Confessions of a Knight Errant – Author Interview

by Gretchen McCullough
Humorous Fiction
Publisher: Cune Press
Page Count: 240 pages
Publication Date: October 18, 2022
Scroll down for a giveaway!

Confessions of a Knight Errant is a comedic, picaresque novel in the tradition of Don Quixote with a flamboyant cast of characters.

Dr. Gary Watson is the picaro, a radical environmentalist and wannabe novelist who has been accused of masterminding a computer hack that wiped out the files of a major publishing company. His Sancho Panza is Kharalombos, a fat, gluttonous Greek dancing teacher, who is wanted by the secret police for cavorting with the daughter of the Big Man of Egypt.

Self-preservation necessitates a hurried journey to the refuge of a girls’ camp in rural Texas. Then a body turns up nearby that is connected to Middle East antiquities, and they are on the run once more.

Author Interview

How has being a Texan influenced your writing?

I am originally from Harlingen, Texas. Most of my fiction, though is set in Cairo, where I have lived for the last twenty-three years.

Part of Confessions of a Knight Errant is set in the Hill Country. My folks own a second home in Ingram, and we go there frequently. I went to Camp Capers, the Episcopal church camp, when I was a kid. I never went to one of the expensive camps that I wrote about in the novel but heard about them from pals. Did some research as well.

The idea of the murder in Confessions was actually inspired by a real murder on the property behind my parents’ home in Ingram. One day my mother invited her artist friends over to paint and when they looked up in the sky, they saw police helicopters circling above. Our neighbor was murdered and buried in the back yard! It was drug-related. In my novel, the murder is linked to antiquities theft soon after the Arab Spring.

Why did you choose to write novels?  

Even when I was writing short stories in the M.F.A. program at the University of Alabama. professors commented, “You have too many characters.” When I wrote my first novel, (that was not published), I loved how much space I had. I do write short stories, but the novel gives me room to breathe. I really love big, sprawling novels. Yet we live in a time where everything has to be short! I admire the humor and playfulness of Dickens, Twain. My husband, Mohamed, says I have a talent for creating cartoonish characters.

Where did your love of reading and storytelling come from?

My parents read to us when we were little. That was how I got started reading. I remember especially, The Cat in the Hat and Green Eggs and Ham! My father had an amazing library. I was reading all sorts of books in high school: sweeping historical biographies on WWI, Tolstoy, Fitzgerald, Twain, Garcia Marquez. Recently, my parents moved and they dismantled this wondrous library of about five hundred books!

As for storytelling, we sat around and told stories. There was a lot of that, especially with my paternal grandparents. In high school, I had some wonderful teachers who encouraged me to write.

Now, I also read widely in Arabic: Yehia Haqqi, Tewfik Hakim, Yusuf Idris, and listen to Egyptians telling stories in Arabic. Egyptians are great oral storytellers and they love to exaggerate wildly. Maybe this is something they have in common with Texans!

Can you comment on your formal education?

So many writers encouraged me in my formal education: Jaimy Gordon, R.V. Cassill, Robert Coover, Tamas Aczel, John Keeble, and George Garrett. But probably the one who I owe the most was the Texas writer, Allen Wier. He recruited me for the M.F.A. program at the University of Alabama. We stayed in touch after I graduated in 1995 and he became such a good loyal friend. He very generously read Confessions and gave me insightful feedback. Not as famous as Larry McMurtry, he wrote a marvelous epic novel called Tehano about Texas, published by SMU Press. After he died, I went back and read A Place for Outlaws and Disappearing Like Air. I was brought to tears by one of his descriptions of the last moments of a man who dies suddenly of a stroke.

Did you first experience rejections when submitting manuscripts for publication?

Sure. Rejections are part of the game. Not fun.

When I was in my thirties, I wrote a novel called The Cleopatra School, that was never published. It was an autobiographical novel about my experience teaching in Cairo in the ‘80s. That was devastating because I was so broke and suffered so much financially and emotionally to write it. I was even delivering pizzas at Dominoes. I never could learn how to fold a box! I recently fished The Cleopatra School out of the drawer and now think it’s better that it wasn’t published! You learn a lot just by writing. Unfortunately, we live in a world which demands success on the first attempt. That’s not how it works with novel writing—you have to be in it for the long haul. You have to be patient.

Before I sent Confessions out, I revised it and sent it to many writer friends.

With Confessions, I worked my way through agent lists. Went to conferences. Followed up leads from writer friends. I found my publisher, Scott Davis through a colleague that I had met on a Fulbright in Syria. Scott Davis’s press, Cune, has a Middle East list. Sadly, Scott died the same month the novel was published. He was wildly enthusiastic about my work. When he accepted the novel, he wrote back and said, “This is fun!” Enclosed in the email was a contract. I was stunned! After so many years of rejections…  

What’s your next writing project?

My new project is an exploration of Texas during the 1930s. My grandfather’s diaries from the 1930s encouraged me to do archival research at Sul Ross in Alpine, where he went to college. I found all sorts of interesting oral interviews about Big Bend and the CCC projects that were part of the New Deal. Instead of writing directly about my grandfather, I became enamored with a natural spring swimming pool called Balmorhea in West Texas. I would never have guessed that I would be writing about a man camp!

Gretchen McCullough was raised in Harlingen Texas. After graduating from Brown University in 1984, she taught in Egypt, Turkey, and Japan. She earned her MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Alabama and was awarded a teaching Fulbright to Syria from 1997-1999.
Her stories, essays and reviews have appeared in The Barcelona Review, Archipelago, National Public Radio, Story South, Guernica, The Common, The Millions, and the LA Review of Books. Translations in English and Arabic have been published in: Nizwa, Banipal, Brooklyn Rail in Translation, World Literature Today, and Washington Square Review with Mohamed Metwalli. Her bilingual book of short stories in English and Arabic, Three Stories From Cairo, translated with Mohamed Metwalli, was published in July 2011 by AFAQ Publishing House, Cairo. A collection of short stories about expatriate life in Cairo, Shahrazad’s Tooth, was also published by AFAQ in 2013.
Currently, she is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Rhetoric and Composition at the American University in Cairo.


In Confessions of a Knight Errant, readers get a taste of the Hill Country. One winner will, too, with a one-pound bag of pecans from Berdoll Pecan Candy & Gift Company!
(US only; ends midnight, CST 4/28/23)

blog services provided by