Sunday, September 06, 2020
Interview with C J Maust, Runner Up in the Q3 2020 Creative Nonfiction Contest
She’s had many careers from being a commercial fisherman to owning an interior design business, a restaurant and riverboat. Four years ago, her husband gave her a ukulele as a gift. She taught herself to play and has taught over four hundred seniors to play at a Senior Education Center in Houston, TX. She has dabbled in standup comedy a bit, again because she loves the sound of laughter amid otherwise trying times.
She enjoys putting her crazy thoughts on paper about life, love, loss and silly things that most people don’t write about. She says writing is her vice but don’t take what she says as Advice.
Check out C J's unique writing voice in her piece "Pandemic 101 for Dummies" and then return here for an interview with the writer.
----------Interview by Renee Roberson
WOW: Congratulations, C J! I was laughing out loud at your essay. What was your first draft of “Pandemic 101 for Dummies” like? Is there anything you had to cut out during the revision process?
C J: I had just finished reading my new issue of Reader’s Digest and at the back of the magazine is Word Power. I scratched down Pandemic, PPE, etc . but by the time I got to Corona, I decided I might as well have a little fun. During the revision process, I had to remove a bunch of swear words. They seemed to fit so well with our situation. Complete frustration had filled me, so nasty words were the obvious choice. I knew I had to clean it up so there wasn’t a “Viewer Discretion Advised” attached. When I get on a roll, I’m quite chatty so after the first draft, I eliminated about 500 words. I tend to write like I talk using too many “ really”s , “just”, and “because”. Cleaning up a story is really (see I did it again) where the fun begins.
WOW: I understand about all those extra words--I use "really" and "just" and "so" way too much myself. What are some of your favorite songs to play on your ukulele?
C J: My favorite ukulele songs are the ones I can actually play. It’s challenging for my arthritic fingers to twist them around in all those funky shapes that one has to maneuver to make the sound pleasant instead of screechy. Learning to play, then to teach over the last four years has been wonderfully challenging and fulfilling. I’m passionate about it. I like snappy songs that have unusual chords and lately I’ve enjoyed a few contemporary songs like "Shallow."
WOW: I love that you have tried your hand at stand up comedy! How difficult is it to come up with the material and test out the jokes that you will keep? What are some of your favorite “bits” that you’ve used in your routines?
C J: I’ve only done four stand-up performances in front of live audiences and I’ve been invited back each time. This is new for me and, of course, my new career is on hold because of the pandemic. I decided to take a shot at it from my experiences with my ukulele classes. They think I’m hilarious, even when I’m not trying to be funny. Most of my material comes from my everyday life like going to the cardiologist. When he asked me if obesity runs in my family, I shook my head and said, “Doc, nobody runs in my family.” When he nearly fell on the floor laughing, I thought I might be onto something. Donuts are my nemesis so there are a million good lines about donuts.
WOW: Ah, the donuts. Nothing better than those. Do you only write nonfiction or have you also worked on other forms of creative writing?
C J: Not by any stretch of the imagination am I writer. I just do it, clueless, unrestricted and unconventional. Until recently, I couldn’t have told you what an essay is. When I’ve tried to write stories out of my imagination, I find there is some thread of truth that pulls me along, some actual event that coaxes the story from my memory. I can only assume there are hidden gems of truth in most fictional writing here or there. Living as long as I have, I could write non-fiction, and call it fiction because most people wouldn’t believe half the stuff I’ve seen and done in my life.
WOW: Since the pandemic doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon, are you working on any new writing projects you’d like to share with us?
C J: You had to mention Pandemic again! Nowadays, it’s translated as Lethargy in my house; a state of deep unresponsiveness and inactivity. However, WOW! has given me an inch, so like a fish on a hook, I plan to run that line out as far as it will go. I have a couple ideas swimming around in my head so I’ll continue throwing the line out there to see what I can catch.