How did you become a writer? Well, I've been writing since I was a little kid and no one had the good sense to tell me to stop. I come from a big family of Irish storytellers, I was just the only one who decided to put pen to paper. I used to write little Pokémon rip-offs back in second grade but as I got older, the plots became more fleshed out, the books stopped having pictures, and suddenly I had a BFA in Creative Writing. Whoops.
What inspires you to write? I always strive to write the books I needed to read as a kid. This might come as a shock to absolutely no one but I am very gay. I went to Catholic school around the same time people were banning Harry Potter books because they thought the books were Satanic, so it wasn't exactly easy to get ahold of books with queer characters, let alone queer protagonists. I came from a very loving and supportive family but I feel like if I was able to read a book with some positive gay representation, I would have been a lot more comfortable in my skin as a kid. When I was a teenager, I became really attached to the character Wiccan from Marvel comics because he was the first fictional character I ever saw myself in. I'm ecstatic that there's been a big push toward diversifying media as of late, especially with the queer-representation in cartoons like She-Ra and Steven Universe. I really hope that someday kids might be able to see themselves in my characters and can live a lot more openly than I did back when I was young.
Tell me about your protagonist. What's your favorite trait and/or weakness? The main character of Geist is Ash Murphy. A lot of people who've read the book say that Ash is basically just me, and those people are only mostly correct. For example, Ash is a grim reaper, and I am not. I really like writing Ash because driven and has a biting sense of humor, but he is far too cynical for his own good, sometimes dives head-first into things without thinking, and also has some deep-seated insecurities that he tries to cover up with an egotistical and bitchy mask (Not that I personally have any deep-seated insecurities or anything...). Since Ash narrates the story in first-person, the audience gets to see a vulnerable side of his character that he refuses to show to his new friends--which I think adds a pretty neat layer to the story, if I may toot my own horn.
What are your current/future projects? My current goal is to finish up the Phantasia series. Geist is finished and I'm going to start work on the other two books once I know Geist is good to go. After that, I'd love to dip my toes into high fantasy, particularly dark fantasy. I'm an avid Dungeons & Dragons player and I can't wait to see what I can do with elves and orcs and stuff. I'd also love to work on something horror-adjacent, like horror-action or horror-comedy. Basically, I'm gonna try to get my dainty little princess hands on any genre I can.
If you could go back in time and give yourself advice, what would it be? "Don't join drama club. You're never gonna get the roles you want." But in all seriousness, I'd probably tell myself to be less closed-off. I built up a wall pretty early in life because I was bullied and didn't really connect with a lot of my peers. I was a weird closeted kid that watched too much anime, so I just assumed that I had nothing in common with anyone. It took me a while to realize that a lot of people actually want to be my friend and I'm a pretty cool guy. If I could do things over again, I would be much more willing to make friends and I'd stop taking everything so seriously. Maybe listen to less emo music, too, because that definitely didn't help. Although, being the weird, closed-off anime nerd got me to where I am today. It almost sounds like a Monkey's Paw wish. I got to be a pretty good writer, but it cost me my social life.
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers? Listen to your critics. When someone criticizes your work, it's very easy to cover your ears and pretend your work is perfect. But more often than not, people are out there to help you polish your work to its full potential. If I ignored everyone who pointed out problems with Geist, Geist would still be in its first draft and it would be absolutely unreadable. That being said, you gotta learn who you can trust because not everyone gives good advice. Wading through critiques to find the constructive ones--which aren't necessarily the nicest ones--can be just as hard as writing a full novel.
[What is your preferred method for readers to get in touch with you?] I used to be really big into Tumblr but Tumblr's been on life support for the past year so I've moved over to Twitter. My handle is @MarkRyanKelly. I'm also pretty active on my Instagram @markhelsing, so feel free to write nice comments on all of my selfies.