but was added later for contextual clarification.

Mike: Hello everyone, and welcome to Kindred Road Conversation #3. Perhaps one of these days I’ll get one of those fancy intros, but right now, we’re music-less: it’s just me and the mic, and my friend Mark.

Today I’m here with Mark Rapacz: writer, editor, teacher, and a man who sends fear through every mosquito within a 50-mile radius of wherever he’s at in the world. Mark recently wrote his first book, titled Buffalo Bill in the Gallery of the Machines. It was published by Burnt Bridge Press, an independent literary publisher with the tagline “Stories that don’t apologize.” Mark’s book is available electronically at a variety of online stores, including the “big boys” Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and is coming out in print very soon.

Mark’s talented, no doubt, but even better than that, he’s an extremely hard worker, very humble, and an all-around great guy — someone who I’m very happy to call my friend. Mark, welcome to Kindred Road today.

Mark: It’s good to be here.

Mike: Before we go any further, let’s do a quick “cheers” [Summit beer bottles clink].

Mark: Cheers!

Mike: Attaboy! You got your book published!

Mark: I did.

Mike: So, you are an official author and have gotten published. How’s it feel?

Mark: It feels pretty good [laughs].

Mike: We’re doing this [the first few minutes of the audio] for the second time, by the way…

Mark: [still laughing] We are doing this for the second time.

Mike: …because I screwed up the audio.

Mark: I’m trying to remember what I said [laughs].

Mike: It [Mark getting published] feels good.

Mark: It felt good the first time I said it, too [laughs]. It still feels good.

Mike: This is the first time we’re using the new microphone. I’ve never messed with it before. We’ve got one of those fancy Blue Snowballs out here, and I had it calibrated to record as if we were doing live music. So, everything was too quiet [the first time we tried recording], and I didn’t know what was going on.

Mark: We have no electric guitars.

Mike: We have no electric guitars. We just have soft-spoken Mark here … so anyway, we’re doing this again. So, it feels good — just like the first time.

Mark: It feels great, yep.

Mike: Now, this all came about because you got contacted by…

Mark: Jason Stuart.

Mike: And this happened when we were both in Korea?

Mark: We were both in Korea, yeah. I wrote the whole thing [Buffalo Bill in the Gallery of the Machines] while I was in Korea. The thing with Buffalo Bill is that it’s kind of got this awkward word count; it’s a novella, and there aren’t many literary journals that publish novellas because they’re too long for a single issue. But yet they’re too short for most publishers to put out all by themselves and make money. So, that kind of limited where I was going to submit the story.

Mike: How many places did you submit the story to?

Mark: Not very many — like nine. I usually submit to at least 30 to 40 places, but–

Mike: Wow.

Mark: –since there are so few that publish novellas … there’re really only nine places out there. To my surprise, it got picked up by Burnt Bridge Press. Jason Stuart, the guy who runs the place, is a huge comic book fan, a huge western fan, and a huge literary fan. And Buffalo Bill kind of touches all those places, oddly enough, so it was like the one place on the planet that would actually take this story. It was very lucky … super lucky.

Mike: Did the process happen quickly?

Mark: A lot more quickly than the other stories I’ve had published. It was only out there for … probably a month-and-a-half or so.

Mike: OK.

Mark: Other stories I’ve had published, they’ve been out there for … I mean, I still have some that are out there, and I submitted them like three years ago. Usually a year-and-a-half is the wait time.

Mike: Wow. So has Burnt Bridge published a lot of novellas?

Mark: No, this is their first one; this is their first single book that they’re releasing. They publish a lot of literary anthologies — they’re a monthly literary magazine.

Mike: Had they been looking to publish a novella or book, or were they just so blown away that they decided–

Mark: I’d like to think they were so blown away.

Mike: Did Jason ever tell you that?

Mark: No [laughs]. It was originally supposed to be published in one of the monthly issues, but then Jason was like, Well, it’s kind of too long for that; let’s put this out on its own.

Mike: OK. So did they have funding then, set aside to put this book out into print? Because right now you have it online–

Mark: Yeah, I have it online.

Mike: –and it’s at a lot of places — not just Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Some smaller online stores are carrying it as well.

