Mark Mustian is an author, attorney and city commissioner. His latest, The Gendarme (read by PopMatters editors and highly recommended) is a complex story of memory, war, and racism set in Turkey at the dawn of the 20th century. Mustian traveled to Turkey and Syria to research this novel – but a few of his destinations in his many travels. Mustian’s fiction has been published or is forthcoming in Stand Magazine, The Green Hills Literary Lantern, Opium Magazine, Parting Gifts and other publications.
He reveals to PopMatters 20 Questions a deep sensitivity to life for the average person; from the struggles of his Depression-era father to the modern working man, just trying to pay his utility bills.
1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?
I cried, believe it or not, during the movie Akeelah and the Bee—about the young black girl competing in the national spelling bee. I’m not ashamed to admit this, Disney-fied and happy ending-ish as it was. I don’t think my kids were fazed by it at all.
2. The fictional character most like you?
Atticus Finch? He’s a lawyer, I’m a lawyer. He’s reasonable and brave and forward-thinking. I’d like to think I am, too. My wife might offer up Dr. Pangloss, though, as being most like me: I’m an optimist. It’s sort of like being diseased.
3. The greatest album, ever?
The Who’s Tommy—even the Broadway version is good. Then Led Zeppelin’s Four Sticks (the one with “Stairway to Heaven”), and any of a number of Beatles albums: Abbey Road, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Finally, the Lindsay Buckingham-Steve Nicks Buckingham Nicks album, which I can’t find on iTunes or anywhere else.
4. Star Trek or Star Wars?
I’m fond of both, but maybe with an edge to Star Trek. I found the Star Trek movies to be quite good (The Wrath of Khan, anyone?), even the most recent one.
I liked Star Wars when I first saw it, and the special effects and whole hero’s journey stuff were enjoyable, but I didn’t feel compelled to see the “prequels”. I hated Jar Jar Binks.
5. Your ideal brain food?
Travel. I like to explore, to go to places most people (particularly most Americans) don’t go. I’ve been to South America a number of times, climbed Mt. Fuji, rented a house in Tangier. I went to Turkey and Syria to research parts of The Gendarme. The exploration of other cultures, other places, helps fuel my creativity. It’s a lot easier to get inside someone’s head if you’ve been to where they live.
6. You’re proud of this accomplishment, but why?
I graduated early from college. This took some effort. And today I wonder—why did I do this? I could have done a European study program, read a little French literature in Paris, maybe taken art history in Florence. Instead, I jumped right into law school, where I ceased all reading for fun and worked like a madman.
I began reading for pleasure again only ten years after I began practicing law. This is really what I’m proud of—reading has enabled me to write, and brought me much joy.
7. You want to be remembered for ...?
Trying to address issues both large and small. I attended a talk a few years ago that a writer friend of mine was giving, and he stated that he wanted to write about stuff “that mattered.” I do, too. I want to make people think, and reconsider, and evaluate, and perhaps change their minds. As an elected official, most of what I deal with is mundane, but still important. The level of someone’s utility rates can have a real effect on their life. The decisions we make today have reverberations that will last for generations to come.
8. Of those who’ve come before, the most inspirational are?
My father. He grew up dirt-poor in Texas during the Depression. At times some of his family lived in a tent. He served in WWII, was injured during the war and, but then sent back to the front. His commanding officer there told him he was needed because his replacements had been “too scared”.
He later went to college on the GI bill and became a hospital administrator. One of his assistants told me that one day at the hospital (what was then called) a bum was hanging out, looking for food. The assistant asked my father: should we run him off? My father reached in his pocket and gave the assistant a couple of bucks and said: “Buy the guy something to eat. I know what it’s like to be hungry.”
9. The creative masterpiece you wish bore your signature?
The Confessions of Nat Turner. I think it’s brilliant and gutsy and moving. I wish I had written it.
