20 Questions with Mourning Goats
C L Bledsoe
Mr. Bledsoe is one of the nicest interviewees I've had the pleasure of talking to. I found part of his story, Cabin by a Lake, online, and when I couldn't find the end, asked him to send it to me. He did and in doing so, created a fan. Please check out the interview below and go pick up some of his work!
1. What comes to mind when you hear, "Mourning Goats?"
Two things: a variation on fainting goats, which are just about the coolest goats ever, but I suppose mourning goats would spontaneously cry and wail, rather than faint. Also, the novel Giles: Goat-Boy, by John Barth. This is a very strange allegorical novel set on a futuristic college campus. Giles was raised as a goat, among the herd, and becomes a messianic character. Perhaps when Giles came of age and left the herd, the other goats mourned him.
2. You have a new baby, how's that affecting your writing?
The issue is time. Luckily, I’ve had the opportunity to bang out some things recently, but it has been quite a challenge. On the other hand, the birth of my daughter has prompted me to examine and improve some
areas of my life, which I think has helped my writing. Being a writer means I pay attention, which means I’ve gathered lots of examples of bad fathers. Therefore, I can endeavor not to be one. Of course, having a baby sort of ratchets everything else down a notch.
3. What's it like being nominated for the pushcart 3 times, already?
I was really surprised the first time, which was for poetry. I’ve since been nominated twice for fiction. It sort of validated my work a bit. That, and having a story make finalist for Story South’s Million Writers award. Then, when I wasn’t nominated for anything last year, I became a little disappointed. So I guess I’m already jaded. It would be nice to win, of course.
The same thing happened when my first book came out, and then my second, etc. But when I didn’t become fabulously wealthy from any of that, I just sat back down and got back to work.
4. I read on your blog that you just put in your next novel for edits, what can you tell us about it?
It’s a bit of a break from my usual fare. The novel is part of a supernatural mystery/comedy series (hopefully) called The Necro-Files. It's being published as an ebook by Etopia Press, which also published a YA novel of mine called Sunlight. This one is tentatively titled Toil and Trouble. It follows Daisy, a college student who gets a job at a funeral home which (she comes to learn) deals with a supernatural clientele, including witches, vampires, etc. Daisy becomes plagued by a demon and has to figure out a way to break this curse.
Daisy is kind of nerdy and funny but not full of herself. I wanted her to be very down to earth and not afraid to do her own thing.
5. You work at a boarding school, do you enjoy teaching or counseling more?
I enjoy both. I like tutoring and working one-on-one with students the
most, so however I can do that…
6. You just hit your 10 year mark in publishing, what have you seen change over the past 10 years?
Online publishing still had a stigma when I was starting out. Online journals were relatively rare back then. Now, there are hundreds of them. Now, it’s extremely easy to get something published, or to just publish it yourself. I hardly ever send anything through snail mail these days. Journals that won’t accept email submissions seem anachronistic and stodgy. There is still some prestige to the print publication, but it’s fading, and many print pubs accept email subs. Also, of course, I’ve seen a lot of great journals and presses come
I’ve seen a lot change in myself, of course. I’ve realized the true nature of the publishing world, which is randomness. I’ve tuned out the white noise of some of the folks I started with who’ve fallen by the wayside.
7. Where do you see publishing going? Especially in the way of e-books?
Right now, I think we’re in a publishing bubble—much like the housing bubble, internet startup bubble, etc. Basically, a lot of people are publishing a lot of stuff and not really making any money off of it. At some point, they’re going to lose interest and the bottom will fall out. Perhaps this is just an offshoot of the MFA bubble which is pumping out hundreds of folks with degrees for which there are almost no jobs. I don’t see how that can’t pop also.
Right now, romance and erotica really rule the roost for ebooks. I do think e-books in other genres will become much more popular. I think they’re the future of publishing because they are so convenient and
cheap. But the major publishers are still trying to figure it out—they are overcharging for ebooks. The smaller presses get it.
8. It seems like you have a lot of poetry published, do you consider yourself more of a poet?
Poetry was my first love, and it’s something I return to when I can. But I’ve technically got more novels under contract than poetry collections, so I guess that makes me a novelist. But poetry is what I get really excited about. Most of the readings I do are poetry readings.
