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No Joke: Facebook Prank, Persistence with Playboy Lead to Publishing Praise

A UC doctoral student wins the celebrated College Fiction Contest where erudite meets erotic. He also will have his first novella published.

Date: 9/10/2012
By: Tom Robinette
Phone: (513) 556-8577
What do a failed rock band, an elaborate Facebook hoax and Playboy magazine have in common? They’re all part of what brought Don Peteroy to the verge of his long-awaited moment in the sun.
Don Peteroy is the third UC student to place in Playboy magazine’s College Fiction Contest in the past five years.

Peteroy is a PhD candidate in the Department of English and Comparative Literature’s Creative Writing Program at the University of Cincinnati, and October’s arrival isn’t likely to cool what promises to be a hot month for the aspiring author and teacher.

The New York native’s first novella, “Wally,” was selected for publication by Burrow Press in December, and it will be released Oct. 9. If that weren’t enough, Peteroy’s short fiction piece “The Circuit Builders” earned him the top prize in the prestigious College Fiction Contest run by the racy yet respected king of men’s magazines, and the story will be published in the October issue. With this win, Peteroy has established an official trend: English Department alumni Brian Trapp took third place in the contest in 2010 and Jamie Poissant won first in 2007.

Peteroy will host a celebratory event he’s dubbed “Knockers and Novellas” at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 13 at Baba Budan’s coffeehouse and bar on West McMillan Street. There will be readings from Peteroy’s friends and colleagues, and two bands will perform live.

What brought you to UC?
Ten years ago, my wife Phoebe Reeves (now an assistant professor at UC’s Clermont College) got accepted into the grad program at UC, for poetry. I was a social worker. I also happened to join a rock band that was "destined" to make it big. After my wife graduated, we moved back to New York, but I continued to work with the band. Two years later, when it seemed that destiny was inches away, we moved back to Cincinnati, for the band. Sadly, the band broke up 10 days after we arrived. For two years, I went from job to job, and eventually enrolled in the English program at UC.
What was your inspiration for “Wally”?
Facebook. In 2007, I joined Facebook and got in touch with a high school friend. I hadn't talked to him in at least a decade. I decided to mess with him. I wrote him an email stating that I'd abandoned my wife, and I was currently driving as far north as one could possibly drive on this continent, to the town of Inuvik in the Yukon. I sent him a series of emails, a chronology of my bogus trip. He believed it for a little while. When the gag was up, I decided to fashion the emails into a story, and the novella grew out of those emails.
Don Peteroy's novella "Wally" will be released by Burrow Press in October.

What’s the story behind “The Circuit Builder” and how it got Playboy’s interest?
I'd entered Playboy’s contest for the past three years and did not make the final cut. This year, I read the previous winning stories and looked for certain trends, specifically concerning genre, structure and form. I applied those patterns to a story I'd been working on for months. The story is about an off-shore drug rehab with an off-shore treatment methodology: instead of depriving patients of drugs, they give them an unlimited supply. Naturally, there's a "sinister" purpose behind this. My goal was to write something outlandish (and to successfully convince the reader it's not outlandish), to keep it under 7,000 words, to incorporate a twisted love story in there, and to adhere to the "Playboy pattern."
Is there anyone in the McMicken College of Arts & Sciences who has been particularly influential on your work?
Allow me to boast on behalf of the best English department in the country. First and foremost, I should mention Michael Griffith. He first read my work 10 years ago, and has helped me in too many ways to mention. Then, without Leah Stewart's honesty and insight, “Wally” would be collecting dust. Chris Bachelder has gone out of his way to help me, too. My imaginative bursts, though, have often coincided with literature classes taught by Jonathan Kamholtz. Everything I've written has grown out of issues we've explored in his classes.

Do you have any new writing projects you’re working on?
I always have a few short stories on my plate, so I continue to pursue publication in literary journals. This last summer, I completed a novel I've been working on since 2007. It's 600 pages long and called “My Helicopter Heart.” It's a satire of apocalyptic literature, religious fanaticism, and celebrity pop culture.

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