A writer's lament: Literary efforts are labors of love, but bittersweet

Someday I'm gonna sit down, open my old files and figure out how many book signings, library talks, book festivals, craft fairs and book clubs I've attended over the 25 years I've been writing. In summary fashion, I can safely say I've been as fa...

Mark Munger
Mark Munger

Someday I’m gonna sit down, open my old files and figure out how many book signings, library talks, book festivals, craft fairs and book clubs I’ve attended over the 25 years I’ve been writing. In summary fashion, I can safely say I’ve been as far west as Calgary, Alberta, as far east as Youngstown, Ohio, as far north as Winnipeg, Manitoba, and as far south as Council Bluffs, Iowa.
I’d like to think these bits and pieces of my writerly journey - from considering writing a book to actually writing novels - chronicles my progress as an author.
But I’m not sure anyone would be interested.
I started writing seriously in 1990. My first novel took three years of sweat, blood and tears to hammer into shape. After a decade of shopping that first effort, “The Legacy,” to agents and publishers, Savage Press accepted the book for publication. Mike Savage taught me the ropes of book publishing, marketing and distribution; and, in the end, after the book’s regional best-seller status began to wane, with no literary agents knocking down the door to represent my work (a necessity in attracting large, New York publishing houses, which is every author’s dream), and being impatient by nature, I chose to go it alone. I formed Cloquet River Press, found a printer, established a relationship with a distributor and started churning out books.
I find myself decades later with my 10th book (and seventh novel) meandering toward birth having achieved little recognition for my effort.
There was a time when I submitted work I’d written, novels that had achieved acclaim from national and even international reviewers, to writing contests in hopes of winning at least an honorable mention: something, anything to set my work above the crowd of self-published authors. I know, I know. Seeking such vindication is akin to trying to win the Powerball. I understand I should be satisfied that folks generally appreciate my work. I know this because they come back for another Munger “read” or send me kind emails praising my stories and characters.
And, to be fair, a couple of my short stories have won recognition in local writing contests. Such small, sweet victories raise my spirits and make me smile. For a few weeks. Then it’s back to reality. I remain, despite serious and consistent effort at craft, virtually unknown as a writer in my own hometown.
Rejection is something every writer, poet, musician or artist must face and, having experienced such disdain by the public, ignore. I understand this delicate dance with ego. I’ve repeatedly submitted my work to the Northeastern Minnesota Book Award and the Minnesota Book Award only to watch folks, talented to be sure but having only the most tangential connections to my backyard, win year in and year out. I’ve talked to folks “in the know” and asked why, only to receive blank stares and the admonition to “try, try again.”
Once, in answer to such an inquiry, a female judge in a local writing contest confided, “I was on the committee and thought your book was the best of the lot.” And yet, that novel, “Suomalaiset,” a broad, sweeping historical look at the lynching of a Finnish dockworker in Duluth, didn’t make the cut.
Despite such heartbreak, I continue to put my shoulder to the wheel of words. I cannot not write. Even when my head hurts from decades of pounding it against the wall of anonymity.
Sometime this year, “Boomtown,” a legal thriller set in Ely and Grand Marais, will be released. I’m trying something new. I’m asking readers who’ve enjoyed my work to preorder the novel to assist in funding its publication. I plan on releasing the book in September. So far, the response has been tepid even though “Boomtown” has a timely plot and reprises many characters from “The Legacy,” “Pigs” and “Laman’s River,” books that did well with readers. Resurrecting beloved characters is my way of thanking folks who’ve read my work and have told me to keep at it. Whether “Boomtown” is the end of my efforts to become an established author or a new beginning remains an unanswered question.

Mark Munger is an author, district court judge and owner of Cloquet River Press. His newest book, “Boomtown” is available for pre-order at

“Boomtown,” to be published this year, is Mark Munger’s 10th book and seventh novel.

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