January 17, 2012

Made It Moment: Mark Stevens

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 8:12 pm

Buried by the Roan

It’s a special joy to feature Moments when I’ve gotten to read the book first. Especially when the book spoke to me on all sorts of levels. Right now I am staring at a copy of Mark Stevens’ ANTLER DUST, the first in a series. I can best describe this as an environmental mystery, by a man who really knows his environment. I enjoyed it so much that I am going to gift a copy of this beautiful book to one lucky commenter. But as thrilling and poignant as Mark Stevens’ novel is, his Moment is even more so. Read on and you’ll see why.

Mark Stevens

Scene 1:

The year, 1989.  The place, a swank literary agent’s office in New York City. (Names being withheld to protect those who were trying to be helpful.) The office is hushed, quiet. The agent is young, bright, polished. She’s decidedly good-looking, like an Ivy Leaguer working on her degree in library science and training for the Olympics on the weekend. I am overwhelmed, gawking, eager. She holds the key to my literary future. Maybe she’ll my agent for decades to come? Who knows? My first mystery-thriller is sitting on the desk between us. “We can sell this book,” she says.

My made it moment? No.

Nothing happened. She was wrong. Updates from the agent faded, communication went pffft. We parted ways.

Scene 2:

The year, 1993. The place, my desk in The Denver Post newsroom. Mid-afternoon. Picture an old-school one-big-office newsroom, desks all jammed together. Phones ringing, shouts, keyboards being punched. My phone rings. Agent introduces herself.  From New York. There is urgency in her tone. “Are you represented by anyone yet?” she asks. I pause. Yet? I had been querying mystery-thriller #2 for awhile. I wasn’t even sure I recognized the name of the firm she was with. “No,” I said. “You are now,” she said (or words to that effect).  But I wasn’t going to be “easy.” I had a question! “What other mystery writers do you represent?” I managed to say. This time the pause was on her end. “Well, John Grishanm for one….” The in-depth vetting ended quickly.

My made it moment? No.

Nothing happened. We worked at it for over a year. I visited the offices once when I was in New York for work. Update from agent faded, communication went pffft. We parted ways.

Scene 3:

The year, 1998. The place, my mailbox in Denver. The letter from well-known New York literary agency included an offer of representation for mystery-thriller #3.  No quizzing from me this time. Just a year of work on the manuscript followed by a round of editor queries. Lots of hope, many assurances.

My made it moment? No.

When communication went dark this time, I sent a letter to head of agency and was sent a form letter rejection as if it was the first time I’d ever queried.

Scene 4:

The year, 2006. A longtime friend introduced me to someone who was starting a publishing firm, an independent in the Boulder area. He was looking for authors. I gave him mystery-thriller #3 and a new one, too, #4.  He read both, liked both, and offered to publish #3.

My made-it moment? No.

Book #3 came out 11 months later. I toured Colorado bookstores (42 in all). Book #3, also known as Antler Dust, reached the Denver Post best-seller list in 2007 and again in 2009.  I started writing a sequel to Antler Dust and, as I finished the manuscript, the publisher announced he was closing his business.

However, I was introduced to the fine folks from People’s Press in Aspen and they wanted to publish the sequel. Book #5 was scheduled—and Buried by the Roan was published in August, 2011 (along with a nifty new paperback edition of Antler Dust) and the reviews have been terrific.

My made-it moment? No.

Yes, I confess to incredible highs in 2007 and 2011 as both books saw the light of day, as both books started drawing positive reviews, as emails from complete strangers arrived with kind words, good things to say.

But thinking back, the only reason I’m writing (and reading) is I had parents who instilled in me the utter, pure, deep-down and undeniable pleasure of a good novel or a fascinating non-fiction.

Many years later, I got the wacky idea I could try my hand.

My made-it moment was being born into an environment rich with words, language and ideas.

Sounds corny, I know. But that’s the way I feel.

Lucky me.

The son of two librarians, Mark Stevens was raised in Massachusetts. He worked as a reporter for The Christian Science Monitor, covering events and issues from the economy, commercial fishing, the environment. He then worked for The Rocky Mountain News and The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour. He covered the 1985 earthquake in Mexico City, NASA’s space shuttle disaster, a volcano eruption in Colombia, political upheavals in Nicaragua, and mudslides in Puerto Rico. After tending bar for a year, while also writing fiction, he joined The Denver Post to cover education, and now works in public relations.


