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Preview: The Bluff

The Bluff

This is the online journal of journalist, writer, and editor Mark Pettus.

Updated: 2014-10-07T01:45:27.208-04:00


An Invitation


If you've stumbled upon my blog from anywhere other than my website,, you may not know that the best way to keep track of me these days is to follow @MarkEPettus on Twitter.

Want a look at my new novel? I'm now seeking representation for A Texas Lovesong.

Hello from paradise


This a test of the emergency blogging network. This is only a test, in the case of a real blogging emergency you would be instructed to leave a comment and let me know that you've stopped by.

I've been busy for the past couple of years. If you're curious what I've been doing, check out my resume link. I've had a lot of fun, but it's been a lot of work.

Leave a comment. I'd like to know who still has me on their list after all this time.

Take care 'til next time.

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, 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.[...]

I don't care what you read in the obituaries


I'm still alive.

What an interesting ride it's been.

If you're here, I'm going to assume you already know that after I started putting together the Picolata Review, I was offered a new job. When I took the new job, I felt like I had enough energy to do both, plus blog, plus write On the Bluff, and continue seeking an agent for Transit Gloria.

Unfortunately, I was wrong. In the weeks that followed I published two issues of the Picolata, and put together a third. Before that third issue was published, I ran out of energy.

I went to work exhausted, and came home too tired to do more than eat and go to bed. I began losing weight. I lost 27 pounds between the end of August and the third week of October, and despite my near total exhaustion I wasn't able to sleep more than a couple of hours a night.

People I barely know began commenting on my weight loss and appearance, and asking if I was okay. I finally took their concern as an indication that I might not be - that I might, in fact, be far from okay.

On October 20, I saw my doctor. He ran a series of tests, and when he tested my blood glucose level it was too high for his monitor to read. He sent me to a nearby lab for more testing (stat!) and my blood sugar was over 720 mg/dl. If you have a diabetic in your family, you probably already know what the doc told me - that I was about to have a stroke. Patty LaBelle hawks glucose monitors on television, and says she was diagnosed as a diabetic after she collapsed on stage with blood glucose level of 500 mg/dl.

I didn't have a stroke, and after several weeks of insulin therapy and the best medications our modern science can provide, I'm out of immediate danger. I am a diabetic, and will be on medications for the rest of my life. My life expectancy went down by 10 years with my diagnosis, and my chances of having a heart attack or stroke went up by 40 percent. Those are sobering statistics.

I wasn't obese, or even overweight. I'm athletic, an outdoorsman, and I quit smoking years ago. Other than a family history of diabetes, I really had none of the traditional risk factors. I did have one, though, which doctors only recently realized can trigger adult-onset diabetes: stress. Lots and lots of stress.

The news isn't all bad. I'm okay now. I'm forcing myself to take things a little less seriously. I've gained back 10 lbs, and feel pretty good. I'm still reporting the news, and have even appeared on television twice recently, once as a moderator for a candidate forum, and Friday I appeared on Week in Review, a local weekly news roundtable. I just watched myself on tape, and to my own eye I look like a leaner, harder version of my old self. In the words of Dabney Coleman's character from Modern Problems, "I ain't no freak. I'm a damned good looking man."

Thanks for stopping by and leaving notes while I was away. I saw them, and appreciated them, and I apologize for not responding sooner. I just didn't have the energy.

Please take care of yourselves, and remember the words of Warren Zevon, who said, "Enjoy every sandwich."

Oh my, look at all the dust.


I've been away so long I scarcely remember how to do this blog thing. I've got to brush away the cobwebs, and dust off the keyboard.

Here's a quick update on my life. In late May, the managing editor for a weekly news magazine/tabloid called me to ask if I'd be interested in coming to work for him.

This was mere days after I began putting together the Picolata Review. For the next several weeks, I was so busy negotiating, editing the Picolata, and doing my job at the newspaper that I barely had time to check my own email.

On July 5, I started my new job as a photojournalist for the weekly - a joint publication of two major daily papers. A week later, I landed on a story that became the cover and center spread that week. The story drew kudos from the entire editorial staff downtown (headquarters of the 600,000-reader daily that is the larger of our parent papers). It was about a woman whose family farm is surrounded by land owned by a real estate developer, and the developer's threat to charge her with tresspassing for using their road to access her farm. Her family has used the same road for the past 98 years.

Since then, I've been jumping from one hard news story to the next. Hard news stories - which is exactly what they sound like, hard hitting stories likely to hurt feelings and stir controversy - take an extraordinary amout of time to do well. You have to check your facts, and balance your coverage, and dig for quotes, and then check it all again so you know your story is up to date at deadline. I've been starting to work on Monday mornings at 8 a.m., and putting in 12 to 14 hours a day every day. I've also racked up an extraordinary number of miles and hours staring through the windshield.

I'm not complaining. This is work I consider important - shining a light on injustice, and helping people understand the forces at work in the world around them. I'm writing for a living (which makes me the luckiest man on earth), and I'm writing about things that matter. I'm not editing (uggghh - I don't miss it), but I am getting to use some damned nice photographic equipment (men and boys, price of toys...)

