Last time the Indy checked in with writer Mark Sundeen in our Summer Reading Issue, his first book had just been published by Harper/Quill. Apart from being a lazily enjoyable read, Car Camping: The Book of Desert Adventures is also a wry broadside, a nail in the tire of “danger porn,” the school of trendy outdoor writing that Sundeen by his own admission considers unrealistic and paradoxically boring.
But then, not everyone has Sundeen’s gift for seeing the special in the seemingly mundane and elevating it to prose as laconically beautiful as it is honest in its emptiness. Sundeen’s first post-Car Camping project was to complete a new issue of Great God Pan, the magazine he co-edits with friend Erik R. Bluhm. The new issue, subtitled “Salt Desert Tales,” is the result of the editors’ six-week stay in Wendover, Utah, underwritten by a grant from the state’s Center for Land Use Interpretation.
Car Camping has also been picked up for UK release by the Scottish publishing house Canongate, and Sundeen recently told us that it’s an honor to be on the same imprint as his two of his literary heroes: John Fante and Knut Hamsun. He’s also writing a book about bullfighting that should connect Mexican bullfighting, “bloodless” bullfighting in California and the American rodeo with peripheral subject matter like cockfights and Mexican midget bullfighters. As far as we’re concerned, Sundeen can’t finish that one fast enough.
“Every writer is seeking affirmation,” says Greg Martin, author of Mountain City whom we also featured in the same issue last summer, “and what has been so amazing about the experience of being published is that every time I get that affirmation I just feel like an imposter.” Tough talk for a man whose book was chosen as a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, is being translated into Spanish, and is in its second printing run which will be followed by a paperback edition this summer.
Of his selection by the Times, Martin says: “I was excited until I looked it up on the website and there was Mountain City on the non-fiction page with about 50 others. And so I’m scrolling through the M’s when I start getting the feeling that this is maybe up there with winning the Arizona State Poetry Award—where after inviting all my friends to the reception, it turned out that the committee consisted of these six widows who all worked at the same branch of the public library. I barely lived that one down, but then again I did cash that check.”
Speaking of the almighty dollar, imagine a city with money enough to give commissions for artists to create city sponsored works of art. Seattle, the city of Socialism by the not so sunny Sea, is just such a place; recently Greg was commissioned to produce a novel for the city. It’s kind of like an assignment from your composition teacher, except that they pay one-third of the money when two chapters and a bibliography are done, another third when the novel is halfway done, and the last installment when you give a public reading from the work. For seven grand total, we’re talking about an acute incentive to get over that writer’s block.