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Thursday, July 12th, 2007 by

The following from Mark Ethridge, author of Grievances:

Doug Marlette, the Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist and novelist (The Bridge, Magic Time) died this week in a Mississippi car wreck at age 57. He was one of my best friends for thirty-five years.

Our friendship began in 1972 at The Charlotte Observer where I was a rookie reporter and he was the editorial cartoonist, his first real job.

It was a rare, special time. We were young, rebellious, just coming off Kent State and the anti-war movement.¬† (I was still 29 when I got to be The Observer‘s managing editor — seven years after marching in the streets.)

We were crusaders. It’s why we got into the business. Imagine this:

  • A 16-page special section with no advertising which said North Carolina had a moral obligation to stop being a state where the most valuable cash crop (tobacco) kills people.
  • 10 reporters for eight months on brown lung disease in the textile industry an eight-day series of maybe 32 pages that won a public service Pulitzer.

  • More than 10 years on PTL . . . and endless reporters, lawyer bills and scorn from the public. And another Pulitzer.

  • Two reporters and a photographer assigned to find the source of the Catawba River and follow it to the sea, writing about the people and the land along the way. 32 pages. Special paper. No advertising.
  • Doug was the lightning rod, the lead point on the flying wedge of journalists who so inflamed the publisher and the populace that what the rest of us did¬†looked mild in comparison.

    More recently, Doug taught me about writing novels. There are conventions in novel writing, the way there are conventions in writing for a newspaper or writing a legal brief. If you are a reader, you may experience some of these conventions but when you become a writer you find that they have already been intellectualized and that there is a code. (You just didn’t know it.)

    I learned many of these rules when I gave Doug the first 185 pages of Grievances when he came to visit at the beach. He disappeared into his room and emerged five or six hours later. He suggested we go down to the dock and that I take something to write with. He proceeded to give me a list of 10 things I needed to know about novel-writing and obviously didn’t — things like ‘Never say or reveal anything important about a character when the character is not on stage.’

    I rewrote Grievances as a result

    About every six months thereafter I would get a call from Doug. “Do you still have that list?” he would ask. “And would you mind faxing it to me?”

    Doug Marlette’s website, including memorial information, is at www.dougmarlette.com.

    Grievances is available from NewSouth Books, Amazon.com, or your favorite local or online book retailer.

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