A Conversation with 2022 Anthony Finalist Mark Westmoreland

A Conversation with 2022 Anthony Finalist Mark Westmoreland

Author J.B. Stevens has a conversation with Anthony Award nominated author Mark Westmoreland about his work including the newly released “A Mourning Song”. 

Recently I had the opportunity to sit down with author Mark Westmoreland. Mark was a finalist for the 2022 Anthony Award as the editor of the anthology TROUBLE NO MORE. He is also the author of the well-reviewed A VIOLENT GOSPEL and the just-released A MOURNING SONG, both published by Shotgun Honey.

Mark, thank you for taking the time to speak with me. I love your work, love your vibe, and love your choice of college football teams. Anyway, please tell us about yourself.

This question always feels like I’m filling out a Tinder bio. Not that I would know anything about that since I’m a happily married man of 13 years. Can I just throw out my author bio and we call it done?

No, Mark, I cannot just cut and paste your bio. (I can.)

Mark Westmoreland is a Georgia native who lives in Oklahoma with his wife and two dogs. He’s a full-time Dawgs fan with a sideline as a writer. Sippin’ bourbon and watching Burt Reynolds are two of his favorite pastimes.

As an interviewer, that was wholly unsatisfying.

I’m sorry, but as an interviewee, “tell us about yourself” is a played-out question.

Fair point. So why are we here? What’s going on with your new book?

My new book, A MOURNING SONG, is the sequel to A VIOLENT GOSPEL. It’s set two years after the previous book’s events and finds the main character, Mack Dooley, unable to move on from the trauma he experienced. I left Mack in a bad place mentally and emotionally at the end of AVG.

This new book is sort of an exploration of how people grieve. Mack develops some destructive behaviors and has to deal with them while he and his brother, Marshall, work together with the local crime lord, Peanut, to run a white supremacist gang out of Tugalo County. I hope it doesn’t sound too convoluted.

This new book is sort of an exploration of how people grieve.

This book is also my love letter to WALKING TALL. I love those gritty Southern films of the 1970s, and the image of Buford Pusser and his four-foot-long hickory stick is so iconic that I wanted to create my own version of that. Hell, I used a quote from the movie for an epigraph. That’s how much I love it. I hope it translated to the page.

It doesn’t sound convoluted, it sounds fun as hell, WALKING TALL was such a well-done story. I can’t wait to read A MOURNING SONG. You mention your love for gritty southern stuff. Was that genre your first darling or did you come to it later?

Southern Crime Fiction is not my first. When I started putting the pen to the page, my goal was to become the next Robert Jordan. For those who don’t know who he is, Jordan wrote The Wheel of Time series. It’s an epic high fantasy series that spans fourteen books. Unfortunately, Jordan passed away before he was able to conclude the story, and his widow hired another writer to finish it for him.

Anyway, back to me. I tried my hand at fantasy for around five years until I picked up a copy of Tom Franklin’s CROOKED LETTER, CROOKED LETTER. That book is what changed the game for me. I realized I’m a terrible fantasy writer. I dove deep into Southern fiction and began reading authors like Brian Panowich, David Joy, Wiley Cash, and others. I realized those guys were writing about the people I grew up with, and I could tell stories in a similar vein. My writing grew from there.

Robert Jordan is an absolute legend, and he is also a Citadel alum (the true Bulldogs). Sadly, Mr. Jordan has gone to the big writing conference in the sky. With that in mind, other than those already mentioned, who are some of your favorite working writers?

I love this question because it gives me the opportunity to talk about my buddies and influences. First and foremost, anyone who isn’t reading Peter Farris needs to go out and grab a copy of THE DEVIL HIMSELF yesterday. Not only is he a tremendous dude but one of the best authors in the game. Nobody is writing Southern Gothic better than Peter.

I also gotta mention the rest of my Southern crew JB Stevens *interviewers note—damn right*, Bobby Mathews, Peter Farris, Brodie Lowe, Scott Blackburn, and C. Matthew Smith. These guys not only challenge me, but their work stretches the genre and is going to one day be considered part of the canon.

SA Cosby is both an influence and a friend. His star shines so bright it lights up everyone he touches. RAZORBLADE TEARS is a masterpiece.

Tiffany Quay Tyson, Kelly J. Ford, and Heather Levy are three ladies whose work has impacted me deeply. I snatch up everything they release.

And I can’t move on until I mention the two writers who’ve impacted me the most, Cormac McCarthy and James Lee Burke. Those men are the greatest writers our country has living today and when they eventually pass, we will have lost two of our most influential voices.

We’ve gone from the deceased Robert Jordan to the eventual demise of McCarthy and Burke. This is an interview, not a noir piece. Let’s get back to the writer-type questions. Do you have any tips for new/aspiring authors?

Sit your ass down and write. Books get written because you’re writing not because you’re daydreaming.

Is that all there is to it? How do you do it?

My process is pretty simple. I wake up every morning at 5 a.m. and make a cup of Folgers. After I feed the dogs and herd them back to bed I make my way to the computer where I write for about two and a half hours.

I’m a plantser, which is a combination of a plotter and a panster. I live and die by my two-sided dry-erase board. Notes and plot points and dialogue are scribbled on both sides. Nothing gets erased until I finish the book or run out of room.

Are you doing all this with music, silence, or something else?

I can’t listen to music when I write. Actually, I need complete silence. I’ve been known to storm out of my office and yell at my family to quiet down. That never goes over well. But, I do always develop a playlist for whatever book I’m working on. If I’m having a moment where I’m struggling to get the mojo going or I’m feeling uninspired I open up Spotify and click play.

Also, a lot of my story ideas develop because of a song or lyric. Take A MOURNING SONG for example, I had the basic seed of the story but didn’t know how to break into it. One day, I was driving to my day job and was listening to The Black Crowes’ live album Freak ‘n Roll. One of their signature tunes, My Morning Song, began playing, and when the chorus hit Mack Dooley’s mental state became clear to me and the book’s plot fell into the place. I kept My Morning Song on repeat throughout the writing process of that novel.

I love the idea of a playlist for a novel. As we close this out, is there anything else you would like to say?

I appreciate the time and opportunity and always enjoy speaking with you, JB. I hope readers will give A MOURNING SONG a shot and that we can speak again when the next book is released.

Speaking again sounds great to me. I’d like to thank Mark for his time, and remind you, dear reader, to go to your favorite bookseller and get a copy of his new work. 


For online archive of essays and conversations by J.B. Stevens, please visit here.

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