Mark: Yep.

Mike: Amazon … all over the world, really: Amazon UK, Amazon Germany — they all have it.

Mark: Yep.

Mike: But there’s a whole ‘nother money side when it’s not an electronic book.

Mark: Yeah, it’s a lot more expensive to–

Mike: So Burnt Bridge is footin’ that bill?

Mark: Yeah … yeah. They’re putting it out, and the print [version] comes out … I think next month. We’ll be takin’ a road trip down to Chicago to the AWP writer’s conference. I’ll be doing a reading down there to promote the book. And I think we’re handing out galley copies and stuff.

Mike: So next month — which is March — will be when your print copy comes out, but the electronic copy you released back in…

Mark: November. The electronic copy’s out, and it’s very reasonably priced — it’s like two bucks. We just kind of decided to do that because it was ready to go, so we might as well put it out there.

Mike: I think that’s good — you’re new. It’s a new kind of thing … that seems to be a trend with a lot of people these days.

Mark: Yep.

Mike: You put it out there for really, really cheap; you get your name out there; people aren’t scared to spend a dollar or two to get it; and they might get turned on to something they had never thought about before. The barrier of entry to your work is really low, and then hopefully that turns enough people on later on so you start developing your following — your “tribe,” the word everyone seems to say nowadays [Mark laughs]. That’s good. When I say that it [the book] was at $1.99 — well I bought it; I was going to buy it anyway — I was like, Wow, that’s cool. You’re playing to the marketing strengths right now, I think.

Mark: Yeah, actually a lot of guys — even more well-established writers — after a while they may even … you know, after they have a few books on their backlist, and they’re kind of pushing a newer book, they’ll put their older ones … they’ll kind of just give ‘em away. It’s kind of a … just get your name out there kind of thing.

Mike: Right. So, would it be fair at this point to call you the “Big’un” or “That Big One There.”

Mark: [laughs] Me?

Mike: I don’t know if you picked up on that–

Mark: After Boneshriek [a character in Buffalo Bill]?

Mike: After Boneshriek.

Mark: Are you asking if I’m Boneshriek?

Mike: Would it be fair to call you the “Big’un” or “That Big One There” yet?

Mark: Um, no.

Mike: You’re the only friend of mine who has a published print book coming out, so I would lean toward calling you the “Big’un.”

Mark: Well, I appreciate that. I would [laughs] … I tend to identify more with the Buffalo character, who’s scrambling to hang on to whatever semblance of a life he’s got, but … yeah.

Mike: Fair enough.

Mark: If I have the image of the “Big’un,” then that’s cool [laughs].

Mark Rapacz (Reading a book with Shirley.)

The "Big'un" himself, here reading a book to Shirley.

Mike: To me you do. So this was a big accomplishment for you; it kind of marks a milestone in your writing career, I would say.

Mark: Yeah, it was an unexpected milestone.

Mike: An unexpected milestone, but a milestone nonetheless. But a long time coming.

Mark: Yeah, I’ve been working for a long time.

Mike: Like you said, when you submit things, you typically submit to 30 to 40 places — just a single piece. I mean, that’s a huge amount of work to get something published, probably for not a lot of money, if any.

Mark: Usually it’s like two contributor copies [laughs].

Mike: OK, so you’re doing this [writing] out of love, not necessarily for the cash.

Mark: Oh my gosh, no; you don’t make money as a writer.

Mike: Unless you’re Bill Bryson.

Mark: Yeah, unless you’re … I have a little print-off here — A Published Story by the Numbers.

Mike: Mark, leaving the room. Mark doing research.

Mark: Actually, here — this is interesting. This is a file with all of my rejection letters.

Mike: Nice. Well, every writer has his stack of rejection letters.

Mark: I’ve stopped printing those off. But I have a–

Mike: The folder is very thick — let’s just say that.

Mark: I stopped collecting my rejection letters, but I have A Published Story by the Numbers. Typically you send … yeah, I’ve been writing for like, ten years now seriously, going after publications and stuff. And nothing happened for years and years.

Mike: Mark’s looking something up. So, for years and years you’ve been doing this [writing]. I didn’t realize it’s been ten years.

