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

Month in review: May 2018

May 2018 was a tough month for my writing. I question the logic of this ‘month in review’. Months fly by quickly enough during normal times. When the stress from work projects and family issues increase, life happens, and life gets in the way. A quarterly review might make more sense, though a monthly tally forces me to reflect on my commitment to this passion of mine. Am I taking my writing seriously?

I took it seriously enough to apply for a writer’s residency back in March for the upcoming fall. It was a long shot and I was denied. *SIGH* I produced three blog posts but not much else: ‘Soaked in Crimson‘ (poem), ‘I See You‘ (essay), ‘Usual Early Morning Stuff‘ (essay). Finding a balance has always been difficult and my writing is slotted into my ‘free time’- 5:30am before work, on my lunch hour, late in the evening, or waiting in line on whoever or whatever is next. I am journaling a lot.

I have not read my poetry publicly in a month. I have discovered that attending poetry readings in the evening is a bad idea. I sometimes cannot fall asleep for hours. Poetry writing in the morning is also a bad idea. I walk into the office a bit crazed and distracted. I want to be somewhere else writing. But there is no money to be made writing poetry.

I hesitate to call myself a poet though I have been told that if the shoe fits… It is out of respect for those I consider to be ‘real’ poets. I haven’t studied it, dedicated the time to it that others have, and it sort of has this high falutin legacy that my earthy self could never live up to. I write journals, essays, stories, and long fiction. Poetry peels off of me like the bark of the birch trees and just about as rough. It is the stuff of longing, of paper dreams not yet forgotten.

I cannot read poetry before bed anymore. It keeps me awake. It keeps tears running down my face. It keeps my heart broken in the ache of my dulled daily living, in my wish for love to return to my life.

These poems are written by people in love, people who somehow learned to make it last, to let it go, to forgive, to return again and again and again. I so envy them. I so appreciate their ability to transfer that intense desire and joy to me, years later, thousands of miles away, with my second pillow cold and the breath of my animals the only other living sound in my apartment.

But it will strum the deep fibers. It will allow me no rest.

 

-Copyright C.M. Mounts, May 2018

Usual Early Morning Stuff

It is 5am. I fight with the alarm. I fight with the cat. It is hard to leave the bed soft, fresh sheet, downy blanket hugging me back to slumber. He won’t let me sleep in and the 10-minute snooze won’t either. My choice. I set the alarm. I keep feeding him.

I sit up. I strap on the robe and sandals. I set about the usual early morning stuff. The cats weave around my legs as I pee. There are two cats, but she is much quieter, so I don’t complain about her in the morning. The gurgling coffee pot calls to me from the kitchen. I set about feeding us.

Shredded fish and gravy for them, OJ and coffee and ink for me. He eats, and naps curled in the chair next to me. She disappears again. The coffee has been poured into a weekday cup of average size. I put on a blanket against the chill from the degrading kitchen windows.

I begin to empty my mind of anger or poems or scene sketches for a novel I am months from completing. It is slow at first, unsure of my characters. What if I make bad choices for them? These are someone else’s kids in my care- no? They’re mine? Even worse. The white space fills with black ink, mostly legible, with circular patterns of character self-discovery and bad descriptions.

The paper and ink raw messy dirty dish reality of my kitchen conjures the best times of my life- food and wine and people I love. The space I write and create, the space of warm ovens and cold drinks, of turning spice into curry and flour into bread. It is fertile ground. It soothes my aching soul when the pen digs too deep into the flesh of all that is hidden.

Later the computer will sterilize this but not too much. Only enough to make it appear I am not completely uneducated though my reading list is long and impossible. Writing my flesh then clothing it in gauze. My living room editor life of electronic square blinking screen, cold and efficient, symbol of productivity and work.

The alarm on the stove beeps. The pen and paper are closed. Night clothes come off, day clothes come on, different. Hair different, hot and pasted into place. Breakfast, commuter bag, lunch bag, journal, calendar, coat, hat, boots, mittens… power off, locks on, out into the ally to the street to the bus to the bumper car traffic to the place I spend most of my days, not writing, in a cube farm.

-Copyright C.M. Mounts, February 2018

I See You

I’m on my lunch hour. The sun peaks between the holes in the clouds. A small rain shower, enough to cool and clean the air. Enough to make a little muddy patch of dirt beneath my feet, where I sit on this cement bench beneath the caterpillar tree. Not mud really- wet earth. Roots of the tree are visible in places, some as thick as the smaller limbs overhead. Trees grow roots wide, not deep. Some grow in groves, so they do not fall over in high winds.

***

I arrive in the ICU after work. She is awake. It’s hard to watch her silently scream with the respirator tube in her mouth. Her lungs are not in good shape. She will go under the knife again, get a tracheotomy to attach the respirator to her neck. Increase her comfort levels. She is not out of the woods yet. Her abdomen is split open for access and won’t be sewn shut for months.

She almost died. I can’t talk about it. I always push this stuff off until a later time when I have the space and distance to deal with my grief. For now, someone needs to be present and hold their shit together. There are too many factors pulling me in multiple directions. Time is precious. Writing is painful. It stirs up every sort of horror that my eyes have seen, and my heart has registered, but my face left blank. I have friends and cats and bars. It will have to be enough.