I have an echapbook—a poetry collection—coming out from Red Ceilings Press. It’s called Leap Year. It’s sort of post-apocalyptic/diary of a lunatic. I love doing projects like that.
9. What do you think about MFA's? Are they a necessary evil?
As I said, I think there are too many MFAs pumping out hundreds of students competing for a handful of jobs. Most of these programs don’t seem to care about the futures of its students very much, or about
whether they can actually write. So we’ve got a ton of credentialed, mediocre writers out there who can’t find jobs. Personally, my MFA wasn’t much help to me. I wanted a lot more than I got from it. Some of my professors acted as though they were in competition with me, rather than having a teacher/student relationship. When my first book came out, they declined to have me do a reading.
My wife had a much better time—we went to the same program, but she focused on poetry, whereas I focused on fiction. I think that if I’d focused on poetry, I’d have had a better time as well—different
professors, and everything—but I’d already published dozens of poems at that point. What I wanted to work on was fiction.
So, to answer your question, I think it’s a qualified no. What you get from an MFA—hopefully—is a period of intense study of writing, some guidance, and some connections. You can make all of that happen on your own, of course, but the camaraderie of an MFA is definitely appealing. I made some good friends. Also, having any kind of Master’s will probably help you in the job market. So I would say: if you’re going to do it, find a good program—not necessarily a highly rated one. Think about what you actually want and need and find a program that can help you with that. I don’t understand low-residency programs because, really, what’s the point of that? Go to a retreat or something. And don’t go into debt for it. I got a free-ride for mine,
which is the only reason I’m not completely frothing at the mouth about it.
10. When can someone consider themself a writer? When they're published? Paid? When they can support themself on writing?
I have no idea. I don’t support myself writing, and I don’t think very many people we would consider writers do or have. On the other hand, is Dan Brown a writer? Or Stephanie Meyer? They’ve published books and
made tons of money, but they are terrible books. Is quality a factor? Who knows.
11. You played music in a band, what was the name of the band and do you think there's a connection between music and writing?
The band started as Maria Static and then became Shizknit. I played bass and sang, mostly. At the time, it seemed like a good outlet for creative expression. I also learned a lot about the DIY ethic and performance, in general. I learned that if you want to do something, just go do it. Also, I learned that artists—no matter the genre—tend to be completely full of shit. That has helped me in a lot of ways including writing.
12. On your blog last year it says you were going to do NaNoWriMo, did you end up doing it?
I did, but I didn’t finish. NaNoWriMo occurs in November, which is a super-busy time for me. So I really had no hope of finishing. I knocked out about 25,000 words of a novel, though. I hope to finish that book in a few weeks. The book was a sequel to a novel I wrote last summer, which is coming out maybe next year from Black Coffee Press. That one’s called The Saviors. It’s a fictionalized history of my younger days in a punk band. I also tried writing a poem a day in April, which I had much more luck at.
A lot of writers look down on NaNoWriMo. Some friends gave me shit about it. I don’t really care one way or the other. I wasn’t really involved—I don’t think I ever posted my stats or anything. It was just an impetus to write.
13. Who's your first reader?
I have a pool of friends—other writers—who read book manuscripts for me, and vice versa. I’ve known them for years. They know my style. I trust their judgment, and vice versa. For stories and poems, I
sometimes have my wife read them. But, to be honest, I don’t necessarily have anyone read short pieces before I send them out unless I’m unsure about them. I’ve put a lot of time into self-sufficiency: learning how to read, revise, and proof my own work. The YA novel I mentioned—Sunlight—when the press proofed it, they found very little to change because I’d delivered such a clean manuscript. They were impressed. I would be really embarrassed if the situation were otherwise.
14. I read you like to have plans, what's your writing plan like? Do you write at special set hours, or just when you can?
I tend to work 60-hour weeks, on average, so I write when I can. When I’m working on a specific project, I set a quota, maybe 1000 words a day. Since I work in education, I have a couple months in the summer
mostly free, so during the summer, I write in marathon sessions—a while back, I wrote 5000 words a day for a week to finish a project.