I've also had some interesting opportunities. This past Monday, I was a moderator for a televised debate/forum hosted by a civic association. Two other journalists and I got to grill candidates for two hours, and now even more people than usual are stopping me in the grocery store to say how much they liked my work - or hated it. It's an odd feeling to walk into a building and have everyone there know your name, even though you've never met any of them before.

I've also been invited to join the panel on our local talking-head show on Sunday mornings. All that's left for me to achieve the upper reaches of the liberal media elite is for someone to cancel their subscription to my blog because they think I'm biased - no, wait, that happened last week when I published Charles Baxter's comments about President Bush in the Picolata Review.

Oh, well. If you want to fight with the big dogs, it helps if you look good in a spiked collar. Or something like that. I think I've done pretty well for a small town boy who broke into this business not all that long ago... I think I'll tell that story to you folks soon. If I have time.

p.s. Last Friday I wrote an update to my story about the lady and her struggles with the real estate developer. On Saturday, someone burned her house down. The fire department tells me the fire was intentionally set.

Sometimes there are consequences to what we write. Remember that, even if what you write is poetry or science fiction. Writing moves people, not always in the direction the writer wants them to move.

Sorry - just spam tonight.


The second issue of the Picolata Review is out.

I'll try to update soon - new job, new responsibilities.

Take Care, Mark

Pardon my press release


The Picolata Review (, a new home for top quality fiction, poetry, reviews, and essays on topics related to literature and culture, has published its first issue. You're invited to come discover great writing by the most talented new voices in the literary world.

Picolata was originally a Spanish fort located on the St. Johns River seven leagues west of St. Augustine. The fort is now underwater, but Picolata survives as a small village. St. Augustine is known around the world as America's oldest city, but only the locals know about Picolata. You might say it's located just a little west of famous.

The Picolata Review is dedicated to great writing by talented authors and poets who are also just a little west of famous. We hope you'll agree that our inaugural issue establishes The Picolata Review as the new home for top quality short fiction, poetry, book reviews, and essays on subjects related to literature and culture.

Join us as we celebrate our birthday, and enjoy the excellent stories, articles, and poetry from the world's best and brightest emerging writers, including:

Lisa Coutant's interview with Pulitzer finalist Lee Martin

Fresh new poetry from Riki Garcia Rebel, Gol McAdams, Geoffrey Philp, and Santiago B. Villafania

Fiction from Jamie Ford, Hannah Pfeifle, and Jeff Neale

An excerpt from Janet Thorning's debut novel, The Resurrection of My Heart

Debra Hamel's review of Peter Pouncey's Rules for Old Men Waiting

An interview with Dan Wickett, founder of the Emerging Writers Network


A memoir of Rachmaninoff's favorite pianist, Princess Caterina
by her grandson Prince Louis Richard de la Pau.

We're excited by our inaugural issue, and we're sure you will be too. Join us as we introduce the new home of great writing, The Picolata Review.

Even lovers need a holiday


Everybody needs a little time away
I've heard her say
From each other

Even lovers need a holiday
Far away from each other

Hold me now
It's hard for me to say I'm sorry
I just want you to stay
And after all that you've been through
I will make it up to you
I promise you

Peter Cetera, Chicago

In case you haven't noticed, I've not been around much lately. I've not blogged or commented in over three weeks, and now the very act of blogging feels strange. It's like having a conversation with an old lover when you can conjure the memories of your love, but no longer feel the emotion.

Life has been hectic and strange since early May, when I actually began pushing forward with my plan to publish an online literary magazine. Almost every aspect of my world has shifted focus. My personal life is in turmoil, and my professional life makes my personal life seem settled. Transit Gloria is NOT in the hands of an agent, for the first time since last fall. Then there's the Picolata...

The Picolata Review. My baby. My cherished, precious child. The one bright spot in an otherwise dark period in my life, The Picolata Review is my vision of what an online literary magazine should be. The time I've spent on it has been bliss.

The first issue will go live on the summer solstice, June 21. The front page currently has some teasers about that first edition. Go check it out. I hope you'll like my little magazine, and help me spread the word about the great writing inside.

p.s. My holiday is over. I'll be back blogging soon.

