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Tan and black book cover with skyline

Front cover of novel Image Breaker. (Photo courtesy of Vine Leaves Press)

Assistant Professor Mark Leib celebrates release of new book “Image Breaker”

The book centers around protagonist Tristan Wishnasky, whose meteoric professional rise as a novelist is threatened when he begins to hallucinate mysterious messages telling him he's wasting his life. When the messages won’t stop, he seeks guidance and direction from a brilliant female rabbi, an eccentric Romanian psychotherapist, four lovers, three friends, and family in his search for a truly deep and meaningful existence, Tristan learns to reject those false images that kept him careening in all the wrong directions.

Leib, who is an accomplished playwright and storyteller, was chief theater critic for Creative Loafing in Tampa Bay and Sarasota from 1998 to 2018. His criticism won seven awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, including three first-place statewide Sunshine State Awards for Critical Writing. Prior to joining USF, Leib served as the first playwriting lecturer at the Institute for Advanced Theatre Study at Harvard University, and taught playwriting and various drama survey courses for Harvard Extension School from 1981 to 1990.

Author Mark Leib sitting in front of trees in chair.

Author Mark Leib. (Photo courtesy of Mark Leib)

According to Leib, the inspiration for Image Breaker came from a lifelong search for a fictional work that would provide stimulating ideas about what might constitute a "good life."

“Starting in my teens and 20s, I read work by J.D. Salinger, Hermann Hesse, Virginia Woolf, Thomas Mann, Andre Malraux, Robert Pirsig, and many others, but I never felt quite satisfied with the answers they offered,” Leib said. “So when, a few years ago, I set out to write a novel, I wanted it to be that book I’d been looking for 40 years. I began with a main character–Tristan Wishnasky–who believed in nothing but art and himself and exerted himself only for the most narcissistic of reasons. And I imagined that he began to hallucinate messages telling him he needed to change everything. I brought lots of supportive and oppositional characters into his story to affect his quest, and I made sure there was a great deal of humor. Finally, I insisted that any changes Tristan went through were earned, often, in the face of resistance from others and, not least, himself. By the time I finished writing–350 pages, in the published version–Tristan had made an enormous transition.”

“The response I’ve received from many of the book’s readers has told me that Tristan’s trajectory may be useful to readers generally. I’m humbled to think that in my effort to write the book I needed to read, I might have helped other people to think through some essential questions of their own.”

Leib said that he hopes readers will come away with a sense that a responsible “good life” is possible right here, right now. “That life might involve faith in a higher power, service to those most in need, honesty in loving relationships, attention to the imperiled Earth, and, through it all, humility.” As to his sources, Leib said that he drew on everything and everyone he knew to make his fiction credible.

“Even though Tristan’s story is not literally my own, there’s a great deal of me in him, and some of his activities–as different as work at a homeless shelter and a vacation on the island of St. Lucia–are lifted (and adapted) from my life. If I couldn’t change it so that it made sense to the book’s themes, then I didn’t include it.”

Beyond Image Breaker’s release, Leib is also excited about his recent play “When the Righteous Triumph,” which enjoyed a run at Tampa’s Stageworks Theatre last March and April and is set to open at The Straz Center in 2025. He is also in the middle of two other works: a social justice play “CRAZED SENATOR CANNIBALIZES INNER CITY FAMILY,” which was given a staged reading at Stageworks in late January, and a first draft of his next novel, with the tentative title of The Ambassadors.

Image Breaker is available for purchase from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Vine Leaves Press.

Story by Michelle Holden, USF College of Arts and Sciences

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CAS Chronicles is the monthly newsletter for the University of South Florida's College of Arts and Sciences, your source for the latest news, research, and events at CAS.