  1. Good God, Mark. How did you not shoot yourself in the head or the foot? Congrats on persevering and congrats on your books.

    All the best,

    Comment by Pamela DuMond — January 17, 2012 @ 8:56 pm

  2. Hi, Mark and Jenny,

    Your post is an honest one. The road to publication isn’t easy, even when you have an excellent background for writing. The most important thing, as you observe, is having a supportive family.

    Comment by Jacqueline Seewald — January 17, 2012 @ 9:01 pm

  3. I love this story! The greatest gift we can give our children is the love of what’s between the covers of a book. That’s what opens their wings to fly.

    Comment by Michele Drier — January 17, 2012 @ 9:05 pm

  4. This makes me sad. It’s a lot like my own experience thus far!

    Comment by Savvy blue — January 17, 2012 @ 9:13 pm

  5. Mark, if you had good sense, you would have given up long ago. But, if any of us had good sense, we wouldn’t be committed to writing, would we? Your story is an inspiration and a testament to persistence. Best wishes for great success with your writing.

    Comment by Earl Staggs — January 17, 2012 @ 9:38 pm

  6. Thank you for sharing your story with us. You have shown me never give up on your dreams.

    Comment by Kellie — January 17, 2012 @ 9:46 pm

  7. I enjoyed reading the descriptions of the newsroom where I spent many years myself. How neat that you worked for the Christian Science Monitor – and so many big stores!

    Comment by Juanita Wilson — January 17, 2012 @ 11:34 pm

  8. Great story!


    Comment by Theresa de Valence — January 18, 2012 @ 12:12 am

  9. What a wonderful story of perseverance! Wishing you much success with your series.

    Comment by Lauren S — January 18, 2012 @ 12:18 am

  10. @Juanita: The Denver Post? When?

    @Everyone else: thanks for the kind words. @Savvy blue: sorry it made you sad. One thing that kept me going was that it seemed to me (without being too delusional) that I was getting better at learning the craft/process/the thing that writing is. Cheers,


    Comment by Mark Stevens — January 18, 2012 @ 1:21 am

  11. What a fine man you are, and I hope your books do well. To do the things you do, and to have seen the things you’ve seen-remarkable. And then you honor your parents-you have earned good things.

    Comment by Lil Gluckstern — January 18, 2012 @ 1:23 am

  12. Beautiful story! Thanks for sharing!

    A new follower! I would love, if you could follow my blog at http://vidya-booksaremagic.blogspot.com/.


    Comment by Vidya @ Books Are Magic — January 18, 2012 @ 2:59 am

  13. What a tribute to perseverance! I think that’s the difference between a real writer and someone who thinks they can write. Glad you finally made it!

    Comment by mountainmama — January 18, 2012 @ 6:18 am

  14. What a nice way of looking at it. In that sense, I too have a Made a Moment. But I’m so glad your moment extended to actually being published and making the Colorado bestseller list. Congratulations on that and on your perseverance.

    Comment by Ellis Vidler — January 18, 2012 @ 8:39 am

  15. Mark, I wish everyone who is writing/has written a book, both newbie and “old hat” like me, could read this. Actually, I found it encouraging. I have a motto card hanging in my office: “NEVER GIVE UP.” If we care, we never do!
    Thank you for sharing with us.

    Comment by Radine Trees Nehring — January 18, 2012 @ 9:31 am

  16. Fantastic column, with a great ending. Isn’t that the truth; to be born in an environment filled with books is the best Made It Moment possible.

    Comment by Alison DeLuca — January 18, 2012 @ 9:35 am

  17. Already my 2-1/4 year old grandson loves books and being read to, a joyful family tradition. Maybe someday he’ll be as old as I am and in the middle of the night when he can’t sleep he will still enjoy being read to and relish the written word via a future version of a kindle/Ipod player.

    Comment by Doña Dodson — January 18, 2012 @ 10:09 am

  18. Great story, Mark. I always marveled at how agents come on like you’re the next best thing, but when they don’t make an immediate sale, you might as well be, well, antler dust. Your made-it moment cuts to the core of why writers write. Then there’s perseverance, a good story, and a little bit of luck. Put them together and a writer will succeed.