For Jenna and my friends at Absolute Write


If this looks familiar, it's because I originally posted it last October. A few days ago, I found out from MacAllister Stone via email that was offline, and looking for a new host. I've been very busy this week - more on that at the bottom of this post - so I wasn't aware that AW was offline because one of the scammers Jenna works so hard to expose had told her (Jenna's) hosting company that AW had libeled her (more on that at the bottom, as well).This post is for Jenna, and my friends at Absolute Write. I love you all, and owe you much.Writers are a funny group. We all want other writers to succeed, and we're happy to reach down and pull someone up behind us.Unfortunately, when we reach down, the writer below us usually tries to pull us off the ladder. We're all guilty. We want to be known as the successful writer who hasn't forgotten where he came from, but first we need to be successful, so we fight our way to the top with all the fierce competitiveness of those heroic tadpoles on the Disovery Channel's documentary about conception (When you get depressed, remind yourself that billions of sperm entered THAT race, but YOU won).One writer I know, when he encounters discouraged fellow scribes, puts a gentle hand on their shoulders and tells them they should just give up; that the business of writing will only contaminate their artistic souls, and if they want to survive with their integrity intact they must never again subject their vision to the callous brand of capitalism that is rampant in the world of agents and editors. I'm not sure if he later asks them for the phone numbers and email addresses of all their contacts, but it wouldn't surprise me. It's what I would do.What has surprised me, though, is the generosity of one particular group of struggling scribes, how much they help each other, and how much helping them has helped me. is an online magazine for writers, and editor Jenna Glatzer is an expert on the business of writing. Beautiful, bubbly, and brilliant, Jenna draws talent toward her like a tiki torch draws mosquitos. She is the author of such books as Outwitting Writer's Block and Other Problems of the Pen, and the soon to be released The Street-Smart Writer.She is also a frequent contributor to Writers Digest. You can learn more about her at her personal site, (The porn filter at my office blocks her site. I've looked, and looked, and looked, and cannot find the reason for this block. If you do find any naked pictures of Jenna, please email me their exact location, so I can get this straightened out.)Among the talented folks Jenna has drawn to Absolute Write, is James D. McDonald, the author of dozens of published books in multiple genres, who runs a kind of online writers workshop called Learn Writing with Uncle Jim. Scores of other published writers, agents, editors, and publishers, visit regularly to answer questions and offer suggestions.What I've found most surprising, though, is the help from my fellow neophytes. Ask any question you can imagine about writing (writing anything, from gargantuan novels to greeting cards) and you will get a dozen answers from people who, like you, are struggling to find their way. What value is there to an answer from an initiate? You'd be surprised.When I wrote the first draft of my query letter for Transit Gloria, I thought I had a pretty good piece of writing in my hand. When I posted it for review at Absolute Write, I quickly found out just how much better it could be. These are people who have read every possible bit of advice on how to write a good query letter. They've written, rewritten, and rewritten again, their own query letters, and if they've been at Absolute Write for more than a couple of weeks, they have read dozens of other author's queries and critiqued them. [...]

Do you have the time?


If I could save time in a bottle - Jim Croce

Does anybody really know what time it is? Does anybody really care?- Robert Lamm (Chicago)

Have you not done tormenting me with your accursed time! It's abominable! When! When! One day, is that not enough for you, one day he went dumb, one day I went blind, one day we'll go deaf, one day we were born, one day we shall die, the same day, the same second, is that not enough for you? -Samuel Beckett, (Waiting for Godot)

Time is one thing writers seldom talk about. When we discuss the craft, and how we approach our stories, we focus on point-of-view, character development, and description. We do talk about tense - past, present, or future (usually pointing out a writer who has let one tense slip into another) What we don't focus on is the role of time in our stories.

Most of my stories consist of scenes that consume a finite amount of time - minutes, sometimes hours, seldom more than days. When I combine those scenes, though, the story traverses a grander scale of time. Transit Gloria moves through three decades, offering snippets from each before moving on to the next - or the previous. On the Bluff carries forward through a half-century, pausing at intervals to shine a spotlight on my characters in their then-when, before pushing forward several years to another spotlight.

The other night I was reading the Publisher's Lunch and one of the deals was described something like this:

John Smith's novel about love between a young man and his lusty and beautiful middle aged neighbor, and his struggle to deal with the breakup of his parents marriage while the country prepares for war, all takes place on the night of Joey Luckybuck's senior prom.

It occurred to me that although I've read books that encompassed very short periods of time, I've never considered writing one. My natural inclination is to go the opposite direction. My first novel attempt was a fantasy tale that would have spanned a millenia if I'd ever finished it.

How about your stories? Do they cut a wide swath through the decades, or is a day enough to tell a great tale? Do you have a natural clock that guides your writing? What role does time play in your stories? Have you ever stumbled across something that made you want to stretch your legs, to try a path you hadn't noticed before? If so, what's inspired you?

I think I'm going to be playing with time for the next little while... or long while. Hey, I've got the time.

Closing time. Time for you to go out to the places you will be from. - Don Wilson (Semisonic)

What, you've never seen boobs before?


I've been asked for autographs before, but when a lady asked me if I would sign her boobs if I ever became famous - I was struck by an idea. I asked her if she would let me sign her boobs now, so that if I did become famous, she would be ahead of the crowd.

She agreed, but since she lives across the country from me, the best she could do was send me a picture of her beautiful and bounteous bosom, which is pictured below with my autograph.

Life is good.


Private message to the lady in green:

If you can't read my handwriting, I wrote:

"Whatever your dream,

Just Go For It!"

Mark E. Pettus

The same goes for all of you.

Man, I hope this catches on.

If words could make wishes come true - scattered thoughts from an unfocused mind.


1. Just a thought that has been bouncing around my mind all morning:

You already know the answers to life's most important questions. Figuring out what those questions are, will consume most of your life.

