Wednesday, February 28, 2007

This is ground control to Major Tom

Here am I floating on my tin can,
far from the world.



Actually, I'm sitting at my dining room table, hiding from the world. My antenna is up, and I'm still receiving signals, but I'm afraid my transmitter is working only sporadically. I seldom have the time, and when I have the time, I lack the motivation, so I don't - blog that is, not about swimming pools, nor movie stars.

My life: I'm still working full time for that big, unnamed newspaper in the South (actually I work for a mid-sized weekly news magazine/tabloid that is published jointly by the Florida Times-Union, and the St. Augustine Record). Because of our magazine-like format, I get to exercise my creative skills and my photographic muscles a lot more than the average newspaper reporter.

Last week I shot and wrote a cover story about the St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park, and its efforts to protect the extremely endangered Chinese Alligator. There are less than 120 of these animals still alive in the wild, quite possibly making them the most endangered vertebrate species on earth. To shoot the story, I had to go into the pens with the gators. I don't know if its because I'm incredibly stupid, or because I was cursed with the Steve Irwin gene, but I felt surprisingly little fear, despite being surrounded by prehistoric reptilian eating machines. Three weeks ago, I confronted several road-side solicitiors who claimed to be collecting money for charity, but who refused to tell me where the money was going. They were much more frightening than the alligators.



In addition to my photo-journalism duties, I've started writing book reviews and author interviews for the Times-Union. In recent weeks I've interviewed Pulitzer winner Jane Smiley, in conjunction with my review of her book Ten Days in the Hills, and Jon Clinch, author of the acclaimed debut novel Finn.

I'm not the book editor. Unlike at most magazines, and some newspapers, where book editor is the title given the in-house reviewer, the T-U's book editor actually edits. His name is Marc Cook, and like me, he does something else for the paper full-time. He and I share a passion for great books. Unfortunately, being a professional reviewer means occasionally reading some not-so-great books as well. The two books mentioned above are great. You can subscribe to the Times-Union if you want to know which books I think are not. Usually my stories are also available at www.jacksonville.com, but not always. My Jane Smiley interview wasn't, but it was picked up by Verizon.

I am writing another book, tentatively titled The Embed. I expect to finish the first draft sometime in April. It's a story about a small-town reporter who volunteers to go to Iraq, and finds himself in way over his head. I'd call it a suspense novel, except I am by nature more interested in what happens inside my characters than to them, so the suspense seems secondary to the emotional journey. Right now I feel like I'm walking the line between commercial and literary. Of course, the final product may be completely unlike my current vision. I think its good, but we'll see.

I'll try to drop in more often, and visit you at your blogs when I can. Thanks for stopping by.

Mark Pettus,
Wednesday, February 28, 2007


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