Author Next Door Spotlight: Mardi Jo Link

Mardi Jo LinkMardi Link – a pool player, soccer mom, Detroit Lion’s fan and an author who finally put “writer” on her tax return.

Mardi is the author of Bootstrapper: From Broke to Badass On a Northern Michigan Farm. She studied agriculture and journalism at Michigan State University and creative writing at Queens University of Charlotte. She has worked as a newspaper reporter, a street tree planter, a seamstress, and a tournament pool player. Her true crime books about infamous Michigan murders, When Evil Came to Good Hart, and Isadore’s Secret, both spent several weeks on the Heartland Bestseller List and Isadore’s Secret was named a Michigan Notable Book. Mardi’s personal essays have been published in Creative Nonfiction, Bellingham Review, Bear River Review, Publishers Weekly, Traverse Magazine, and the Detroit Free Press.
Bootstrapper by Mardi Jo Link

But that’s just the marketing speak.

She is a huge Detroit Lions fan and doesn’t care who Ndamukong Suh steps on in a game as long as it is a player from the other team. She thinks the label “Soccer Mom” is a compliment and is thrilled to serve as vice president of the Traverse City Central High School Soccer Boosters. Her youngest son plays defense and she can hardly stand how proud she is of him.

She’d like to be able to afford to eat at the local restaurant that has, at one time or another, employed all three of her sons (Trattoria Stella), and if all goes according to plan with this here book-writing thing, maybe that will happen someday.

Her favorite things about Michigan is the way an aluminum canoe sounds when you’re out on the water early in the morning and the way the pine needles stick to the bottoms of your bare feet. She loves fried perch, bright cardinals at the feeder, lightening bugs and her family. She lives in Traverse City, Michigan, on The Big Valley, with her new husband who just told her last week that he had no desire to bungee jump because being married to her was an adventure. She thinks that’s a compliment, too. And, this year, her vegetable garden will be amazing.

How did you become a writer?
It wasn’t supposed to happen. I was supposed to be a veterinarian. A large animal veterinarian. Not “large” as in elephants and tigers, but “large” as in horses and cows. I even planned to major in biology when I went to Michigan State University, and then apply to vet school.

By coincidence or grand design or a supreme being stepping in, depending upon your perspective, the roommate I was assigned to in the dorm was majoring in animal husbandry. One of her classroom assignments was to artificially inseminate a cow. She knew I wanted to be a vet, so she invited me along to a dairy farm with to her class to observe. I watched her don a very long rubber glove and do the deed and that pretty much cured me from my animal-tending fantasies. I figured I could just have a lot of pets instead. So, the next day I switched my major to journalism. I did get a minor in agriculture, though.

Looking back, I was always the kid with the notebook in her pocket writing really bad poems, so I should have seen that reaching inside animals was not for me.

Anyway, after college I got a job as a newspaper reporter, and have since worked as a magazine editor, book reviewer, freelance writer, author, etc. Two years ago I put “writer” on my tax return, so I guess its official. Its not an easy life or a secure one, but it is interesting and satisfying. Though sometimes it feels more like a compulsion than a career. And by that I mean support group stuff:

Me: “Hi. My name is Mardi Link and I’m a writer.”
Group of writers sitting in a circle on folding chairs somewhere in an anonymous church basement: “Hi Mardi.”

How do you write? What is your process?
I’m an early riser so after my son heads to school and my husband heads to work I’m often at the computer still in my pajamas. Those pajamas usually involve a Detroit Lions t-shirt. Being a Lions fan helps me deal with a life of disappointment and rejection coupled with continuing to strive anyway for very small moments of unexpected and random brilliance.

When I’ve got something that’s already begun, I just jump right back into it. When I’m starting something new, I’m like the worst case of ADD and I’ve just gone off my meds. I get up and walk around, I check my email, I do a Google search of an old enemy, I listen to Pink or Gwen Stefani, I look out the window. It’s horrible until I get a few sentences written and then I can settle down.

I usually write for a couple hours in the morning, then take the dog for a walk, write for a few more, then toss the tennis ball to the dog and we discuss the problems in my work. She’s a good listener and doesn’t try to dominate the conversation or suggest only commercially appropriate decisions.

In the last hour or so before I quit for the day I answer email, return phone calls, plan events, etc. I’m not one of those high falutin’ hermit authors. I actually like to do p.r.

