Meet the Author Monday: Paul Montag

Paul Montag

It’s Meet the Author Monday! Each week we meet a new author and get to know a little about them, their writing process, publishing experience, and tips for other writers. Today we’re talking to Paul Montag, author of Making a Living.

About Paul Montag:

Paul Montag

Paul Montag was born and raised in St. Paul, Minnesota. He has had a diverse career, from making a living as an advertising salesman to courier, the experiences of which compelled him to write this novel. In his spare time, he loves to read, watch movies, go for long walks, and listen to music, especially classic country music. This is his first book.

About Making a Living:

Rick Armon, a former salesman, answers a call from a potential employer only to brush him off in a panic over a lost piece of Billie Jo Spears memorabilia on his resume-scattered desk. The search for this pin spurs his reflection of how quickly his life has changed.

His sales career more than paid the bills, but it eroded who he was. Longer hours, catered lunches, weekend sales events meant little time for the duties of Rick’s life, much less his leisure. He fights back by sneaking his reading into his workday. That is until his biggest account is on the line.

Next thing he knows, he’s on a plane to St. Louis to save his job. The trip is a string of misfortunes that almost mystically lead him to a world he did not realize existed—the world of country music. He meets a cast of colorful characters that show him a new side of life and music that speaks to him, revives him.

Making a Living takes the reader on an adventure from a Minneapolis corporate cubicle to the pull-tab-covered dance floor of a concert venue in St. Louis, as Rick tries to figure out a work-life balance in a topsy-turvy world, where finding just the right spot in between can be most precarious.

Author Interview with Paul Montag:

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  1. If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

Not to fuss over the quality of the writing until the meat of the story is in place. I gave up on writing some years back because I was coming up with content and editing it as I went. And I found that process to be very discouraging and painful, so I stopped writing until I came across a method that worked much better for me, in which I didn’t focus on polishing the prose until the story had been fleshed out. Two books of immense help were Writing without Teachers and Writing with Power, both by Peter Elbow.

  1. What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?

Hiring an editor, by far! I tried to edit my manuscript myself and got completely trapped in some wrong directions that I went. When it finally sunk in that my own efforts to edit the book were only making it worse, I hired a professional editor. She helped develop my story, made it flow better, and cleaned up the language. She helped guide the story with the reader in mind. I think it’s important to tell a story that you feel passionate about, rather than writing to please others. But a good editor can take a story that is personal to you and broaden its appeal by giving it story development, flow, and clean prose. In a word, by telling the story better.

  1. What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?

A Fan’s Notes by Frederick Exley. It was published in 1968 and is one of several books that influenced Making a Living the most. The main character is obsessed with Frank Gifford, of Monday Night Football fame, back when he played for the New York Giants. This obsession functions as a springboard for a story about a young man dealing with failure and alienation from society in America during the1960s. It’s a creative and hard-hitting book; and perhaps more than any other I’ve read made it seem okay to write about whatever subject is important to you, even if it is extremely personal or offbeat. A Fan’s Notes was unlike any other book I’d read and a good example of an author going his own way with a successful result.

  1. Have you read anything that made you think differently about fiction?

Yes, I think there is something to learn when one compares the fiction written by certain authors with their non-fiction. I first started to think about this from reading Flannery O’Connor. Her stories and novels are highly acclaimed, and so I was excited to read them. But they never quite impressed me as much as I had been led to expect they would. To be sure, her stories were highly polished and crafted with great care. Technically speaking, they had achieved a degree of excellence. But I had read a book of essays by O’Connor prior to this called Mystery and Manners and had been greatly allured by the sound of her thick southern drawl, her charisma and wit. But in most of her stories and novels her accent is hardly decipherable. It’s as if her natural voice had been edited out from concern for verisimilitude and pristine language. But when next I came to her letters in the volume edited by Sally Fitzgerald called The Habit of Being I was knocked out by her personality on every page. Whereas reading her fiction felt a little like doing a homework assignment, her letters were an absolute pleasure to read. And this gave me an idea that writers need to be aware of how much life can vanish from their writing from too much editing. O’Connor’s fiction is more literary than her letters, but I was grateful upon finishing each of her works of fiction; whereas when I closed the last page of her letters, I was dying for more. I’d rank The Habit of Being in my all-time list of top ten books.