10. Your hidden talents…?
I can sing fairly well, a talent rarely displayed in public. My wife might dispute this—the talent, not the display. But then, she can’t carry a tune.
11. The best piece of advice you actually followed?
During my (lengthy) quest for a literary agent prior to the publication of The Gendarme, a friend recommended me to his agent. That agent called me, and said that he loved the historical part of my novel, but that he recommended the present-day portion be completely re-written. I’d already worked on the manuscript for three years at this point, but I took his advice and re-wrote half the book over the course of the next nine months.
When I re-submitted it to him, he told me that, unfortunately, he just wasn’t excited enough about the book to represent me. So I started again with query letters, etc., but kept the revised version, because I thought it was better. That version is what I submitted to the agent I was able to retain (Scott Mendel), and what was eventually published as The Gendarme.
12. The best thing you ever bought, stole, or borrowed?
When I was 18, I bought my first car. My parents paid for some of it, but I put several years of mowing yards-savings into that purchase, an Oldsmobile Cutlass. I’d only had it a few months when my brother, riding with me, smarted off to some guy who had pulled in front of us then next thing I knew was leaping off the roof of my car onto the roof with his cowboy boots on. Those dents were never repaired.
A short time later, while on a camping trip, I became convinced I’d locked the keys in the trunk, whereupon I tried (unsuccessfully) to open the trunk with a tire iron. Those dents were never repaired, either. Still, it was a great car.
13. You feel best in Armani or Levis or . . .?
I own neither Armani nor Levis. (Wrangler jeans seem to fit better). I’m actually most comfortable in shorts, because I live in Florida, and it’s so hot here for much of the year that anything else seems insane (except when you go to the movies, which are kept so cool that a jacket and jeans must accompany you). I owned an Armani suit once but found I didn’t like or wear it much.
14. Your dinner guest at the Ritz would be?
Operating under the assumption that Jesus, Mohammed and Buddha had other plans, I’ll pick Dostoevsky.
I’d actually like to be part of a dinner with Dostoevsky, Nabokov and Shostakovich. Why not? They were all a bit crazy, which appeals to me, and tortured souls as well, which as a writer are always the most interesting. And Dostoevsky had that Christian thing going, too. Kind of counter-cyclical. Had he ever thought of himself plunging an axe into an old lady’s head? I wonder.
15. Time travel: where, when and why?
Future. Earth: 2100. Is it a wasteland? People with Kindles wired into their foreheads? Radioactive ash and bits of old Edgar Winter records? Or maybe a more advanced society, with a pristine natural environment, tremendous intellectual debate and adequate healthcare for all.
Nah, my guess is the former. And I’m an optimist.
16. Stress management: hit man, spa vacation or Prozac?
Some of each. I’d be less inclined to an actual hit man than a metaphorical version—I’ve kept a caustic e-mail I received from an agent because I wanted to prove her wrong (which she was), although I’ve now deemed it too petty of me to point this out to her.
Any vacation works wonders. And Prozac or any of its weaker sisters: booze, Ambien, listening to Virginia Woolf tapes—seem just fine to me.
17. Essential to life: coffee, vodka, cigarettes, chocolate, or . . .?
Hmmm, cigarettes have never been an issue, and I count myself lucky on that. The others, though, are on target, and in the correct order. I could forego alcohol before I could give up coffee. And I’d have to have add exercise to the list: I go crazy if I can’t move around.
Photo (partial) by © Katrice Howell
18. Environ of choice: city or country, and where on the map?
I used to think country, but now would say city. And Tallahassee, Florida is one of the most beautiful places on earth (even if hot in the summer). Hey, I’m a City Commissioner! What do you want me to say?
19. What do you want to say to the leader of your country?
The American people are spoiled. Stay the course.
20. Last but certainly not least, what are you working on, now?
I’ve got another novel going, and another one after that. The first is historical in nature, and I’m quite pumped up about it. The second is set in the near-term future. I think (quite modestly) that it can be great, too.