Today I welcome Mark Fine author “The Zebra Affaire”
Hi Mark, thank you for agreeing to this interview. Tell us about yourself and your background.
Marcia, thanks for having me. Well, I was born in Johannesburg, South Africa but I’ve lived in the United States since 1979. Most of my career was spent as a record executive for PolyGram. Being around musicians, such creative people, for most of my work life has given me such appreciation for the creative process.
What motivated you to start writing?
My grandmother owned a private library and so books have always been revered in our home. Then there’s that need in many of us, if we’re honest, for some claim at immortality. And being a published author, with a book bearing your name sitting in a dusty corner of a library somewhere, well, that’s my definition of immortality.
How do you find or make time to write?
I don’t force it. When ideas strike I find myself sending myself texts and emails containing flashes of inspiration. These threads inevitably weave together over the course of time. But admittedly, the more focused the narrative becomes, somehow, I find more time to devote to writing. In other words, it becomes a priority in my life when IT IS a priority.
What were the main challenges in writing your book?
My genre is Historical Fiction. I absolutely love it. However, facts are facts and they cannot be casually set aside to accommodate my fictional narrative layered on top. It takes some creative ingenuity to remain true to both my fictional vision and historical reality.
Are your stories based on someone you know or on events you have experienced?
Yes. I lived in South Africa during those turbulent apartheid years. As students we faced water cannons and tear gas protesting segregation. And, as a music executive, I was faced with censorship and government sanction for promoting music, such as Bob Marley’s reggae, because the authorities disagreed with the message.
What book or books have influenced you or your writing? Why?
Alan Paton gave a lecture to my English class in high school. For those of you unfamiliar with Paton, he’s probably South Africa’s most courageous author for his anti-apartheid novel, “Cry, The Beloved Country.” He wrote it in 1948, just after the apartheid laws were enacted, which illustrates both his foresight and his humanity. I admire that, and endeavoured to do something similar with my novel, The Zebra Affaire.
Is there an author that you considerer a mentor?
Wish I had a real literary mentor, alas I don’t, but there are some author’s that have powerfully influenced me. Three come to mind; Herman Wouk “Winds of War”, Leon Uris “Exodus” and Alan Furst “The Foreign Correspondent”.
What are reading now?
It’s an ambition of mine to write women characters well in my novels. As a man it’s not an innate skill, so as a solution I’m reading more works by female authors. Enjoying it thoroughly, and as we speak I’m reading “Riddle” by Elizabeth Horton-Newton. I’m totally engrossed.
Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
When I was in the music biz I really enjoyed the Indie scene; that’s where all innovative music and grooves came from. I feel the same pattern applies to print publishing, and so I’ve made a point of reading Indie authors. So I’d like to give a shout out to these edgy writers: Jean Gill, Benedict Martin, Geoff Nelder, Charlie Flowers, Michelle Medhat, Glen Barrera, Dave Adair, Joseph Brewer, Suzi Albracht, Molly Gambiza, Michelle Medhat, AR Shaw, Julie Mayerson Brown, Clair Stibbe, Robyn Cain, Neil Newton, Lexa Harpell, and Anita Kovacevic…I’ve read them all!
Discovered them on a terrific site for readers called “Readers Circle of Avenue Park” http://readersavenuepark.weebly.com/
What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?
It’s the research. As you follow a lead, you find yourself taken to some unexpected places. In the case of Zebra Affaire I assumed I was familiar with most of the background material. But it became apparent that so much information had been buried by censorship laws of the past. These restrictions were lifted in the Mandela years; and this allowed me to break new ground with The Zebra Affaire.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
Draft the conclusion of your book first! This seems counter-intuitive, but look at it as if you’re a lawyer, and your book’s ending is your closing argument. Why this approach? Well, it provides a clear signpost to your final destination. This way your book remains on a clear path, always focused.
How important is marketing and social media?
Crucial, but I must remind everyone it’s no panacea. It’s more like attempting to build an airplane while trying to fly it. A lot of time wasted, but it’s the least costly promotional tool at a contemporary author’s disposal.
Before we talk about your book, would you like to talk about “Hammer &Lace” and your support of animals worldwide?
Glad to. I established the Hammer & Lace record label for PolyGram, and with it I imposed a unique mandate: Every creative music project had to directly benefit a cause, such as breast cancer, at-risk children, substance abuse, the blind, and of course, wildlife conservation.
I had the privilege of working with stellar talent such as Sheryl Crow, Sting, Bryan Adams, Boys ll Men, Bon Jovi, Elton John, Annie Lennox—and specifically on the “Hollywood Goes Wild” album to benefit animals we had music by movie stars like Jeff Goldblum, Russell Crowe, Keanu Reeves, Johnny Depp, Brad Pitt, Bruce Willis, and Juliette Lewis.
With The Zebra Affaire I’ve continued my animal activism, and am adding my voice to the anti-poaching of rhino crusade. There’s some info under #RhinoProtector.
About your book…
“The Zebra Affaire”, what is it about?
In the spring of 1976 matters of the heart are strictly controlled by South Africa’s racist doctrines. In that toxic mix of dehumanizing discrimination an unlikely union between a black man and a white woman shocks the nation. The intimate and emotional love story of Elsa and Stanwell is exposed for all to see as the lovers find themselves in the cross hairs of the racist regime’s cold-blooded enforcer, Mal Zander, who will stop at nothing to crush their union and future hopes for a color blind nation. In a narrative that’s intense—vividly authentic, and thought provoking—Elsa and Stanwell’s desperate struggle to remain together takes the reader on a deadly hunt from the golden city of Johannesburg to the dangerous wilds of the African bush veld.
Another way to think of The Zebra Affaire, almost in cinematic terms is Romeo & Juliette meets To Kill a Mockingbird in Out of Africa.
Can you tell us something about the main character or characters?
In an unnatural societal construct of apartheid South Africa, a romantic union such as Elsa and Stanwell’s was almost impossible to maintain. I wrote it to allow compassion to bring them together, but it was love and passion that gave them the courage to remain together—and the support of liberal friends that were brave enough to defy the authorities.
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Obviously, The Zebra Affaire is an indictment of racism and bigotry in all its forms. But it is also a screed against censorship. The government controlled the media, and as such was able to maintain a false narrative that effectively kept the races apart for 48 years. For example, any liberal instincts the white population held was suppressed by propaganda that the liberation struggle was no more than a proxy communist takeover.
With black freedom linked in the minds of many to communism, and the red terror it promised, the status quo was effectively held in check. So my message is that nothing must be allowed to suppress the freedom of thought and expression, no matter how unkind or boorish the statement—because voices silenced is a greater threat.
What is your next step?
Always eager to improve my craft so I’m currently trying my hand at a short story or two. I’ve written one called “Karmic Odds” for a forthcoming anthology titled “Twisted Tales.” It’s a modern fable of sorts, where in its dark humor a lesson or two may be learned. I hope your readers have an opportunity to read it. If I get the link before this interview is published, I’m happy to share it with them.
Do you have anything that you want to say to your readers?
As writers we need to be read. The moment my novel was read by a single person, other than me, it came alive. This is a priceless gift. So thank you for purchasing our books, reviewing our books, but most of all—thank you all for devoting your time to read our books.
Further, I’d love to hear from you readers. Any comments and suggestions are appreciated. You can find me at these links:
YouTube Book Trailer: https://youtu.be/e2t3Dt2b4fc
And Twitter: @MarkFine_author