a Magazine for Writers


Q.  Tell us about the University of Wisconsin and its Continuing Education Department.  What do you do there?

The guy who signs my paycheck would like to know what I do here. Actually, Chris DeSmet, Laurel Yourke and I have the joy of working with writers to help them become better writers. We host several workshops/conferences/retreats, critique writing, and teach online courses. Check it all out at: www.dcs.wisc.edu/lsa/writing

Q.  I've heard your newsletter recently interviewed the editors of a fabulous web site with the initials "LSS."  Can you give more info?  (On the newsletter, that is.)

Mediocre, self indulgent little rag. They traded sex for a good review.

Q. What do you look for when choosing things to put in the newsletter? (We might copy any great ideas.)

Stuff that will nurture, encourage, teach and inspire writers (and make them laugh if at all possible).

Q. Is it true people in the frozen artic are furrier than say...the rest of us?

Yes. Our blood is thicker, too.

Q. Do you write?  Short stories, poetry, novels, greeting cards?

Yes, no, yes, no.

Q. Rumor has it you recently spent time in a Mexican jail.  What was that like?  Roaches the size of your hand?

Yeah, and there were bugs, too!

Q.  Anything you'd like to tell us about your background as it relates to...well, you?

I grew up in a little log cabin in Kentucky... Oh, wait a minute. That was Lincoln. I came out of the womb wanting to be a writer, truly. When I finally started reading (when I was bedridden for nine months at age 11-12), I swallowed Hardy Boy books whole and wanted to be Franklin W. Dixon (who, alas, is a fictional construct, as am I). In college, I couldn't quite BELIEVE they handed out degrees in "creative writing" for reading books and writing stories, but they, by God, did. Been writing and teaching writing ever since.

Q. Did we forget anything?  What would you like to add?  Any links for our readers?  Current projects we should watch for?

Along with the department website above, folks can check out my new mystery at

I just finished a novel set in Madison in 1944 and am working on the third in the mystery series.

Q. For you, what is most frustrating about writing?


Q: Most rewarding?

Having written. Just kidding. Actually, I'm most frustrated when I can't carve out time to write. Ordinarily, I write six days a week, in the early morning. I've been at it so long, I just sit down and write, without the futzing around. It's of course most rewarding when it goes well, and I'm doing right by my story. It's also very nice to encounter somebody who read and liked something I wrote.

Q. Do you read much?  What kinds of books inspire you to write- if any?
Favorite authors?

I read tons! Most recently:
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
Kafka on the Shore by Haruki, Murakami
Underworld, by Don DeLillo
Waiting for Teddy William, by Howard Frank Mosher
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-timE by Mark Haddon
The Shadow of the Win, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
The Plot Against America, by Philip Roth Eventide, by Kent Haruf (Also his previous novel, Plainsong, which is just the best) The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud by Ben Sherwood
All Over Creation by Ruth Ozeki
Finding Caruso by Kim Barnes
Lamb: the Gospel According to Biff by Christopher Moore Peace
Like a RiveR by Leif Enger
The Last Report on the Miracles of Little No Horse by Louise Erdrich
The Multiculti Boho Sideshw, by Alexs D. Pate
The Rich Part of Lif, by Jim Kokoris
The Little Friend, by Donna Tartt Sister of My Heart by Chitra Divakaruni
The Well of Lost Plot by Jasper Fforde
The Paperboy by Pete Dexter
A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving

All time favs - Faulkner (no, really, and just about everything he wrote), Kesey (Sometimes a Great Notion even more than Cuckoo's Next), McMurtry's Lonesome Dove.

Q. How do you handle rejection letters?  Any hints?

You remember how, in Star Wars, you put up the force field or screen or whatever it is, so missals will bounce off instead of blowing you out of the sky...?

Q.  If I were sitting down to start my very first poem, what would your advice be?

Nap until the impulse passes. Kidding again. Be receptive. Be playful. Be grateful.

Q. Do you take most of your ideas from life?  Or your imagination?  A mix?  (Do you hate when people ask this?)

Yes, yes, yes, and definitely. I think it all gets mixed up in the stew-life, books, movies. I don't know as I "take them" so much as they bubble up when I need them (and when I don't).

Q. Do you have days when the words won't flow?  What do you do?

Of course. I write anyway. It feels awful, and it goes slowly, but the work isn't any worse than what I write when I'm euphoric.

Q. What's a typical writing day like for you?  Do you have a schedule? How do you keep from procrastinating?

I usually write for an hour very early in the morning, before I go to work. I get in 2-3 hours Saturday. Never on Sunday, from the movie by the same name. I scribble things in my notebook when I'm not at the computer.

Procrastinating is never a problem for me. I can't wait to get at it.

Q. What do you do to unwind and relax?

Well, since I quit drinking...

The only time I'm truly relaxed is when I'm asleep, and sometimes not then. I can get absorbed in a baseball game, which is even better than relaxing. I exercise a lot, read a lot, watch tv a lot. Sometimes I do all of those at the same time. (It's not very relaxing.)

Q. Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night and started writing?  Do dreams inspire you?

Of course I have! Dreams amaze me. They awe me. They revolt me. They scare me. They don't inspire me; they're the same thing as writing, only it's happening to you.

Q. Do you have a 'golden rule' of writing that almost always works for you?

See above. Be receptive. Be playful. Be grateful.

Q. What's your opinion on "How-to" books on writing?  Helpful, a waste of money?

They're all a waste of money except the ones I wrote. Just kidding, again. Good ones are helpful as much for affirmation and inspiration as for instruction. But read ONE good one on a subject and get back to writing!

Q. What's the best piece of advice you've been given as a writer?

The best "advice" I ever got was watching and listening to Wallace Stegner talk about writing. I got that fiction was something precious and more than worthy of my time, my effort, and my heart.

Second best was from William L. Rivers: write with plain style, language

in its shirt sleeves.

Q: What's the worst?

Merritt Clifton once sent me a rejection letter that said, in essence, "go die."

What else can I tell you?

Read all about Monona Quinn’s Magical, Mysterious Road Show as author Marshall J. Cook travels all over Wisconsin and points southeast (Bouchercon convention in Chicago) and west (literary festival in Nebraska) this summer talking about Mo’s new adventure, Murder at Midnight.

Go to the publisher’s website at: www.bleakhousebooks.com/forum

Click on Marshall’s name and then on “Mo’s Magical Road Show” for updates on Marshall’s travels. Leave him a message, and he’ll be happy to respond.