2. There's big, and there's BIG:

"Consider these numbers: while Google reported $6.1 billion in 2005 revenue, the Microsoft corporation reported over $7 billion in 2005 R&D expenses alone. In other words, Microsoft's got lots of money to get where it wants to go..."

from MediaPost's Search Insider (What, you guys aren't into advertising?)

3. I used to like Miss Snark. Then I didn't. Now I do.

At first I thought she was funny, then I thought most of her comments were really mean-spirited, now I think she means well, and the mean-spiritedness truly is just her schtick. I don't have enough time to be a true snarkling, but if you do, you'll come away with an education not available anywhere else.

She's part of the Mediabistro Daily News today. Check her out

4. Speaking of Bernita (we weren't speaking of Bernita?), she picked up a topic from the Snark Spot this weekend, the use of the mirror as a descriptive tool, and improved on it. (While you're there, check out her post on the music writers use to drive their imagination)

I'm tempted to try my hand at the mirror description - such sensible rules call to my inner child - that petulant, arrogant boy who's not quite convinced he's the smartest kid in the class (Let it go - I already told you he was arrogant). I'm a sucker for a hard and fast rule. Nothing inspires me like the ability to proof some literary convention by brazenly defying it. Of course, if I do, I'll just be following far greater writers, like Oscar Wilde - who let his inner child run free in The Picture of Dorian Grey.

I wrote a story once where the main character was bedridden, and saw the world only through the narrow reflection in his dresser mirror of the view through his bedroom door ( he never saw himself, so no self-description).

Even without a mirror, I'm a devout minimalist (probably as a direct result of reading too much Stephen King as a young man), but I know of writers who are masters of detailed description. Ann Rice describes her characters like you'd describe a new lover - the detail is accepted as part of the emotional world, not the physical. I've seen her use reflections in her stories, but I'm not sure those scenes qualify as counter to the curse. John Irving is just the opposite, he focuses on the quirky- a huge mole on a girl's face, buck teeth, giant hands - the reader gets to add everything else.

What's your descriptive style?

p.s. I'll be posting more this week than you're accustomed to - please check back.

Send me your tired, your poor, your huddled pages longing to be read


In my last post, I talked about my Great Expectations, and called myself the Miss Haversham of writing. I thought I was clever, but judging by your comments, my bitter frustration with the process must have shown through my witty repartee. I didn't mean for the story to focus so much on me - rejection is a part of this life, and I walked in with both eyes open. We all deal with rejection, and with the accompanying self doubt. I hope that by sharing my own experiences, I can help someone else deal with their own doubt and frustration when it finds them - and if they aspire, it will.Since I focused the spotlight on my partials, I think it might be a good idea to talk about what I actually send out when an agent requests a partial. I don't take a haphazard approach to my writing, or to my interaction with other professionals in the business. I want them to know that I'm a professional dedicated to both the art, and the business, of writing. I also want to grab their attention, and get them coming back for more.When I put together a packet for an agent, I want it to look as crisp and as professional as anything they'd receive from their attorney. If you want be treated as a professional, it's important to look and act that way. Enough on that, I'm sure you've read it all before. Lets talk about what they get when they open that crisp, manila envelope.Depending on whether an agent requests the first three chapters or the first fifty pages, I send very specific packets. First, they get a brief cover letter on top-quality letterhead. Most of my cover letter is drawn from my query letter - and from previous incarnations of my query. I want the agent to remember me from my query, but this is also an opportunity to tell him or her things I didn't include in my query (like the comparison between my book and Joyce Carol Oates's We Were the Mulvaneys). I'm a little braver in my cover letter than I am in a query. If I screw up on the cover letter, I have a backup right there in the agent's hands - the first pages of my book. The query letter has to stand alone.I have a two-page, single-spaced synopsis that I send if -and only if - the agent requests it. I don't have a one-page synopsis, I don't have a five-page synopsis, and I don't have a chapter breakdown. If an agent asks for a synopsis, they get two pages that tell the who, what, when, where, why, and how it all ends. If an agent asks for a five-page synopsis, they get two pages. If they ask for one page, they get two. This is the one writer's neurosis I refuse to adopt. Do so at your own risk, but so far I've had no complaints (I've also had no offers of representation, but I doubt my synopsis is holding me back).I always include my prologue (the single most revised ten pages of writing in the history of mankind). Prologue means what came before, and mine stretches the boundaries of the definition. Chronologically, much of the story takes place earlier, but thematically it sets the stage as surely as Shakespeare's narrators. It is all story - not a recitation of facts. If your prologue is one of those dry back-story encyclopedias, the kind that are so popular with fantasy and science fiction writers, I wouldn't recommend you include it with a partial submission.Transit Gloria is written in third person but the prologue is in first person, quickly creating an intimate connection between you and the narrator. I hope it draws you in until you're sitting with your face too close to the page - and then jolts you out of your seat.The first chapter opens like the sky in the eye of a hurricane. After the violence of the prologue, everything seems calm (and it is after - years after). Immediately, the story begins weaving its web of deception and denial - the hallmar[...]

Great Expectations


Great Expectations are the bane of my existence. I'm an eternal optimist, a sucker for an encouraging word or phrase, especially when an agent utters that word or phrase.