***

It’s evening downtown on a Thursday. The youth are loud, full of anger and angst. School is out for summer and maybe forever for some of them. It is July in the 60’s and there is mist hanging over the fractured energy. The volume makes me tense. An old man says to me as I pass, “Smile, it’s not that bad.” I am transparent, my stress clearly on my face. I look at him kindly and say, “So says you.” I stand in the bus shelter to escape the cold. A teenage girl weeps on the bench and explains to the boy that has come to fetch her, “I’m OK; I was thinking about grandma.”

I wait for the #4 bus. In front of me is a five-story mural of Bob Dylan: three faces, three ages, staring off in kaleidoscope color. I try to find the associations in the schema but I can’t tease it out. The details of his wild curling hair, the wrinkle folded flesh, the wide red stripe splitting his guitar in half- where does the inspiration come from? I am lulled into meditation by the sound of a jazz saxophone street musician. His timbre is calm, and the kids grow quieter and move on.

When the bus stops, I line up but think better of it. Two dollars pulled from my wallet and placed inside his case. I do not look at him. I am worried about the bus and run to board it. As we pull away, I watch him: black man, bright sax, waning sunlight, mirrored glasses, reflected blue light. He looks like jazz- cool, peaceful, vibrating. I smile as we pass him. He plays on. I wonder if his eyes are closed.

 

-Copyright C.M. Mounts, July 2016

Month in review: April 2018

It’s May and this blog post is late. That’s indicative of the sort of month April turned out to be for my writing- either late or never. April was also National Poetry Month. All my writer friends produced massive amounts of poetry to celebrate. Me… not so much.

April 29th was the 5-year anniversary of the apartment fire that consumed all the electronic copies of my writing- but not the paper ones. As an IT professional, computer screens mean databases and software and day-job. It puts me in a particular mindset that stifles my creative voice. So, it is my habit to write everything longhand first. There is something about that organic experience of paper and ink that creates a limitless plane for my mind to wander on. By some miracle, I was able to salvage all of my writing in journals and notebooks though they are smoke and water damaged.

I also have print outs of two different novels that I wrote over ten years ago. I have been working on one of them in the early morning hours before work since January. It has been a struggle for me to figure out what exactly it is that I am writing. There is such a difference in who I was when I first wrote it and who I am today but I have to write what is within me and this is what is coming out. Though the general story is the same, the way it is being written is vastly different.

In April I only worked on it for two days. Instead, I have had trouble sleeping, three separate visits to the doctor (including the ER), helped a friend move, traveled out of town for business, participated in a 4-week cooking class, and attended four different poetry events. *Whew*

Instead of my novel moving forward, I managed five different blog posts: ‘Movement’ (poem), ‘Drifting in at Night’ (poem), ‘Single, White, Professional, Female- in Kansas City, April 2018’ (essay), ‘Home assignment 1’ (food blog), and ‘Home assignment 2’ (food blog). I also was invited to read at ‘Writers Read’ at the Coffee Shop Northeast on April 12.

May should calm down as I return to my regular routine and writing practice though cycling season is just starting. I haven’t yet figure out how to do both at the same time and both take long hours of my life. Still, I can think of no better life then to bike to a lake in the warm sunlight and sit under a willow tree with pen and paper, dreaming…

-Copyright C.M. Mounts, April 2018

Month in review: March 2018

March has been an exciting month for my writing. Back in January, I decided to start waking up at 5am to write from 5:30-6:30, six days a week. Yes, Saturday too. This is of course after the cats are fed and coffee is made, but before I get ready for work. No, it hasn’t always worked out great. Sometimes, I get up late and I only get a half hour in. Sometimes, I am so groggy or overwhelmed with a head full of life and longing that I simply journal to clear the cobwebs.

But slowly, surely, I am filling a notebook with character sketches, scenes, and narrative that fill in the gaps in my book manuscript. In addition to the fiction writing and journaling, I also write poems and post to my blog every Saturday. This month’s selection includes the posts: ‘High Water’, ‘Paris With You’, and ‘Across Water’.

March has been a month of writing events. I currently participate in a poetry writing group at a local library that meets for six sessions, then concludes with a final reading of our work on April 25. More to come on that. I also attended the Rosemont Writers Festival on March 24, an annual all-day event of writing workshops, speakers, and book fair located in- you guessed it- Rosemont, MN.

But most exciting of all, was the Poets & Pints reading at Sisyphus Brewing on March 21 where I was one of four featured poets. In all the years of writers group events, open mics, and public speaking this was the first time ever that I was a featured poet. Nineteen people showed up specifically to hear me read and I was told, “You killed!”. I am very humbled by their response and grateful for the encouragement. Since that night, I have reflected on why it has taken me so long to become willing to share my work publicly with strangers. I only started seriously blogging a little over a year ago and reading at open mics in the last eight months, one of which led to the Poets & Pints reading (open mic: Poetry Happy Hour @ Troubadour Wine Bar). Continue reading “Month in review: March 2018”