Mark: Yeah. What is it? I mean, it’s 2012 … 2002 for sure.

Mike: So you graduated from undergrad in 2003…

Mark: 2003.

Mike: Finished your MFA [Master’s of Fine Arts] in 2007…

Mark: Yep.

Mike: But you started submitting at what point? After undergrad?

Mark: No, I was still in undergrad — I was like a junior, I think.

Mike: And you were already submitting stuff?

Mark: Yeah, I was already submitting stuff. And the thing was, my junior year I had a piece published right away — just a really, really short story. You know, like a thousand words, which is pretty short. It happened immediately, and I was like, Wow, this is so easy! And I wrote it on a plane — like an hour-and-a-half plane ride or whatever.

Mike: You won the lottery your first time.

Mark: Yeah, I won, and I was like, Wow, this is amazingly easy!

Mike: Did you decide to pursue this [a career in writing] at that point, or had you already made the decision “I’m going to be a writer”?

Mark: I knew I wanted to write. I didn’t know where to go from there, though. I didn’t even know there were MFA programs in existence at that point. But I had professors pushing me at that point, saying, you know, You’re a pretty good writer.

Mike: Before undergrad had you thought of writing?

Mark: Oh, before undergrad. Yeah, I had English teachers that were pushing me. It was the only thing that I seemed to latch onto.

Mike: And you enjoyed it?

Mark: Yeah, I enjoyed it.

Mike: That’s very different though, because so many people hate writing; they think it’s the most tedious task in the world. But even dating back to high school — maybe before — it was something that you enjoyed?

Mark: Yeah. The very first time where I was like, Writing’s awesome, was when … I think I was in second grade.

Mike: Second grade?

Mark: Yeah. We had to write these poems. I wrote a poem about this fish, and it was read over the announcements … it was about a little blue fish. And I was like … I thought that was the greatest thing ever, you know? I was like, Oh my God! The principal just read my story over the announcements!

Mike: So you had … maybe even earlier success than that junior year publication. You actually got your piece read … in second grade.

Mark: I had it read by the most important person at Edinbrook Elementary.

Mike: So you had some early praise, and that set you on your course.

Mark: Yep.

Mike: And here you are.

Mark: Yep.

Mike: The nature versus nurture … who knows?

Mark: I have the document I was looking for.

Mike: Back to rejections.

Mark: Yeah, this is more about rejections. This is kind of the typical story of getting a story published, basically — like the difficulties behind it. It’s called A Published Story by the Numbers. This isn’t about my most recent short story, Buffalo Bill; this is about a different story. The original draft I wrote 10,000 words — so it’s a 10,000-word story. Then, I wrote 5,000 words that were written in addition to — or in place of — the words already in the story — so we’re up to 15,000 words. I removed 4,000 words from it. It took 400 days between my very first submission to its acceptance — so that’s over a year. I submitted it to 30 publications. There were 30 completed or revised stories written before this story was written — so I had completely rewritten and re-imagined all these stories. I had written 25 drafts of the story before I felt like I could submit it anywhere. I received 23 rejections. I had nine trusted readers who read and gave feedback on that — including Ox Owens, who we both know.

Mike: Ox Owens is a friend of ours — a very talented poet currently residing in Korea.

Mark: I had, upon publication, nine years of serious writing [experience]. I had seven publications from which the story was withdrawn — which is like a cool experience, because you’re like … you write the publication and you’re like, You guys can’t publish it

To enjoy the rest of this Kindred Road Conversation, please listen to the audio file embedded earlier in this post. If you don’t want to listen to the part of the conversation you’ve already read, go ahead and play the audio file, but then drag your audio player’s position-marking cursor to the 15-minute mark — or thereabouts. (Note: After dragging your cursor to your chosen position, you might need to wait a few moments before the conversation begins to play, as the audio file will need to load up until the chosen point of playback.)

Thanks for reading and listening!

Mark Rapacz (With friends after finishing the Jeju Ultramarathon, Korea, March 2011.)

Mark and crew after finishing the Jeju Ultramarathon, Korea, March 2011. Listen to the audio file to learn more about Mark...


See you on the Road,

Mike


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