Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Strike three. Are you out?

Just so you know, I'm never going to be able to sustain this all the way to twenty.

3) Have you been outed? Did you out yourself? Are you out with everyone, or only with people you know are cool? Are you even out with yourself? Are you a writer? Do you call yourself a writer in public? Do you tell other people what you do when you're sitting alone in front of your computer?

On the surface, this may seem related to my recent question about whether or not you let your family read your writing. In reality, I know there are people who let family read their writing, who even let strangers read their writing (some of them are published), but who aren't comfortable calling themselves writers.

I know writers who are quite comfortable with the job title when they are online, but would never dream of putting Writer on a their voter registration, or telling their kid's school that they write for a living. I remember reading an essay on Anne Frasier's Static, where she mentally kicked herself for not speaking up after a post office employee gave her a snide, "Writing the great American novel?" when she mailed a manuscript to her publisher. Anne has written nineteen novels (19!) - but just smiled and nodded to the obnoxious postman.

Other writers produce thousands of words a week for their blogs, but insist they aren't really writers. Some writers who have produced scores of short stories - and even novels - will preface their comments on the art and craft of writing with, "I'm not really qualified to answer, I'm not a real writer."

"Long before I published my first book I decided that I wasn't going to devalue my work--which is really myself-- just becasue it wasn't earning any money. I really went through a lot of psychological work to fight off that desperate feeling and make sure that I understood that no matter how bleak it seemed, my work was still worthy of respect and I wasn't going to sell myself short."
- Sara Gran, author of the novels Saturn's Return to New York, Come Closer, and Dope.


I understand the feeling. Many years ago, when I first got out of the army, and before I discovered how hard it was to make a living writing, I started writing and publishing a political newsletter.

My ex-wife and I had built a house that backed up to farmland. Bird hunters frequently fired shotguns inside a stand of trees about a hundred yards behind our house, and since I was both a veteran and a farm boy I didn't give it much thought.

One afternoon, as my oldest son and I loaded boxes of newsletters into the trunk of my car for a trip to the post office, I heard a rifle shot, followed by the distinctive szzzzzzip of a bullet slicing through the air above me. I knew it was no shotgun, and I also knew that whoever fired that rifle had just endangered my family, so I called the Sheriff's office. The deputy that responded combed the woods and found that the shooter had gone, and then he came back to take my statement.

He wondered how I was so sure of the difference between the sound of a shotgun and a rifle.

"What do you do for a living?" he asked.

"I'm a writer," I said.

I was over thirty, but still had a baby face, and was undoubtedly more pompous than my fledgling career could ever justify. I'm sure the deputy already had his doubts when my oldest son, who was not yet 10, said, "I thought you were in the army?"

The deputy snickered.

It took me years to work up the courage to tell anyone else I was writer.


Do you have the confidence to call yourself a writer? If not, why not? Are you published? Will getting published make you a real writer?

When I started my freelance career, I hit my stride immediately, and I think - No, I know - that early success gave me the confidence to own the title: Writer. This afternoon a salesman admiring my attire (a sport coat and jeans) said, "I wish I could dress like that. What you do for a living?"

"I'm a writer," I said, and I realized I was telling the truth. I am a writer.

Are you?

Mark Pettus,
Tuesday, March 28, 2006


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Saturday, March 25, 2006

20 Questions? Here's Number 2:

Oh, great. Now I have a visual of Tom Arnold saying, "Show that turd who's boss." (a scene from Austin Powers) Let's just give that a courtesy flush and move on.


2) How do you, as a writer, deal with your family?

Two weeks ago my daughter found my website while showing her students how to research their families online. She left a comment here on the blog. Later that day, my mom commented. Mom has had the link for months, and shared it with most of the extended family. I'm sure many of them occasionally read my blog. My daughter, my oldest son, my mom, and most of my brothers have read Transit Gloria.

From the comments on Number 1:

Tanya said, "I cringe about... the love scenes I write. Just thinking about my agent and NY editors reading them makes me nervous. It's embarrassing."

Dana said, "...the only folks who ever complained were my own family. They take everything I write as if it really happened to me somehow."

Cece said, "I have written a book (it's not done) that I KNOW will catch me a ton of flack from my family. Do I care? Some."

Kitty added this, "My mother read my short story You Won't Tell, Will You Rigby? and was shocked- SHOCKED! - that the woman turned to prostitution to help pay the rent."


"Where did you ever get such an idea?"
"It's fiction, Mom!"
"But good Lord, you had her do THAT?"
"You're outraged that she turned to prostitution but you weren't shocked that she killed a man?"
"No, because he deserved it!"




I try to be fearless when I write. I don't make my narrator (my protagonist, my POV character) look like a comic book hero. They have inappropriate relationships, dark, hidden desires, and occasionally do things that shock even themselves. All of those things find themselves torn from somewhere deep inside my psyche and placed on the page. I'm not a murderer, but I can find the emotions that make a murderer not too far under the surface. Sometimes it's frightening, sometimes it's embarassing, and sometimes it's just damned weird - "Where the hell did that come from?"