"I'd be delighted to read your..."

"I was excited by your..."

"You've piqued my interest."

"You're obviously a talented writer."

"When you're famous, will you sign my boobs?" (Okay, I admit this wasn't from an agent, but I was damned sure encouraged by her words. Wouldn't you be?)

The problem with being so encouraged by an agent's words of enthusiasm is that I develop Great Expectations. Each time, I think, This is the one. Each time I'm sure, She (for some reason I have more success with agents who are women) is going to represent me - and my book. Each time, I prepare a huge mental feast in honor of our marriage - author to agent.

Each time, I'm disappointed.

I'm beginning to wonder if I'm the Miss Havisham of writing. Am I destined to be left at the altar, and spend the rest of my life watching the pages I've written decay while rats feast on the remains of the banquet I prepared in honor of the groom (my agent) that never came?

Last week, Michelle Tessler of the Tessler Literary Agency responded to my query by asking for my first three chapters. She's the agent who said she'd be delighted to read my story. Delighted. That just doesn't sound like form-letter language to me, so I was feeling good about myself when I sent her my partials last Thursday. Yesterday she emailed me and said she had read my submission the night before - do you have any idea how rare it is to have an agent read your submission on what was probably the day she received it? I usually expect to milk at least two months of Great Expectations out of each submission. As long as an agent still hasn't responded, I can keep telling myself, This is the one. I barely got a weekend out of Ms. Tessler. She really was excited by my query, and couldn't wait to read my first three chapters.

Unfortunately, although she rushed to the doors of the chapel, it was only to tell me that she wasn't as in love with my story as she hoped to be, and since first novels like mine were so hard to place... here I am, left at the altar again.

Anyone want some wedding cake?

The news isn't all bad. I think I almost have the woman who's sure I'll one day be famous convinced to let me autograph her boobs on spec. Wish me luck.

Rule One: Write what you know. What if you don't know anything?


But Rosie you're all right -- you wear my ringWhen you hold me tight -- Rosie that's my thingWhen you turn out the light -- I've got to hand it to meOne of the oldest rules in the book, is to write what you know. That sounds good, but how many tomes on the fine art of masturbation do people really need? Thank you very much. I'll be at the Sands on the 8th, and I'm doing a special 4th of July show in Atlantic City...But seriously folks, writing without meaning is just so much mental masturbation. It might feel good to you, but it's not doing anything for anyone else. Too many really good writers lose contact with the world around them, and their books become new ways to stroke themselves and their egos. Writing what you know is a multi-layer commandment. It means (as Agent 007 tried to make clear in her last post) knowing how human beings behave; what they think, feel, say, and do - in a variety of circumstances. It means knowing that not all good stories end with happily ever after, but some do, and not being afraid to let your story end the way it ends, even when you know your readers are going to howl.On another level, writing what you know is pretty limiting, especially if you don't know anything. I strongly believe that a writer's education should be an education in life, not just an education in writing, and I believe you need to keep learning - about life and about writing - even after you become a successful writer.If you're wondering where I'm coming from, let me tell you. I've noticed a trend among writers. The longer they write, the more likely it is their main characters will be writers. Stephen King has all but given up on non-writer protagonists (although his next book, Lisey's Story, a literary novel with blurbs from Michael Chabon and Pat Conroy, centers around a writer's widow). Cell's lead character is celebrating the sale of his graphic novel when the world goes to hell in a handbasket. Bag of Bones was written in first person, and told through the eyes of a respectable mid-list author. Even the final three books of the Dark Tower series centered to some degree around a writer - King himself. King isn't alone. Ian McEwan chose a writer as his main POV character in Atonement. Margaret Atwood did the same for Blind Assassin. Peter Carey used two poets and the publisher of a literary magazine for his odd tale, My Life as a Fake. John Irving relegated his author to second fiddle in Until I Find You, but he had four, count them, four different novelists sharing the stage in A Widow for One Year. Irving's book also has agents, publishers, book shows, readings, fans, fanatics, and prostitutes - Irving really knows the book business. I wonder, after years as a writer, does he know anything else? You'll notice that I didn't include writers whose work is based on the same or similar characters being in each of their works- either in a series, like Tom Clancy, John D. McDonald, or even my old pal J.A. Konrath - or authors whose characters' professions are defined by their genre - John Grisham or Robin Cook. They make their living in a tight field with its own rules - rules that don't allow a CIA director, private eye, cop, lawyer, or doctor to become a writer in book five, although the genres each have their own traps for authors. I'm talking about writers who make their living writing unique stories. Some of these writers are well respected in the literary community (I aplogize for the oxymoron: literary community. As if.) I think Irving, Atwood, McEwan, King, and hundreds of other writers could take a lesson from Shaquille O'neal - when they're through playing games, they should get a real job.Shaq is a reserve police officer, and plans[...]

Stop the Flood by Turning on the Faucet.


