Monday, July 28, 2014

Author Interview: MARK FINE "The Zebra Affaire" [Book Club Reading List]

Book Club Reading List - Author Interview - Mark Fine (July 27, 2014)

What inspired you to write this book?

Having the benefit of time and space, I decided to explore the circumstances that led to my emigration from South Africa in the late 70's. But my personal story is not that fascinating, but through the eyes of fictional characters—that shared those turbulent days with me—I felt it would be a far more compelling read.

But more significant is that despite the seismic changes in South African society (very much for the better, since the liberation of all people) it remains an unhappy nation. I felt these historical fissures in this multicultural society needed closer scrutiny.

Finally, I always wanted to write a love story. But the adversity the romantic couple faced needed to be meaningful to me—far more than quibbling over who "left the toilet seat up." And in my mind being persecuted by the government for being in love is about as harsh as it gets; and so the story of Elsa and Stanwell breaks some new ground for me.


What topics in your book or background do you think book clubs would find interesting?

First the time period: the late 70's with rich observations on the fashion, music and morals of the time.

Second an exploration of human behavior in the face of brutal laws. How in this nation such a small minority maintained control for so long, while the large majority seemed so accepting. It begs the questions, “Why? How was it possible?”

Three the terrible repercussions ordinary people face when doing normal things; especially when a government behaves badly.

Four, there are fascinating "locations" in the novel, from a mile underground the earth in a goldmine to tracking  lion, rhino, and zebra in the African wilds. So more than a story, it takes on the features of an exotic journey.

Finally, as I was there, readers discern a certain authenticity in the narrative (though it is a work of historical fiction). This brings a sense of immediacy and first-hand knowledge to any discussion about the book.


Tell us about your career outside of writing and how it influences your writing?

I’ve been a music executive in both South Africa and the United States for a few decades. This afforded me the opportunity to be creative, and work with super creative men and women throughout my work life. And as such I learned to trust the creative process. Though writing the book had its difficult moments, I never felt the sense that creativity would desert me—I learned this by witnessing so many recording artists work their craft.

I also had the opportunity to launch my own record label through the PolyGram group, with the express mandate of producing benefit albums for a variety of causes, such as breast cancer awareness, the blind, at-risk children, and wildlife conservation. In the course of these projects I had the privilege of collaborating with Sheryl Crow, Sting, Bon Jovi, Boys II Men, Bryan Adams and many others.
My only regret: I never once tried to write a song! Instead, I finally wrote this novel.

Describe your style of writing?

Patient. Though the book has its breathless moments, I don’t believe every moment need be at full-throttle. That said the structure of the book is intriguing. Though the events take place in a single year—1976; through the course of reading the full 350 pages the reader will cover almost a century of the Southern African experience from all perspectives.

Regarding “style,” there is a unique attribute I designed into the book. Rather than Footnotes (the font is too small to read) or Endnotes (so inconvenient to constantly having to refer to the back of the book) I provided self-coined “BodyNotes”.  These are italicized paragraphs providing historical facts or insider commentary. They are inserted within the narrative—and specially placed in context to better satisfy the reader’s curiosity. Of course the reader is welcome to skip over these segments to chase down the plot, but by all indications most readers choose to pause and enjoy these tidbits of information.

 So though the love story of Elsa and Stanwell is fraught with compelling suspense, and at times is vivid, the book is also very, very interesting.


Which authors have inspired you?

Historical fiction has always intrigued me; A wonderful way to be both entertained and to acquire knowledge.  I found the powerful storytelling made the process of learning completely painless—and I devoured works by Herman Wouk “Winds of War”; Leon Uris “Exodus”; Ken Follett “The Pillars of the Earth”; Tom Clancy “The Hunt for Red October”; Colleen McCullough “The Thorn Birds”; Caleb Carr “The Alienist”; Alice Walker “The Color Purple”; Irving Stone “The Agony and the Ecstasy” and new favorite, Alan Furst.

Then there are the South African greats: Alan Paton “Cry the Beloved Country”; Andre Brink “A Dry White Season”; playwright Athol Fugard “Master Harold…and the boys”; Nadine Gordimer “Burger’s Daughter” and almost anything by Wilbur Smith.