Alumna Delia Owens

Author and alum Mark Wisniewski

Photo courtesy

Novels and Noir

by | Apr 11, 2024 | Alumni Authors, Culture

Readers these days know Mark Wisniewski, M.A. ’91, as Mark Wish. He’s written a number of novels and is the founding editor of Coolest American Stories, an award-winning annual anthology of short stories that he produces with his wife, Elizabeth Coffey.

With his latest novel, Wisniewski enters the world of undercover murder investigations. In Necessary Deeds (Regal House Publishing, 2024), the complicated protagonist joins forces with the FBI to investigate a former client.

As an editor and writer, Wisniewski shared that he likes revising his work until it has been polished. “That’s where I make my own fiction a cut above,” he said. “If you took my rough draft, you’d say this guy is not anything special. But I revise so much that the novels or the stories end up sounding a little more sharp and more thought provoking.”

Here, Wisniewski talks about the new book, writing a mystery and the possibility of a sequel.

I understand you were inspired to be a writer back in high school. What caused the spark?

There were two courses I took in high school, literature classes, and I remember reading some Kurt Vonnegut, The Great Gatsby. It really was the reading of certain novels. The whole idea of a novel, I never really got over that. It just seems like a marvelous way of communicating.

But you went into the law instead?

My father was a high school English teacher, which also accounted for my interest in writing, but along with that, he didn’t make a lot of money. So there was a love for the arts in our household but not a lot of money, and I think my mother wanted her children to take care of themselves financially. She saw me as a lawyer, and then they pushed me along. I got into Georgetown Law, and this was a big deal. I even put it off for a year to write my first novel. I thought naively that I would write it, get a big contract and never have to go. But you can’t do all that in one year. So I did go to Georgetown and got the degree. When I graduated, I did everything I could to start writing again.

What brought you to UC Davis for your master’s in English?

I graduated from law school in ’84 and got to Davis in 1989. I had moved to Texas, I was teaching high school, and I was getting my teaching certificate in English. I took some fiction writing courses and one was taught by [American poet] Wendy Barker, who had gone to UC Davis [for her Ph.D.]. She recommended it. I went to UMass Amherst for a year. But I was in touch with UC Davis, and they offered me a fellowship. So I said yes and drove my ’73 Chevy Nova across the country. I really enjoyed the program there. It was a great place to write.

I saw the new book Necessary Deeds described as a modern-day noir. Is that how you would describe it?

Yes, I think so. I think it’s noir; it’s mystery/suspense. It’s a page-turner. At the same time, it can’t help but be literary because I spent so much time crafting short stories to get them into literary magazines. And I studied with literary fiction craftspeople that there was so much pressure on me to make sure my sentences were well crafted and my characters were deep, as much as I set out to write a mystery suspense thriller story.

Is mystery a hard genre to write?

I found it a bit of a struggle because I was very conscious of doing everything I could to hide the ball. You can’t let out who’s the killer. One trick I used was to start out with the idea that it may be one character, but then ultimately change it to another one. But by the time I really got going, I had it pretty mapped out. And there was a lot of revision, and some of that entailed setting up scenes that would get your attention taken away from who really did it. In this case, there’s also a love story woven through. That’s another aspect of noir I really like and why I wanted to do this. There has to be a jaded love interest. I could always shift over to my love story to hide the search for the suspect.

Do you always have a writing project going?

It depends. Sometimes you need a little breather. If you want your next one to be different, it’s hard, for me at least, to move on to a new character and what’s going to happen. In this case, with Necessary Deeds, I did leave it open at the end that there could be a sequel. I didn’t want to leave these characters. So right now I’m putting together a plot outline for another investigation he could be in. And I’ll leave it at that.