I don't usually write about politics on my blog, but since I don't have time to write the post that is dancing around on my cerebral cortex, begging to be set free, I thought I'd share a slightly revised version of my Op-Ed column from a couple of weeks ago. It's still timely, maybe more so today than when it was first published. I invite your comments (all views are welcome).Much of the nation was witness to demonstrations and a million-worker staged walkout this week by people opposed to a new immigration reform act making its way through the Senate.Facets of the act that would make being an illegal immigrant a felony generated most of the opposition. Even the part of the act that you would expect immigrants to support, an amnesty program that would allow long-time residents to stay in the United States and eventually gain citizenship, drew protests because of a poison pill built into the bill. It requires illegal immigrants to pay a fine and back taxes as part of the process of qualifying for eventual citizenship.I grew up and spent most of my life near the Mexican border. It leaks. Does it leak like a sieve? No, it leaks like a broken dam. According to the U.S. Border Patrol, almost 4 million people crossed into the U.S. illegally in 2002 - a year after the terrorist attacks on 9/11. The panic that followed 9/11 is what's really behind the current immigration crises. People are asking, and rightly so, if we can't stop 4 million people from crossing the border to find a better life how can we possibly stop one person from crossing the border seeking to do us harm?The truth is, by trying to do both we can't do either. The best laws written with the best intent will never stop the flood of people who want to provide food, clothing, shelter, and a better life for themselves and their families from seeking those things. Criminalizing immigration will make criminals of honest people, not help us sort out the dishonest people. We can't stop the flow, but we can control it.The first step controlling the flood is to open our borders to Mexicans and Central Americans who seek to enter our country in search of work. Make it easy for them to become legal immigrants and to pass through legal border crossings (where we already have a massive security apparatus in place to protect us from terrorists), and that's where they will go. They are coming anyway, so we're foolish not to channel them through a screening process that separates the honest, hard workers from undesirable and dangerous criminals.Please don't buy into the myth that illegal aliens are stealing jobs from Americans. Nationwide unemployment continues to be low, despite the presence of an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants. Of the unemployed, many are seeking jobs at a professional skill level requiring training and education beyond that of most illegal immigrants. If you are seeking a career as a busboy, migrant farm worker, or hot tar roofer, you may have to work alongside an illegal immigrant, but I seriously doubt you will find doors closed to you because of illegal immigrants.A person wanting a better life - how sad is it that a grown man with four children thinks leaving his family thousands of miles behind to work as a busboy is a better life - would much rather pass through a legal border crossing, along well policed roadways, where he is safe from bandits and dehydration, than risk his life crossing miles of inhospitable desert only to possibly face arrest and deportation. Once we've channeled the people simply seeking the American dream back onto the roadways, it will be much easier to spot the bad guys crossing the desert.Right now, spotting a terror[...]

How about a book review?


I love books, and read more than is probably healthy for a man who still has a fully functioning sex drive...Occasionally I review a book for the paper. Usually I review books that are of local interest (by a local author, or set in St. Augustine, etc.), but occasionally I review other books. I reviewed John Irving's Until I Find You because I disagreed with the reviews it got in the national press. I reviewed Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner as part of the St. Johns Reads program (our library sponsored reading group), and now I've reviewed Ray Wong's The Pacific Between because I'd followed the book from completion to publication and wanted to see what Ray's pen had wrought. Those of you who have asked me for critiques know I'm a straight shooter, and this review is no exception. Without further ado...The Pacific Between - a promising debut novel from writer Ray Wong Greg Lockland has problems. He never developed an adult relationship with his father, and now his father and mother are dead. If that isn't enough to lock Greg into some serious generation X angst, now he's found a stack of letters from a girl he left behind years ago - love letters - addressed to his father. Greg's subsequent journey to adulthood and self-discovery begins with a trip across the Pacific Ocean to his native Hong Kong in search of his childhood sweetheart and answers about her relationship, and his own, with his father.Ray Wong is a talented writer, and the first few chapters of The Pacific Between is so deeply emotional and personal that it is almost embarrassing to read. You get the sense that Greg Lockland carries a lot of his author's emotional baggage onto the page, and if not, kudos to Ray for creating such an emotionally raw character. I certainly hope Greg is more creation than autobiography, because while Greg Lockland is an engaging character, he's not very likeable. He's a thirty-year-old man who thinks and behaves like a fourteen-year-old spoiled brat. He's selfish, and self-absorbed, and watching him stumble through his life, trampling mindlessly on the feelings of the people he is supposed to care about, is fascinating, but only in the same way watching a train wreck would be.Wong creates ample tension in the opening chapters of his book, leading us to believe that Greg's quest to find his childhood sweetheart, Lian, will coincide with his quest to find in himself the man he never grew up to be. Unfortunately, at mid-book all the tension disappears, and for several chapters you are left wondering just where the story is going. To be honest, Wong almost lost me. If it weren't for all the promise I thought he showed in the early chapters, I probably would have put this book down and walked away, but I stayed with it, and I recommend you do the same.I believe the real test of a first author's ability can be judged at the end of his debut novel. By then, the writer has found the confidence to tell his readers what he really wants to say, and, if he has any talent, he has found the voice he wants to say it with. The end of The Pacific Between is like the rising crescendo in Bolero - getting faster, louder, and bolder as it clips along. By the end, I understood the courage it took to create a character as flawed as Greg Lockland. A lesser writer would have made Greg more likeable, less petulant, and lost the inherent truth encapsulated in the character's flaws. I think Ray Wong has shown us that this is just the beginning of what will be a long literary career. The Pacific Between is available in trade paperback from Behler Publications,, and may be purchased at all major b[...]

