In the fall of 1988, Dan Wickett was taking a mere six credits to finish up his BS degree. These six credits were obtained through his taking two English Department classes, both pertaining to literary fiction. During the three months of this semester, Wickett spent an inordinate amount of time at the Graduate Library, wandering through shelves of old literary journals. Perusing an old Michigan Quarterly Review, Wickett saw that T.C. Boyle, a favorite author of his, suggested people read Michael Martone's Alive and Dead in Indiana. Sheep that Wickett was (is), he found a copy in the library and either checked it out, or photocopied it (Wickett was also working at the University's Natural Science Library at the time, and had great access to photocopiers). Wickett enjoyed the collection quite a bit - the stories mainly told from a first person point of view - pretty straightforward though with an ironic humor to them. The last story even seemed to wander into a bit more of an experimental territory.
Some research led Wickett to find out he could special order Martone's collection, Safety Patrol, from Borders, which at the time was still just an amazing Independent Bookseller located in Ann Arbor, MI, and not the conglomerate that it is today. Special order it Wickett did and he was delighted to find that Martone's writing had only gotten sharper, if anything, in the four years since he had published Alive and Dead in Indiana. With 12 stories in the collection, Martone was shortening each individual effort, and in doing so was seemingly being even more careful in his selection of words and sentences. The collection was also stunning in the manner that Martone infused each one with the idea of safety, and then hammered home the idea that no matter how much you prepare, you cannot always avoid the inevitable problems inherent in the world.
In another year or so, Wickett found a copy of Martone's Fort Wayne is Seventh on Hitler's List, and again, found Martone's writing well worth his time. The stories were again set in Indiana, and mainly from that similar first person narrative point of view. Wickett decided that the stories were sliding a bit further into experimental territory, not always having that straightforward narrative, jumping around more, varying points of view, etc.
From about 1993, or so, through early in the year 2000, Dan Wickett might have read a dozen or so books. While he has used courtship, his wedding and the birth of a trio of children during that 7 year span as an excuse, others have claimed he had fallen too far under the spell of what is known as television. In early 2000, Wickett was informed that his former teacher, Alyson Hagy, had two books due in April of that year, and former classmate, Elwood Reid, had a story collection due around the same time. Wickett obtained all three and read them on a camping weekend. This reminded him what it was about reading that he had enjoyed so much prior to 1993, and he began to do a bit more of it. He also began trumpeting his opinions on said books via the internet, much to the chagrin of many a person with an email address.
It appears that Wickett had forgotten about his enjoyment of the early writings of Michael Martone, and it wasn't until Dan Green was shrewd enough to nominate Martone's latest work, Michael Martone, that Wickett's memory kicked into gear. He read this newest title of Martone's and enjoyed it greatly - the book, mainly consisting of Contributor's Notes, felt like an incredibly interesting way of writing a novel to Wickett. It was funny, written in a manner that caused Wickett to think, and even had a blurb from Michael Martone himself - a first from what Wickett could remember.
Wickett was surprised to find out that Martone had published a few other books in between the years of 1992 and 2006 and began looking for them. He was able to find a copy of The Blue Guide to Indiana at the wonderful Shaman Drum Bookstore in Ann Arbor, MI. This book, Martone's inspired fictional version of a travel book for the state of Indiana caused Wickett to laugh nearly as much as John Kennedy Toole's Confederacy of Dunces did years earlier. Just wondering where Martone came up with the idea for a Trans-Indiana Mayonnaise Pipeline had Wickett worrying about Martone's mental well being.
Somewhere during the time period between early 2000 and 2006, Dan Wickett had made some form of contact with publicists at the University of Georgia Press. It turned out that they had published two of the titles of Martone's that Wickett had not yet read, or even obtained. After reading Michael Martone, Wickett contacted said publicist and inquired about obtaining review copies of these two titles: The Flatness and Other Landscapes, and Unconventions: Attempting the Art of Craft and the Craft of Art. Said publicist was happy to oblige. While Dan Wickett enjoyed Unconventions, a collection of short essays, prefaces, speeches and even a eulogy, that Martone had written or given over the years, it was The Flatness, a collection of essays about the Midwest, that completely blew Wickett away. Martone's own particular style, combined with his unique way of looking at day to day events that one might encounter in the farms and other landscapes of the Midwest, created a masterpiece in Wickett's mind.
One of the things that Dan Wickett has tried to do in his role with the Litblog Co-op is to interview the authors that have titles nominated each quarter. When Wickett was arranging his interview with Martone, the author was kind enough to offer a copy of his collection, Seeing Eye, to Wickett. This collection is the lastof Martone's that Wickett has read. It's broken into three sections, and contains 32 stories - Wickett once again noticed that Martone's stories were continuing to shrink in size, but not in their power. The middle section is probably the one most discussed, as Martone collected twelve, 1 to 3 page, vignettes that were written as Thoughts of Dan Quayle. Each was written from the point of view of Quayle and to Wickett, were just as absurd as he expected them to be.
Wickett has now been left in the position of looking forward to more of Martone's writing being published.