Kindle Author Interview: Mark Chisnell

Mark Chisnell, author of The Defector, discusses his book, his journey as a writer, and self-publishing on Kindle.

DAVID WISEHART: What can you tell us about The Defector?

MARK CHISNELL: The Defector began as an idea from my philosophy classes—the Prisoner’s Dilemma is a Games Theory concept that was dreamed up by the RAND corporation, the people who brought us the MAD theory (Mutually Assured Destruction) during the Cold War. I wanted to make it more personal than that, and I had in mind a game played for life and death stakes, involving a love triangle. The basic idea immediately makes it a genre book, a thriller, and I went for a classic chase story. The psychotic drug smuggler, Janac forces the hero, Martin Cormac to make a succession of escalating, nightmare choices in his struggle to get free.

It took me about three years to get from the idea to a story with characters and a plot, and to get a first draft down on paper. It took another four years to rewrite it and find a publisher. Random House brought it out (called The Delivery) in 1996 in the UK. Then it was republished as The Defector by Harper Collins in New Zealand and Australia in 2002—I was living down there for a while for a sailing competition. And it is now available as an ebook for Amazon’s Kindle.

DAVID WISEHART: How do you create and maintain tension?

MARK CHISNELL: Two things; jeopardy, and characters that people care about. If you’ve got those two, you’ve got tension.

DAVID WISEHART: How do you develop and differentiate your characters?

MARK CHISNELL: I write a biography for each character before I start writing, and then I add to it as I go through each draft, and learn and discover more about them. I’m not that keen on physical description, I try to let the character build in the reader’s mind through words and deeds.

DAVID WISEHART: Who do you imagine is your ideal reader?

MARK CHISNELL: Someone who loves thrillers and ideas.

DAVID WISEHART: What was your journey as a writer?

MARK CHISNELL: Long and painful! I worked in a factory for a summer after graduating from college and bought a ticket to Australia, with a vague plan to see some stuff and write a book about it. By the time I got home I’d published some travel stories in the New Zealand Herald and the South China Morning Post, and I’d broken into the professional sailing circuit via the British America’s Cup team that was racing in Australia in 1987. I’ve been bouncing back and forth between those two things—writing and pro sailboat racing—ever since.

DAVID WISEHART: What is your writing process?

MARK CHISNELL: I start with an outline, and then a couple of chapters. I work those up pretty hard until I’m ready to let someone else see them. I have a couple of people that I trust that I show them to, and I then rework the outline and drafts until I’m happy. Then I write a first draft as fast as I can, maybe 2-3,000 words a day, and I don’t worry much about the quality. No one ever sees this version, but it gets a draft done, and it means that from then on I’m rewriting, which I find a lot easier than writing.

DAVID WISEHART: What authors most inspire you?

MARK CHISNELL: I guess there are three or four writers that I loved when I was younger, whose influence I can now see in my own work. The first two were Ian Fleming and Alistair MacLean. The latter is almost forgotten now, but he was a hugely successful thriller writer in the 1960s and 1970s, and I could inhale one of his books in an afternoon when I was a kid.

When I was a little older it was books with ideas that took more of a hold—George Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm stopped me in my tracks for weeks, I couldn’t think about anything else. And then there was another largely forgotten book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig—that was the one that got me studying philosophy as well as physics, so it had a pretty big impact on my life.

DAVID WISEHART: What one book, written by someone else, do you wish you'd written yourself?

MARK CHISNELL: It would be Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Or Casino Royale.

DAVID WISEHART: How have you marketed and promoted your work?

MARK CHISNELL: I’ve had a career with traditional publishers, writing several books of different types, and so I’ve been through all the normal stuff that publishers organise—radio and tv interviews, advertising, press releases and so on. In addition to that, I’ve always tried to reference my books with credits in my journalism. But the Internet and the advent of social media has really given the individual writer a lot more opportunity to promote their own work—I think we’re all still learning how this is most effectively done. So far I’ve ticked off all the regular stuff; website, facebook page, twitter, and interviews like this!

DAVID WISEHART: Why publish on Kindle?

MARK CHISNELL: It’s a fantastic device, there’s no doubt in my mind that the future for books like The Defector is on e-readers, and the Kindle is the market leader.

DAVID WISEHART: What advice would you give to a first-time author thinking of self-publishing on Kindle?

MARK CHISNELL: Spend plenty of time ahead of publication preparing not just the manuscript, but everything that goes with it—the cover, the blurb, the author bio and so on. There’s lots of good advice around on how to approach that stuff, I think Barry Eisler articulates it as well as anyone in his blog:

DAVID WISEHART: Thanks, and best of luck with your books.


Mark Chisnell is a writer, broadcaster and sometime professional racing sailor. He's published nine works of award winning fiction and non-fiction, written for some of the world’s leading magazines and newspapers, including Esquire and the Guardian, and blogged and commentated on everything from the Volvo Ocean Race to the World Match Racing Tour. On the way, he has also won three offshore sailing world championships, and sailed as navigator with five America’s Cup teams.

Visit his website,  read his blog, find him on facebook, and follow him on twitter.

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