The Story Behind Wanna-be’s by Mark Connelly


Several years ago I had a brief stint as the lone white employee in a black engineering firm.  When the owner wanted to obtain information about contracts or upcoming bids, he would send me to ask questions and make presentations as if I were a senior executive.  I played a number of roles as advance man to get information and make contacts without tipping off that the wanna-bescompany was minority owned.  Having a PhD in English and no knowledge of engineering, I had some amusing moments.

These experiences inspired a few satiric short stories.  I created the character of Winfield Payton who is a mashup of Fitzgerald’s Pat Hobby,

Bellow’s Augie March, and Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm persona.

Urged by his married girlfriend to “go condo,” Winfield joins a friend’s black savings and loan and bumbles through a series of urban misadventures.  I had about a dozen episodes and originally thought of publishing them as a loose collection of stories.  But after the first story was published, I realized I could place them in a different sequence to achieve the narrative arc of a novel.  Wanna-be’s is basically a sendup of all the talking heads you see on cable TV.  It’s politically incorrect and self-deprecating.

America has always been a land of dreams and schemes, and everyone is deluded that somehow they can make it.  And in a way these days anyone can.  You can put an unreadable novel on Amazon, post an unwatchable video on YouTube, and Instagram your cat photos to the world.  We are in a land of invisible celebrities.  For recognition kids used to spray paint their names on a wall.  Now they project themselves into cyberspace, Facebooking and YouTubing their latest insights and events to a faux universe where everyone is famous all the time.  For added humor I set the book in Milwaukee (my adopted hometown) because the bar is set so low for wanna-be’s.  To call yourself intellectual in New York, you have to write a book.  In Milwaukee, you just have to read one.

I have published a dozen books with major publishers and university presses.  This time I decided to experiment and self-publish on Amazon.   Within a week I got a great 5-star review which said Wanna-be’s would make a great HBO series.  Just the way I conceived it.

About the Author

mark-connellyMark 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.

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