Saturday, August 05, 2006


(News-Herald, August 3) One benefit of teaching, particularly in a small town, is that you get to see your students grow up and become admirable, accomplished adults. Some become the good, solid citizens who keep the world spinning. That’s a great, honorable thing.
Some pursue something a little chancier, a little riskier, and it’s a great, proud thing when they find a measure of success. In the last few weeks, I’ve been reminded of four former Franklinites doing just that.
It has not been that many years since Steve Marzolf graduated, but since then he’s pursued the life of a working writer. He moved to The Big City and landed a job at FHM magazine, where Steve has worked his way up from short factoidish pieces to feature writing.
It is not glamorous work. It does not make people rich and famous quickly. But people who want to write for a living usually have to work their way up the food chain; not many have the guts or drive to do it. Steve and his buddies in my class gave me a plaque with their motto inscribed: “There’s nothing we can’t not do.” But there’s Steve, living his dream and engaged to be married to a woman who’s at least as smart as he is.
Mark McClusky is another Franklinite in the magazine biz. He worked for years at Sports Illustrated, and has now moved on to become an editor at Wired, a very cool magazine that deals with the cutting edges of technology and culture.
I can still remember some of what Mark wrote in high school, including some strong pieces for the school magazine, particularly about being a son. He now has a blog ( where he writes about gourmet food; he’s also included some nice words about the experience of being a father.
One of his best friends in high school was Mike Dittman. Mike and Mark were in some ways yin and yang. Mark was the one who knew how to stay within the lines; he knew the system and the system liked him. Mike, on the other hand, could not always resist giving the system a kick in the shins, and the system did not always thank him for it.
Which is why it’s ironic to find Mike on the other side of the desk now as a college professor teaching students how to write.
Mike’s new book is a noirish murder mystery set in post-WWII Pittsburgh. The main character is a veteran, struggling to readjust to a world that he has fought for, but can’t quite feel at home in. It’s hard-boiled detective fiction, brutal and finely observed, well-written. There’s a neat little mystery, some nice period history, and strong, compact writing. The book is Small Brutal Incidents and you can find it at, or through the publisher, Contemporary Press.
Native-product writers are easier to find and support because print waits patiently for its audience. It’s more of a challenge to catch our native-product performers.
In their teens, all of the Buranosky sisters were brilliant and talented. Jessica spent some time on stage (old timers might remember when she and her sister Raquel played twins in the FHS production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum), then headed to Duke to become a lawyer.
She ended up a business consultant in Pittsburgh, but she had never let go of the music. She’d been taught and mentored by some great old hands of jazz and blues and a few years ago got serious—really serious—about singing.
More than that, she has become a force in Pittsburgh by organizing Thursday night sessions at a Burgh club where music is wrapped around sessions of business networking and panel discussions. She is making the connections between the business and music worlds really work. Joanne Wheeler may want to give her a call.
But more than all that, she can sing. She is straight out of the classic sound of singers like Etta James and Peggy Lee (the gutsy, late-night blues Lee, not the wimpy pop Lee).
She’s singing at the Barrow Saturday night as part of the theater’s drive to get out from under the grinding financial effects of its mortgage. Both she and the Barrow are worth your time and money.
These people passed through my classroom, but I get about as much credit for their talent as for sunrise in the morning. But I am proud of them nonetheless, and when people make jokes about how nothing much ever comes out of Venangoland, these four are just part of how I know those jokes are wrong.

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