Bookpleasures.com welcomes as our guest today Mark Rubinstein, author of Mad Dog House, Love Gone Mad, Mad Dog Justice, the novella The Foot Soldier, Return to Sandara, and his most recent novel, The Lovers' Tango.
After earning a degree in business administration at NYU, Mark Rubinstein served in the U.S. Army as a field medic tending to paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division. Upon his discharge, Mark returned to college and went to medical school and became a physician—then a psychiatrist. As a forensic psychiatrist, he has been an expert witness in many trials. As an attending psychiatrist at New York Presbyterian Hospital and a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at Cornell, he taught psychiatric residents, psychologists and social workers while practicing psychiatry.
Norm: Good day Mark and thanks for participating in our interview.
How did you get started in writing? What keeps you going?
Mark: I actually started writing while I was working as a physician and psychiatrist. I co-authored five medical self-help books. We had to illustrate various medical issues with patients’ case histories. I wrote them, and even wrote dialogue to help with the explanations. It was great fun and I loved it. I’d have to say that was my first experience writing “fiction” and dialogue.
Mark: It’s difficult to pinpoint. Certainly, you want a plot that will convey tension and conflict, but for me, character is of the utmost importance. If you write a novel in which there’s plot, but the novel has a cardboard or superficial protagonist to whom readers can’t relate, the book becomes little more than a liner sequence of events with little meaning. Most readers want to care about a protagonist; they want someone with whom they can identify—feel his or her pain, fear, and regrets. So at the end of the day, I think character counts more than anything.
Norm: How has your
environment, education and upbringing colored your writing?
Mark: As a physician and psychiatrist, my professional background infiltrates my writing. It’s just there, waiting to be tapped. My own life, no doubt, seeps into my writing, as well. I think we’re all colored by what we’ve lived through, seen, heard, felt, or thought, and by our work lives. These things are woven into us and we can’t escape them.
Norm: What purpose do you
believe your recent novel, The Lovers' Tango serves and what matters
to you about the story? As a follow up, what
served as the primary inspiration for the book?
Mark: As a suspenseful medical and courtroom thriller with a noir-ish element of romance, its primary purpose is entertainment. I didn’t write it to send any messages or make philosophical points. Since the novel came from my inner being, it reflects some of my own concerns—issues of truth, betrayal, love, justice, medicine and the law. I guess I’ve become both more philosophical and cynical as I’ve lived more and more of my life; I think these things permeate the story and the writing, too. If an author is writing from a sense of inner truth, his or her deepest concerns will emerge, even if unintended. You can never really be anyone but yourself.
As for what inspired the book: I don’t want to put spoilers into this exchange, so I won’t say anything specific. I’ll simply say my own experiences living life, my background as a forensic psychiatrist with courtroom experience, and my years working as a physician all funneled down a final common pathway and emerged as The Lovers’ Tango.
Norm: Can you explain some
of your research techniques, and how you found sources for your most
Mark: I don’t do terribly much research when I write a novel. Some fact-checking, if needed, and maybe some scanning of Google Earth, or just going online to come up with a few factoids about cars, guns, certain legal definitions, and things like that. I think my primary reference sources are my own life, those of other people, and most of all, my imagination. I guess I’d have to say I just make stuff up.
Norm: How did you go about creating the character of Bill Shaw in The Lovers' Tango?
Mark: That’s always a difficult question to answer. In a sense, any character I create is part me, part fantasy, and partly something borrowed from people I know. He’s a bestselling crime fiction writer, so that’s pretty much fantasy. He’s accused of Second Degree Murder since his wife died in a way that’s eerily similar to what’s in his computer as a work-in-progress. That’s fantasy, too, since I’ve never been in any D.A.’s crosshairs. I think I created him to be an idealized version of myself, yet he has many flaws and weaknesses—maybe they reflect part of me, as well. I don’t really know.
Norm: Are the characters in latest book based on people you know or have encountered or are they strictly fictional?
Mark: Strictly fictional. I don’t think I ever consciously based any character one people I know. I just use what I know about life and about people to come up with characters.
Norm: Your character dialogue is quite effective in your latest book. Do you have tips for writing dialogue?
Mark: I have one tip: Dialogue is much more than simply what people say to each other. Dialogue is what people do to each other with words.
Norm: Do you agree that to have good drama there must be an emotional charge that usually comes from the individual squaring off against antagonists either out in the world or within himself or herself? If so, please elaborate and how does it fit into your latest novel?
Mark: Oh yes, I agree completely. Drama is based on conflict. Think about it: If Hamlet comes home from school and his father asks him, “How was school?” and Hamlet says, “It was fine.” It’s really quite dull. Nothing is happening. But if Hamlet firmly believes his uncle killed his father in order to gain the throne and sleep with his brother’s wife, then you have a story. You have drama. Conflict is the soul of drama. And yes, conflict can be internal, as well. Going back to Hamlet: he’s torn about what to do. He weighs the consequences of taking one path or another, even the issue of whether it’s better to be dead than alive—“to be or not to be…that is the question.”
As for The Lovers’ Tango, Both Bill Shaw and his wife, Nora, have inner conflict about what must be done when their formerly well-ordered lives begin crumbling. There’s also conflict/drama aplenty when Bill is accused of murder, and must stand trial. In fact, the courtroom is an adversarial place where dramatic conflict is played out by the prosecution and defense in an attempt each side makes to convince a jury that it’s version of the facts is the “truth.” I could go on forever about this, but I’ll spare you.
Norm: Can you tell us how you found representation for your book? Did you pitch it to an agent, or query publishers who would most likely publish this type of book? Any rejections? Did you self-publish?
Mark: After sending out dozens of query letters to agents, and getting the usual panoply of rejections (which is usually the fate of unknown writers), I submitted my manuscript to a small, independent publisher in California. It was accepted and published. I learned very quickly that publishing is, so to speak, a rejection business.
Norm: Where can our readers find out more about you and your books?
Norm: What is next for Mark Rubinstein?
Mark: I’ve just completed a non-fiction psychiatric/medical memoir called King of the Puerto Ricans: Clinical Tales of Madness & Hope. Soon, I’ll be working again on fiction with what I hope will be a literary suspense novel.
Norm: As this interview draws to a close what one question would you have liked me to ask you? Please share your answer.
Mark: I’d have loved if you’d have asked me, “Since your books have all been on the New York Times best seller list, what’s it been like?” but I guess you left that one out.
Norm: Thanks once again and good luck with all of your future endeavors