RAGBRAI 2015

On July 22, 2018, 20,000+ cyclists will once again make the 450+ mile, week-long journey across Iowa known as RAGBRAI. The Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI), is an annual seven-day bicycle ride sponsored by the Des Moines Register newspaper. Starting in 1973, RAGBRAI is the oldest, largest, and longest recreational bicycle touring event in the world. It is held in the last week of July and has an average length of 468 total miles, with the average daily distance between host communities of 67 miles.

In July 2014, my friend Barb asked me if I would be interested in riding RAGBRAI 2015 with her cycling team. At first, I thought she was nuts. I had never been considered an athlete and had undergone back surgery in July 2013. My first reaction was that I could never physically do it. But then, I stopped myself… I had to ask, “But why can’t I?”

I didn’t own a bike, so I began riding 47-pound Nice Ride bike share cruisers around town to see if I could physically handle the training that would be required the following summer. When I was finally able to ride 20 miles on one of those tanks in October 2014, I decided that yes, I was going to do it.

Winter was coming, and I didn’t want to buy a bike until I really knew what I wanted. Another friend pulled a shitty hot pink hybrid bike that you might buy at a box store out of a trash pile and gave it to me. So naturally, I named her Trixy and placed her on an expensive cycle trainer for the winter months. And all that winter, I rode that heap and watched movies, terrified of RAGBRAI.

In February 2015, Barb told me with deep regret and apologies that her team had dissolved and that she was not going to be able to ride RAGBRAI after all. I was faced with a decision: don’t go after all the training I had already done or go alone. I refused to give up. I decided to go alone. In April 2015, I bought my bike Alexis, a steel Jamis Aurora touring bike and the rest is history.

In the end, I rode 490 miles in 7 days through summer heat and humidity, between the Iowa corn fields, small towns, and beer tents. I normally write a daily journal but writing during RAGBRAI proved impossible due to the level of exhaustion that I experienced. However, I did keep notes during my training. What follows is an excerpt of those journals by date and a count of the mileage I put on my bike Alexis. Enjoy! Continue reading “RAGBRAI 2015”

Popcorn from the Void: one-year anniversary

July 10, 2018 was the one-year anniversary of the publication of Popcorn from the Void– my friend Todd Park’s memoir that I edited from his blog. The proceeds from the sale of this book go to support various cancer charities. It’s been doing well for a self-published book about such a serious topic: the arduous journey of a bone marrow transplant and the untimely death of its author.

I am proud that it is still selling copies. Self-published books in general don’t do very well without the assistance that a publishing house provides. Publishers will help with editing, polishing, cover art, marketing, and placement. It is in their financial interest to help their authors sell books. If you self-publish, you have to do it all or pay someone to help you.

Self-published books have a bad reputation that is unfortunately too often earned. There are too many early drafts offered up in the market that still need a ton of work. It’s work that people are not willing to commit time to. There is a lot of excitement around completing a first draft of a book, so I get why people are impatient to share it with the world. But it is still just an early draft and it’s not ready…

Writing, editing, and publication are lengthy and difficult phases of book creation (it can take years) but once they are complete, the really hard part begins: marketing. How do you get noticed in a flooded marketplace with dwindling readership? The vast indifference is deafening.

A self-published author needs to not only be good at writing but also good at the business of writing. Todd was such a good writer that generating a book worthy of publication was possible, though not easy. Then, came the challenge of how to market a book about such a heavy topic. For my part, I ran several marketing campaigns- emailing interested parties; releasing copies for circulation in free libraries across the mid-west; sending a mailer to cancer support groups; conducting a Twitter campaign; and attending a book fair.

It has mostly been a positive experience for me, with the exception of trying to market to the general public at the book fair. The book fair itself was great, but I made a lot of people uncomfortable. I would give my 60-second pitch and watch the look of horror gradually wash over people’s faces. They would take my candy and quickly leave my table. A fellow vendor felt the need to tell me that a memoir about a man’s journey though Leukemia treatment and dying was “a terrible story”. I know that’s about her, not the book.

What can I say? The truth is rarely popular. It’s a niche’ market. It’s a book intended to help friends, family, and patients understand what leukemia treatment is really like. And it continues to sell. And it has helped people. It has even helped my mother. She was diagnosed with MDS (Myelodysplastic Syndromes), a blood cancer sometimes referred to as ‘pre-leukemia’, in May 2018. The serendipity of life is strange at times…

I have learned so much that is invaluable from the entire process- from the actual production of the book, to the effectiveness of various marketing avenues, to interacting with people around the topic. It was my apprenticeship, the gateway to producing my own books.

As a philanthropist, I am proud that the work I have done will continue to produce money that will be donated to help people like Todd, people like my mom, to have access to better treatments and prognosis and quality of life. That alone has made this journey so worthwhile.

Happy anniversary, Popcorn.

 

-Copyright C.M. Mounts, July 2018

Mid-year review: Jan-Jun 2018

It’s July. About this time six months ago, I was scanning the sooty remains of one of the drafts of one of my novels through optical character recognition (OCR) software and importing it into Scrivener. If you write long works of fiction but have not heard of Scrivener before, check it out!

I spent 1.5 months (Jan-Feb) organizing that mess into chapters and scenes; character, scene, and conflict sketches; vague ideas and lists of topics to research- all to find the holes. And Lordy, there were canyons. So, I spent the next 1.5 months (Feb-Apr) ‘shoveling gravel’ into the gaps, to the order of about 25,000 words of new content. It is a pittance to all you NANOWRIMO’s out there but it is realistic progress for a full-time working schlub like me. I can’t apply the brakes on life and focus solely on my book in the way that the November National Novel Writing Month requires to reach that 50K goal.

Then came silence. No progress on the book. Apr-Jun were all about the ‘Spring Thaw’ of my social life. I took a cooking class that ate up my hours with kitchen adventure. I took a couple trips, one for business and one for pleasure, plus had out of town guests. But mostly, writing became about poetry, poetry events, poetry classes, and connecting with a wider writing community which has been wonderful and revitalizing.

But books don’t write themselves…

Time and energy are limited resources and unfortunately, my mother is in cancer treatment now. I have to get real about my stress levels and where to focus myself. Someone wise once said, “I can’t control the wind. I can only adjust my sails.” So, as I reef the mainsail, I pull back on the social side of writing, miss opportunities to read, and classes of interest. It’s just where I am at today.

Still, over the last 6 months, I produced 27 blog posts: 15 poems, 7 essays, 2 travel logs, and 3 posts about the poetry readings I had in the spring. Poetry writing will continue because I can’t help it. And my blog remains my weekly ritual as this is the only place I talk about my ‘writing career’, such as it is.

But I have already recommitted to the 5am wake up for the 5:30 writing hour before work, dedicated to my novel. I am typing up my hand-written notes and charging once again into the breech. Book writing is not glamorous. It is a long, arduous, mostly thankless journey through a writer’s personal hell.

I have books to read and write, my friends… Happy summer!

 

-Copyright C.M. Mounts, July 2018