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A Mythical Country Not Found on Any Map: An Interview with Mark Budman, author of The Shape-Shifter’s Guide to Time Travel 

Feel like social distancing to another place and time? If so, Mark Budman is your man. Budman’s new novel, The Shape-Shifter’s Guide to Time Travel, transports readers to the world of Temnota as its two heroes shape-shift through time and space. Fantasy fans will enjoy the ride.  Purchase your copy here.  


Budman recently shared his thoughts with Cease, Cows.      

Chuck Augello: The Shape-Shifter’s Guide to Time Travel features alternating first-person narrators, Gavrilo and Rose. Tell us about them.   

Mark Budman: Gavrilo is a rebel, a troublemaker, an elite shape-shifter and the descendant of the ancient kings. He can turn himself into anything or everything, and have fun at that. He was born and raised in Temnota, the last totalitarian country of Europe, and is both happy and unhappy about it. He’s happy because it’s the only place in the world where people can shift shapes, and unhappy because it’s the most oppressive place in the known universe. 

Rose is a half-American, half-Temnotian, a time traveler, a sharp-tongued know-it-all, and the best friend you can have. She can take someone back in time with her, but she has a skin disease she’s ashamed of. She teams up with Gavrilo to free a captured rebel leader. This leader is also a shape-shifter, but her powers are rendered null and void by poisons gas. Gavrilo and Rose go back in time to find an antidote to that gas.

Gavrilo and Rose fall in love but can’t touch each other. That makes their love life a bit complicated. And Senior Major Gadinski from the secret police, also a shape-shifter, complicates their lives even further.

CA: Fantasy novels usually contain a strong element of world-building. The Shape-Shifter’s Guide introduces us to Temnota. What were some of the challenges of creating a new setting?   

MB: Temnota is a mythical country not found on any map. If you google the word, you’d come up with darkness and gloom. That’s the best way to describe this country, oppressive and poor, the Hermit Kingdom of the West, yet the country that thinks high about itself. The challenge was how to satirize it through the young people’s eyes without making it cartoonish. Another challenge was not to make it a look-alike to every other made-up totalitarian country (e.g. Hunger Games). 

CA: The novel features two young protagonists, yet offers frequent observations that should appeal to older readers as well. Is there a specific target audience? 

MB: My goal is to broaden the novel’s readership as much as possible. There is no age limit left or right, up or down. You can be any age, gender, political orientation, and have or have not fantastic abilities, and still enjoy the book. The book has rebels and oppressors, past and future, love and hate, fantasy and reality, but, above all, it’s fun. 

CA: Occasional chapters are written in third-person, and focus on Senior Major Gadinski. How does he impact the story?    

MB: I was debating with myself about that. I thought to make the arch-enemy of Rose and Gavrilo and all the rebels to speak in the first-person as well, but decided that he’s too evil for that. Evil can’t be first. Evil is contagious and has to be regulated to third class. 

CA: What attracted you toward writing a fantasy novel? Tell us about the initial inspiration.  

MB: I’m mostly a flash fiction writer, and my usual protagonists are adults. But I was always in love with magic realism. So I thought, if I had 50-50 mixture of magic and realism so far, why not to try 80-20 magic-to-realism mixture? Changing ingredients adds zest to food. The same is true for the literature. Fantasy removes boundaries and let’s your imagination soar. 

CA: If you could time travel yourself, which historical period would you most like to visit?  

MB: That’s a tough question. So many periods would compete for my attention. But if I had only one to choose for the past, it would be 587 B.C., when a Babylonian army under King Nebuchadnezzar II conquered Jerusalem. I’d love to know, what happened to the Ark of the Covenant? If my machine would have enough juice to go to the future, I’d want to see how this universe will end, on a happy or sad note? 

CA: Finally, there’s no shortage of ways to spend one’s time. Why do you choose to write fiction?

MB: Because it’s my destiny. I was born under the star of fiction in the constellation of Writing. I write fiction since the invention of the alphabet. I don’t see me doing anything else (other than publishing what other people write).       

Chuck Augello (Contributing Editor) lives in New Jersey with his wife, dog, two cats, and several cows that refuse to cease. His work has appeared in One StoryJukedHobartSmokeLong Quarterly, and other fine places. He publishes The Daily Vonnegut and contributes interviews to The Review Review

Full Disclosure: Cease Cows contributing editor Chuck Augello is soon releasing a novel with Black Rose Writing, publisher of The Shape-Shifter’s Guide to Time Travel. Mark Budman published the story “Randy” by Chuck Augello in The Vestal Review in 2018.