[Author Menu] [Date Menu] [Genre Menu] [Home Page] [Links] [Sponsors]

Collection of short stories shocks, disturbs

March 18, 2001
Elisabeth Sherwin -- gizmo@ dcn.davis.ca.us

Mark Wisniewski is another graduate of the UC Davis creative writing program achieving success and recognition. He joins Charlotte Freeman, Sara Backer and Eric Paul Shaffer, all of whom have enjoyed publication recently.

Wisniewski's most recent title is a collection of short stories, "All Weekend With the Lights On," published by alumnus Jordan Jones of Leaping Dog Press in Virginia.

Wisniewski attended Davis from 1989 to 1991. One of the stories in his collection, "Airstrip," is set at the UCD Airport and environs. But don't expect a pastoral salute to the country in this tale. Like many of Wisniewski's stories, it's shocking.

Even more disturbing are "Unknown Rook" and "Pushing Ahead." In "Rook," a young male sports fan breathlessly describes a ghoulish event that took place in the stands while he watched a baseball game. In "Pushing Ahead," the unpleasant sexual escapades of players at a small Catholic college are described.

In a phone interview with Wisniewski at his Lake Peekskill, N.Y., home I asked him where those two bleak stories came from. He laughed, agreeing with me that they were disturbing.

"Before coming to UC Davis I was studying with John Edgar Wideman at University of Massachusetts, Amherst," he said. "I jumped ship to come to Davis.

"Wideman was very voice-oriented. The writer, he said, is just a secretary for a voice. You just let it speak come hell or high water. It's a frightening way to write."

Both "Rook" and "Pushing" were written this way, by letting a voice in his head take over, he said. Sometimes the voice just fizzles out and has nothing to say, but in the case of these two stories the voices had tales to tell, edgy and startling.

But back to the story set in Davis. In "Airstrip" a young male student rides his bike out to the airport. There he meets an older woman, also a bike rider, whose name he never learns. She introduces him to a bizarre sport - playing chicken with the incoming small planes.

The idea, she explains to the student, is to get as close as possible to the plane before it touches down on the short strip. The student figures that this is just a kinky prelude to sex until the woman's true motives become clear in the fiery conclusion.

"That story was revised numerous times and finally became a comment on academia more than anything," said Wisniewski. "I definitely had Davis in mind for the setting."

When he left Davis, Wisniewski began teaching. He taught in Texas, Pennsylvania and Manhattan. He taught at City University of New York, La Guardia Community College, for seven years.

"My students seemed to enjoy what I did," he said. "I helped a lot of them get published. I treated my class like a community of writers.

"I love to teach and I love to teach writing," he added. "If I could find a position that would allow me to do that without all the demanding and upsetting politics I would love to teach again some time.

"I found it very rewarding and very draining to teach," he said. "But I came to the place where I had to make a choice since both teaching and writing used the same juice. I decided writing was my first love, teaching came second."

So Wisniewski, 42, quit teaching. He tried to simplify his life and narrow his focus by moving from Manhattan to upstate New York. The idea is to devote himself solely to writing. He doesn't have email, for instance, and tries to keep distractions to a minimum while he completes his novel "Pariahs."

Wisniewski already has been quite successful. More than half the 14 stories in "All Weekend With the Lights On" were first published in literary magazines. Wisniewski has published more than 100 short stories and 50 poems plus a nonfiction book on writing and a 1997 novel, "Confessions of a Polish Used-Car Salesman."

He also was the founding editor in Manhattan of "New York Stories," a literary magazine. He knows many agents and writers and is aware of what it takes to get published.

The secret, he says, is to make publication a secondary goal.

"You have to pick a subject that you care about enough so that if you don't get published you've still won, you've taken yourself on a journey," he said.

Wisniewski grew up in Milwaukee, Wis., where his father taught high school.

"He has no problem telling me which one of my stories he likes and which ones he doesn't," said Wisniewski. "He's very supportive."

And if for some reason he decides never to teach or write again, Wisniewski has a third career to fall back on. He earned a law degree from Georgetown University although he has never yet had to practice law.

To inquire about ordering any of the above mentioned books from an independent bookstore,
Bogey's Books at discounted prices [ Click Here ]

[Author Menu] [Date Menu] [Genre Menu] [Home Page] [Links] [Sponsors]
The Davis Virtual Market||  Davis Community Network