I rarely decline interviews because everyone, no matter their lot in life, has something to share with the world.
And in every instance, I always learn something new.
Which brings me to Mike Maupin.
Maupin is a writer, editor, and media maker. He currently boasts over 2,000 followers on Medium, an online publishing platform that allows creatives around the world to connect in a positive and impactful way.
But the best part about Maupin is he’s different.
I can tell after five minutes that his view on the world is not that of the popular opinion.
The more we talk, the more it becomes obvious just how misunderstood, yet unique, he is.
The transcription from our conversation is below.
Editor’s Note: this conversation has been modified for readability, privacy, and to omit the asinine things I say whenever I get excited.
Thank you for such an inspiring conversation, Mike!
Mike Maupin: “It’s a really interesting thing that we are talking now. You came through on `Completely in the Dark’ [Maupin’s WordPress blog], which is funny because I was teaching screenwriting and trying to get some major narrative concepts across to students, so I started this blog. I wrote two or three posts on there and then both my parents died in 2008. Mom was not too much of a surprise because she was ill for a long time, but Dad was a shock. I grieved really heavily for two years, and then in the fall of 2010 I went back to my WordPress blog. I clawed everything out that was about screenwriting. My first post was ten years ago. I think it was on a Sunday and I said to myself, ‘let’s begin here.’”
“In the blog I talked about my grandparents’ living room and watching TV, and I thought the blog might unfold in a way that I could not predict. I kept a legal tablet and wrote down ideas. I would have brainstorming sessions, and it eventually got easier once I began writing a diary. That was in 1972. I was probably fourteen or fifteen years old and it was the kind of diary that had a lock on the front of it so my family could not look at it, and I just started writing more and more in that damn diary. What I was trying to do, Quentin, was rescue my life from the loss of my parents.”
“Blogs are great opportunities for springboards to things that you may want to write later on, and when you start talking about honesty and truth, here’s the thing: as I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more confident in my beliefs. When you get a chance, go check out a blog that I posted on Medium. It was a piece that a lot of people did not like, and it’s titled Skinful. It’s about getting drunk and getting a ’skinful,’ and in that story I used two people from my life who are no longer with us. I lost them to drugs and alcohol. They were dear friends of mine who left this world too soon. The point of the story was that sometimes it is okay to get high. I’m not talking about addiction, but rather changing the way your brain is operating so that it functions better. But with my friends, it sometimes got out of hand.”
“Changing gears, I would say you’re doing a great job with the blog. I’m also glad we’re getting the opportunity to speak because since COVID-19 started, my creativity has really taken a hit. I’ve lost a sense of playfulness. For example, this weekend I have a post that has been sitting in the hopper [to-do list]. I started a draft, got photos to go with it, and then I just finished reading Susan Orlean’s The Library Book and it was marvelous. By the way, read as much as you can. That’s my biggest advice for a writer. I mean, I don’t watch TV. I read. But I just finished reading The Library Book and the thing I like about Susan Orlean is she is able to accurately capture her inspiration for the book.”
“Really though, the point I’m trying to make is that I think it’s great that you are doing another memoir. I can find it draining to talk about my life with the blog, but you seem to be able to move past that fairly easily. These are some of my thoughts and I hope they are helpful.”
Quentin Super: “They are certainly helpful. There are a few things I would like to respond to. First, I know what you mean about having to lose yourself in order to find yourself. I try to avoid alcohol but yesterday I was working on this project with a guy, and afterwards he asked me if I wanted a drink. I wanted to say no because I had a nice streak [of sobriety] going, but it was late, and by late, I mean it was 7:30 PM.
“I told him I would stay for one and so then he mixed me this really good Moscow Mule. It tasted fantastic and then as I am driving home, I am able to shut off all the thoughts that typically swirl around in my head. The irony is I wake up today and I got a headache, but you’re totally right when you say sometimes you have to separate yourself from reality and not let the brain dilute itself with all this excess information, which I have a horrible tendency to do, especially when I do something stupid. So it was really refreshing to hear you just now validate what I was thinking last night.”