Who are your favorite authors?
Joan Didion for her mind, which I would follow along behind for any and all tangents and explorations; John Jeremiah Sullivan simply because he kicks language’s ass; Annie Proulx for her inventiveness of plot combined with the simple beauty of her language; Mary Karr for her gallows humor; Thomas Lynch for the sound of his voice in my ear as I read; Marge Piercy for her perfect poems (Hunger Moon is a particular favorite); David Sedaris because he can make me laugh even on bad days; and C.S. Lewis for gifting the world with Narnia.

What authors have inspired you?
First and foremost Rick Bragg (All Over But the Shoutin’ and Ava’s Man) for writing the truth about his family and the unapologetic way he is himself in his books, and only himself, always. Carolyn Chute (The Beans of Egypt, Maine) for proving that even people in the backwoods fall in love, crack jokes, and make a family. Jane Austin for showing up all those proper male authors at a time when women were not supposed to be paying such close attention.
Truman Capote (In Cold Blood) for finding people’s dark natures both literary and interesting. John Berendt for writing the best true crime book ever published, Midnight In the Garden of Good and Evil.

What books are on your bedside table?
Ok, I just ran up to my bedroom to check. I’d like to make up a cool-sounding list, but I’m a nonfiction writer and we really are supposed to tell the truth so here it is:
The Meadow by James Galvin
The Kiss, a memoir by Kathryn Harrison
Emily Dickinson’s Complete Poems
Suttree by Cormac McCarthy
And the April 1, 2013 issue of The New Yorker (I’m a little behind in my reading!)

There’s also a stuffed donkey my youngest son won from a crane machine in a bar that I took him to years ago (he was probably 6 or 7) when I was practicing my pool game; a pair of reading glasses that I can always count on being there, and that my husband won’t abscond with when he loses his own, because they are bright pink; and a bottle of Tylenol PM. I’ve been having a hard time shutting down my brain at night these days.

What writing projects do you have planned next?
I’d like to write about a group of wild and relentless women friends I’ve been lucky enough to be a member of for the past twenty-something years (we call ourselves “The Drummond Girls” and we  #$%@&  rock). Essays are a fun and sometimes dangerous writing animal to disembowel, so I’d like to try my hand at writing some of those. I also have a third true crime book that I’ve been working on for 5 years or so, and it’d be good to finish it.

What advice do you have for young writers?
Read widely. Read great literature, read crappy romance novels, read poetry you don’t understand, read your friends’ stories, read your school newspaper, just read. Read to decide who you are and what you have to say. Then write. Notes, grocery lists, limericks, directions to imaginary places, your hero’s obituary, a short story, a long novel, an expose of your school principal. And don’t expect to get it all right the first time out. Allow yourself the freedom to fail but then keep right on going.

Someone, I can’t remember who right now (and I refuse to cheat by googling it) once said, “Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor.” That’s just a fancy schmancy way of saying that being worried you’ll fail at something is a good way to keep yourself down. Don’t give in to that worry.

Write what is in your mind and in your heart and in your soul and that has to get out or it will eat you alive. Don’t worry if it will be perfect because it probably won’t. Write it anyway. Then do it again. Writing is a craft, not some magic fairy dust. You wouldn’t expect to be able to build a race car engine or look for secret Mayan ruins in Mexico or transplant a kidney or ride a unicycle on your first try. Writing well takes study and practice.

When you’ve written a lot, start thinking about your voice. What makes you different than any other writer? What is your point of view? What are you passionate about? Your voice is the most precious possession you own as a writer. Protect it, feed it, be nice to it, and sometimes, give it a swift kick.

Write to find out what you think and who you are. You will probably surprise yourself. If you do, you’re onto something that other people will want to read.

Oh, and I think Anne LaMott is the one who said that thing about perfectionism.

Her latest book
$24.95 (I know. That’s a lot of dough. I’ve willingly shelled that out for books I loved and so of course I hope that my readers will, too. Or, they can check it out of the library or wait for the paperback or borrow it from a friend or download the cheaper ebook. The ebook is nice, I suppose, but the actual book has turned out to be such a beautiful object, a piece of art even, that I hope they read the actual book), Alfred A. Knopf (who also publishes Joan Didion, Jane Smiley, Cormac McCarthy, Nora Ephron, Stephen King and Truman Capote!!) a chunky little hardcover.