Interview with Mark Connelly, Author of Wanna-be's
Mark Connelly was born in Philadelphia and grew up in New Jersey. He received a BA in English from Carroll College in Wisconsin and an MA and PhD from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. His books include The Diminished Self: Orwell and the Loss of Freedom, Orwell and Gissing, Deadly Closets: The Fiction of Charles Jackson, and The IRA on Film and Television. His fiction has appeared in The Ledge, Indiana Review, Cream City Review, Milwaukee Magazine, and Home Planet News. In 2014 he received an Editor’s Choice Award in The Carve’s Raymond Carver Short Story Contest; in 2015 he received Third Place in Red Savina Review’s Albert Camus Prize for Short Fiction. His novella Fifteen Minutes received the Clay Reynolds Novella Prize and was published by Texas Review Press in 2005. Connect with Mark on Facebook and Twitter. Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I have been teaching college English and writing books for thirty years. I have published college textbooks and written books about George Orwell, Saul Bellow, and the Irish Republican Army. My short stories have appeared in Indiana Review, Cream City Review, The Ledge, Home Planet News, and Digital Papercut. In 2014 I received an Editor’s Choice Award in Carve Magazine’s Raymond Carver Short Story Contest. In 2015 I received Third Place in Red Savina Review’s Albert Camus Prize for Short Fiction. In 2005 Texas Review Press published my novella Fifteen Minutes, which received the Clay Reynolds Award. Where did you grow up?
South Jersey and later North Jersey.
What is your fondest childhood memory?
Reading Robert Louis Stevenson’s poem “Block City.” Unlike other poems and stories, it was interactive. I, too, had blocks and saw that like the poet I could use the sofa for mountains and the carpet for the sea. Following the lines in the poems, I used my blocks to make a castle. That day made a connection between reading and reality that stuck with me.
When did you begin writing?
I started writing poems and stories in high school and began getting works published in college in various literary quarterlies and small magazines. Duquesne University Press published my dissertation about George Orwell, and I have published other books of literary criticism. Fiction remains my first love, and I am working on several novels. Do you write during the day, at night or whenever you can sneak a few moments?
I write first thing in the morning when I am fresh. Later in the day I read, conduct research, answer email, and revise.
What is this book about?
Wanna-be’s is a social satire, a sendup of race, gender, and identity politics, along with a metaphorical tale of a modern-day Icarus. With his new girlfriend – a soccer mom with a taste for bondage – urging him to “go condo,” failed screenwriter Winfield Payton needs cash. Accepting a job offer from a college friend, he becomes the lone white employee of a black savings and loan. As the firm’s token white, he poses as a Mafioso to intimidate skittish investors and woos a wealthy cougar to keep the firm afloat. He bumbles and stumbles through a series of misadventures involving Yuppies and militants, Muslims and Jews, blacks and whites, gays and straights.
What inspired you to write it?
The politically-correct talking heads on cable news always nudge me into wanting to capture them in satire.
Who is your biggest supporter?
My biggest supporter so far has been the first reviewer on Amazon. Her review summarized the book better than I could have:
This book right here! What can I say about Winfield Payton...is he the most unlucky pasty or most unlikely fall guy...what a schmuck...I laughed so hard at this, for this guy....with this guy....every character described in this book will immediately remind you of a real life joker in the in the 24 hour news cycle on all of the Major networks and cable television channels regurgitating skewed facts benefiting them and lining their pockets....it's hip and fresh writing which could easily become a HBO series....
Are you a member of a critique group? If no, who provides feedback on your work?
So far most reviewers have caught my jokes and shared my delight in being politically incorrect.
Who is your favorite author?
Saul Bellow. I read everything he wrote to publish Saul Bellow: A Literary Companion earlier this year.
Do you have an agent or are you looking for one?
I am definitely looking for an agent to handle my fiction. I have published a dozen non-fiction books. I meet non-fiction editors at academic conventions and pitch my books face to face and have established long-term relationships with two publishers, both of whom have published four of my books. But I have had a harder time marketing my novels. I am seriously seeking an agent interested in representing a range of literary novels.
Was the road to publication smooth sailing or a bumpy ride?
The first chapter “Insignificant Others” was published two years ago in The Great American Literary Magazine. I decided to experiment and self-publish it. I thought it might do well on Amazon.
Do you have a website and/or blog where readers can find out more?
The Amazon site features Look Inside, so readers can sample the first chapters. I hope they find Winfield Payton interesting enough to want to read more.
Do you have a video trailer to promote your book? If yes, where can readers find it?
I did not develop a book trailer for this book. I have one on YouTube for another book, The IRA on Film and Television.
What is the best investment you have made in promoting your book?
The best investment is promoting a book online by hiring a professional publicist who best knows which reviewers and bloggers might find the book interesting.
What is one piece of advice you would like to share with aspiring authors everywhere?
Read your work aloud to hear the words, especially dialogue.
What is up next for you?
I am completing a novel called Newman’s Choice. Three chapters have been published as short stories, two of which received awards. Robert Newman is a man struggling with choice. A rising young attorney, he destroyed his life, career, and reputation in a single night. After celebrating a big win for his firm, he drove drunk and slammed into a car, killing two college girls. After eight years in
prison, he is on parole, living in a halfway house. Making ten dollars an hour teaching GED classes, he has no car, no cell phone, no computer. He is resigned to a life of self-denial and self-imposed
poverty when another incident, captured on video, goes viral and thrusts him into a new series of choices.