Friday, December 16, 2016

Authors to Watch: 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. 

Mark’s latest book is the literary fiction/humor/satire, Wanna-be’s.

Connect with Mark on Facebook and Twitter.

About the Book:

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 S&L. 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. Figure-skating between the worlds of white and black, gay and straight, male and female, Jew and Gentile, Yuppie and militant, Payton flies higher and higher until the inevitable crash. . .

Wanna-be’s is available at Amazon.

Tell us a little about yourself.

       I was born in Philadelphia and grew up in New Jersey but have lived in Milwaukee since high school.  I received a masters in creative writing and a doctorate in English and teach literature at Milwaukee Area Technical College.  I have published over a dozen books, but this novel Wanna-be’s is my first independent book.
When did you begin writing?

            I started writing short stories in high school and began getting items published in college.  I won several short story contests sponsored by literary magazines like Indiana Review, The Ledge, and Milwaukee Magazine.  Although fiction is my first love, I have published mostly non-fiction books about George Orwell, Saul Bellow, and the IRA.

Describe your writing process. Do you plot or write by the seat of your pants? When and where do you write?

            I usually start with a premise and write the opening.  Then I might write scenes out of context as they come to me.  I then cut and paste the completed scenes to put them in order and then revise, revise, revise.  I usually get up at 4.30 am to write while I am fresh.  In the evening I might and edit and make plans for the next day’s writing.

Can you tell us about your most recent release?

            Wanna-be’s is a satiric novel featuring Winfield Payton, a college instructor and failed screenwriter.  Urged by a married girlfriend to “go condo,” he accepts a job offer from a college friend and becomes the lone white employee of a black savings and loan.  As the firm’s token white, Payton poses as a Mafioso to intimidate skittish investors and woos a wealthy cougar to keep the firm afloat.  Payton bumbles through a series of politically-incorrect misadventures, soaring higher and higher until the inevitable crash.

How did you get the idea for the book?

            I wrote a comic story featuring Winfield Payton called “Insignificant Others” that was published in The Great American Literary Magazine in the fall of 2014.  I added additional adventures, creating a chain of stories.  I realized if I put them in chronological order, the stories would form chapters in a book.  Each chapter has a title and relates a self-contained plot like episodes in a TV show.  The first reviewer spotted that and suggested it belongs on HBO or Showtime.  I’m glad she recognized what I was trying to accomplish

Of all your characters, which one is your favorite? Why?

            My lead character Winfield Payton is the ultimate wanna-be – charming, naïve, smart, idealistic, honest, deceptive – whatever the moment calls for.  He is self-involved and lacking self-awareness, like most of us.  He dreams and schemes and stumbles and bumbles through one misadventure after another.  He’s a mashup of Saul Bellow’s Tommy Wilhelm and Curb Your Enthusiasm’s Larry David.

What was the most challenging aspect of writing your book?

            Making the characters funny but believable.  Satire requires balance so it does not lapse into absurdity.

Which authors have inspired your writing?

            Saul Bellow and Larry David were the voices in my head while writing Wanna-be’s.

What projects are you currently working on?

             I am currently working on a reference book George Orwell:  A Literary Companion for McFaland and a novel called Newman’s Choice.  Robert Newman was a rising young attorney until 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.

What advice would you offer to new or aspiring authors?

            Read your sentences aloud.  Listen to the words.  It will help you smooth rough syntax and make your dialogue more believable.

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