Anita's Haven

books, thoughts, stories, poetry, interviews, writing

And what do YOU have to say? – M. FINE – interview no.18

on 21/02/2015


Today’s interview features Mark Fine, a remarkable man whose lifestory itself would make a fascinating novel. A workaholic dad, philanthropist, successful entrepreneur and author of appraised historical thriller, The Zebra Affaire, shares with us his views and experiences.


​> 1. First of all, congratulations on The Zebra Affaire. I love the title. Did it come before the book, or did it slowly evolve with the story?

Thanks for this opportunity to interview with you, Anita. The title was there from at the novel’s inception. For me the zebra has always been a metaphor for South Africa the country, with its body-form representing the entire nation, but the discrete black / white stripes a symbol of that nation’s segregated human society. That said, my initial title was “Affaire Zebra” – I liked the completeness that those letters from A to Z seemed to represent, but it felt a little contrived so I embraced “The Zebra Affaire”.

> 2. The love story in the plot deals with some major socio-political questions (racism, poverty, violence). How difficult was it to stick to the story and steer away from ‘preaching’?

After living in the United States since 1979, I’ve felt apartheid has not been well understood here, more of a bumper sticker slogan view of things. In reflection I realized why, being previously a British colony South Africa was never part of America’s sphere of influence. I sensed this knowledge gap and chose to focus on filling that information void by providing context for what was happening at the time in my book. I then let the characters—specifically the villains, by their actions, provide the reader with the evidence to judge their repulsive actions; hence there was no need for me to gild the lily and be preachy.

> 3. What do you think made your characters fall in love? Do you call yourself a romantic and do you believe modern couples still have the strength to fight odds?

I’ve always held the view that love and romance were not trivial. That despite the billions of people on this planet it is a surprisingly difficult task to discover one’s true intended. This makes that chance meeting, no matter the bizarre circumstances, critical in finding true love—and if that’s the case, there is no doubt in my mind it is something worth fighting for. In the instance of Elsa and Stanwell, where the full might of their government was railed against them, their fortitude was tested beyond all reason. In this regard, I do wonder how many of us would dare take on that kind of challenge in the name of love.

> 4. What do you find easier to write – tangling the thriller, developing the political drama or writing about romantic intimacy?

In the instance of “The Zebra Affaire” I definitely lead through the political drama—I felt South Africa’s unseemly past, with those unkind events being so relatively recent, was the essence of the book’s foundation.

> 5. Do you believe in pre-planning your story or do you research as you go?

Both. I initially drafted a three page skeleton outline that mapped the story’s arc. However, as I added flesh to those bones in the form of details, considerable research was necessary. I’d estimate a third of the time devoted to writing the novel was set aside for research.

> 6. When you started the book, did you know how you wanted it to end? And did it?

Yes and yes. This seems like hubris, but please let me explain. When I began the writing process I was from the get go determined to complete my book. It may seem counterintuitive, but I felt if I mapped out the conclusion at the beginning, I’d have a clear destination as a goal to write toward. Of course I tweaked plenty as I went along, but the basic structure and ending remained sacrosanct.

> 7. The reviews you got are most flattering. Do you think they may be dangerous – drowning creativity by feeding the ego, or do you find them motivating?

Feedback is crucial. Writing tends to be a solitary endeavor where the author exists within his or her own echo chamber. It is only when engaging with others can I appreciate how my words may have resonated, and reviews are the first instance of this “dialog” with my readers. Beyond their reviews, I so much enjoy meeting my readers at the Book Club meetings. Of course I’m delighted by the overwhelmingly kind responses, but it is not a matter of ego, rather it is matter of motivation to begin work on my next project.

> 8. You use everyday heroes to write about history. Have you ever read any Mika Waltari? Which authors do you find inspiring?

Personally, the more plausible the heroes are, the more rewarding the read is for me.  I find it crucial to be able to relate in some way to what the characters are experiencing. Alas, I haven’t read Mika Waltari (but promise to do so). As for inspiring authors, sadly recently deceased, South African author Andre Brink of “A Dry White Season” fame remains a giant—a courageous truth-teller. And then I will read anything by Alan Furst, there is a confidence in his writing that is so period and character-rich.

> 9. You have also been highly successful in organizing global charity projects (breast cancer research, animal preservation, freedom of speech, etc.), involving some admirable celebrities. Looking back now, how difficult was it to organize those events?

There were so many moving parts! Identifying a suitable cause and then building the entire cause and entertainment marketing enterprise around it remained complicated. I quickly figured out that we could best serve a cause if there was a powerful call-to-action at the heart of the campaign, for example “Early Detection Saves Lives” for breast cancer awareness. This is where the participating celebrities were most effective in spreading the message to both their adoring fans and an attentive media—and as a result shine a light on these vital issues.

I enjoyed conceiving and orchestrating these happenings; mind you it was enriching for everyone involved—the ideal win-win-win situation where creative need, commercial need and the needs of the greater community were all amply met. My regret is that there was no real template; each project was a customized effort which tended to make them difficult to replicate elsewhere or at a different time. But I will always be grateful for the generosity of spirit shown by Sheryl Crow, Sting, Bryan Adams, Jon Bon Jovi, Jeff Goldblum and many others—and the courage and conviction displayed by the charities we championed.

> 10. What were you like as a boy? What did you want to become and have you? What is your fondest childhood memory?

Possibly because it was the convention of the time amongst South Africa’s privileged that most of my childhood was spent at boarding schools. I detested it. I resented being raised “mass-produced” along with hundreds of other kids—several hundred miles away from home, and in affect being deprived of my family birthright. How I would have enjoyed family evenings sharing a meal, and conversation, with my father and siblings. This seldom happened except on infrequent school vacations. Hence I became stubbornly self-contained, independent—and yet I was compelled to conform to the rigid schedule of boarding school bell from sunrise to sunset—and that dull school uniform. As a result I never was an overt rebel, but I’m not surprised in my subtle effort to no longer conform by devoting most of my career to creative endeavors.


I hope you enjoyed this interview. Read amazing new authors, rate and review, and don’t forget to reccomend their work to colleagues and friends!

Mark’s website
Mark’s fb
The Zebra Affaire on Amazon: Kindle    Paperback

Anita Kovacevic

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