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On The Table Read Magazine, “the best book magazine in the UK“, Mark M. Bello talks about his new cozy mystery, The Final Steps, and what inspired his story.
Written by JJ Barnes
I interviewed author, attorney, and podcaster Mark M. Bello about his writing career, and what inspired him to write his new cozy mystery, The Final Steps.
Tell me a bit about who you are.
Mark M. Bello is an attorney, civil justice advocate, award-winning author of the Zachary Blake Legal Thriller Series, and co-host of the Justice Counts Podcast. About 5 years ago, I began my new career as a writer. Nothing unique about that—right? But I did this, post retirement, at the age of 65! After over 40 years in the courtroom, I now write legal thrillers based on personal experience and headline-making news.
Mark decided to write a novel about his experience handling the case and the rest is history. His fictional protagonist, Zachary Blake, and his “ripped from the headlines” escapades take readers deep into Blake’s many quests for justice and provide readers with front-row access to the courtroom. Mark’s eighth Blake series novel, You Have A Right to Remain Silent, his new cookbook, L’Dor V’Dor II, The Blake-Lewin Family Cookbook of Traditional Jewish Recipes, and the first edition in his children’s safety/social justice picture-book series (Happy Jack—Sad Jack, A Bullying Story) were released this Spring.
A native of Detroit, Mich., Mark earned his law degree from Western Michigan University—Thomas M. Cooley Law School in Lansing and a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature from Oakland University in Rochester.
Mark and his spouse, Tobye, have 4 children and 9 grandchildren. When he’s not writing, He enjoys sports, traveling, and spending time with family.
When did you first WANT to write a book?
I was one of the first attorneys to sue the Catholic Church over sexual abuse by clergy. Back then, clergy abuse was a dirty little secret, and many lawyers extracted extra settlement dollars by agree to confidential settlements. I persuaded his clients to pursue the case publicly, and the offending priest was eventually defrocked. Recently, that same priest was indicted by the new Michigan Attorney General and now resides in a jail cell. The experience inspired my first novel, Betrayal of Faith, a fictional thriller, depicting the experience of a young, down and out lawyer, a “David” taking on a “Goliath” defendant, the church, and a mysterious clandestine organization within the church that disposes of these matters by any means possible.
When did you take a step to start writing?
As I indicated above, about 5 years ago. I have been busy since, writing 7 more Zachary Blake legal thrillers, two children’s social justice/safety picture books, a Jewish cookbook, and a Holocaust era novella (prequel to the Blake series)
How long did it take you to complete your first book from the first idea to release?
I started and stopped over a 20 year period. Life got in the way. After I retired, I picked up the unfinished manuscript and wrote it in about 6 months.
How long did it take you to complete your latest book from the first idea to release?
About 2 months to write—still in the editing stage, trying to make it the best it can be.
Focusing on your latest release. What made you want to write The Final Steps?
My 8th Zachary Blake novel, You Have the Right to Remain Silent, was a legal “whodunnit,” in the spirit of Agatha Christie and the old Murder She Wrote television series. I enjoyed writing it, a departure from the ‘ripped from the headlines’ format I used in the previous 7 novels. I’ve been wanting to create new characters and a new series. The result is my latest novel and first cozy mystery, The Final Steps.
What were your biggest challenges with writing The Final Steps?
Writing it without headline news stories to inspire creative juices. I marvel at the talents of authors like George RR Martin, who can create whole new worlds in his head. I’m not that talented J
Who or what inspired you when creating your Protagonist?
Definitely, Angela Lansbury’s ‘Jessica Fletcher’ character from the television series Murder She Wrote.
Who or what inspired you when creating your Antagonist?
There was no particular inspiration for the character other than trying to make the solve difficult for the reader.
What is the inciting incident of The Final Steps?
The murder of a law professor on the campus of a small northern Michigan university.
What is the main conflict of The Final Steps?
“Whodunnit?” This tenured college professor was a scoundrel, disliked by many, an adulterer, serial cheater, seducer of students, possibly involved in a grade-changing scandal. The president of the university is trying to fire him, but tenure impedes these efforts. Suddenly, the scoundrel takes his “Final Steps.” Was it an accident or murder? Did the university president find a way to get rid of him? Read Mark M. Bello’s “The Final Steps.” J
Did you plot The Final Steps in advance, or fly by the seat of your pants and write freely?
For the first time in my career, I created a detailed plot outline in advance. I even hired an assistant to help me do it—she did a great job.
Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did The Final Steps need?
In the past, I have primarily self-edited. This time around, I used a couple of proof-readers, several beta readers (which has been a wonderful experience), and an excellent self-editing software program. I’m still in the editing process, which has made The Final Steps a far better book.
What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a story?
Two quotes I’m always reminded of when I am asked this question: One is the Nike slogan “Just do it!” The other is my author version of the old “Sing” song by the Carpenters. The author version is:
“Don’t worry that it’s not good enough for anyone else to read. Just write.”
Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?
I have a new children’s book coming out about the dangers of distracted driving and doing more than one thing at a time. One Thing or Two? Asher’s Distracted Lesson should be out mid-2023. It is currently being illustrated by the fabulous MT Falgoust. Anyone reading this should check out her work in my first children’s book, Happy Jack Sad Jack—A Bullying Story and her books and artwork. Google her; she’s amazing!
Since I enjoyed crossing my legal thriller genre with the cozy mystery genre and creating The Final Steps, which I call a ‘Cozy Legal Mystery,” I am experimenting with doing the same thing in the Romance genre, writing what I call a “Legal Romance” novel. It’s a slow go, so far, but, again, like the cozy, it’s a new challenge. Hopefully, I can finish it in 2023.
And, finally, are your proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?
Absolutely. My books have won numerous awards and multiple 5 star reviews. I set out to write one book about a personal experience and turned it into a multi-book award-winning post-retirement career. I’ve surprised myself.
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PS: For a free copy of my Holocaust era Zachary Blake Series prequel, click here:
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