1:1 - Mark Killian

Posted on: August 28, 2014

Interviewed by Sam Chow
Over the next few weeks, 1:1000 will take you behind the scenes with our core writing and editorial team. We'll show you more about what makes these writers tick (or maybe twitch).

This week we sit down with Mark Killian, a copywriter by trade who not only writes for a living, but spends his free time gracing us with his eclectic collection of stories, such as “Go Deep,” “Golfonomics," and his most recent addition, "Put a Blue Ribbon on My Brain," which are as likely to make you laugh as they are to make you cry.

1:1000: Why writing?

MARK KILLIAN: There are many reasons, but I think Roger Federer summed it up best when he spoke to a bunch of bankers at the Credit Suisse headquarters. To paraphrase, he said the key to success is focusing on your strengths, not trying to overcome your weaknesses. Scholastically (and in other areas of my life) I have many weaknesses, but I've never had a problem completing a writing assignment. Damn the SATs for implementing the written portion AFTER my graduation.

1:1000: You clearly draw a great deal of inspiration from Roger Federer and Stephen Colbert, what is it about them that inspires you? Do you have any writer idols?

MK: Roger and Stephen (we're on a first name basis (in my dreams)) are blueprints for the man I hope to become. I'm not foolish enough to think I will ever come anywhere near their personal or professional successes, but as the 4th Earl of Chesterfield Philip Stanhope (thanks Google) once said, "Aim at perfection in everything, though in most things it is unattainable. However, they who aim at it, and persevere, will come much nearer to it than those whose laziness and despondency make them give it up as unattainable." I think Rog and Steph are about as close to perfection as humans can get. They love their jobs, their wives, their families, and they're surprisingly humble for people who have accomplished such greatness in their fields. Plus, Colbert's from coastal South Carolina. Before him, the only famous person I could relate to (geographically) was Vanna White. As far as writers are concerned, many of the greats have horrible personal lives. All of them seem to be divorced or mentally tormented or struggling to overcome some kind of addiction. There are many writers I admire for their style and accomplishments, but I reserve the word "idol" for people who embody the total package.

1:1000: In addition to 1:1000, you make a living as a copywriter. Writing clearly takes up a lot of your time and your mind, so what inspires your writing? How do you avoid writer’s block?

MK: Talking to myself. I don't have "voices in my head" in a The Shining sense of the word, but my brain can sometimes feel like a crowded coffee shop. I hear all of my thoughts bouncing off one another as if I were reading my own mind, especially when I give my brain a topic to ruminate on. That's the beauty of the 1:1000 concept. I'll look at a picture, the "voices" will start chattering, and I'll follow the "voice" that I feel is saying the most interesting things. The same goes for a work assignment. As long as my head is talking, I'll continue to write down what it has to say. (Disclaimer: I've never been psychoanalyzed, so there is a chance that was just the rantings of a mad man.)

1:1000: Um…so what are the voices telling you now Mark?

MK: They are telling me I have the right to remain silent.

1:1000: You’ve written stories ranging from social commentary (e.g., “Roses”) to more humor-heavy tales (like “Pissed”), how would you describe your writing?

MK: Once again, it's the voices. Sometimes the funny ones are the loudest (“Pissed”), sometimes it's the sincere ones (“Roses”), and sometimes it's a mixture of both (“Hokey Pokey”). I'm just their stenographer.

1:1000: How do you choose the photographs for your stories?

MK: For the most part, I leave it up to the voices. And yes, I'm aware the voices thing is getting old, but I can't help it. It's the truth. Anyways, I usually go to our Stories to Be Pinterest board or Flickr and scroll through until the voices see something they like. However, there have been a few occasions (like with “Pissed”), when the story came first.

1:1000: What's a day in the life of Mark Killian look like?

MK: Monday through Friday, a day in the life of Mark Killian would bore you to tears. I am extremely dull and regimented. I eat the same three meals at the same times every day. I wake up, I go to work, I exercise, I Hangout (virtually) with my Lady, and I go to sleep. I am the personification of my favorite quote from The Picture of Dorian Gray, "Good artists exist in what they make, and consequently are perfectly uninteresting in what they are." On the weekends, I'm a little more willy nilly. I hang out (physically) with my girlfriend, watch movies, and eat nitrates. I'm a real daredevil.

1:1000: The protagonist of "Finding Faith at 10,000 Feet" also seems like he would be the type to avoid nitrates. Is that story, or are any of your stories, autobiographical?

MK: The most autobiographical story I've ever written was either “Pissed” or “Put a Blue Ribbon on My Brain," although, they were slightly embellished for comedic effect. “Finding Faith” was close, minus the decision to fly to New York for a second opinion. I find that humorous stories are easiest to draw from real-life experiences, because I've had a pretty plush life. The hardships I've faced would make anyone with real problems laugh, so I laugh along with them.

1:1000: What does a hypochondriac do for fun?

MK: What DOESN'T a hypochondriac do for fun!? (Most things.) Lately, I've been having a blast on this website/app called GoodGuide. They've taken over 200,000 consumer goods and rated them according to their impact on your health, the environment, and society. As a hypochondriac, I mostly use it for health. Fun fact: pretty much all hand soaps want to give you cancer. Don't believe me? Go to GoodGuide. Then, of course, there's always the WebMD Symptoms Checker. HOURS of fun. And by "fun" I mean crippling anxiety, but it's the kind of rush I used to get from haunted houses.

1:1000: Other than listening to voices inside their heads, do you have any advice for those out there who want to write, but are too afraid to take the plunge?

MK: Do it. Seriously. It's that simple. Writing, like all art, is subjective. I have read books that make me think, "How in the hell did this get published!?" But that's just one man's opinion. There's always going to be someone who thinks you suck. Like Federer said, focus on your strengths. Don't try to win over the people who think you suck. Just try to please the people who think you're talented, even if it's just one guy named Sam Chow who has read every piece of grammatically incorrect and misspelled crap you've typed since high school.

Sam: Aww! I get a shout out?

Mark: Of course! Anyone who read the "poetry" that came out of my first "heartbreak" deserves a humanitarian award.

Sam: You were painfully emo.

Mark: I will cause you pain the next time I see you.

Sam: Nothing can hurt worse than those poems.

Mark: Valid point.

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