Mark Essig interview with David Alan Binder

Post date: Feb 19, 2017 8:12:07 PM

Mark Essig interview with David Alan Binder

Bio from his website:

Mark Essig is the author of Lesser Beasts: A Snout-to-Tail History of the Humble Pig (Basic Books, 2015) and Edison & the Electric Chair (Walker & Co., 2003), which was named one of the year’s best science books by Discover Magazine. He has written for the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, Atlas Obscura,, and Gravy, the magazine of the Southern Foodways Alliance. He has worked as reporter, editor, and copy editor at the Los Angeles Times community news division, the Long Beach Press-Telegram, and the Asheville Citizen-Times. He holds a Ph.D. in U.S. history from Cornell University and a bachelor’s degree in English and religious studies from the University of Virginia. He has taught history and American studies at Cornell and journalism at Warren Wilson College.


1. Where are you living currently?

Asheville, NC

2. What is the most important thing that you have learned in your writing experience, so far?

He finds a puzzling story or something odd that doesn’t make sense and loves archival research and hunting through obscure materials and finding obscure facts and then finding a way that they all come together.

3. What would you say is your most interesting writing, publishing, editing or illustrating quirk?

He is a strong believer in the last first draft, finds what it is he needs to say and uses endless drafting and rewriting process to get him where he wants to be.

4. Tell us your insights on self-publish or use a publisher?

He uses a regular publisher. He has not thought of going the route of self-publishing though it is possible, but not an option for him so far. It used to be an exploitative thing but now it can put the writer in control of what he or she is doing.

a. Who is the name of your publisher and in what city are they?

For his book Lesser Beasts: A Snout-to-Tail History of the Humble Pig he used Basic Books, 2015 and for his book Edison & the Electric Chair he used Walker & Co., 2003

5. How did you or would you suggest acquire an agent? Any tips for new writers on getting one?

He has had an agent for 20 years, it is someone he went to college with.

6. Do you have any suggestions or helps for new writers (please be specific and informational as possible)?

He uses friends to read the original copy and help him, then uses the publisher editor from there.

7. What was one of the most surprising things you learned your creative process with your books, editing, publishing or illustrating?

He cannot think of any particular quirk; however, in his creative process he gets interested in a project through an interesting quirk or fact. Like in Edison and the Electric Chair, it deals with the role Thomas Edison had in the development of the electric chair, so that fact, that dichotomy, intrigued him. He like the disconnect between the famous American inventor and the sordid side of history in which he got tied up in a pretty terrible invention. That quirky path, that odd path that took him down that path to that book. For the Pig book, the fact that in Asheville in the 1800’s they had pig drives (like cattle drives) with tens of thousands sometimes up to hundred thousand pigs were being driven through the middle of Asheville, NC a year to market. Then he had to take pigs though history and find the thread that made that an interesting story.

8. How many books have you written?

So far, just the two non-fiction books listed above.

9. Do you have any tricks or tips to help others become a better writer (please be as specific and information as you possibly can)?

Perseverance, if you believe in the project, then write it well and keep sending it out there.

10. What makes your or any book stand out from the crowd?

He wants to get to the bottom of things, it is a job, nothing glamourous, read all the books, interview people and do the research. He does not believe in a magic process, he believes that as you do the work and get the information gathered that you’ll make something that reads well. It is not magic, it is a job.

11. What are some ways in which you make your material interesting since it is non-fiction?

He takes a historical fact and then makes it an engaging story. He reads a great mass of material and finds the thread. In the Pig book, the pig was the central character and that thread pulls you through the entire story.

12. What is the one thing you would do differently now (concerning writing or editing or publishing or illustrating) and why?

13. Anything else you would like to say?

He also ghost writes as well. If you like to write, then write. Publishing is a difficult business but finding satisfaction in the process of writing and finding readers that like you is a pretty big reward.