"The famous writing advice that you should write what you know, makes a certain kind of sense, but I'm more of the mind that it's more interesting to write about what I'd like to know."
What Mark Winegardner knows is the life of a Midwestern man. He grew up in the northwest corner of Ohio in a town called Bryan, "which supplies the world with its Dum-Dum suckers and Etch-a-Sketches." Winegardner's childhood was full of travel adventures: "his parents owned an RV dealership…and every summer he traveled with his family across the USA in various travel trailers and motorhomes.
A distinguished 1983 graduate of Miami University (in Oxford, Ohio), Winegardner spent a year traveling cross-country before marrying Laura Ryll in 1984. Just three years later, Winegardner earned a master's of fine arts (MFA) degree at George Mason University.
Though Winegardner won an award for one of his short stories in grad school, his first official published work was Elvis Presley Boulevard: From Sea to Shining Sea, Almost -- a nonfictional account of his post-college road trip.
In several of his books, Winegardner's theme has centered on baseball. With his 1990 nonfiction account of a baseball scout's last season working in the major leagues, Prophet of the Sandlots: Journeys with a Major League Scout, Winegardner established himself as a popular success. He has since written other sports-related books: The Veracruz Blues (a baseball-related title set in Mexico) and he coauthored The 26th Man: One Minor Leaguer's Pursuit of a Dream. Veracruz Blues became a New York Times Notable Book of the Year.
Winegardner's Crooked River Burning, written in 2001, takes place in Cleveland, Ohio and meshes actual historical events with fictional ones. Winegardner has worked as a writing instructor and has taught and lectured at four different universities (including both of his alma maters). His essays and short stories have been published in several national publications, including Family Circle, Ladies Home Journal, and The New York Times Magazine. Winegardner has also "won grants, fellowships, and residencies" from numerous organizations, all of which helped subsidize his income while writing.
Winegardner currently lives in Tallahassee, Florida, where he directs Florida State University's Writing Program. Perhaps the most interesting turn his career as a writer has taken occurred in 2003. It was then that, after a three-month-long search involving more than thirty-six established authors, Winegardner was selected to write the next book in Mario Puzo's Mafia epic, The Godfather. The book is scheduled to debut in the fall of 2004.
After such success and recognition, Winegardner's advice to young writers is this: "I taught writing for a long time and I think one of the stumbling blocks people have when they first start to write is they are too polite. They underestimate how complicated human beings are…. One of the things I often tell students…is, 'Pay attention to your life for one day.' It's impossible to go through one day of life during which you don't do a dozen things that, if you were stopped and asked to explain yourself, would leave you stammering and seeming like a crazy person."