Peace Corps Writers
Talking with Mark Jacobs (page 3)
 Talking with
Mark Jacobs
page 1
page 2
page 3

 
Is this mystery novel something new for you?
I didn’t set out to write a thriller, but that’s the way people are describing the book. I wanted to write the story of Vicky Sorrell. It started as a short story called “The Cultural Attaché” and grew into the novel as I realized there was more story than the short story could hold.
How did you find a publisher for it?
My agent, Christy Fletcher, got the manuscript to Michael Korda at Simon and Schuster.
What are you writing now?
I’m finishing up a novel, The Lifestyle Implant Capers, which is different from previous books because it’s set in the U.S. and because it’s a comedy.
You organized Writers on America for the State Department, a book of essays that was distributed around the world. How did you come up with that idea?
So-called “cultural diplomacy” was eviscerated through the ’90s, as the staff and budget of the U.S. Information Agency were relentlessly pared back. The agency was eliminated in 1999. While the staff and mission were absorbed into the State Department, what went in was a greatly weakened public diplomacy effort, precisely because of the decade of cuts, coupled with a lack of political leadership. In practice, that meant we were severely constrained in the ways embassies talked with, engaged with, foreign audiences. Writers on America was an attempt to broaden the dialogue, to express a more nuanced — and therefore more realistic — sense of who we are as a society.
  What has been the reaction to the collection?
  
50,000 copies have been distributed through embassies around the world, and the collection has been translated into about seven languages. Coverage in the U.S. was also gratifying. Most of the reaction was positive. However, a few reviewers, both in the U.S. and abroad, chose to see the collection as cover for the Bush administration’s pre-war effort, which it definitely was not.
What books have you read by Peace Corps writers?
I think of Moritz Thompson as the ultimate Peace Corps writer. I read and admired his books enormously, beginning when I was a Volunteer. Through this web site — which is an invaluable resource — I stay up on PC writers. I particularly liked Paul EggersSaviors. Set in Latin America, where I have lived ten years or so, Marnie Mueller’s Green Fires had great resonance for me.
Do you have any advice to give someone who wants to write fiction about getting published, finding an agent, any suggestions?
Grow a tough skin, tune out the distractions, ignore e-mail, read poetry every day, boil your adjectives, burn your rejections in an internal bonfire. The best piece of advice I got was from Mary Lee Settle, who told me to find one or two people whose opinion I respected, then listen to them and tune out the editorial cacophony, which starts the moment you begin submitting your stuff. I was lucky to find one person early on — Bob Ready — who has consistently understood what I am trying to do when I write, usually before I know it myself.
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