One, Two, Buckle my Bruno Magli Belted Slip-On Shoe


Stephen King's Cell is an interesting book - not because it's a good read (it is), but because King's books are guaranteed such a large audience that he can sell advertising space inside them. Product placement has made the leap to literature, and King, who once said there were people in the publishing industry who would steal pennies off their dead mothers' eyes, (and who is always willing and able to find new streams of income from his gift) is leading the way.

A boom box isn't a boom box, it's a Panasonic boom box. Cop killer ammo comes in a box labeled American Defender. Small Treasures, Swedish Steel, Nokia - all are set apart with bold lettering and different fonts. My first impression was that King was mocking the very idea of product placement in novels - similar to the way Mike Myers handled "little, yellow, different" Advil, Pepsi, and Pizza Hut in Wayne's World. If so, the joke is on the sponsors, because King is raking in the cash in return for the placement deals.

From the Cell website:

"...available on these US carriers only: Alltel, AT&T, Boost, Cellular One, Cingular, Dobson, Nextel, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon. Binary Content downloads are available on these carriers only AT&T, Cingular and Sprint. "

That's a lot of tie-ins for a book that makes the cell phone industry responsible for the destruction of modern civilization.

My concern is not that this is diluting the purity of literature (Big Box Booksellers, no mid-list publishers, and myriad other things have already done that), my concern is that references which once conveyed a specific time in American history - a Member's Only jacket - a Chevy Nova - a copy of the Saturday Evening Post - may no longer pass editorial muster, finding themselves replaced by brand names that are less evocative of the times, and more likely to draw advertising dollars.

A character in On the Bluff drives an old Charger - honestly, I didn't plan for it in advance, it just happened. But I'm glad Dodge brought back the Hemi. Now I'm going to be able to cash in on some of that advertising tie-in money. Man, that's Sweeeeet.

Four? Fore! Who's still with me? (20 questions)


4) Can you write from the heart and still distance yourself from your writing enough to judge its quality?Usually I can, but for a book length project I want other opinions. Some of you may know the story of my test audience for Transit Gloria. For those of you who don't, I promise to dedicate a post to it soon.For the stories I write for the paper, I trust my own instincts most of the time, and very seldom do I hear from a reader or one of the other editors that I've missed my mark, but in most cases I force myself to be the dispassionate journalist - a skill I think most of us have (but not something a fiction writer should ever do, in my opinion). The one piece that sometimes worries me is my weekly OP-ED column. In it, I occasionally let down my hair and pour my emotions onto the page. The emotions cause me trouble. I don't have time to wait six weeks before I revisit and revise my column - I usually write it right before deadline, and that precludes having an "early reader" as well. AT deadline, no one has time to read my column.This is a column I wrote last week. I know it isn't a great, I know it's not even close to being one of my best, but I like it. A lot. The problem is, I am very emotionally invested in the subject matter, and I'm not sure I can trust my own judgement on it. I cried when I wrote this, and I expected everyone else to cry with me. Now I know that some people did, and some people didn't, but I still can't approach this story without feeling the emotions I put into writing it.I want you to meet a friend of mine.By Mark PettusBob Patterson is my friend. I first met him a few years ago when I moved in next door to him and his wife Judy. Bob is a big man, not quite big enough to be called a gentle giant, but gentle enough. Soft-spoken and well mannered, he is every inch a gentleman.Two years ago Bob and I built a screen porch onto my house. Every day after work, we put on our bib overalls and went to work sawing wood, hammering nails, and painting boards. For weeks we shared each other's afternoons, and every afternoon I grew fonder of this old gentleman with the boundless energy of a man half my age, and a third of his. Bob is in his mid sixties, only a little younger than my dad, and he treated me the way I hope I treat my sons. Bob told me about his years working on the railroad, and about the time when he was pastor of his own church. He listened to my tales about army life and regaled me with his experiences working in a foundry as a young man. In his sixty-five years, Bob has done almost everything - which comes in very handy when you are building a screen porch.Last year Bob laid the carpet in my dining room, and I helped him lay the carpet in his bedroom. Last spring I help Bob and Judy sell blueberries from a booth at the St. Augustine Farmers Market. Bob retired from the railroad a couple of years ago, and after Judy retired from teaching school, the two of them started a blueberry farm, and side by side they worked that farm - working harder after they retired than most people work before. Every morning they were up at the crack of dawn watering, planting, weeding, picking - blueberries are a very labor-intensive crop - so labor-intensive that most blueberry farmers turn their farms into pick-your-own operations. Not Bob and Judy. They were afraid their plants would suffer at the hands of customers who didn't understand how much work and love went into growing them. So, they worked all day at the farm, and then brought home buckets of blueberries to sort and package as they sat together at the kitchen tabl[...]