    Comment by Polly iyer — January 18, 2012 @ 10:18 am

  19. Mark, you’ve cited the root reason anyone perseveres in writing: the love of books. Congratulations on your well-deserved success.

    Comment by J. R. Lindermuth — January 18, 2012 @ 10:34 am

  20. Wow, Mark! Just wow!! Your perserverance is so inspirational and just reading the descriptions of each non-made-it moment made me want to read your book!

    Comment by Johanna — January 18, 2012 @ 12:33 pm

  21. Mark, thanks for telling your wonderful story. Your experience illustrates so well the ups and downs of the writing life. Your unusual and touching Made It Moment illuminates the reason for your success. I want to read your books. Liz

    Comment by Elizabeth C. Main — January 18, 2012 @ 12:48 pm

  22. What a fascinating travail through the bug infested swamps of publishing. And you’re so right about your made-it moment, I totally get that. I can hardly wait to read your book! :)

    Comment by Karen Duvall — January 18, 2012 @ 1:11 pm

  23. Mark, a lovely post. I’d say grounded, not corny at all.I look forward to reading your work.

    Comment by Anita Page — January 18, 2012 @ 2:04 pm

  24. I’m glad I grew up in a family that loves books. And environmental books, mysteries or not, are among my faves.

    Comment by shirley nienkark — January 18, 2012 @ 2:29 pm

  25. If the new paradigms in publishing can speed this process up and even it out, then so much the better for everyone involved. Still the bottom line is: which system most benefits the writer … and reader?

    Comment by Hardie Karges — January 18, 2012 @ 3:21 pm

  26. Your tenacity, your love of family and books and your honesty made me glad I stopped by today. The only regret I have about writing is that my parents aren’t here to read the books. Thank you!

    Comment by Marja McGraw — January 18, 2012 @ 3:59 pm

  27. What wonderful comments from such a wonderful group! I’m so glad to see you all here. I agree–Mark got lucky when he was born into his family. His great writing is a bonus.

    Comment by jenny — January 18, 2012 @ 4:55 pm

  28. Wonderful post! Mark, do you have the first chapter of either of your books available? I’d love to see them.

    Comment by Ann Littlewood — January 18, 2012 @ 9:51 pm

  29. Wonderful story, Mark. There’s nothing better than family :D …and a great story.

    Comment by Susan — January 19, 2012 @ 1:37 am

  30. @ Ann Littlewood (and any others interested) yes…first chapter of both books available on my site, http://www.writermarkstevens.com

    Thanks for all the kind words everyone!

    Comment by Mark Stevens — January 19, 2012 @ 9:24 am

  31. Wow Mark! Your story is one of perseverence for sure! I believe every writer goes into it knowing that writing the book is the “easy” part. I’ve only ever queried one person (though I have sent out short stories and had a few of those published). I was rejected with a form email, but to me it was more of a “HEY, at least I put it out there” moment. Kudos to you for keeping on keeping on! I hope when the time comes I can have the same persistence.

    Keep on writing!
    Claire L. Fishback

    Comment by Claire L. Fishback — January 19, 2012 @ 10:54 am

  32. Mark,
    I think you nailed it – the true story teller’s made it moment begins, if not at birth, then that first time we tell a story and receive the reaction we were looking for. That first time we play with words and it works.
    It may takes us years, decades even to realize our calling and to find “success” there, but when we look back, we will recognize that moment when we told that first story that worked.
    That is our beacon.
    Thanks for sharing.

    Comment by ThinkBannedThoughts — January 19, 2012 @ 12:44 pm

  33. Just thought I’d jump in again and say thanks again for all the support and comments !

    “Perseverance is not a long race; it is many short races one after another.” Walter Elliott

    Comment by Mark Stevens — January 20, 2012 @ 6:57 pm

  34. Great story and congrats Mark! Your persistence is so very impressive!

    Comment by Judy — January 21, 2012 @ 9:44 am

  35. You get my vote for the best Made It Moment.

    Comment by Sara — January 21, 2012 @ 11:51 am

  36. You’re made it moment didn’t sound crazy to me. Today, I am so glad that my mother loved to read and introduced me to books and poetry. I love them both today and I write also. I’m not published and haven’t tried to be. I don’t think I could take the stress. I’m still trying to finish writing a book that I think would be good enough for me to read and enjoy.

    Comment by Sharon — January 26, 2012 @ 2:27 pm

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