Discovering a Story: Mark Allan Gunnells on Balancing Writing & Work

Mark Allan Gunnells was in a dry spell.  He’d gone a year without selling a story.  He was getting discouraged, but he kept writing horror stories, novellas, and gay fiction.  Gunnells’ dry spell broke, finally, this winter with the acceptance of not one, not two, but three books! 

Gunnells’ zombie novella, Asylum came out last December from Apex Book Company’s relatively new imprint, The Zombie Feed.  Then came Whisonant/Creatures of the Light, two novellas in one binding, from Sideshow Press.  Pre-orders are open for Gunnells’ third book, Tales from the Midnight Shift, Volume 1, which takes its name from Gunnells’ day job as a security guard. 

For the last seven years Gunnells has maintained a steady output.  His secret?  He writes while at his day job.


What do you do at your “day job”? And how do the requirements of your “day job” sap and/or enhance your writing life?

Mark Allan Gunnells:  I’m a security officer. I started off on third shift, and during those four years I was very prolific and did most of my writing at work. There was a lot of down time and it was just the perfect set up. In fact, that is the reason I chose to name my upcoming collection Tales from the Midnight Shift.  For the past three years I’ve been on first shift, which is busier, but I still write at work.

When do you write? And do you find it hard to enter a writing state of mind on short notice and/or in short bursts?

Mark Allan Gunnells:   I write in the pockets of time I have when I’m not dealing with my actual duties at work. Some days, I have ample time, other days not so much, but I have actually trained myself to write in the gaps.  Some think it would be more difficult to write like that, not getting to focus for a large chunk of time and employing this start-and-stop method, but yet I’ve made it work for me.

What if you had a whole day to write?

Mark Allan Gunnells:  It has actually become difficult for me to write when I have a large chunk of uninterrupted time. I get restless and feel the need to pause and do something else then come back to the story.  If I ever lose the privilege of getting to write at work, I would have to retrain myself.

In what ways does your partner support your writing life?

Mark Allan Gunnells:  Well, since I do very little writing at home, he has never felt like he has to “share” me with my writing, so the main way he supports my writing life is by listening to me blabber on about this or that story idea or publication.

Lastly, if you had two months to write a horror novel from first glimmers to final draft, how would you go about it?

Mark Allan Gunnells:  I have actually never written anything on a deadline before, but if I knew I only had two months to get something written, it would be very important to eliminate as many distractions as possible, which would mean limiting time online, watching movies, TV, etc. 

The next thing I’d probably do is figure out where I was going. I don’t do traditional outlines, but I would want to make sure I had a destination in mind, basically a beginning and an ending. The middle I would want to leave mostly unformed in my mind since for me part of the fun of writing is the discovery of a story as you go along. That could mean the planned ending would be altered as I wrote, but I always leave that possibility open when I start something.


Jeremy L. C. Jones is a freelance writer, editor, and teacher.  He is the staff Interviewer for Clarkesworld Magazine and a frequent contributor to Kobold Quarterly.  He teaches at Wofford College and Montessori Academy in Spartanburg, SC.  He is also the director of Shared Worlds, a creative writing and world-building camp for teenagers that he and Jeff VanderMeer designed in 2006.

2 thoughts on “Discovering a Story: Mark Allan Gunnells on Balancing Writing & Work

  1. Mark Alan Gunnells is awesome. Not just a talented writer, but a very nice man to boot.

  2. Pingback: March 18, 2011 Links and Plugs : Hobbies and Rides

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