It's hard enough to share those things with strangers, but sharing them with friends and family? Cringe

My family has decided they are all characters in my books.

In One scene in Transit Gloria, John Mallory discovers Reno Sanders having sex inside a car in a public park. When a woman slides over the front seat into the back, John doesn't recognize her, but is amazed to see she is wearing nothing but pantyhose - in a public park - in the middle of the day.

My mom told me that when she read the scene she was trying to remember if she ever did anything like that. She added that she wasn't sure she wanted her grandkids to read my book. One of my brothers hasn't spoken to me since he picked up his copy of my book. I'm not sure there is a cause and effect relationship, but I have to wonder. I also wonder if my family has realized that if they are the characters they think they are, then one of us is a murderer... hmmmm.

How do you deal with family? Do you not let them read your writing? Do you tailor your writing to their sensibilities? Do you just lay it all out on the table?

"That's how you become great, man. You hang your balls out there."

-Kinko's Guy, Jerry Maguire (stolen from Agent 007's blog - she's back)



p.s. Here's an invitation to check out my photography. The key to great photography is taking hundreds of pictures, but maybe showing the public just one - isn't writing a bit like that, as well?

Mark Pettus,
Saturday, March 25, 2006


24 comments so far. Thank you, Blogger kitty, Blogger serenity, Blogger Lady M, Blogger Bernita, Blogger Amie Stuart, Blogger Michele, Blogger anne frasier, Blogger Jeff, Blogger anne frasier, Blogger M. G. Tarquini, Blogger Dennie McDonald, Blogger Mark Pettus, Blogger Mark Pettus, Blogger Shesawriter, Blogger Adam Hurtubise, Blogger Moni, Blogger S. W. Vaughn, Blogger Mark Pettus, Blogger Dennie McDonald, Blogger Candice Gilmer, Anonymous alexandra, Blogger Amie Stuart, Blogger Lisa Coutant, Blogger Savannah Jordan,


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Thursday, March 23, 2006

Lets play 20 questions. Here's number 1:

Just for the record, I've been busy. Really busy. I need a vacation. A long vacation. Far away.





I've got a few questions for you to ponder.

This week I've been inundated with letters, emails, and phone calls from readers taking me to task for an article I wrote last week about a family that enjoys hunting big game, and has a house full of trophies - lions, leopards, hippos, etc.

The readers who are writing me seem to equate my authorship of the story with an endorsement of the activity.



"...the fact that you would highlight this in your paper only show that your paper is uncaring for our world."

I know this has happened to fiction writers. Stephen King wrote about being blamed for his characters' behavior - from their language, to their treatment of animals, to their blasphemy- in his book, On Writing.

Has it ever happened to you?

Have you written anything that you think will stir up resentment or controversy, and how will you handle it when it comes?

Mark Pettus,
Thursday, March 23, 2006


31 comments so far. Thank you, Blogger jason evans, Blogger Bernita, Blogger Erik Ivan James, Blogger Adam Hurtubise, Blogger Mark Pettus, Blogger S. R. Hatcher, Blogger Shesawriter, Blogger serenity, Blogger Jeff, Blogger anne frasier, Blogger Dana Y. T. Lin, Blogger Bernita, Blogger Mark Pettus, Blogger Amie Stuart, Blogger Bernita, Blogger kitty, Blogger M. G. Tarquini, Blogger Mark Pettus, Blogger kitty, Blogger Lady M, Blogger Amie Stuart, Blogger Mark Pettus, Blogger Kelly Parra, Blogger Rene, Blogger Mayden's Voyage, Blogger Mark Pettus, Blogger kitty, Blogger September, Blogger Dawno, Blogger Joanne D. Kiggins, Blogger Lisa Coutant,


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Friday, March 10, 2006

Bits and Pieces


Has anyone else noticed how good Jeff Neale is? He's quiet and unassuming, and he looks like a refugee from a Norman Rockwell painting, but he puts his characters through challenges that didn't exist in Norman Rockwell's utopia, and he does it using clean, unadorned language. Jeff has the ability to make a character whole with an economy of words that I find astounding. I was a fan the first time I read one of his stories, and I continue to be impressed. Check him out.

The Question of Laura - One of my favorites.

The Write Thing - Its not just for Novel Blurbing anymore.


My daughter is a school teacher, and was showing her students how to research their family lineage online when she typed my name into Google, and... here she is. She saw my comments about her on the blue cheese sauce post, and responded. Her students think she is just pretending I'm her dad - maybe because I'm too young and good looking to have a daughter old enough to teach school ;) . She teaches English as a second language, so it's entirely possible her students - recent immigrants - don't realize I am NOT a famous author. Yet. Knock on wood.


