When my friend Dan recommends that I know a writer, I pay attention. Because, well, Dan and wise and smart and kind . . . and because he and his wife spent a full day lifting heavy stones into place for the structure where P and I got married. Dan told me I should know Mark Meier, and now I suggest the same to you.
1. Tell me about your latest project.
My novel Wisecrack combines the structure and some concerns of “The Waste Land” with the mechanics of a conspiracy thriller, so that on one level it tells the story of a conspiracy to start a war between the US and Iran, and on the other, it considers missed historical chances and literature and espionage as twin products of the Enlightenment. Meanwhile, I’m working on a comic novel while shopping a novel about teachers. I would like to dust off some plays for performance, too.
2. What role, if any, did books, writing, and reading play in your childhood?
I read a lot as a kid. I especially enjoyed thinking about grand ideas and the lives of people in other historical circumstances. Somewhere, Richard Rorty wrote about books as a way to talk to the kind of people you didn’t have around you. I like that explanation.
3. What is your writing practice, your writing routine?
I tend to take lots of notes and sit around and drink tea and pace the room and flip through books and stare at the garden or play with the dog when I’m cultivating an idea. Once I have an idea, I usually outline, and once I have an outline, I tend to block out chunks of time for writing. I then like to write as fast as possible till the end of the outline.
4. Who are you reading now?
I’m just about to finish Pynchon’s V. Up next is either Chris Tilghman’s The Right Hand Shore or Herta Müller’s Herztier.
5. What are three of your all-time favorite books? Why do you love those?
Austerlitz, by W.G. Sebald—I like the way the story slowly assembles then strikes, like a bunch of little waves that overlap to crash as a tsunami.
Mrs. Dalloway, by Virginia Woolf—Woolf knits together so many different consciousness to tell the story of an era, and with the usual beautiful language.
The Importance of Being Earnest, by Oscar Wilde—I can’t think of another play that readily provides so many epigrams while maintaining suspense to the end.
6. How do you balance “building a writing platform” and the actual writing to set on that platform?
I like talking to real human beings and networking where I live, which is an old-fashioned form of platform building. I like less creating an internet presence. It feels more detached to me, although I know for many people, the internet provides a way to express a more authentic self and find community. I tend to focus on writing new stuff and polishing it and then use the platform building as a break between projects or phases of production.
7.What is a typical day like for you?
Typical seems to change every six months or so, but for the past three months, I’ve been teaching starting at nine, so three days a week, I mainly teach and try to do as much planning and grading as possible. At night, I’ll usually outline for my own work or maybe edit, but I find it hard to start writing new pages at that point in the day. I often just read with the dog. Tuesday and Thursday, I use the first few hours of the day to write (or revise as I’ve been doing for the past few weeks.) I like writing new pages in bigger spaces, like a café, to have bigger thoughts. Then I’ll putter to other things by afternoon. In the summer, if I’m writing a lot, I’ll tend to use gardening or some other manual labor to break up the time.
8. Describe your dream writing space?
A small room in a house overlooking the beach in New England. Broad hardwood floors, a low bookcase, an old desk, a window to the right of the desk that looks onto sand, waves, a stream running into the ocean, and distant pine trees.
9. What is the hardest writing critique you ever received? How did you respond?
On a novel manuscript, an agent who read and liked the whole thing said, “This is just too quiet to sell in this market.” (Or some variation of bad market, too quiet, but I liked and won’t represent it.) Of course, I was mad and disappointed at first. Then I began working on another novel (Wisecrack, in fact) while letting the other sit. Finally, I went back to the rejected manuscript and found ways to increase the tension without sacrificing the overall parameters. Is it still quiet? Sure. It’s not a rock concert. I’d be dismayed if it were. But now there’s a lot more texture to the quiet, like a field full of crickets and bees and wind in leaves.
10. What is the best wisdom you have to share with other writers?
You’re never at a point where you’ve made it. The career is incredibly unstable, not to mention opinions are fickle, so you might think to yourself, “If only I could publish a story, it would be great.” Then you might publish one, but then you have to publish the next. And then the next somewhere bigger and better. You can never just show up for work and have something handed to you. You always have to create the next thing yet be patient with how long that can take.
Mark Meier has taught at all levels from elementary to college and also worked in environmental consulting. He has written articles, plays, stories, parts of books, and most recently, the novel Wisecrack (Assent Publishing, 2013.) He belongs to the Authors Guild. You can find more about his work at his two websites: www.wisecracknovel.com and www.markmeierwriting.com.