Interview With Mark Tullius, Author of “Brightside: They Call Us Thought Theives…”

The write-up below about Mark Tullius and his book Brightside was done by Michala T. at on November 13th, 2012. Brightside is a work of fiction, but it’s shared here as Tullius touches-on issues likely of interest to readers – as he noted,  the site was one resource he referenced when writing the book. -Pete Eyre


by. Michala T.

Welcome to Another Great Interview With The Author Edition! Today we are talking with Mark Tullius, mastermind behind the ingenious and darkly-delightful novel Brightside. Thank you so very much Mark for allowing us to ‘pick your brain’ today.

Did the story for Brightside just pop up in your mind or was it a slow process? How did it come about?

The idea for Brightside came to me rather suddenly and fairly developed. I knew that this young man with unwanted telepathic powers was stuck in a beautiful internment camp with a shotgun. I also knew he was struggling with the temptation of suicide, but that was about it. From there, I began asking him questions; let him show me the way.

Once I felt I knew who the main character was, I started on the flashbacks that showed me why he was that way. By taking Joe back to his childhood, I learned a great deal about him. I understood why he was so flawed and hoped he’d make it out of Brightside, although I seriously doubted he would.

Character development sounds very important to you as a writer. Do you have a particular method for this?

I believe character is more important than plot, and it’s not just the protagonist who matters. One of my problems is that I tend to get carried away and create too many. In the first draft of Brightside, I had a ridiculous amount of characters that had to be dropped. It was impossible for the reader to remember who was who and the characters became watered down no matter how colorful I tried to create them.

The way I develop and keep track of characters is by listing physical descriptions and personality traits on index cards. Some of the cards were very basic at the start and would only include a few words like psychopath, promiscuous, or prick. Over the course of the story, the characters would become more developed and I’d only need to reference the card to check what they were wearing on that day or the color of their eyes.

Life can get in the way of writing, especially being a father and a husband. How long did it take you to write the story from start to finish?

I began Brightside around the time of my wife’s first pregnancy. The birth of my daughter slowed things down a bit, but I worked around it. One of my favorite memories is waking every morning around five to give my daughter her bottle, tucking her inside my robe so she would fall back to sleep on my chest while I’d take Joe on his journey. My wife has always been supportive of my writing and helped push me toward UCLA’s Extension Writers’ Program. The class gave me a great deal of encouragement and helped me finish the first draft two years after I’d started.

I was feeling pretty great about Brightside until I took Tom Spanbauer’s Dangerous Writing course. Tom and his partner, Sage, completely changed the way I looked at writing. After serious consideration, I made the decision to switch Brightside from 3rd person POV to 1st. This was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, but it added another two years to the process.

It sounds like this book took a good four years or so. That’s quite a long time and would probably cause any aspiring writer to likely gag or feel their heart drop to their feet. Do you feel that with the experience of writing this book as well as taking the classes and writing programs, you are able to produce works more effectively and quickly now?

Although four years is a very long time to be working on a novel, I should add that I wrote forty plus stories, eighteen of which are part of my soon to be released 25 Perfect Days. Had I stayed on task, I would have finished much sooner, but now I’m glad I made the decision because I was growing the entire time and am able to release two full length works in a matter of months.

The writing classes did help a great deal, but nothing like what I experienced by doing the Dangerous Writing retreats and working with Tom one on one through video chats. He helped me become a much better writer and gave me the confidence I lacked. Thanks to Tom and my editor, I feel as if I can knock out close to one new novel a year.

When writing a story, often times things don’t always go the way you originally planned them to. What part in your book was the most surprising for having written it?

Brightside has been through so many edits that I sometimes forget what’s made the final cut. The last edit was brutal, but incredibly necessary. We chopped off close to forty thousand words, rearranged most of the content, and added several new scenes. It wasn’t until this last pass that I decided on the ending. Was Joe going to escape or die trying?

The editing process is sometimes the worst part for the writer. Do you have any encouraging advice to share about how to get through this part of the creative writing step?