We Were the Mulvaneys by Joyce Carol Oates
Former Oprah Book Club selection

In the long lost past, before I finished Transit Gloria, I entered a writing contest, and used one of the chapters from Transit Gloria - much revised - as my entry. I didn't win, but I did receive some nice feedback. One of the people who critiqued my entry told me that my writing reminded her of We Were the Mulvaneys. She liked my voice, and my plain-spoken story telling. I'm not a member of Oprah's book club, and I wasn't familiar with the book (I didn't even know who wrote it), but I hated the title, and incorrectly assumed she was comparing my work to some syrupy latter day story about the Waltons.

I know I shouldn't ass-u-me, but at the time I was stinging from my defeat, and not in the right mindset for her praise or critique. (An admission: before I finished Transit Gloria, I had never received a rejection letter. The first contest I entered, I won. Every article I submitted was published. Those were the good old days.) Recently I stumbled across Oates's book, and got quite a pleasant surprise.

The title comes from the idea that the Mulvaneys are no longer who they once were, as in, "Remember us? We were the Mulvaneys." Their family is almost perfect, a great dad, a loving mom, three sons, and a daughter that they all dote on. The daughter, Marianne, is raped on Valentines Day, 1976, and the town looks the other way. Their world falls apart. The story explores how the entire family is affected by the assault, and how each of them struggles as a result, until they all eventually find their way back to each other, to love and to heal.

The story is about people, but it is also about time - in the 1970s date-rape was almost never prosecuted, and it is about place - small town, America. The youngest son is a newspaperman, and his graceful, uncluttered language recounts the family's history.

I felt an odd resonance as I read about We Were the Mulvaneys. You all know that I'm a newspaperman, and Transit Gloria is mostly straight forward story telling. It's about a family, and how they are all impacted by things that happen to just one - adultery, divorce, murder, and by one family member's homosexuality. Ultimately, they are torn apart, and it takes years for them to come back together. Time and place also have roles in my story - Gloria, Texas is a small town in the 1970s, a bucolic dreamland with a dark, paranoid underbelly - not the best time and place to be homosexual, or divorced, or any of a hundred other things that people thought you should be ashamed of.

I wish I knew how to get in touch with the woman who compared my writing to We Were the Mulvaneys. She said some very nice things about me, and I didn't even know it. I'd like to say thank you.

Mark Pettus,
Friday, March 10, 2006


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Sunday, March 05, 2006

Who writes short shorts?

I don't often write short fiction, but I have a piece up at Fictional Musings. Let me know what you think.

Mark Pettus,
Sunday, March 05, 2006


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Thursday, March 02, 2006

I've got those dirty, low down, blue cheese blues...

After I mentioned my steak with blue cheese sauce a few weeks ago, several of you asked me for the recipe. It's a remarkably easy recipe to make, and I often serve it at dinner parties because it is simple, delicious, and looks awesome on the plate. Bon Apetit.

Grill your steak. Use a thick steak. It matters. Trust me. Heavily marbled, full of fat. It will kill you, but you should already know that no one gets out this world alive.

If you like your steaks rare or medium rare like I do, I recommend cooking over an open flame. If you have a charcoal grill, set your grill several inches above the coals, and use real mesquite, hickory, or oak (if you don't have firewood, or your grill isn't very large, you can usually buy wood chips at the grocers). Cook when the flames are dancing. This will char the outside of your meat, but leave the inside pink and juicy. If you want your steak well done, don't use open flames because the outside will burn long before the meat gets done. You can add wet wood chips on top of your coals to get the smoky flavor.

To make the sauce, you'll need some freshly chopped chives, a clove of garlic, a cup of blue cheese (8oz.), and two cups of heavy cream. If your grocer doesn't carry heavy cream, look for whipping cream. Not whipped cream, certainly not non-dairy whipped topping, but cream. It will come in paper milk carton. I've never used half-n-half, but if that is all you can find, add a stick of melted butter to the sauce at it heats, and you should be fine. Butter. Not margarine. It matters.

I was once a saute chef, and I still like to use a hot saute pan (round bottomed frying pan or skillet) to start my sauce. You can start with a cool pan, but it will take longer, and you will need to mind your sauce to avoid burning the cream. I pour the cream into the saute pan, and when it is hot (if you start with a hot pan, this won't take long), I add the crumbled cheese, the freshly chopped chives (about an 1/8 cup), and the entire clove of diced garlic. Toss (stir) until the cheese is melted, then pour over your steak, and serve hot.

For a truly Texas twist, you can substitute freshly chopped cilantro for the chives, and add a teaspoon of diced jalapeno. I recommend using mesquite chips when you do this version of the sauce.

I know this has happened to some of you, but its a first for me - an agent I queried handed my query off to another agent. The second agent wrote and asked me to send her some sample chapters. I've got a good feeling about this one.

Enjoy your steak. May I recommend a fine petit sarah to accompany your meal?

p.s. Have any of you read We Were the Mulvaneys by Joyce Carol Oates?

Mark Pettus,
Thursday, March 02, 2006


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