". . . I felt suffocated by the amount of strictly Montanan writing. I have never gone fishing or camping, had just begun to hike, and while I loved nature, I wasn’t overwhelmingly inspired by all the A River Runs Through It-esque literature." -- Emma Mcmullen
The following is a blog post from Emma Mcmullen in response to David Allan Cates, "X Out of Wonderland." Emma is a student in Robert Stubblefield's Montana Writers Live! course.
Before coming to University of Montana, I had been learning fantasy and slipstream writing styles, and while I give credit to literary writing, my interests simply lie in more speculative realms. I knew that at UM I would be surrounded by teachers who, above all, wanted to teach me traditional, literary writing styles, and I was fine with that. I figured any kind of reading or writing couldn’t possibly hurt. I wasn’t wrong; reading and writing continued to improve my skills, but I felt suffocated by the amount of strictly Montanan writing. I have never gone fishing or camping, had just begun to hike, and while I loved nature, I wasn’t overwhelmingly inspired by all the A River Runs Through It-esque literature.
One week in Montana Writers Live with Robert Stubblefield, we read X out of Wonderland: a David Cates novel that landed right into my area of interest. The allegorical aspects of David Cates’ novel, as well as his surrealist style and use of understatement made for the ultimate role model for me as a Montana writer wishing to write about something beyond Montana. This piece inspired me to pursue my interest in speculative writing without the fear of being shunned for not devoting my life to flowing poetic descriptions of Montana.
I continued to be impressed by David as he spoke about his writing process. David described X out of Wonderland as a satirical farce of Voltaire’s Candide, and touched on characterization as “taking traits to the extreme,” often ending in hubris. Getting to the bottom of the variation of religions, habits, and lifestyles, and then stretching them into entire societies opened a Pandora’s box of inspiration for me. David also discussed seeing writing as music, another diversion from the typical. He thinks of plot points as chords which increase with patterns of tension and release that create a song. Searching for the underlying melody and creating a cohesive song in style and tone connected with my way of viewing storytelling. As he described this metaphor, I could see the keys on my clarinet covered and uncovered to create a melody. If I played one note at the wrong time or with the wrong pitch, it ruined the piece. This comparison speaks to the precision of word and style choices that I aim to achieve.
From surrealism to seeing writing as music, David Cates was everything I hadn’t seen before in a Montana writer, and yet he still managed to be successful and true to his Montana roots. I am left with David Cates’ counter to Hugo’s “write what you know” to “exercise your capacity to not know.”
About the Author:
Emma McMullen is a freshman at University of Montana. She studies creative writing wholeheartedly and dodges math and science classes at every opportunity.