The Penmen Profile: Journalist Mark Sundeen

by Rebecca LeBoeuf

Journalist Mark Sundeen is on tour across the United States, promoting his newly published book, “The Unsettlers.” This work of nonfiction follows couples in search of simple, authentic lives in America. Sundeen published three other books, one of which won the 2015 Green Book Festival (“The Man Who Quit Money”).

Have you always written?
Yes, since I was on the high school newspaper, anyway.

What’s your process in developing your storyline and characters?
As a reporter, working on “The Unsettlers,” I spent two years traveling and spending time with the families that I profiled.

What challenges do you face in your writing, and how do you overcome them?
I don’t always like to talk to strangers just because I’m shy, but that’s exactly what I have to do.

What has the road to publication been like for you?
I used to self-publish a magazine back in the 90s. I wrote a column about slightly fictionalized travels, which ended up as my first book, “Car Camping,” published when I was 29, in 2000.

How do you market your work?
My publisher does the major work with trying to get my book on radio shows and in newspapers. I also post on social media.

What do you wish you knew when you first started writing?
For me, the writing is relatively easy, compared to getting the book to an audience. I used to think that all books automatically made it to the front table at your local bookstore. Actually only a few ever make it there.

Who are the authors that have inspired you most, and how have they inspired you?
Lately I’ve been inspired by Ta-Nehesi Coates, not just by his brave powerful book, “Between the World and Me,” but also by his story of never giving up, despite how unlikely it looked just a few years ago, that he was ever going to make it as a writer.

If you could keep just three books in your library, which would you choose and why?
“Slouching Toward Bethlehem,” by Joan Didion because it is a great mix of reporting and memoir and essay, and still fresh and stylish after 50 years.

“Anna Karenina” by Leo Tolstoy because it is probably my favorite novel, but also, if I only had a few books, this one is 700 pages so there is plenty to read and re-read.

The Bible because I figure it would take the rest of my life to read the whole thing.

Visit Sundeen’s website to read more about his novels.