welcomes as our guest Emmy Award-Winning Writer Mark Zaslove.

Throughout his career Mark has served as writer, producer, voice director, story editor, and live action director. He creates content for all major studios, including Disney, Universal, Paramount, and Warner Bros.

A two-time Emmy Award winner for writing/producing, and a recipient of the Humanities Prize (for writing about uplifting human values in television and movies), he also writes short fiction and has served as a senior editor on various magazines.

Mark has recently published his debut novel, Death and Taxes.

Norm: Good day Mark and thanks for participating in our interview.

When did you decide you wanted to be a writer and how long did it take and with whom did you get your first gig as a content writer? 

Mark: Hello, Norm. This is very cool, thanks for having me. I came from a creative family (father was a world-class artist, mom taught music, one sister was a pro photographer, the other an opera/classical singer) so, of course, I went into science...BUT at the same time, around 9th grade, I started writing, and dabbled in it until I started working with a buddy on feature film scripts when I was 18.  I wrote my first novel at 20.  At 22, I sold my first short stories to LFP, Inc., and at the same time I optioned my first script to a producer at Universal. A year later I had my first produced script for Hanna-Barbara for the series Challenge of the GoBots.

Norm: What is exactly a content writer and how do you become one?

Mark: "Content" is just a fancy word for someone like me selling story ideas to a television series producer, or being asked by a movie producer to write something they want.

I'm writing "content" to fit their vision.  Even if it's a series I've developed, there are still people to answer to.  If I can write what they're looking for and make it work well without them asking for a lot of edits, then I'm a genius and I get hired again. The fun for me is bringing as much of my own truth to the assignment as possible.

Norm: What do you consider to be your greatest success (or successes) so far in your various careers?

Mark: Success if difficult for me to define because I'm never happy with anything I've done. It works, or it doesn't work, but I can always find things I could have done better (which makes me crazy).

I've been incredibly fortunate to be fairly successful, and have even won an Emmy and other awards, but my true success has been in always getting better each time I sit down at the keyboard, and in learning to work with people better.

In Hollywood, it's not so much like being a novelist who writes alone. It's very much a team effort, and I've tried to always grow and get the most out of my relationships. It’s the people that I work with, amazing talents, and having them enjoy working with me that are probably my greatest personal success. 

Norm: What has been your greatest challenge (professionally) that you’ve overcome in getting to where you’re at today?

Mark: I had to relearn everything I knew about writing about five years back in order to bring more "truth" to my work. It happened after I started working on a project with a good friend of mine who I really respect, and he took to beating me about the head and shoulders (metaphorically) every time I'd come up with ideas that were very smart and stylish, but without literary honesty.

I was always very facile at shaping my work for what was required, but I've had to change all my habits, throw out all the rules, to find truth. It was an awakening.  

Norm: What did you find most useful in learning to write?  What was least useful or most destructive?

Mark: The most useful lesson was learning not to force characters to ever do things I wanted them to do, but follow them and "see" what they would do organically.

Most destructive is easy: all the books and lectures and rules about "how to write." Great if you're learning, but you really have to unlearn them if you want to reach the next level, which took me decades to learn, and I'm still learning it. 

Norm: What advice can you give aspiring writers that you wished you had received, or that you wished you would have listened to?

Mark: Stick to your goal, what you REALLY want as your end game and don't get distracted by money, or fast cars, or accolades like I did. I'm still getting back to my original writing goal. 

Norm: What do you think is the future of reading/writing?

Mark: I read constantly. Take away my TV, my Internet, my food, whatever, but don't take away my books! There will always be a need for story, and written communication will always have a place because it's the first author-voice neutral long-term storage methodology we had as a race.

It's a shorthand for us in a way that visual communication and oral communication (be it an oral storyteller or a YouTube reciter) can't keep up with. There's a linearity to it in story, but a random access when necessary, too.

We went from pages in books, to digital screens, but the written word will still be useful for communicating so many things quicker than other forms. Now, whether the world becomes a two-caste place of readers and non-readers, I can't say, but I hope not. Reading and writing in no way disallows other forms of communication and entertainment. 

Norm: What motivated you to write Death and Taxes and could you tell our readers a little about the book?

