Today we’d like to introduce you to Lowell Mick White.
Every artist has a unique story. Can you briefly walk us through yours?
Sure—thanks for asking!
I’m a writer and an educator and an editor. I see all three of these occupations as aspects of story-telling.
I learned to tell stories on the porch of my grandparents’ house in rural West Virginia. I was (am) an only child, so I spent most of my childhood hanging around with adults, not other kids, and I’d sit on the porch in the evening dark, and I’d listen to the adults talking adult stuff—politics, history, neighborhood gossip—and I took a deep interest in what I heard, in the big, fascinating, adult world they were all talking about. I listened for a long time, and then…after a while, it just seemed natural for me to tell my own stories.
I wrote for a long time while I worked a variety of ridiculous, stupid day jobs—IRS bureaucrat, shade-tree salesman, cab driver. In 1998 I got some welcome recognition and validation when I was awarded the Dobie Paisano Fellowship—a wonderful experience that gave me a six-month residency at J. Frank Dobie’s old ranch west of Austin, time to seriously write. It was there that I began my first novel, That Demon Life. When my time at the ranch was up, I returned to driving the cab, and I wrote That Demon Life in my cab, between passengers.
(You can see evidence of this writing experience in the actual book. All those broken-up short sub-chapters? Each of those breaks happened when a passenger got into my cab, and I had to stop writing, and the breaks stayed in even after many, many revisions to the text).
When I finished writing That Demon Life, I gave up the cab—it’s a hard way to make a living—and entered graduate school, and my life as an educator began. It was a fairly easy transition since I was already somewhat familiar with that world: both of my parents were university professors, and my mom’s family was once acclaimed “the teachingest family in West Virginia.” I’m now an Instructional Assistant Professor at Texas A&M University, and I teach mostly creative writing.
I’m also an editor. A few years ago, I was down on the Texas coast in Seadrift, eating shrimp with environmental activist and writer Diane Wilson and arts activist Pamela Booton, and we came up with the idea for a press—Alamo Bay Press. So far we’ve published 17 terrific books—poetry and fiction and memoir—and more are on the way.
Please tell us about your art.
I write literary fiction—short stories and novels.
I write to entertain, and to enlighten, and to record and remember and commemorate this world we live in. I like writing about odd-turned people who are maybe a little twisted, a little unusual, somewhat unconventional, often ludicrous bordering on outrageous.
I’m not an autobiographical writer. The characters you see on the page aren’t me. (Yes, I know some people argue that ALL characters are somehow reflections of the author, but I’m not buying that right now). I am, however, an experiential writer—I process the things I observe and hear and do in what passes for this magical everyday life, and I reimagine that material for use in my books. Leo Tolstoy said something to the effect that “the Artist takes the best things from his life and places them in his work…” and I totally believe in that, though “best things” are not necessarily personal experiences, and are definitely not necessarily the most sunshiny happy cheerful personal experiences, but can often be the disturbing, dark, troubling, bizarre, and—above all!—the absurd and ridiculous and funny experiences that everyone finds themselves in or observes or imagines at one time or another.
That sounds complicated, right? On my website I have a somewhat simpler mission statement: “My goal as a writer, broadly speaking, is to write about how we live in America and how we came to live this way, with all the many ridiculosities, absurdities, vexations, and heartbreaks that our lives entail….”
That’s perhaps easier to focus on.
How I write is pretty simple. I write my first drafts by hand on those cheap, wire-bound 70-page notebooks you get at the grocery store for a dollar or so. Teaching takes up most of my time, so to focus on my writing I work in timed, 21-minute bursts. I can do 300—400 words in one of those bursts, and that’s enough for a day. Later, after the first draft is complete (it will take several notebooks!), I’ll type the manuscript into the computer. This becomes the first revision. (There will be a lot of revisions—my current work in progress, Normal School, is up to the 18th full revision).
As an artist, how do you define success and what quality or characteristic do you feel is essential to success as an artist?
One level of success is certainly having at least a few readers appreciate your (always imperfect and flawed) works. Another level is the satisfaction that comes with actually completing a complicated and lengthy work—every book I’ve ever written, I’ve printed out the manuscript and have just admired that pile of paper for a few days. That’s success!
Necessary characteristics for success include the usual suspects of grit and persistence. When you’re making art, you have to find a way to stick with it and—make art.
In some ways, that’s getting harder and harder to do. We live in dark times, and that has an impact on how we create. You might remember a moment in Tolkien’s Fellowship of the Ring, where Frodo and Gandalf are talking, and Frodo wishes that the discovery of the ring and the dangers stemming from the discovery “need not have happened in my time.” Gandalf replies, “So do I, and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
That’s something to keep in mind! While our time is not for us to decide, the work we do as artists—as citizens, as humans—in our time is. I think that as artists our task is to make art in response to—and maybe in defiance of—our times.
One way I try to do this is to simply bear witness to what’s going on, to observe the world with as much compassion and empathy and humor as I can muster, and to somehow bring these observations to bear in my writing. This can be difficult and exhausting, but it’s also, at least for me, necessary.
I also, though my teaching, attempt to help other people bear witness. Years ago, I attended a writing workshop with the late novelist Peter Matthiessen. At one point, Matthiessen told me, “It’s the job of the writer to give voice to the voiceless.” I’ve always understood Matthiessen’s statement in two ways: as a call to tell our stories, but also as a call to help people tell their stories—to help people find their own voices. Putting people in a position to tell their own stories is at the center of my teaching and my literary work.
How or where can people see your work? How can people support your work?
I’ve published three novels—That Demon Life, Professed, and Burnt House—and two story collections, Long Time Ago Good and The Messes We Make of Our Lives. That Demon Life won the Gival Press Novel Award in 2009. I was elected to the Texas Institute of Letters in 2014.
I am in the process of serializing my current work in progress, Normal School, online. As I revise the text, I post weekly “episodes” to the Normal School website. Each episode runs about 2000 words, and the serialization will run through (probably) June 2019. The novel will come out in a physical book later in the year.
My books are available on Amazon, of course, and through Barnes & Nobel and Powell’s.
My ongoing online serial novel, Normal School, can be read at www.normalschoolnovel.com.
You can find out more about me—and contact me— at my website, www.lowellmickwhite.com.
The books we publish at Alamo Bay Press can be found at Amazon et al., and on our website, www.alamobaypress.com
You can find out more about the Dobie-Paisano Project at https://dobiepaisano.utexas.edu/ and the Texas Institute of Letters at http://www.texasinstituteofletters.org/.
The covers on my novel Professed and my story collection The Messes We Make of Our Lives use art by Reji Thomas. You can see more of her work at www.rejithomasart.com
Feel free to follow me on Twitter @lowellmickwhite
I am always very happy—and thrilled, even—to visit a classroom or a bookclub. Let me know when you want me and where you want me and I’ll be there. Please shoot me an email at email@example.com or contact me through my website to set something up.
- Website: www.lowellmickwhite.com
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: @lowellmickwhite
- Facebook: @lowellmickwhiteauthor
- Twitter: @lowellmickwhite
- Other: www.alamobaypress.com
Pamela Booton and Lowell Mick White
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