Mark W. Derewicz scribbles fine work for Endeavors, the research magazine out of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. UNC killed the print edition some time ago, a decision that was derided here, but the magazine still has digital life. UMagazinology remains proudly printcentric, but would be foolish to ignore the purely digital, which we might all be before I retire. So a pixel-stained wretch responds to the UMag questionnaire.
How long have you been a writer?
Professionally? Let’s see. Aside from a hiatus here and there, 18 years. Geez. It’s really been that long? I began as a reporter at a small weekly newspaper, The Free Press, in Quakertown Pennsylvania.
Of all the things you have to do to produce a story in the magazine, what do you enjoy the most?
Constructing a unique story arc. When I’m allowed to let the word count climb past 2,000—or heaven forbid, 4,000—I really enjoy crafting a story in a way that others might not have pursued. I don’t always do a great job. I might not be as creative as I could be. But I enjoy that the most. That, and getting lost in a conversation with a source.
What has proven to be your biggest challenge?
Grammar and bureaucrats and procrastination. And grammar.
For interviews, notepad or recorder? For writing, legal pad, typewriter, or computer?
I use a digital recorder, but I do take a few notes. For me, recording the interview allows the conversation to be as genuine and free flowing as possible. Sometimes I don’t even need the recording. But I like to know I have it, especially after interviewing scientists. For writing, I use a computer.
What do you wish you were better at?
Oh just about everything. If I had to pick one I guess it would be sentence construction. I didn’t go to school to become a writer; I often feel less than confident. Frankly, without guidance from former Endeavors editor Neil Caudle and current editor Jason Smith, I’d still be extremely limited as a writer as opposed to merely limited. Yet, I haven’t gone the extra mile to learn how to construct more complex, intriguing sentences and paragraphs. (I’m sure my copy editor would’ve preferred a different answer, but what can I say other than copy editing is for copy editors.)
What story are you proudest to have written?
Because I have problems with Islamophobia, fundamentalists, and snarky atheists, I think I’m proudest of “People of the Book,” a story I wrote based on the research of UNC’s Carl Ernst. His book, How to Read the Qur’an, includes a section about the construction of some Qur’anic chapters—how various verses within a chapter frame a central idea. A lot of the time the central theme happens to be the establishment of unity within a community of people who have disparate beliefs. Pretty fascinating stuff. Of all the stories I wrote, this will be the one I drag out of the closet to show my kids and grandkids.
Who among writers have been your exemplars?
Strange as this might sound: Michael Lewis, Jon Krakauer, and Elizabeth Gilbert. As a former employee of Baseball America magazine, I understand the arguments against the concept of moneyball, but I love the way Lewis tells his stories. He might write with too much certainty and hyperbole, but I still love it. Krakauer: man, I could read Into the Wild over and over again. His narrative style is gripping and his research, unparalleled. I envy him. As for Gilbert, I haven’t read Eat, Pray, Love. But her book, The Last American Man, is wonderful. She perfectly contextualized the life of Eustace Conway, and tells his story with an endearing and uncompromising truth.
If you weren’t a writer, what would your dream job be?
I had a fleeting notion, before I realized I was way too stupid, that I could be a pretty good history professor. Of course, if that would’ve come to pass I’m fairly certain I would’ve ignored my students and spent all my time writing books.