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Milking rejection for laughs

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Jack Pendarvis, a writer, a humorist and a 42-year-old who has been composing quirky and funny and sad stories and comic strips since he was about 5, knows rejection well. "The book I wrote before this one was rejected by people who weren't even publishers," he says.

"It was rejected by people on the street."

Pendarvis is sitting at a table in Manuel's Tavern, not far from the apartment where he has lived since moving from Alabama to Atlanta in 1993. He has posed for an oddly staged photograph --- holding his new book, "The Mysterious Secret of the Valuable Treasure," up to his face and peeking around it --- knowing he looks ridiculous.

He shrugs: "You're the photographer," he says.

The scene might have been lifted from the title story of his collection of 11 pieces. It's about a dreadful writer and loser, Willie Dobbs, who has decided to write a history of the United States and suffers withering (and overwritten) criticism from his family.

The humor in the piece --- like the humor in much of his collection ("Our Spring Catalog" is a spoof of publishing house promotions of forthcoming books) --- is in the awful writing, in the pompousness and pretentiousness of writers and the writing profession.

Here, for instance, is a Pendarvis werewolf joke: "I began to become uncomfortable at the numerous symptoms of lycanthropy I seemed to share with real-life lycanthropes." If you didn't laugh at that, you may not laugh at the rest of his book. If you did, you've found a soul mate.

Pendarvis says it took him about two years to produce the collection (MacAdam/Cage, hardback: $21), and he already has an advance on his next, "Your Body Is Changing," due out in about a year.

He read from "Mysterious" during a book signing attended by about 50 people at A Cappella Books in Little Five Points in early November. He has been on a book tour ever since.

"I've been to Austin [Texas], Tempe [Ariz.] and Los Angeles," he says. "It's been great so far. I've met a lot of nice people and sold a goodly amount of books." The last stop on the tour is Chicago, for a reading at a bar. "A great way to end my journey," he says.

Many of the pieces in his 187-page volume were inspired by TV. He used to work in the programming department of TBS and still does freelance TV writing for "TV Land" and "Nick at Night," as well as periodic pieces for the online publication McSweeney's and others.

His latest project is for Wholphin, a quarterly DVD magazine. The editors sent him a Turkish sitcom, and he's writing humorous subtitles in English. "The show is just like the old American TV series 'The Jeffersons,' " he says, pausing a beat: "Laughter is the universal language."

Copyright 2005 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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