Katia Raina

The Magic Mirror

Marc Acito: “A Poster Child for Misfits and Oddballs”

 Yep, that’s Marc Acito and me, in his midtown apartment — an island of mirrors and glass —  complete with head-spinning cityscape views. Marc calls the place a  “sanctuary” from the craziness that New York City can be.

[“One of the most important lessons I’ve learned as an artist is to slow down,” he tells me right off the bat. “Something that’s very hard to do here in the tri-state area.”]

[Tell me about it Marc. I am the quintessential speed junkie from New Jersey]


He greets me with water and  peanut butter-chocolate candy and mint tea with milk — all very elegant, very relaxed and very English. But I barely have time to swallow the tea — and I never even get to finish that single candy. Most of the time I am there, my pen is running across my notebook with dizzying speed, as I transcribe a stream of wisdom from this multi-talented artist, an enthusiastic writing teacher, a brilliant author — and, most inspiring for me, perhaps — a fellow misfit.

Just in case you haven’t heard of his cult classic “How I Paid for College: A Novel of Sex, Theft, Friendship and Musical Theater,” and a sequel “The Attack of the Theater People” (which is on my “to-read” list), here is my little book impression:



 He grew up  in the crazy 1980s (the decade he calls “corny” and “douche-bag-y” in Reagan America). He spent most of his childhood in a small sleepy town of Westfield New Jersey, pretty much like the fictional Wallenford where “How I Paid For College” is set. As a kid, Marc says he was “a misfit and a sissy and a brain.” Always the top student in the class and “completely unathletic,” Marc, who now measures an ordinary 5’8 was “freakishly tall.” He was also “the most effeminate boy” in his class.

Now he laughs: “There was no going under the radar.”

Being called a “fag” every single day of school isn’t something that can ever become background noise, Marc says. Rather, it was something he braced himself for — every day.

Edward from “How I Paid for College” is bi-sexual (or, according to Marc, what people call “bi now, gay later –” the same route Marc took in his teens). But the comic novel focuses on neither the pain, nor the bullying.

Still, “Art so frequently comes out of personal pain,” Marc says, “because pain makes you pay attention.”

When Marc became a teen, he started attending drama camps and other such events, and found others like him. “Everything changed when I found my tribe,” he says. “I became that kid in legs warmers and capezio dance shoes, and the thrift store vest with all the buttons, the flock of seagulls haircut, the fedora and the high top.”

If you know Ducky from the 1986 movie Pretty In Pink — well, then you can picture Marc as a teenager.


He didn’t know he was going to be a writer. But, being a child of a jazz musician father and a visual artist mother, the fact that he wanted a life in the arts was always a matter of genetics to Marc.  “It was just a question of what,” he says.

First Marc thought his fate lay in acting. Then, after getting kicked out of acting school, Marc built himself what he now describes as a “mediocre” opera singing career, “scratching my way to the middle,”  playing secondary roles of “hunchbacks and drunk best friends.” By the time he hit early 30s, Marc realized, however, that what he really wanted to do was “build his own worlds.” So he dropped his opera career, started a “signs and graphics” selling business to make a living (which he hated), and in spare time (leftover from 60 hour-working weeks), he started to write. [Read more about his epiphanies here: http://www.powells.com/taae/acito.html]

So he wrote short stories. Columns for his local gay newspaper (which happened to be in Portland, Oregon, and which eventually got him noticed by Chuck Palahniuk, the bestselling author of “Fight Club” who recommended Marc’s first manuscript to his agent and editor: see Marc’s website for the complete story: http://www.marcacito.com/aboutmarc.htm

[Both on his website and in the interview with me Marc offers tons of great advice for writers on getting ahead. He teaches story structure classes in NYC — and he seems like such a TEACHER: he doesn’t need prompting to  share his hard-earned knowledge. He stresses this advice for writers: get your name out there. Write for anything and anyone you can. You never know where it can lead.

“It isn’t who you know,” Marc says. “It’s who knows you.”]

Now, fifteen years after his first conscious decision to write, Marc stops telling the story for a moment (allowing me to take a sip of that tea). He is so overcome with emotion, he freezes, then leans forward on his seat. It seems, he needs a breath or two before continuing. When he is able to, he explains how it just hit home, while he was talking to me. The realization that he has always wanted to do this — to make a life in the arts. And that finally, he had. He is — making it.


He is “shopping around” the third book that continues the adventures of Eward Zanni, the hero of “How I Paid for College” and “Attack of the Theater People”  — and a memoir he has just finished “about the strange and mystical death of my mother.”  Reinventing his career, slowly transitioning from West Coast/ East Coats living (half the time he still resides in Portland, Oregon,) Marc is planning to eventually settle here in NYC — still the theater capital of the world — full-time. He is working on THREE musicals at once (see more info here: http://bastardjones.com/ ), writing columns and performing “singing commentaries” on NPR’s “All Things Considered.” As for “College,” it is in development by Columbia Pictures with Laura Ziskin, the producer of the Spiderman movies). But underneath all the busy-ness and the near-fame and the acclaim, Marc is still in some ways that geek kid from Westfield New Jersey. Even as an artist, Marc admits — not without a certain pride — that he is — “a poster child for misfits and oddballs.”

“I am an offbeat writer,” he says. “I am always surprised to hear when people tell me that my writing is unconventional.” But that’s okay, Marc says — more than okay — “it’s part of the adventure.”

Originally having written his first books for the audience of “male gays and the women who love them,” Marc had been surprised to discover all kinds of people loving his work. “What sorts of people?” I ask him.

But even before he starts speaking, I pause my pen, because , having fallen in love with his book, I already know.

“The artsy people,” he says.

“The freaks,” I say, smiling. “The oddballs.”

“The fun people,” he says. “The most interesting people in the room.”


November 29, 2010 - Posted by | Contemporary History, Interviews, Writing Mirror | , , , , , ,


  1. I read How I Paid for College… two years ago and was blown away. This weekend I finished Attack of the Theater People.

    Zanni and his friends are a fun bunch and I get that 80’s nostalgic feel reading Acito’s novels.

    How wonderful that you got to meet and interview him. 🙂

    Comment by Medeia Sharif | November 30, 2010 | Reply

  2. After finishing “College” I remember thinking: how does he DO that? 🙂 And I remember thinking, I want to meet this guy. Everyone has a story and I want to find out what his is.

    Comment by Katia Raina | November 30, 2010 | Reply

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