Courtney Maum: All Humans Are In Limbo Due to COVID-19

An interview with the author of four books, including 'Before and After the Book Deal'

Courtney Maum had a plan, or at least an idea, of how 2020 was going to go. She released in January Before and After the Book Deal (paid link), her humorous, helpful guide to publishing for writers. She had speaking engagements and conferences lined up. And Maum was on a book tour when COVID-19 hit.

I reached out to Maum, asking if she’d do this interview, in the first days of the pandemic. It feels like ages ago, back when most of us came and went as we pleased and we weren’t told to wear face masks.

Already by then, though, authors were talking on social media about how the virus would deprive them of income. It’s always hard to get someone to buy your book, and COVID-19’s not making it any easier. That’s why I’m prioritizing interviewing writers most directly impacted by the outbreak. Artists need our support now more than ever.

Not that Maum’s complaining. She knows we’re all caught in uncertain times, some of us facing obstacles unimaginable just weeks ago. Still, consider checking out Maum’s work.

She’s the author of four books, including the novel Costalegre (paid link). That’s the book she was on tour promoting when the pandemic shut everything down. You can learn more about Maum and buy her books through her website.

Thanks for reading,
Nick


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Interview with Courtney Maum

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I grew up in Greenwich, Conn., and I moved to Paris for six years after college. I met my husband in France and we lived in New York City together for one year but we just couldn’t make it there as freelance artists.

So we moved to a log cabin in the Berkshires for 8 years—this tiny home in the woods a half-hour from everything. That was great until we had a child. We moved across the state line to be closer to daycares and schooling options—that is how I ended up returning to Connecticut. I love writing and reading and cooking and dancing and throwing parties with friends.

You once worked as a trend forecaster. What’s that and how did that work?

With social media, data availability and crowd-sourcing, trend forecasting has changed a lot, but it is what it sounds like: you forecast trends. When I was doing it in the early aughts, we worked really far out: ten, 15, even 20 years.

Nowadays, businesses want to know what will trend in three months, or even next weekend, so the impetus is more on trend spotting than far out predictions. I think this is a shame because trend spotting fuels this obsession with the present where we’re not thinking about the environmental challenges of tomorrow that we have to rise to meet.

You also went to clown school. So many questions…

It was actually a clown intensive and it was research for a novel in which the main character was a clown. It was a long weekend of pain and horror for me: I’ve never liked clowns or clowning, I’m uncomfortable with that level of earnestness.

But the program itself is really great and can be heart opening if you are down with intense discomfort and shame. It’s run by the actor Christopher Bayes in Brooklyn and it’s called “Clown for All.”

You’ve published four books, all in the past five years. What, if anything, changed about your writing or editing process during that time?

My third and fourth books broke from my usual pattern of writing which is: write the wrong book, the entire book, only to finally understand the book you need to write. With both Costalegre and Before and After the Book Deal, the first drafts look like their finished products. I was very clear on what I wanted both those books to be.

Now I’m back to my old ways, mired in a massive draft of something that needs to be totally overhauled. I’m okay with that. Revision is so hard. (But so important!)

Before and After the Book Deal is a guide for writers. How does it differ from other similar books?

I actually don’t know of a book that is similar to Before and After the Book Deal. A lot of guides tackle craft, or they get you up to the point where you are submitting something to agents, but rare is the guide that talks about what happens if your editor quits, you realize you don’t see eye to eye with your agent, you hate your book cover, your book performs so terribly you don’t get a paperback, or there is a natural disaster during the week of your book launch.

We get into a lot of taboo topics—jealousy, finances, anxiety, and depression—that other books don’t touch on. Plus, the book is really funny. (Promise!) I think its voice is original, for sure!

When and why did you start the annual artist retreat, The Cabins?

My husband is a filmmaker and it used to drive me crazy that we would go to these film festivals together and see amazing short films and I would think about my short story writer friends whose work the filmmakers could adapt, but there wasn’t an existing program to connect these people.

Originally, The Cabins was only going to be writers and filmmakers, but it turns out that filmmakers (much like actors) simply can’t commit to anything other than their own projects. Their work comes and goes so quickly, it’s too hard for them to plan ahead. So when I eventually founded the program, I opened it to ALL artists.

It’s not a traditional retreat—it’s a collaborative one. Each of the nine participants teaches a class in the subject of their choice to the other participants. So you could have a class on acting in the morning, and one on photography in the afternoon, followed by a storyboarding session at night. It’s about co-learning and getting out of our creative silos.

Are there plans to continue with the 2020 season?

For the moment, applications are closed and we are proceeding with the June 18th session. The program taking place is obviously contingent on what happens with COVID-19.

You were on a book tour when COVID-10 hit the U.S. Has the pandemic impacted your work?

Absolutely, yes. In the states, my big events (major festivals, speaking engagements) have all been cancelled. I was keynoting at some of these things or was promised big sales, so most of my projected income has gone up in smoke.

I am currently in Mexico where I’ve been for three weeks because I was doing book promotion stuff for Costalegre, which has just come out in Mexico. All of those efforts have been sidelined, too. But I’m not alone in this, obviously. All artists (and humans!) are in limbo.

Who are some of your favorite writers, both past and present?

I love Martin Amis, Michel Houellebecq, Jim Shepard, A.M Holmes, Jacqueline Woodson, Rebecca Dinerstein, Jenny Offill, Laura van den Berg, Nafissa Thompon-Spires, Marie-Helene Bertino. There are so many writers that I love!

What are some of the best books you’ve read lately?

I just finished a galley of Scorpionfish by Natalie Bakopoulos forthcoming from Tin House and I loved My Autobiography of Carson Cullers by Jenn Shapland, also out from Tin House.

Anything else you'd like Bidwell Hollow followers to know about you or your work?

I have a free newsletter called “Get Published, Stay Published” that readers can sign up for at CourtneyMaum.com We have writing and publishing tips and we feature one industry professional each month.


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Books by Writers Interviewed on Bidwell Hollow