This month’s featured author and I go way back. I first met C. C. Magart on the first day of my first job as a high school English teacher. A few years later, we started a critique group with another teacher friend, and I give that group credit for setting me back on the path to all things writing and editing. My work on her first volume of nonfiction marks another project where I copyedited and then formatted the text for both the print and ebook versions. On thing is certain, C. C. Magart has led quite an amazing life, and her sense of place reigns supreme.
Official Bio: A native Idahoan, Carmen Carlson Magart was raised on a large family owned sheep ranch nestled between the banks of the River of No Return and the Frank Church Wilderness. After a brief escape to secure a degree in Education Carmen returned to the ranch to work and raise her four children.
Carmen’s rough and tumble upbringing as both devoted daughter and hired hand prepared her as a future survivor of many trials and troubles down the road as well as providing endless tales to tell.
Carmen now resides with her husband of 14 years on a cattle ranch in a quiet southwest corner of Idaho.
C. C. Magart
Ranching Tales: A Celebration of Country Life (Volume 1)
1. Please provide a brief synopsis of your most-recently released book.
Ranching Tales: Celebration of a Country Life (Volume I) would conjure up images of rough riding, roping calves and, life and times out on the open range, if it wasn’t written by a former sheepherder. The collection includes twelve illustrated personal accounts based on my experiences on our large family-owned sheep ranch and later on a cattle ranch. The stories incorporate many beloved and some not-so-beloved domestic creatures, great and small, as well as lessons learned.
2. Tell us a little bit about what motivates or inspires your writing.
As a girl with only a younger brother for company and living miles from town I was quite lonely. I began a journal at about eleven and wrote long letters to grandparents, cousins, and even a pen pal in New Zealand. Writing about one’s life in a journal or writing to someone was an acceptable mode of self-expression back in the day and a way to connect with others prior to the advent of emails and Instagram. In school I had teachers who praised my way with words and in college had a phenomenal creative writing teacher who encouraged and challenged me. Also as I met people and told my stories of living on the ranch and experiences on the edge of the wilderness, I was told innumerable times that I needed to write the stories down.
My grandmother was an artist who did beautiful renditions of wild and domestic animals, lovely landscapes, and even abstracts. I admired her talent and the accolades she received. In college I declared fine art as my major but discovered after a few unpleasant exchanges with critical professors that my artistic talent virtually sucked and I should pick another career path. I knew I wanted to create art or at least artists, so I became a damned good art teacher and taught in secondary schools for many years.
The most successful pieces of art use visual form to speak to an audience and that is my goal with writing. I want my audience to feel the thrill of galloping across the pasture on a horse no one was supposed to be able to ride. I want to illicit strong emotion with tales of resilient spirits and unfathomable survival. I want my reader to laugh at the onerous old ewe who terrorized the barnyard and the tiny Angus calf who came to birthday parties. Most of all I want my audience to see those creatures in their mind’s eye.
3. As an Idaho resident, what do you most enjoy about living here?
As a lifelong Idahoan I can get quite complacent about how good we have it here, that is, until I travel elsewhere. All I have to do is drive through the barren wasteland of Nevada or get on a freeway in Seattle or San Diego to know we live in the best state in the union. I love the great outdoors and especially enjoy camping when we can get away. My husband and I honeymooned horseback and still, years later, our favorite getaway is a packtrip in the mountains.
I am so appreciative of Idaho’s distinct seasons, our rivers and lakes, rugged mountains and plains, forests and yes, even the dessert. I enjoy the many species of wildlife that proliferate in our state, the fragrant and vibrant variety of flora and fauna, and always the wide open spaces to explore. Our air is fresh and clean, the water clear, and the quiet can be absolutely deafening at times.
I don’t always like the politics around here, I am fearful for the future of our farmland and our ranching way of life. The encroachment of civilization scares the hell out of me. But this is home and home is where you’ll find me.
4. Describe some highlights of Idaho’s literary community.
I am, unfortunately, a bit of a recluse. On occasion, I do seek out my own kind, in other words, other writers with whom to share and compare works. I have been a part of small writer’s groups which was very beneficial and have also joined bigger groups including the national Nonfiction Authors Association which meets in Boise once a month. I find that belonging to an organized group helps me to stay on track with my writing, not to stall out, especially if I’m on deck to submit a piece for critique. I also crave the constructive criticism from other writers and diverse perspectives. I fear it’s like committing writer’s suicide to have input from friends or family members alone. Undoubtedly, they either say, “Oh, this is so wonderful” or perhaps “there’s not much to it, is there?” I know there are authors who like to hermit away and then one day just present their finished manuscript, their masterpiece, but most of us don’t operate that successfully in a vacuum. Sometimes the honesty of a fellow writer does sting a bit but it just makes me pull up my big girl panties and get on with it.
