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

10 comments so far. Thank you, Blogger Kelly Parra, Blogger anne frasier, Blogger Jess Riley, Blogger Jeff, Blogger Moni, Blogger Mark Pettus, Blogger Jeff, Blogger serenity, Blogger Shesawriter, Blogger Lady M,

Let me know what you think

Leave a comment


at 11:39 PM Blogger Kelly Parra said...

Jeff quiet and unassuming?? Are we talking about the same guy? Oh wait, good writing, yeah that's the Jeff I know. ;)

That's great you remembered the woman's comment and finally came across the book and discovered it was a compliment she gave you. Transit really sounds like an deeply emotional story. I can't wait until it sells. =)

at 11:23 AM Blogger anne frasier said...

kelly, i had a bit of the same reaction. i think jeff has probably tugged a few ponytails in his life. :D

but the description does also fit in an odd way. especially with the way he presents his writing.

i never read we were the mulvaneys, but if Joyce Carol Oates wrote it it has to be good. i went on an Oates binge back in the eighties -- she is amazing. and yes, not what you think if you haven't read her. and she's written everything, almost all genres. to be compared to her would be the highest praise.
when the mulvaneys came out, i was living on a farm in a rural community. new york editors were always trying to get me to write some sweet book about the charm and sweet quaintness of smalltown farm life since i had to be living it. give me a break. small towns are vicious.

at 2:45 PM Blogger Jess Riley said...

Your story sounds fantastic! I'll be looking for it. :)

And thanks for reminding me to return to Jeff's blog.

Great site!

at 4:40 PM Blogger Jeff said...

WOW! I'm not sure what to say except thank you so much. I'm flattered and very humbled by your comments. You've not only made my day, but my entire WEEK! I'm still smiling. Thanks again, Mark. :)

btw- Your short story, "Requiem for a Rose" posted at Fictional Musings is most impressive. I'm looking forward to reading Transit Gloria. :)

at 10:56 PM Blogger Moni said...

"Jeff has the ability to make characters whole using an economy of words that I find astounding."

I could learn a lesson in word economy. I certainly will check out Jeff's writing, sounds wonderful.

I think I will read We Were the Mulvaney's.

Transit Gloria sounds like an intense trip through the human condition. I can't wait to read it. :)

at 8:38 AM Blogger Mark Pettus said...

Jeff - Have you been picking on the ladies? You seem to have a reputation I was unaware of.

Kelly - I can't wait til it sells either.

Anne - They say you can never go home. I wonder why you'd try.

Jess - Welcome, and thank you.

Moni - If you do read WWTM, share your impressions.

at 9:35 AM Blogger Jeff said...

"Have you been picking on the ladies? You seem to have a reputation I was unaware of?"

Mark- Hopefully, I haven't given the wrong impression, and they are simply referring to my outgoing personality and sometimes silly sense of humor. I certainly have my times of quiet reflection.
And for the record, I only pulled one pigtail that I remember, and that was Yvonne's in the first grade, and it was only because I wanted her to like me. LOL

at 2:07 PM Blogger serenity said...

Dammit, Mark, I want to read your book. It sounds like it's right up my alley!

I entered one of those chapter contests last year, submitting the prologue to The Left Hand. Yup, the same chunk you so graciously commented upon. One of the judges responded, "Vampires? Drug addicts? Yuck!"

I liked your response to it much better. :)

at 8:25 PM Blogger Shesawriter said...

Since when is Jeff quiet? ROFLMAO! That photo may make him appear as innocent as peach pie, but there's mischief lurking beneath the surface! (g)


at 5:45 AM Blogger Lady M said...

I, too, have to get my daily dose of Jeff. LMAO!

Thanks for mentioning him, I'm glad other writers can call it like they see it!

Lady M


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