Months in review: Jan-Mar 2019

One of the most challenging aspects of writing books is the stamina it requires. There is a trick to writing. If I am happy, that feeling will come through and imbue my work. If I cry, you will cry. If I laugh… well, you might laugh. Comedy is hard. But my deep, turbulent, and powerful emotions are often quite clear to my audience. So is my boredom and stress.

So how then does one sustain the excitement through years of writing and revision?

It’s a lonely life, living with all this ink and paper. Last year, I finally got out and socialized with other writers at various events around town. I met a lot of people and had a lot of fun but quickly realized that the hours I spent out were hours spent away from my writing desk. Everything takes time. We have to make hard choices. And while I enjoyed supporting other writers and listening to their work,  I could no longer justify blowing a whole night to read one lousy poem.

“Solitude sometimes is best society.” -John Milton

Writing is an extremely isolating life simply because it takes hours and hours of concentrated alone time to produce anything of quality. I know this is the reason I was out. I got too lonely. Being among other writers can be a shot in the arm. You can steal their excitement and inspiration.

The best readings I have attended over the years were authors who spoke at the UMN as part of the English department reading series. I got to see Denis Johnson, Maxine Hong Kingston, and Natasha Trethewey read live- in the flesh!!! Absolutely inspiring and breathtaking…

I’ve talked to my mom about writing novels. This is roughly how that conversation went:

Mom- “Have you ever considered writing a romance novel?”
Me- “No mom. If I did, people would think I had been hit over the head.”
Mom- “Really?”
Me- “Yes mom. Really.”

*SIGH*

Sometimes, you just have to make the road by walking. There are no rules about how you get a novel written and really the only way to learn is to do it. I once read that there are two kinds of novelists- architects and gardeners. Architects already know exactly what the structure of their novel will be and fill in the prose. Gardeners have a handful of seeds (ideas), throw them, and wait to see what grows. I am a gardener. I have spent the last three months figuring out the architecture buried within the blob that is my current draft.

A former teacher once told me, “a book can do you in” and it’s true. If you intend to do it right, to cut up your soul and smear it on the page… I never have to look too far to know what makes me burn. I know what my calling is.

But writing a book is a slow, slow grind. You give up one day, only to return to it the next. I often ask myself, “Who is going to want to read this crap, anyway?” But whether it has an audience of 15 or 15 million, I am in it for the work, for the creation, for the birth of whatever *IT* is. Once it’s done, it will find that audience and it will no longer be mine. It will have a life wholly its own and there will be as many versions of it as readers.

How fucking amazing is that?

This past quarter, I posted 11 blog posts- 9 essays and 2 poems. I submitted some poems for possible publication. I got rejected from another submission (it wasn’t my best work). All the usual writerly stuff. And I have an enhancement to my blog in the works… to be launched in May.

Stay tuned!

  

 

-Copyright C.M. Mounts, April 2019

Months in review: Jul-Oct 2018

It’s November and this post was intended to be a quarterly Jul-Sep check-in but then life happened… I’ve had celebrations, out of town visitors, and/or business travel every weekend for the past five weeks. Since I mostly write and blog on the weekends you can understand my absence this past month. But really, who’s keeping track?

I submitted a piece for publication. It’s been over a decade since I last tried. Back then, I was writing children’s stories. If you know me, this fact may come as a bit of a shock- but it’s true. In the early days when I was first breaking out and sharing my work, they were simple, funny stories and did not disturb the deep fibers of my soul. Fast forward to today and you can read the lyrics that erupt when I strum those fibers.

I submitted the story after a friend and someone I consider a writing mentor urged me to do so. It feels like the natural next step to my writing career, such as it is. I have been asked by others why I am not published. And the answer is easy: because I don’t try. But the natural progression of questioning leads to why I don’t try, which I don’t have a good answer for.

You can chalk it up to laziness or perfectionism, but the truth is that it’s just the constraints of a professional working life. Consider our 168 hours every week, minus 56 of sleep (if we are lucky), minus the 60 hours dedicated to weekday work prep, commute, meals, and work day. That leaves 52 hours to rest, clean, shop, exercise, socialize, read, write, etc. Now add in the random universal chaos generator and there you have it. It’s not an excuse, just reality.

There is writing and then there is writing business. Searching for appropriate markets takes time and effort I am not willing to dedicate to my poetry and short fiction. So, I blog it here dear reader. I did manage to post ten times in the last four months, as well as attend open mics around town. This blog is my own magazine, entirely constructed of my work, for free and for my true fans.

But… what are my writing goals? What is it that I want to have accomplished by the end of my days? It’s not fame and fortune. We all know that is the same dream as winning the lottery. Still you can’t win if you don’t have a ticket, right? But I really don’t want that anyway. My dream is more about making a living outside the cube farm from the fruits of my creative writing. Maybe it’s my retirement dream, I don’t know.

My mission in writing is to make my readers feel the way I feel. I want others to know that they are not alone in this world. That the feelings and longings that they are ashamed of are a natural part of this human experience. I find life to be incredibly isolating- some of that by choice and some by circumstance. The difficulty of finding kindred spirits is universal. There are so many paths through life and different kinds of people navigating them. We often face the same trials with different responses and perspectives. I can learn from your experience and maybe you can learn from mine.

But those deep fibers have not rung out yet and finding markets for such stories will require fortitude, energy, and faith that I can and will find my place. That last one… that one fails me too often. Who exactly wants to read about all this crap rattling around in my head and heart? I have no great ego around my writing that makes me think the world needs to hear me, yet I am angered by the suggestion that I am not trying hard enough. I have fantastically wild dreams about my ideal writing life even while I still punch the time card…

The question I ask myself is why publish? Why not remain safe, pouring my guts out in anonymity? Why not leave all the notebooks behind and shock whoever is tasked with putting my final affairs in order? When I was first published in the Journal of Ordinary Thought back in 2002, a publication of the now defunct Neighborhood Writing Alliance in Chicago, I simply could not believe it. Yes, this was the parent organization of my writing group and yes, we were all guaranteed publication (unpaid) once per year, but there was still nothing else like seeing my writing in print. Some unknown someone was going to read it and react to it for good or bad. And in 2003, when I finished the first draft of my first novel, it felt as great as my college graduation. I felt like I could fly to the moon and back again.

Maybe that ride is reason enough for me.

-Copyright C.M. Mounts, November 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

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