5. What is the name of your blog and what can readers expect to find there?
A friend of mine (who is also my editor and mentor extraordinaire) has encouraged me from the get-go to do a blog. When she first mentioned it I wasn’t even sure what one was. I’ve since educated myself at least to the terminology but alas my use of the technology is a little further behind. We did sit down one day and get my Adventures in Country Living website up and running. Once I have updated my equipment (translation, gotten a computer newer than a turn-of-the-century model) I plan to do a blog based on ranch living, gardening, and similar subjects.
6. What does your drafting and/or editing process entail?
As I already mentioned I do like participating in critique groups of the face-to-face variety. I find it very difficult to step far enough away from my writing to do a sufficient job of self-editing. Jeri Walker has been critiquing and editing my work for about ten years now, and she’s the best thing that’s happened to me as a writer. I trust her implicitly to “fix my shit.” Even though I have a minor in English and some knowledge of acceptable practices, I virtually hate trying to figure out where to put commas and my sentence structure is, for the most part, creative chaos.
With this ranching lifestyle there are constant interruptions and seldom a dependable schedule. Work is dawn til dark, meals are whenever. Needless to say it’s impossible to have a set time just for writing. I tend to binge write. I sit down with my first cup of coffee in the morning and even though I think I might only spend a couple hours working I’ll look up five or six hours later and wonder where the time went. I can leave a half-written article or story or chapter for days or even weeks then get a wild hair to sit down with my computer and write until all of my limbs go numb and my husband’s threatening to hire a cook.
7. Are you traditionally published or self-published?
A few years ago I attended the Pacific Northwest Writers Association conference in Seattle. I was quite inspired by the speakers and the interest sparked in several of the agents and editors of big publishing companies when I pitched my novel. I was so excited to get published, that is until I got home and realized how much work it was going to be to finish writing that novel, let alone get it to the right people and get it published in the traditional way. It might be a good book and I haven’t totally given up on it. I feel for me, at this time, and for the subject matter of my stories hat self-publishing makes the most sense. I was very pleased with the way my first volume of stories turned out. I know it was a real learning curve for both my editor and my illustrator as I was privy to their hashing everything out via email regarding .png verus .jpeg files for the illustrations. Me, I had the easy part. I just wrote the stories.
8. Can you offer one or two helpful tips for fellow writers when it comes to marketing and publicity?
An answer to this would be forthcoming if I had any idea at all. There is a big world out there full of new technology, the majority of which I’ve barely become cognizant. My gracious editor patiently explains and re-explains things I need to do to get my work out there. Kindle, Goodreads, Amazon, all these cyber pie-in-the-sky notions becoming reality for so many, me, not so much. My tip is to secure a smart editor/assistant and pay her to promote your work. That way you can concentrate on what you know: writing.
9. What future projects can we look forward to?
A second volume of short stories, titled To the Barnyard and Back, is in the works, probably going to my editor, sans illustrations as of yet, in the next few months. I am also planning a third volume, which is tentatively titled Wild Things Among Us.
I am also concurrently working on a memoir titled Disowned that I hope to complete in the next couple years. My novel, a psychological thriller, is on hold. In the meantime I continue to churn out the odd short piece to submit to various periodicals. Such works have been published in Idaho Magazine and Mary Jane’s Farm.
10. Is there anything else you want your potential readers to know? What passions drive your life?
This winter was a bad one here in Idaho, especially on the ranches. You’ve never really lived until you’ve slogged through two feet of frozen snow to the barn twelve times a day to feed calves or gotten the hay wagon stuck fourteen times in an hour while your husband and the ranch hand scowled from the back of it, pitchforks in hand, the cold hungry cows circling you like ravenous sharks.
Mid-January the temperature dropped below zero, so we turned our half-finished house addition into a calf barn with 4×4 pens, heat lamps, and bales of straw. When the pens were full additional, calves sprawled by the blazing wood stove and still more lay wrapped in electric blankets in the laundry room, an electric heater blasting away at their thawing limbs. The coldest ones got a warm bath in the tub, the grandchildren all agog at the slimy creature clinging to life next to their rubber ducky. In order to keep track of them all I made a chart noting which calves had had what medications, colostrum, and whether or not it still had a mother strong enough to give a damn. I also tracked those we saved, those we didn’t, and those we had to put out of their misery when all hope was lost.
This winter dredged up painful memories of lambing seasons on the sheep ranch long ago, the bad years and piles of dead lambs higher than my head. But it also stirred in me that restless thing, the need to rescue and nurture living things that has been such a part of my life since I was a toddler helping my mother bottle-feed lambs. Always the teacher, I also felt compelled to share this year’s experience with my grandchildren, using the plight of our calves to teach them about the fragility and sanctity of life. A spotty memory of a Bible verse learned as a child springs to mind, something about caring for the smallest of God’s creatures being a good thing. Just as I am drawn to do it, as willfully as some are drawn to a spiritual vocation, I am drawn to sharing the experience as well which is the catalyst for the writing of my short stories in print and those to follow.
Is there anything else you’d like to know about C. C. Magart?
Images courtesy of C. C. Magart, 2017. Please share responsibly.