A similar discovery happened to me recently when I re-read Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert, and then compared it to some of his letters included in Francis Steegmuller’s superb literary biography, Flaubert and Madame Bovary. It is hard to argue that Madame Bovary is not a great book. Every page is filled with chiseled sentences that impress, and even with the pile upon pile of detail, the book is still a somewhat breezy read, which is no small accomplishment. And yet, when I compared Madame Bovary with his letters, I found that the writing in his letters contained more energy because Flaubert’s personality shone through. And so, just as O’Connor’s Georgia drawl came out in her letters like it didn’t in her fiction, the same goes for Flaubert and his flamboyant personality. And knowing what we know about these two authors, I think it’s safe to say that they spent way more labor on their fiction than they did on their correspondence. And yet I found their correspondence to be more alive and interesting than their novels and stories. And so the “lesson” I gleaned from reading Flaubert is the same one I gleaned from reading O’Connor, that a preoccupation with verisimilitude and concrete detail can remove the author’s personality from their pages.

The creative writing teacher and novelist John Gardner said that there are basically two kinds of fiction, one which tries to convince the reader by precise and vivid detail that what they are reading is true, and the other by a charming narrative voice. Which style you prefer is completely subjective. But with all the details in the fiction of O’Connor and Flaubert it struck me as though they were taking up an argument with the reader; whereas in their letters their personality came out uninhibited and the writing was freer. What I take away from this is that even when writing realistic fiction that requires verisimilitude, perhaps writers shouldn’t become so absorbed in conveying details as to edit themselves right out of the manuscript. W. Somerset Maugham said that if you’re looking for the truth, you’re best served to find it in books of information. And that all the writer of fiction has to offer is his or her personality.

  1. What is the most difficult part about writing for you?

I have gone back and forth in my mind trying to decide which is harder, generating content on the front end that coheres as a story, or editing it on the back end. At first blush, I might say that editing is the most difficult part of the process for me. Cleaning up the prose and picking and choosing what is necessary and what isn’t, can be tedious, and very taxing on the brain. The editing part feels more mental. But when I stop and consider the front end of the writing process, where you generate content, that can also be difficult. But perhaps that part isn’t “difficult” so much as it can feel spooky to be faced with a blank page that you’re supposed to bring alive. That aspect of creation can be intimidating.

My way of working is to free write, which means I don’t let the pen stop while I’m writing. And I’ll break it up into however many freewriting sessions it takes until I’ve completed a draft of a story. Only then do I go back and critique what I wrote, looking for anything about it that grabs my interest, like the characters, or the scenes, anything that I feel strongly about. I guess you could call this a tentative outline. But when I write the next draft, I just let the pen go across the page again without stopping to criticize. And through this process of discovery, I’ll get an idea of what the story is about. I find that working in this way, it has taken anywhere between four and nine rounds of this two-part process, first, freewriting, and second, critiquing, to come up with a story that I think is worth typing up and working on. I think the scariest part of working by this method is after you’ve done a few rounds of freewriting and critiquing, and you’re ready to write the draft that you think should be the keeper. There can be some real anxiety at that point because you’ve got a lot of time invested in building up a knowledge of the story, its scenes, and characters, and you’re putting a lot of faith in that it will all come out in the next draft. It’s like that old saying, “Strike while the iron is hot.” The effectiveness of the process I’ve described, and which I use, seems to depend upon being aware of when that moment will come, and be sure to strike then, not before, and not after. Knowing when that is could be the most difficult, if not at least uncertain, part of the writing process, although editing is for sure what gives me the most headaches.

  1. What was your favorite part, and your least favorite part, of the publishing journey?

My favorite part was working with a book designer. I had spent a lot of time envisioning what the manuscript might look like in book form. I found a designer on Reedsy. She came up with a lot of different options. And it was a fun process coming up with the one we thought best reflected what was between the covers. I think Making a Living looks great; it’s a real eye-catching cover, both front and back.

The most difficult part, by far, has been marketing. I was a marketing major in college and understand that for a product to sell it needs to have familiarity. I have heard stories of writers who didn’t see much in sales until their third, fourth or even fifth book. It’s hard to make things happen right away when you’re unknown. It probably takes several books to give yourself the best chance of finding a readership. But I think one of the biggest challenges for a writer in marketing today is that there is so much to do. Managing social media and your author website, soliciting book reviews, seeking endorsements, looking for opportunities to do book readings, and one starts to wonder how they will find the time to write their second book, let alone read other books.