A funny thing happened on the way to the forum


This is just one of those bizarre things that can only happen on the Internet.I created my forums a few weeks ago, but had no idea what to do with them at the time, so I just kept their existence under wraps. When I decided to use them to post the RSS how-to, I thought I would go check Google to see if the forums had been picked up by the search engines yet.I scrolled through several pages of Mark Pettus this and Mark Pettus that before I found this really bizarre page - about me:MEG RYAN(staring after him)What a creep.JOECLIFFORDFAUST.COMCowboy poet Mark Pettus agrees, but then proceeds to break his own rule, while treading on some other writing sacred cows.MEG RYANBoy you said it, JOECLIFFORDFAUST.COM . (sighs) I certainly hope I never see him again.Look, Meg Ryan is really cute, and if one of my books is made into a movie, I'm going to insist that Meg Ryan get a role, just so I can flirt with her at the cast party. Reading that she thinks I'm a creep, and that she hopes she never sees me again is not just confusing, it's damn near heartbreaking.I didn't know how to get ahold of Meg, but I darned sure knew how to find this Joe Clifford Faust guy she was commiserating with, and I intended to get to the bottom of this one, PDQ.Mr. Faust writes a blog titled:WHITE MOMENTSA web-log of interest to those in the divers areas inspired by the muses; fiction and non-, song-writing, acting, music, films, and what-not. On his blog, he wrote a brief review of my post Ask a Stupid Question... . I wouldn't say his review was a ringing endorsement, but then again... he didn't exactly accuse me of clubbing baby seals (see my post about the feature I wrote on the Safari family, and the letters to the editor I received). Here - you read it:One thing I always try and do in these pages is to assure other writerfolk looking for inspiration that what I set down in these pages is what works for me, and that they need to work at writing in order to learn what works for them. Cowboy poet Mark Pettus agrees, but then proceeds to break his own rule, while treading on some other writing sacred cows. His blog looks like it was typewritten and then cut out with scissors and assembled by hand, just like the way I used to do newsletters when I worked at the County Extension Office in Gillette, Wyoming. (via Metaxucafe)Then I did the only thing you should ever do when faced with a review - I thanked him for reading, and that even if he wasn't exactly a new fan, he was a new reader, and y'all know how I feel about readers. Joe was gracious, and responded that he meant his cut and paste comment as a compliment - that he had hoped to achieve the same effect on his website. I'm a little embarrassed that I thought otherwise - this isn't as bad as the whole Agent Kristin/Kirsten/Bernita-thinks-I'm-mean-and-sarcastic episode, but only because Joe doesn't have breasts, and I haven't sent him a query letter. Check out Joe's site, you'll never guess what the address is...www.JOECLIFFORDFAUST.comBy the way, the thing with Meg Ryan? It's part of a screenplay generating program on dan liebke's . It's pretty cool, and on top of that, the pages it generates are picked up by search engines. Site Promotion 501 - We're talking graduate level PR stuff here, kids.[...]

Subscribing with RSS: A Step-by-step, How-to guide.


If you already know why you want to subscribe to your favorite blogs, you and I have something in common. If you already know how, on the other hand, then until recently you were miles ahead of me.

If you don't know why you'd want to subscribe to your favorite blogs, let me tell you. If you are like me, the number of blogs you want to read has outgrown your ability to keep track of them. I've started using my link list as a way to save their addresses, but even that doesn't allow me to know when my favorite blogs have been updated, and it takes time to click through that many sites. Time is one thing I never seem to have enough of, and as much as I enjoy reading blogs, I've found that I just can't click through every one of my favorites every time I get a chance to read. An RSS reader will allow me to keep track of the links, and know when each blog was last updated.

I've had my blog set up to provide RSS feeds since I started blogging. RSS = Really Simple Syndication. I vaguely understood what RSS did - a visitor could subscribe to my site and be notified when it updated. What I didn't know, was how they did it. I decided to find out, and on the assumption that some of you don't know either, I'm sharing what I learned in a step by step "how-to" guide.

I've decided show you two different ways to subscribe - an online reader, and a feed aggregator that you can download to your desktop. The online reader is remarkably easy to use and can be accessed from any number of different computers, but limits you to fifty feeds (sites you can subscribe to). The aggregator is a little more complicated, but not much, and will let subscribe to a limitless number of feeds.

My forums will be home to a reading/discussion group, a place to share tips on writing and getting published, and an online critique group. I have no idea if there is enough interest among my visitors to justify my having a forum, but I can think of only one way to find out. I hope you'll add it to your list of favorite stops.

I'm using this little learning adventure as an opportunity to introduce my forums. I've posted the how-to guides there, and since there are dozens of different RSS (and XML) readers,I hope those of you who are familiar with other readers will tell us about them there, and share their relative advantages and disadvantages.

The How-To Guide to subscribing to your favorite blogs using RSS is here.

Just want to tour my forums? Click Here.

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?[...]

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? CringeMy 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?[...]

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?

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 OatesFormer Oprah Book Club selectionIn 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 al[...]