CAREER: Journalist and novelist. Rolling Stone magazine, media colunnist.
(With Cameron Stauth) The Sweeps: Behind the Scenes in Network TV, Bantam Books (New York, NY), 1985.
Mortal Belladaywic, Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1987.
Aloha, Simon and Schuster (New York, NY), 1994.
Build the Perfect Beast: The Quest to Design theCoolest Car Ever Made, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2001, published as Super Car: The Story of the Xeno, 2003.
SIDELIGHTS: With insider knowledge gained from his years as a media columnist for Rolling Stone magazine, Mark Christensen, along with co-writer Cameron Stauth, looks into television ratings in The Sweeps: Behind the Scenes in Network TV. The authors portray the process of program selection by focusing on the 1983-84 NBC season. The book is the end result of over 200 interviews with producers, directors, writers, actors, network management, and some journalists. Interviewees tell their own stories in their own words, allowing all the anxiety, pressure, and endemic insecurity of the business to surface. The authors also explain how the networks use the Nielsen Sweeps to make their final decisions on the life or death of new programming. As Barbara Zelenko wrote in Library Journal, "The authors provide much useful information about the TV business—on preparing and pitching a pilot to the networks, the anguished waiting for ratings during 'sweeps week,' and the enormous amount of money that hangs on the whole process."
Christensen's first novel, Mortal Belladaywic, according to a Publishers Weekly contributor, "offers snippets of SF, courtroom drama, detective fiction and modern angst just barely held together by an antihero who is himself coming apart at the seams." "Bear" Belladaywic is a professional wrestler turner lawyer whose client Joey Holtzman, a punk rocker, has been charged with killing two undercover police officers during a drug deal gone awry that is eventually shown to be part of a huge conspiracy with political connections. To make matters more difficult, Belladaywic faces his own father, a well-known lawyer, as opposing counsel in the courtroom. In a review for Booklist, Mary Ellen Quinn noted, "Though Christensen's prose isn't always as accessible as one might wish, readers will still enjoy this picaresque novel and its distinctive characters."
Aloha, which focuses on a post-apocalyptic society set in the near future, received a mixed critical response. A contributor to Kirkus Reviews wrote that "the vocabulary is abstruse, the sentences (those that have verbs) curt, and the narrative labyrinthine." While voicing some of the same opinion, Sheila Riley, writing in Library Journal, nonetheless concluded: "Dense with neo-slang, futuristic conceptualizations, and the high tech jargon of numbered weaponry and vehicles, this is a tough read, but it may be prized of fans of SF or speculative fiction."
Build the Perfect Beast: The Quest to Design the Coolest Car Ever Made is the story of Christensen's five-year effort to fulfill his childhood dream of building the perfect hot rod. Growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, Christensen wanted to drive a high-performance street machine. As a high school and college student, however, he lacked the talent and money required to put together his dream vehicle, and he never made it past tearing down a car to building it back up. Then he met Nick Pugh, a talented young designer who has since gone on to bigger successes. The dream car Mark and Nick set out to build is the Xeno, a million-dollar, one-of-a-kind fantasy on wheels. The book details the ups and downs—mostly brief ups followed by prolonged downs—of their efforts. Christensen, by no means an engineer, has vision to spare, while Pugh, the designer, refuses to let engineering realities interfere with his vision. They put themselves into debt financing the car, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars of their own, and of investors', money trying to make the car work. The book is less a story of personal triumph than of the weary reality of chasing a dream; in the end, the car is built, but not the way anybody planned, and not the way anybody wanted.
Along with the engineering, design, and financial issues that haunt the protagonists, Christensen also weaves his own biography into the story, describing his lifelong dream of driving hotrods from grade school through the present. A Kirkus reviewer called Build the Perfect Beast a "joyous ride down the rocky road of modern car design, with a pack of inspired lunatics." The book was republished in 2003 as Super Car: The Story of the Xeno.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, June 15, 1987, Mary Ellen Quinn, review of Mortal Belladaywic, p. 1561; July, 2001, David Rouse, review of Build the Perfect Beast: The Quest to Design the Coolest Car Ever Made, p. 1963.
California, October, 1984, Jon Carroll, review of TheSweeps: Behind the Scenes in Network TV, p. 64.
Choice, January, 1985, J. C. Weber, review of TheSweeps, p. 674.
Kirkus Reviews, May 1, 1987, review of Mortal Belladaywic, p. 680; June 1, 1994, review of Aloha, p. 712; August 15, 2001, review of Build the Perfect Beast, p. 1183.
Library Journal, September 1, 1984, Barbara Zelenko, review of The Sweeps, p. 1670; July 2, 1994, Sheila Riley, review of Aloha, p. 125; August, 2001, review of Build the Perfect Beast, p. 155.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, December 2, 1984, David Crook, review of The Sweeps, p. 16.
New York Times Book Review, November 11, 1984, John J. O'Connor, review of The Sweeps, p. 33; September 20, 1987, Paul Rudnick, review of Mortal Belladaywic, p. 15.
Publishers Weekly, July 13, 1984, review of TheSweeps, p. 40; May 29, 1987, review of Mortal Belladaywic, p. 65; June 13, 1994, review of Aloha, p. 50; November 5, 2001, Build the Perfect Beast, p. 58.
Rapport, autumn, 1994, Daniel C. Schatzman, review of Aloha, p. 125.
TV Guide, February 23, 1985, Neil Hickey, review of The Sweeps, p. 38.
Wall Street Journal, February 11, 1985, Bill Abrams, review of The Sweeps, p. 21.*