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A Lifetime of Storytelling
By The Editors
We like to look within our pool of regular contributors and give them a chance to tell their story, too. We chatted with our very own staff writer Leah Mueller about her writing process, ageism in the writing community, as well as what drove her to commit to writing past society's limits.
How would you describe as a writer? Are there labels or schools you prefer? Any influences you'd like to cite?
I like to think of myself as a versatile writer, equally drawn to prose, essays and poetry. Much of my prose is autobiographical in nature, placing it somewhere in the memoir/personal essay category. I also enjoy writing essays of a socio-political nature. Poetry is a more visceral exercise for me, as well as my go-to medium if I'm experiencing emotional turmoil. I identify quite a bit with the Beats and writers such as Brautigan, but my style is all my own.
How long have you been writing? What is your earliest writing memory?
I've been writing all my life. I was one of those kids who could read and spell before kindergarten, so I picked up on words fast. As far as my first writing memory goes--well, I'm reminded of the popular cartoon in which a kid holds up a piece of paper while her teacher says, "That's really good! You should become a writer!" Overhead, a banner reads, "How to Ruin a Kid's Life." In my head, the next frame would show that same kid, 30 or so years later, slumping beside an overturned wine bottle and a stack of unpaid bills and collection notices. My own, early experience was similar to the first cartoon image. I wrote a poem in second grade. I don't remember what it was about, but the teacher was startled. "This is going in the school paper!" she cried. And the rest is history. Thanks SO much, second grade teacher...
When did you decide to pursue writing seriously? And what has that meant for you?
I've written in fits and starts for most of my adult life. At first, my meager output was due to lack of inspiration combined with shitty typewriters. I mean, who wants to get out an eraser every time she wants to write a poem? Then I was raising kids and trying to earn a living. I didn't start taking myself seriously as a writer until 2012 or so. I got sick of people saying, "You tell such good stories! WHY aren't you writing this stuff down?" By then, my kids were adults, and I could write everything on a computer, then submit my work for free to a host of literary magazines. I no longer had any excuse not to write.
What gives you joy and satisfaction as a writer?
I love the often unintentional, well-turned phrase that pops out of my head. The kind of phrase so good that it seems like somebody else must have written it. I enjoy the rush that comes from seeing my work in print, and the thrill of acceptance.
When was your first book published? Tell us about the title and what inspired you to write it.
My first book, "Queen of Dorksville" was actually a chapbook, published in 2012 by Crisis Chronicles Press. I won a chapbook contest, which was thrilling because I'd never won a chapbook contest before. The title just sort of came to me. It was a (mostly) affectionate reference to dorky boyfriends from my past. Much of the book's contents deal with painful relationships, a favorite theme of mine.
What do you consider your biggest writing accomplishments?
My proudest moment as a writer was when my essay "Firebrand" appeared in Nauset Press' new book "Fierce: Essays For and About Dauntless Women." I wrote about Annie Besant, radical Socialist and founder of the Theosophical Society. It was my most scholarly work to date, and in many ways the one I'm most proud of. I had the chance to read from my essay in NYC this winter with several of the other authors, and then party down in a Manhattan loft afterward. However, I enjoy all my publication successes, both large and small.
What have been your biggest challenges as a writer?
My biggest challenge as a writer is convincing myself that I'm any good at my craft. There's a lot of competition for publication, and many writers are half my age, with expensive degrees, teaching credentials, etc. Sometimes this exasperates the hell out of me. There's a lot of ageism and classism in the publication arena. Since I'm 60 years old and do not possess a fancy literary degree, I feel this division acutely. Sometimes I want to give up, but writing has become a nasty habit, like cigarettes. So I keep going.
Do you have any specific writing goals for 2019?
I'm presently shopping around my next chapbook, entitled "Death and Heartbreak." I also have in mind another chapbook with a restaurant/bar theme, to be named "Cocktails at Denny's." My dream is to drive across the country this summer, landing as many featured reader gigs as I can and imposing on friends along the way. It's not a plan yet, but it could become one.
What are your long-term writing goals?
I just want to keep writing for as long as I can. Maybe someone will nominate me for one of those fancy awards. That would be nice. Meanwhile, I hope someone sexy plays me in the upcoming movie of my life, tentatively scheduled for sometime around 2035.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.