  1. What is the most surprising thing you discovered while writing your book(s)?

The most surprising thing I discovered was that the writing I did spontaneously was more interesting than the writing I took great pains over. To be sure, all the writing needed to be cleaned up. And some descriptive passages especially required some fussing over. However, there were whole sections that I rewrote with painstaking care which time and again weren’t as good as the originals. Simply put, there was more life, more “juice,” in the writing that was done without stopping than there was when I dwelled upon the sentences and rewrote them with painstaking care. And while your approach to writing may depend greatly on your subject, I have found again and again that writing that has the most electricity has some momentum behind it and this comes from writing without stopping, even if you still must go back over it with some editing. I simply could not believe that parts I worked incredibly hard on were inferior to parts that I basically whipped off the top of my head.

But for spontaneous writing to have any meaning, it’s important that you know what you want to say before you begin. If you write spontaneously without knowing what you want to say, the result probably won’t be that interesting. But once you know what you want to say, just say it. Sentences that have been crafted with painstaking care may be more impressive from a literary point of view, but they are not likely to have as much life in them as writing done spontaneously. I have a feeling that some may not agree with what I’m saying. But at this point of my writing career, this has been a very consistent thing that never ceases to surprise. The French writer Paul Leautaud wrote in his journal, “Once again I see that I’m always wrong in wanting to work at things too much. Provided the subject has been properly thought out, I do much better to blaze away and write just as I have a mind to.”

  1. Who is your favorite author and why?

My favorite literary critic Harold Bloom said that the two greatest writers of prose in the world are William Shakespeare and William Tyndale. Shakespeare certainly was a great genius, and some of the best things I’ve read come from his pen. But it was the fashion of his day to be difficult. And there is much in Shakespeare that I don’t comprehend. Reading him is a strange experience. On one hand, he’s very child-like and full of zest, but on the other, he seems to be intentionally hard, as unpacking many of his sentences gave me a headache. So, I’d say my favorite is William Tyndale, who, in addition to his prose writings, translated the Bible into English in the sixteenth century at a time when only churchmen were allowed to read the scriptures.

His Bible translation came straight from the Hebrew and Greek when most translations of the time came from Latin. His translation is rugged and raw, and still to my mind, the best one in English. Much of his work was used by the committee who translated the King James Bible in 1611. And great as the KJV is, I find that the writing in places is mannered from too much editing, whereas Tyndale is straightforward, easy to understand, and frank, sometimes blushingly so. But Tyndale was constantly on the run from the church authorities, and sadly they caught up with him before he finished the whole thing. At the time he was murdered he had translated all the New Testament, but only from Genesis to 2 Chronicles and the book of Jonah in the Old Testament, leaving a good chunk undone. The Bible is a mighty book and certainly writing has never been more alive than in that one.

When it comes to fiction, there are so many authors that I enjoy, so it is hard to pick just one, but my current favorites are probably W. Somerset Maugham, Roald Dahl, Louis Auchincloss, Nancy Mitford, and Mary McCarthy. They all have distinct personalities, write with humor, and tend to be breezy and candid.

  1. What are you reading now?

I’ll get into an author and just read a whole bunch of their books. Earlier this year, it was W. Somerset Maugham, who is consistently amusing; and then Gore Vidal, whose Narratives of Empire series of novels I found fascinating. Presently, I am on a Mary McCarthy kick. She is incredibly smart, but the thing I love about her the most is her honesty. She writes without any territory to protect but treats whatever subject she is covering with integrity and, yes, at times a scathing wit. I am particularly fond of her Intellectual Memoirs: New York, 1936-1938. Right now, I am enjoying On the Contrary, Articles of Belief, 1946-1961.

  1. What’s your favorite spot to visit in your own country? And what makes it so special to you?

Manhattan. I have been there about seven or eight times. Often, I go in the winter. I love walking up and down the streets and looking at all the skyscrapers. Just watching all the hustle and bustle of people and traffic with steam drifting amidst the gray concrete. And the trees stand out because there are so few of them. And Central Park, with the gorgeous skyscrapers in the background. I love taking in all these sights as I walk the several miles from whatever hotel I’m staying at to the Strand bookstore, where I can get lost for hours. And there are so many interesting neighborhoods to discover. There’s a certain feel one gets in Manhattan, that is the same feel one gets in taking in sublime works of art, but mightier even than that, so it’s no wonder that the novelist Louis Auchincloss, a native New Yorker, called Manhattan the eighth wonder of the world.

  1. Where can readers purchase your books?

Readers can purchase Making a Living in either paperback or ebook form on Amazon at

Meet the Author Book Promotion

Published by Kelly Schuknecht

Kelly Schuknecht is a marketer with a background in the publishing industry. She is passionate about all things related to books and loves helping authors navigate the world of social media for book promotion. She recently launched the course Marketing Your Book on TikTok.

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