The editing process sucks, but only if you let it. Just as with everything in life, it’s all about perspective. Be prepared to throw out everything that doesn’t work, no matter how brilliant it may be. Understand that it won’t just be friends and family reading your work, and you have to put out the very best creation you can. I recently went through this with 25 Perfect Days where I completely tossed seven of the stories and did major rewrites on another five. It was painful and depressing, but the thing that kept me focused was the title. How could I include the word ‘perfect’ in there if I was putting out something that wasn’t even close? It’s easy to lie to ourselves, and even easier to not be aware of what’s working. That’s why it’s incredibly important to have an editor that can help with this. Find someone you can trust and take their advice. Once I stopped being defensive and relinquished complete control, the process became so much easier.

I made mention of it in my review of your book about your many scenes with dogs and how moving they were. Did these scenes come from life experiences? Do you have pets in your life now?

I’m definitely an animal lover and have had a faithful yellow lab for the past eleven years. Luke’s been with me through some tough times and has been the best big brother to my daughter. He’s getting old and his eyesight is failing. His knee is shot and he has trouble getting down stairs. He probably doesn’t have much longer.

While writing the pet scenes, I went back to being six when our rabbit was killed by dogs. I remembered the cat we put to sleep a few years later. I imagined the day I’ll take Luke to the vet and won’t bring him back. Tapping into this emotion and going to that sore place is what Dangerous Writing is all about. I’m not too tough to admit I was in tears writing those scenes.

Another thing that helped a great deal with these scenes, but was awful going through, was my research on no-knock raids. I went to sites like and watched countless videos of law enforcement agents blowing away dogs, many times without good reason, several times at the wrong address. In my eyes, the scene with Lily could practically be called nonfiction.

Did your research, and such, slow you down and how important do you feel research plays in the creative writing process?

My research may have slowed me down a bit, but it was worth it. I believe it made Brightside more realistic, but more importantly, it helped change me and some of my beliefs. Studying photographs of people who’d blown off their heads with a shotgun is not something you forget. Same with all the raids. One problem I ran into was staying on task. With it was impossible to not click on some of the videos I’d come across. One that I won’t forget was the murder of a homeless man by Fullerton police officers. Even though this incident occurred twenty minutes from my house, it wasn’t covered by the local news. This got me digging deeper and I was shocked to see the acts of brutality that occur across this country. It didn’t ruin my appreciation and respect for law enforcement officers who serve and protect, but it did open my eyes and make me understand how important the alternative media is. But even with all the time spent watching these videos of police brutality, it wasn’t a waste. I felt like it only made my portrayal of the Boots that much more believable.

Another thing the research did was open my eyes to the erosion of our civil liberties. While studying the Japanese internment camps that our history books overlook, I came across some scary stuff. During WWII, over 100,000 men, women, and children were forced into these war relocation camps because of their ancestry, over sixty percent of them American citizens. It took our government over forty years to make an official apology and pay reparations to those families. Most people would say that’s wonderful, we’ve learned our lesson, but those same people probably only watch the mainstream media and have never heard of the NDAA.

The NDAA, National Defense Authorization Act, was signed into law on Dec. 31, 2011, a time when absolutely no one would be paying any attention to it. The NDAA’s dangerous detention provisions allow for the indefinite detention of any American citizen without charge or trial. That’s why I tell everyone that Brightside isn’t so farfetched.

Excerpt from Brightside:

I went back to my laptop, started closing out sites. Homeland Security. National Safety Council. Half a dozen others. Each called us domestic terrorists, all because one man said so. Our President was scared shitless when he found out what we could do. The possibility that one of us could sneak up beside him, learn his every word was a lie. The corporations, the corruption, all the money and the media. We never had a chance. An executive order was issued to trample our rights.

It’s amazing the amount of information one learns simply while trying to write a little ‘ol story! Well, it seems we’ve run out of time. I want to again thank you Mark for visiting us. You have proven beyond a doubt that you are definitely an inspiring and passionate creature…but then again, all us writers are. (I’m biased though so I could be wrong. Wait…nope. I’m not!) READERS>>>>>I know you can’t wait to get your hands on this book and I know you are just dying to get to know more about Mark! I’ve got all the avenues one might consider in their search for just those things. Check out the links below and support another awesome writer.


When you see "CopBlock" as the author it means it was submitted via our submission tab - you can share your story too. If you enjoy this content and/or believe "Badges Don't Grant Extra Rights" get yourself some CopBlock Gear from our store or donate just $1/month to the CopBlock Network.