Mark: I'd just learned a better way to write, and I was feeling terribly stifled by the script structure and lack of ability to stretch out. All scripts are formatted the same, and the plot points all happen in generally the same places, and you have only so many pages to write in or no one will accept it. I finally just wanted to break out, and I started writing prose for the first time in years, just for the fun of it, and sixty working days later, there was this novel (and notes for three others in the series).

Death and Taxes has Mark Douglas, my main character, an ex-Marine turned IRS agent, finding out his much-loved boss and dear friend was tortured and killed over something she discovered in a routine set of 1040 forms.

This starts Mark on a twisty trail dotted with weird clues and weirder encounters: like plutonium-enriched cows, a Saudi sheik with jewel-encrusted body parts, a doddering, drug sniffing, gun-swallowing dog named The Cabbage, a self-righteous magician with a flair for safecracking, a billionaire Texan with a fetish for spicy barbecue sauce and even spicier women, and an FBI field agent whose nickname is "Tightass." And, more and bloodier murders, of course. It all finally leads Mark to a run-in with the eunuch hit man Juju Klondike who killed Mark's friend, and the bizarre and deadly Mongolian mob that contracted the hit. So, thrills, action, humor, and lots of paperwork (just kidding about the paperwork). 

Norm: This is your first novel, how did the writing of this novel differ from your other writing projects?

Mark: In the semi-immortal words of Mel Gibson in Braveheart: "Freeeeeeeedom!!!" Seriously, I could do what I wanted, go where I wanted to go, take as much time as I needed. It was totally liberating. 

Norm: What were your goals and intentions in this book, and how well do you feel you achieved them?

Mark: I wanted to have fun and write a book I would read and enjoy if someone else had written it. I had great fun writing it. Check. And every time I have to go through to look at things in this book in getting it ready for publication, I still laugh and enjoy reading it. Double check. 

Norm: What was the most difficult part of writing this book and what did you enjoy most about writing this book?

Mark: The most difficult part...there really was no difficult part; it was a total joy to do. 

Norm: Did you write Death and Taxes more by logic or intuition, or some combination of the two? Please summarize your writing process.

Mark: I've been very fortunate in being able to always use both sides of my brain when writing. I'm known for my logical structuring (that's one side of the brain), but also for my free form gestalt of weird ideas (which is the other side of the brain), so when I write, I start with just opening myself up to whatever is out there, let the ideas stream in, then I structure them as I write and when I hit a wall, I open up again, so it's always a seesaw, and I never get stuck. I would NEVER suggest not making an outline for anything (that's the main part of script writing: nail the outline, and the script is easy), but for this novel, I knew I'd structure it right automatically (I've done so much of it) so I just let 'er rip sans outline. It was so much fun that way. 

Norm: How did you go about creating the Badass IRS agent, Mark Douglas?

Mark: I got lucky. For thrillers and mysteries, there are a limited number of career choices for a hero that can do the things that are needed. You have cops, or ex-cops, military or ex-military, detectives who've been ex-cops or ex-military. It's rare (but not unheard of, but rare) to find a thriller/mystery/action hero that doesn't have some sort of background like that.

For a while on TV everyone was an ex-sniper (Bones, NCIS, etc.). I had an ex-father-in-law who was an IRS agent and he was telling me stories one day, and, voila, that kernel became Mark Douglas, a hero that was a little different (though he is ex-military). And the stories an IRS agent can look into are infinite because everyone either pays taxes, or doesn't. Everyone.

Norm: Where can our readers find out more about you and Death and Taxes?

Mark: The best place to look is MY WEBSITE. That'll lead anyone to the good stuff.

Norm: What is next for Mark Zaslove?

Mark: Well, I'm story editing a series at the moment, and writing scripts on a couple more; I have the second Tales of a Badass IRS Agent book going; and I finally found the serious novel I've always been looking for and am in the middle of that. So, business as usual. 

Norm: As this interview comes to an end, what question do you wish that someone would ask about your book, but nobody has? 

Mark: "If you could do one thing differently on the novel, what would it be?”  Answer: I would have written it years and years and years earlier. 

Norm: Thanks once again and good luck with all of your future endeavors