Since I’m not famous enough to have a fancy third-person biography written up by an unpaid intern, let’s keep this informal, shall we?
The Short Version
I’m Mark Feenstra, and I am the author of a few things, among them the Black Records urban fantasy series published under the open pseudonym Alexis Blakely. I live in Vancouver, and have spent the last few years trying to figure out how to write books alongside being a single stay-at-home dad. I spent most of my twenties bouncing around different jobs — some serious, some not — before taking a leap and quitting my 9 to 5 Inventory Analyst gig to write the great Canadian literary novel. That went about as well as you might expect. After that, I spent some time making portraits of interesting people, before ultimately landing consistent work as a ghostwriter. Along the way, I reconnected with my love of fantasy, and ultimately discovered the joy of blending magic and adventure with modern settings. Alongside urban fantasy, I write contemporary and slice-of-life classic fantasy. I am also the founder of the Vancouver Genre Writers, through which I’ve taught workshops, facilitated a beginner’s critique group, and generally brought together a great bunch of local writers who might not have otherwise met.
The Long Version
The year was 1979. A warm wind blew across the plains of Manitoba… okay, let’s not go that far back.
I’m not one of those people who started writing novels when I was only six years old. I was a voracious reader, often staying up well past my bedtime to read the Hardy Boys under the blankets with a flashlight, but it wasn’t until I quit an Engineering program at Guelph University that I seriously considered writing as a possibility. Back then it was little more than a hobby. I scribbled the beginnings of dozens of short stories in a leather-bound notebook, never quite getting around to finishing much of anything. Throughout my childhood, I’d progressed from military and spy thrillers, to horror, and then to fantasy after a life-changing five-day first read-through of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. From there, I devoured every fantasy series I could find at the local used book store. Sometime around the 9th grade, I discovered the Beat Generation and literary fiction. I was a chubby, awkward, and shy teen; and books were my great escape from the drudgery of high school life for the unpopular and uninterested.
In the middle of my teens, I discovered rock climbing. At first, I went to the indoor climbing gym whenever my mom would take me. Then I was going alone, and before long I was working shifts after school and on weekends. When I quit university and didn’t know what to do with myself, I started working at the gym full time. When I wasn’t working, I was off climbing outside. When I wasn’t doing either, I was probably at home and completely lost in a novel. Around this time, let’s say my very early twenties, I’d gotten a ride to the climbing gym with a friend of mine. We pulled up to the building, but instead of unbuckling his seatbelt and opening his door, he just sat there. If we’d been a couple, I’d have worried this was the moment he was going to break up with me. It was that weird. I sat there waiting for him to say what he had to say, and then he looked at me and said, “So you read… for fun, huh?”
I looked at him and said, “Yeah?”
He nodded his head, said, “Cool,” then got out of the car like nothing had happened.
Why am I sharing this anecdote? Because it was a very clear reminder of just how difficult it was for some people to wrap their heads around the idea that someone would read a book after their teachers were no longer forcing them do it. Weird conversation? Yes. At the time, it made me reluctant to be open about my enthusiasm for reading. Many years later, I’d come to see it a different way. Enthusiastic readers are a community. People who read similar genres have an instant connection. We can talk about our favourite books and characters for hours if no one interrupts us. The deeper into that rabbit hole you go, the more fierce the love of books gets. No one understands a true book lover like another book lover. Once I understood how big a role fiction played in my life, I knew I wanted to create some of it myself. I’ve never felt drawn to any career except this one. I did my best to ignore it for a decade, because people don’t just become authors. Buying lottery tickets is a better career plan than attempting to write fiction for a living. Everybody knows this. Or at least, they think they do. The publishing landscape has changed dramatically. First-time authors landing contracts with traditional publishers are getting paid less than ever before (barring a few minor breakout exceptions) and the competition is fiercer than ever.
Thankfully, in 2010, the tipping point for independently published authors tilted into a positive light. Sure, there’s still plenty of prejudice against indie authors, but there are also people out there publishing work that’s as good, if not better than what’s being put out by the old guard of big corporate publishers. Amazon’s KDP program opened the doors to people like me, who’d prefer not to hand over 85% of my royalties to a publisher who still expects the author to do the lion’s share of self-promotion. People are buying ebooks in droves, and they’re making it more possible than ever for someone to make a respectable living as an author. Getting back to my journey, I didn’t know any of this back in 2010 when I quit my job to write a literary road trip novel that never made it past the midpoint of a first draft. I struggled with endings, partially due to a lack of confidence, but largely because I was trying to write in a genre that wasn’t something I truly loved. When I finally went out looking for my local community of writers, I ignored my gut and dove into the literary world. There’s a lot of great work being done out there under the literary genre, but it never felt quite right to me, you know? I was surrounded by people who loved prose above story, who attended poetry readings, and who wanted to obsess over theme and motif more than they wanted to care about characters. Yet again, I felt out of place among people who were supposed to be my peers.
Flash forward a few years, and fantasy snuck into my room late one night to sink its claws back into me after years of trying to pretend it didn’t exist. Hooked on authors like Rothfuss and Lynch, I still wanted something a little more. I loved the magical elements of these fantasy novels enough to write a few drafts of some classic fantasy novels, but nothing really stuck. That’s when I discovered a wizard named Harry Dresden. Love him or hate him, Dresden is the entry point for so many urban fantasy readers. I was no exception, and the idea that fantasy could be set in modern times grabbed me by the throat and refused to let go. I took a deep dive into the worlds that branched off from there. What fantasy offered me was wonderful escapism from my annoying managers, stupid political discussions on Facebook, and that guy at the back of the line who jammed his fully loaded cart in front of me off in the grocery store when the cashier clearly called “I can take whoever’s next.” You know that guy, right? I hate that guy. When I was lost in a great fantasy series, I didn’t have to think about those things anymore. The real magic, however, came from reading about the fantastical and supernatural in the very same world I had to live in every day. Not only can I curl up with a blanket and a great book to shut my brain off for a while, I can also choose to believe in the magic hiding just out of sight every time I leave the house. Urban fantasy in all its forms brings that much-needed spark to a world that so often feels dull and gray.
And that brings us mostly up to the present day. I published Black Magic on June 23rd, 2016, just days before the birth of my first child. The resulting chaos of being a new father set me back a bit, so the sequel, Black Market, didn’t make it out until February 3rd, 2017. In theory, I like to take photos, hike, fly fish, and do other fun things; but these days I pretty much just write books all day, spend time with my wife and daughter, then try to read for an hour or two before collapsing into bed at 10:30pm. It may not be exciting or glamorous to an outsider, but I’m writing books I love for a living, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
Author Note: This long bio has not been updated since early 2017.