In a perfect world, I would write 1000-2000 words a day, every day, in the mornings, usually. I also revise as I write, which is something they tell you not to do in an MFA program. I set myself a goal for the day based on final word count. So if I revise and cut 5 pages, I have to replace that and still write my quota. I just don’t see the point of continuing forward in the wrong direction. I had a prof. who came in, one day, saying he’d cut something like 150,000 words from a novel. He expected us to be impressed, but I was just shocked! I don’t
even begin to have that kind of time to waste.
I am a workaholic, though. I will definitely take work on vacation.When we go to stay with the in-laws, I’ve been known to lock myself in the bathroom for an hour to bang out 1000 words. I’ll take a notebook to the beach and hand-write a draft.
I work from an outline, usually. I sit on a project until I’ve worked it out in my head pretty well. I might stray from the outline—usually with the ending—but by the time I sit down to write, I know more or less what I want to do, so I can push forward quickly. This is all a matter of necessity because I just don’t have the time to dawdle. I’d love to just sit down and play, but my kid’s got to eat.
15. Google+ just came out, did you immediately hop on? Do you think social media is helping or harming society?
I think it’s boring. I have an account, but I don’t use it much. I use Facebook mostly to check in with my sister. Twitter is the worst, though. It’s just a bunch of people trying to be clever but nobody reads what anyone else writes. Also: you kids get off my lawn!
16. You're a voracious reader, what's really knocked you on your ass, this year?
I’ve been reading a lot of nonfiction lately. Slavery by Another Name, by Douglass Blackmon, is amazing. He chronicles the re-enslavement of African Americans in the South from the Civil War era until WWII. Right now, I’m reading Sundown Towns by James Loewen, who also wrote Lies My Teacher Told Me. These books are blowing me away because they are completely changing my view of American society in the Twentieth Century.
17. Growing up on a farm, did you have goats? Have you pulled a lot of stories from your childhood?
We didn’t have goats. We had cattle, and we raised catfish and buffalo fish. For a long time, I refused to write about the farm. My world, now, is so far removed from that. I’ve been revisiting it some.
At a few recent readings, I read some poems about rice farming and working cattle. They went over pretty well, though I did get into an argument with a guy—he asked how big my family’s farm was. I said it was small, maybe 600 acres. He didn’t believe that was small. Well, it is. It’s not a truck farm—which is just, essentially, an overgrown garden—but compared to the big corporate farms doing most of the growing in America, a few hundred acres is small. My father and uncle competed with these big farms, and what they got for it was the stigma of being ‘rich, landed gentry.’ We didn’t own the land—the bank did. Of course, if they’d worn patchouli and raised organic beats instead of rice and soybeans, they’d be seen as the future of America. It’s amazing how fickle we are, in America.
But compared to the single mom working at Wal Mart, we did okay, I guess.
18. Is it a culture shock coming from Arkansas to Maryland? Do you think your surroundings influence your stories?
We lived in Virginia for a few years between Arkansas and Maryland. The thing about Maryland is that folks, here, don’t know how to cook Southern food, and yet they still try. They should stick to crabs.
I grew up in the Mississippi River Delta, in Eastern Arkansas, which is one of the poorest places in the country. There’s just nothing there, no opportunities, nothing but flat land and meth. I lived in Fayetteville, AR, for a while—up in the mountains. That’s really a different world. It’s a very cool college town. We miss it, but
there’s still not enough work there for us to go back. Right now, we live in horse country, which is a trip. We struggle to buy groceries, while being surrounded by extreme wealth and privilege. Once you get away from the horsey set, Maryland is a pretty rural state, so it’s like being at home in many ways.
19. What is the best advice you have for all of our writers out there?
Have a point. Have a day job as far removed from writing as you can get. Listen to what other people tell you about writing, but don’t let it ruin you. Do it because you have to; if you don’t have to, don’t do it, because you’re probably not going to make any money at it.
20. You have a lot of books on the burner, what's next for CL Bledsoe?
Right now I’m working on a Civil War-era slave narrative about a Gollum in Arkansas. It’s a bit of a steampunk/surrealist novel. I’ve just about finished a draft, then I’ll shop it around. I also have a
good bite for a poetry collection, so here’s hoping. I'm tinkering with that from time to time. I mentioned the punk book that’s coming out—I’ve partial drafts of two sequels to that, so it’ll be a trilogy. I haven’t actually decided what my next “new” project will be. I’ve got 3 or 4 ideas in mind. It will be another somewhat surreal novel, probably.