I’ve been interviewing people who contributed to Invisible, an anthology about the importance of diverse representation in science fiction and fantasy. You can imagine that I was thrilled when I realized that Mark Oshiro, who contributed the essay “Parched”, was going to be doing an event in my town.
I love interviewing authors in person but I have two teensy problems:
1) I totally fangirl out. Everyone likes to be appreciated but no one wants their interviewer to be drooling on their shoes. I don’t follow everything Mark does, but I follow enough that shoe drool was a definite danger.
2) I have trouble thinking of questions – especially new questions. The question, “What can you tell me about your next project?” is an important and necessary question, but after an author has been asked that 500 times they start answering it by snoring in morse code.
It turns out that Mark is really easy to interview because he’s very nice (totally pretended not to notice the drool) and he loves to talk. The trick to getting a good interview with Mark is to say, “OK, the recorder is on” and get out of the way. He’s so interesting to listen to that I’m running this interview as a two-parter. Today, Mark tells the story of how “Mark Reads” was born, and we engage in some fellow book critic whining about Twilight (why, Bella, why?). Next week we talk about diversity in genre fiction.
Here’s Mark, talking about how “Mark Reads” started as a project for the benefit of four people and turned into a full-time job:
“Mark Reads Twilight” started as a bet. It was 2009, and I was still living in Los Angeles. I was working for Buzznet. I had been covering San Diego Comic Con for the past few years, and my editor said, “I can get you a four-day pass, and you can cover whatever you want – I just need you to cover the Twilight panel. I said, “No way! I don’t know anything about it!” and he said, “Well, if you don’t do that, you can’t go”.
So I showed up on Wednesday to pick up my press pass. I got there Wednesday at three and the Twilight panel was going to be happening on Friday at 12, and there already about 800 people lined up for the panel. I was kind of worried, because this was the sole thing I had to cover. By Friday night there were 2000 people in line. So I get up at 3am friday morning and get to the line at about 4AM and I’m bored, I’m SO bored. And I’m listening to all these conversations in the line from people around me, because I’m the only person in my section of the line who doesn’t know anybody else. And people are having these really in-depth conversations about Twilight. They’re talking about different characters and different relationships, and all these thing that apparently mean a lot to them. So I start thinking, “Maybe I’m wrong about Twilight. Maybe there’s a reason I’m missing out on it”.
So I decided to change what I was writing about, and I started asking people questions about Twilight, up and down the line. I complied a photo gallery and series of short interviews. I asked everyone I talked to the same ten questions about Twilight. In the process of doing so I got passed up the line. This was totally accidental, but I ended up getting in the front group, because people kept saying, “Oh you should go talk to this person” and sending me around. So by the end I ended up sitting ten feet away from Robert Pattinson.
So I talked to all these people, and they all had incredible answers. I published the piece on Saturday and my editor was really happy with the response it got. He said, “I think it would be really funny if you read Twilight and made comments about it”. The idea got stuck in my head and I started “Mark Reads Twilight”. It was literally for my editor and four people in my office. In the early days there were some people on Buzznet who commented, but it wasn’t a thing until half way through the book when I wrote my own autopsy report. That got linked on Reddit and then half the Internet found me. so by the end of the first book, my editor said, “You can’t stop. This is now you’re thing”. So that is a big explanation of “Mark Reads Twilight”, and why it’s sort of a slow descent into awful. I was so angry, because it’s so awful, especially once you get into Eclipse, which is not just awful but is horrible to read.
I finished reading Twilight my co-worker said, “That was funny, and it was great, but I want to see what happens if I give you something to read and you end up enjoying it. So she was the one who wound up giving my Harry Potter. If you read the first few chapters of “Mark Reads Harry Potter”, you can see that I try really hard to hate it. I didn’t want to go in saying, “I like this because it’s not Twilight”. I didn’t think that was a fair reading of the book. But then I met Hagrid and I was all, “OK!”.
“Mark Reads Harry Potter” got about 100 comments a day until near the end of Goblet of Fire. Leaky Cauldron and Muggle Net linked to it on the same day and suddenly in a matter of 24 hours every Harry Potter fan in the universe was reading me. It was bizarre.
Not long after that I ended up quitting my job and moving to the Bay Area. Because here’s what a lot of people don’t know – all that stuff I did, I never got paid for. My boss said I had to do it to keep my job – but I had to do it on top of my regular job. So I got a job in the Bay Area, and when that job ended I said, “OK, this hobby is way too big to be a hobby. Make I should figure out a way to make it more than a hobby”.
Me: So, let’s talk a little bit about Twilight – mostly for selfish reasons, because I’m in the middle of writing about it and I’m stuck. Does Bella have any source of power that she consciously exercises She get’s what she wants, but does she DO anything to get it?”
Mark: No, she doesn’t have any power – not until the last book, and then, it’s a plot contrivance. The whole point of Twilight, if you look at her whole relationship with Edward, is that she has to have him in order to have any power. She never learn about her shield power without Edward. It’s a hard question, because she’s such a passive protagonist. She’s not passive as a person, because she definitely fights for certain things, but in terms of action she’s rarely the person pushing the action forward, which is very strange for what’s essentially supposed to be an action book. I don’t think it’s impossible to do that; I just think that the execution in Twilight is very strange.
Stay tuned next week for more from Mark Oshiro!