InterMat Reads: Famous Last Lines

Mark Palmer

2/19/2013
Mark Palmer, InterMat Senior Writer
mark@intermatwrestle.com, Twitter: @MatWriter

There are powerful connections between wrestling and writing. Just ask Mark Pearson.

"In wrestling, you have to deal with losing. In writing, you deal with rejection," according to Pearson, a former University of Michigan wrestler who is now mat coach at The Hill School in Pennsylvania ... and has written in various arenas, including as a sports reporter, and as an honored short story author.

Now Pearson brings together the disciplines of wrestling and writing in his first collection of short stories, "Famous Last Lines," published by Main Street Rag Publishing Company.

Meet the Pearsons

Mark Pearson is part of a wrestling family with two generations that are known and respected within the amateur wrestling community.

Max Pearson
Mark's late father Max Pearson was a three-time Big Ten champ and two-time NCAA finalist for the University of Michigan in the late 1950s. Mark's youngest brother Michael wrestled at Michigan State; another brother, Eric, competed at Princeton University, then returned to his alma mater to save the program from elimination which then led to his involvement in the American Sports Council, an organization dedicated to fostering opportunities for male and female collegiate athletes.

Mark's mat roots run deep. "I started wrestling about age nine," said the wrestler-turned-writer. "I wrestled all through high school at The Hill School, a boarding school about 45 minutes outside Philadelphia, in the same league as Blair Academy."

Mark Pearson
"I won the national prep title in 1978, twenty-five years after my dad had, wrestling for the same school, in the same weight class."

Following in his father's footsteps, Mark Pearson headed west to Ann Arbor, to study and wrestle at the University of Michigan. Just like his dad Max, Mark wrestled opponents in the Big Ten in dual-meet competition and at the conference championships. Mark placed as high as sixth at the Big Ten championships, and was team captain his fourth year of school.

A coach in the classroom and wrestling room

After graduating from Michigan in 1982, Mark Pearson returned to Pennsylvania, where he launched his wrestling coaching career, first on the collegiate level at Millersville University, then at Franklin and Marshall, both in Lancaster, Pa. While there, Pearson also embarked on his professional writing career, serving as a sportswriter for newspapers in Lancaster and in nearby York, Pa.

In 1991, Pearson moved to Washington, D.C., where he taught ancient history and coached wrestling at St. Albans School, and worked part-time as a writer for the Washington Post.

Four years later, Pearson returned to The Hill School, where he became an English instructor and served as head wrestling coach. In 2000, he headed west to University of California-Davis, where he not only earned a Master's in English (with a concentration in creative writing), but also served as a volunteer wrestling coach, working for head coach -- and college mat rival -- Lenny Zalesky. After spending time in the South (earning his Ph.D. in English at University of Georgia, and as an instructor/coach in Houston), Pearson came back to Hill in 2011, again as a teacher and wrestling coach.

A wrestler becomes a writer

Mark Pearson had wanted to be a writer since he was eleven years old, but truly focused his energies on that career path starting as a junior at Michigan. "My assistant coach at the time, Joe Wells, told me about John Irving's books," Pearson told InterMat, referring to another wrestler-turned-writer whose novels include "The World According to Garp" and "The Cider-House Rules," along with "The Imaginary Girlfriend," a wrestling memoir. "Reading Irving's books, I really got interested in exploring fiction writing myself."

After college, Pearson put his writing passion to work as a journalist from Washington, D.C. to California ... but it was a number of years into his career before he pursued fiction writing, with a focus on short stories. In an article at The Hill School website, Pearson said, "I had been working on some nonfiction about my life and wrestling when Chuck Carlise, a friend of mine who was the nonfiction editor of Gulf Coast magazine, asked me if I had written any nonfiction. I bounced a few drafts off him and then submitted it to Sport Literate; it became a finalist in the magazine's essay contest, and then was printed."

In the past two decades, Pearson has had a number of short stories published. In 2011, an essay titled "The Short History of an Ear," was chosen to appear in The Best American Spots Writing 2011 anthology. His first book -- "Famous Last Lines," a collection of his short stories spanning 20 years of writing -- will be published in April 2013.

"This collection of fully developed stories explores a variety of struggles -- from wrestling to natural disasters, crime, gun abuse, difficult love, and psychological disorders -- with surprising twists leading to deep psychological insights and epiphanies," according to Josip Novakovich, author of April Fool's Day and Salvation and Other Disasters. "The stories pinned me down as though in a wrestling match, and only with the last ring was I able to get up (from my armchair) with a buzz in my ears."

From journalist to fiction writer

"In my final years at Michigan, I became interested in fiction writing," Pearson disclosed. "When I got into journalism, I quickly realized the difference in writing styles. Journalism is objective reporting. As (Ernest) Hemingway once said, 'Journalism will ruin your fiction writing.'"

When asked if he was able to work on his fiction writing while working as a journalist, Pearson responded, "As a full-time journalist, you're exhausted, and it's hard to write fiction."

"As I became a teacher and coach, I decided to try to focus on fiction."

"I try to work on my fiction writing after wrestling season, during breaks at school," Pearson continued.

Wrestling to writing: A matter of discipline

During the interview for this feature, a recurring theme was the discipline required to be successful in wrestling also has impact on a writer's ability to practice his craft.

Mark Pearson
"Perseverance is important to success in both writing and wrestling," said Pearson. "It took me a long time to develop as a short story writer. It took about ten years to get my first short story published."

"Writing takes a lot of mental energy," Pearson continued. "But you just do it."

"When we're on breaks from school, I get up and write each morning. Once I'm working on a story, I try to stick with it, but sometimes, you have to set things aside."

How does an author know when a story is finished?

"At some point you feel comfortable with it, it does what it needs to do," Pearson responded. "I sometimes share it with someone else, or send it off to an editor."

"You reach a certain point where you need feedback."

Famous Last Lines

Mark Pearson described "Famous Last Lines" as "fifteen stories, stories of men and their travails."

"There are threads that weave the stories together. Male characters struggling to make it through, seeking lives that are rewarding, no matter what they are struggling through."

"I've written for a broad audience," Pearson continued. "Even if you don't know about wrestling, you can understand and enjoy the stories."

"I had to write stories that I feel are entertaining to read. I was trying to write stories that appeal to me."

Mark Pearson's "Famous Last Lines," published by Main Street Rag Publishing, will be available April 30, 2013. The publisher is offering a pre-publication discount price on copies purchased online before April 16. To learn more about the book -- and read a sample story -- visit the book's website .

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