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An Interview with Mark W. Danielson

Mark W. Danielson
Mark W. Danielson in Kauai.
Photo courtesy
Mark W. Danielson.

Mark W. Danielson has published three stand-alone reality-based novels. Danger Within provides an inside look into the airline industry. The Innocent Never Knew is a political thriller about the controversy surrounding President Clinton’s Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown’s death. His latest, Diablo’s Shadow, is an emotional roller-coaster between two estranged parents struggling to find their missing daughter. Writer’s Block will be the first in his new tongue-and-cheek detective series, which offers an amusing look at murder through the eyes of protagonist Maxx Watts. Writer’s Block has no set release date. As an international airline pilot, Mark lives a gypsy life “delivering the world on time.”

We recently had the opportunity to talk to Mark about his life as a pilot and his books.

Mysterious Reviews: You are a current pilot for FedEx, which itself seems like an exciting and demanding job. Why did you want to take on an additional role as an author?

Mark W. Danielson: I began writing magazine articles decades before becoming an airline pilot. My first article outside of college was inspired while flying Air Force F-4 Phantoms in Korea. Written for the International Aerobatic Club, this article provided a historical look at how military air-to-air tactics were the basis for competitive aerobatic maneuvers. My non-fiction articles have covered flying, boating, travel, safety, a military base transition, even backyard squirrels. Today, I gain great satisfaction in writing novels, as well as writing articles that share my experiences while flying for FedEx. As a writer, there is no better profession, for I have a lot of free time at home and abroad. I often joke that FedEx pays me well to write. Their only request is that I safely deliver their airplane to its destination.

Your books are what you have termed reality-based fiction. What do you mean by that?

Everything I write about has happened, or is likely to happen. In nearly every case, I use settings where I have physically walked. Doing so makes my characters and settings more believable. In many cases, things that I’ve written about have since come true. For example, an Alaska Airlines MD-80 crashed less than two miles from where I wrote about in Danger Within. The chief of the Navy took his life two weeks after I wrote about a fictitious Air Force general being murdered, but was ruled a suicide. The tree I wrote about falling over a deer trail in Diablo’s Shadow has since fallen in that location. Such occurrences only validate my writing.

Danger Within by Mark W. DanielsonThe Innocent Never Knew by Mark W. DanielsonDiablo's Shadow by Mark W. Danielson

Your other career, as it were, takes you around the world and away from your home for extended periods of time. Do you write while you're traveling or do you set aside specific times for writing after you return home?

I write constantly, but it’s easier to write while on an international trip than at home. After all, my only obligation once I land is to be prepared to fly my next leg. Normally, I will write at least five hours during a twenty-four hour layover. Recently, I had three days in Almaty, Kazakhstan, and with little to do, I wrote 150 pages on my next book. Clearly, that isn’t the norm, but if I’m motivated and can’t sleep, I can get a lot of work done.

The plot of your first book is based in part on an incident aboard a FedEx plane. What prompted you to craft a fictional story around it?

As a former safety officer in both the Air Force and the Navy, I was disturbed that this in-flight fire ever occurred, and even more so by the lack of information that was being sent back to the crew force. After all, this fire took place in the same aircraft that I was flying around the world, and could have just as easily happened over water instead of land. I wanted to know what happened, and what was being done to prevent a reoccurrence, so many of the frustrations I experienced became those of my protagonist in Danger Within. But this fire only kicked off the story and set the stage for what followed. After all, the real story lies on the ocean floor. As with any of my stories, the reader will finish, wondering how much is real and how much is fiction. I like that.

Diablo's Shadow, your third book and the one we reviewed, was inspired by an actual Colorado case. Why did you change the setting of the book to the Bay Area?

I grew up in the Bay Area and have spent a lot of time in Redwood Regional Park in the Oakland hills. This expansive park can be as daunting as it is beautiful. Since Diablo’s Shadow is a compilation of several missing child cases and is more about two troubled parents than the child, using Redwood Regional Park made sense.

With real events providing the foundation for your plotlines, how do you go about developing the characters that will play a part in the story?

Research is the key to developing believable storylines and characters. In the case of Diablo’s Shadow, I met with a Parks Police detective, a volunteer organizer, a Parks Police helicopter pilot and observer, a park ranger, and read countless books and magazines on search and rescue operations, rescue dogs, missing children, and also researched numerous missing child organizations. John Walsh’s story on his son Adam was another excellent vehicle, and is mentioned in my story.

What kinds of books do you read? Or are they any authors whose books you buy as soon as they are published?

I read a variety of suspense novels as well as historical non-fiction. I love Dean Koontz’ "Odd Thomas" series, and buy them whenever they come out. David Baldacci is outstanding in his genre, and the late Michael Crichton’s Timeline and State of Fear are two of my favorites. I will truly miss him. Robert Kurson’s Shadow Divers, and James Bradley’s Flags of Our Fathers and Flyboys are all excellent reads. I am always reading new authors.

Seeing the world as you have, setting must play an important role in your books. How do you go about bringing specific environmental or cultural elements into the story?

Again, walking and photographing a setting is extremely important. I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about my photographs, but rather point and shoot at things my characters might see while glancing. This technique allows me to see things through a character’s eyes, more than if I had vied for a perfect shot. Few people take in details like an author or a painter, so the candidness of my shots actually works in my favor.

Have you considered writing a series with a recurring character?

Actually, I have already written two father-son firefighting stories set in the Bay Area, but for now they are tucked away because they don’t fit my associated genre. However, I have just completed the first of my Maxx Watts detective series and have a second book written in my head. I really like Maxx because he’s an average Fort Worth detective who must investigate the murder of a small time publisher. All of the Guillotine Press authors become suspects in this humorous book. Writer’s Block not only plays on words, it provides a humorous look inside the publishing industry. Humor is important in life.

Our thanks to Mark for taking the time to visit with us. For more about the author and his books, visit his website at

Date of Interview: November 2008