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

When did you start to publish your fiction?
My first story was published in 1980, I think, but I didn’t begin to publish consistently until ten years later when I was working in Izmir. Until that time an agent had been submitting stories for me but not doing so very energetically. Then a good friend and mentor, Bob Ready, suggested that I take control of my own stories. I did that, and began to have more luck placing them. Like everything Bob has said to me through the years about my writing, his advice was exactly right.
  What was that first published piece?
A story called “Spring Cleaning,” and it came out in Webster Review, which is now unfortunately defunct. It’s set in Peru and is a story about politics and religious faith, told from the point of view of an American missionary nun.
How many short stories, novels, and essays do you think you have published over the years?
      I’ve published perhaps sixty stories, a handful of essays, two collections of short stories and two novels.
Where have you short stories appeared?
The Atlantic Monthly, The Iowa Review, The Southern Review, The Southwest Review, New Letters, The American Literary Review, The Kenyon Review and North Dakota Quarterly.
Tell us about your writing? For example, how do you go about writing a short story?
Stories seem to develop in different ways for me. Sometimes it starts with a character. Other times it’s a situation, or the flavor of a memory. Once in a while, it’s just a phrase. The phrase “lifestyle implants” came to me while riding on a bus along the Aegean coast of Turkey. I had no idea what it meant; had to write The Lifestyle Implant Capers — my current project — to figure it out.
   Mark, how do you write? For example, do you write in long hand? Do you work everyday and try to write a certain amount of words or do you work for a set number of hours? Also, how many drafts or how long did it take you on A Handful of Kings?
While I was in the foreign service, I wrote whenever I could: after work, on my lunch hour, on holidays, even at the doctor’s office. In Washington, I wrote much of my new novel A Handful of Kings on a commuter train, writing longhand. Since leaving the service a year ago, I ’ve been able to work pretty much every day for four to five hours in the morning, sometimes longer, which is a real luxury and one I won’t easily give up. Kings took maybe four drafts, but I’ve lost track.
Our good friend Kinky Friedman (Borneo 1967–69) has said that “if John le Carré were an American, his name would be Mark Jacobs.” What’s A Handful of Kings about?
A Handful of Kings tells the story of a Colombian political group’s attempt — working with the Basque ETA — against American interests in Spain. The principal character is Vicky Sorrell, the cultural attaché in the U.S. embassy in Madrid, who is tired of the diplomatic life and trying to get out.
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