“In regards to writing about myself, I don’t know why, but memoirs really click for me. I have thought about writing my third book in a fiction format, but that was my year in China, and I want to talk about that experience. Maybe it’s the ego in me that can’t escape itself at the age of 28, but there are a lot of cool stories from my time in China, and I want to share those.”
“Memoir is tough because you are exposing yourself, and again, while people can relate to that, there are others who will really not appreciate that level of transparency. It’s a delicate balance. I do believe the truth wins out, but at a certain point in life you have to exercise a certain amount of humility. And not that I’m the type of guy who word vomits every single emotional thought, but nonetheless it is an interesting point you made about the level of truth that should be revealed.”
MM: “Then this is a good point to talk about process. For me, drafts used to be my worst nightmare. When I was your age, I would write something, and then I would edit as I wrote, which is really dumb. It wasn’t until I was managing editor of Minnesota Law and Politics and I wound up doing a bit of writing for one of our other editors. I told him I wanted to stretch myself, and he told me that he had an interview I could do with a lawyer. I took on the project, but then he ended up ripping me a new one! But he did also give me some advice that I’ve never forgotten. He said:
‘Maupin, write to length.’
“I asked him what he meant and he told me:
‘Write as much of your work out as you can. Go all the way to the end. Don’t stop. Don’t try to fix things on the way. Don’t go into forays.’
“What he meant was that I needed to produce a draft, and get to somewhere that I felt was an endpoint. It was interesting because I usually don’t know how I feel about something until I write it down. I will go through four or five rewrites, and even after that I will print out what I have written, wait a day to look at it, and only then will I put it up on WordPress. But even after I publish what I have written I will still go back and edit it because publishing something puts me in a different mindset.”
QS: “That’s interesting because I am apt to let it be, and what I mean by that is I’m sure that over the last four years I could go back and look at the collection of posts I have published and find some typos or incomplete thoughts. Yet I personally think there is a magic to just letting it be because those writings are a part of me, they are a timestamp, and sure, I could go back and erase some things and try to maintain this illusion of perfection, but I prefer to let my mistakes remain in their rightful place.”
“Also, you talked about the struggle to get everything written down. I have that same problem, but one thing I don’t struggle with is publishing something. Like, I can ask myself a million times if what I wrote is good enough, but eventually I will convince myself that it is good enough, even if it’s not, and I’ll publish it anyway.”
“What’s crazy about that is sometimes I put a ton of time and energy into a post, but people won’t enjoy it and it will get very little response. On the other hand, I’ll put very little effort into something, and people will love it.”
“I’m left to scratching my head Mike because I don’t know what to do. There’s no formula. This is just art. It’s a creative force and I feel like I’m at the mercy of it.”
MM: “On ‘Completely in the Dark’ I wrote something where, for a long time, I weighed whether or not I was going to go ahead with it, but what’s funny is the post resonated with so many people. I had 139 likes and 66 comments. I remember a day or two after it published, I was in a coffee shop, and my phone just… blew up.”
“The title of the post is The Kid Stays in the Picture and it’s ostensibly about me being seven years old, and it also documents the time when me, Sam and Kayla went to inter the remains of my parents down in Indiana.”
“And just like you, at the time the post was published, I was confounded because I didn’t know what nerve I was hitting, but the thing is, people will tell you why they’re upset. And I discovered that the pushback related to my post had to do with shame. It had to do with shaming someone for who they are, and then I realized that I do not want to be someone who shames someone else because I don’t know their story. I was ignorant, and I didn’t want to be ignorant anymore.”
Conversation switches to topic of keyboard warriors
QS: “I get trolls all the time. When my first book came out, I remember going on Facebook and seeing that my cousin was bashing me. He wasn’t explicitly using my name, but he was telling everyone in our family not to buy my book. He was calling me privileged and all this other stupid shit, and I didn’t know where he was coming from because we’re from the same bloodline. It was so dumb to read what he had to say and then when I went back an hour later, his post was deleted. For about a year, I had this really nasty review [of my book] on Amazon. I think it was my cousin, but I can’t prove it.”
“Point of me sharing that is later that same year I went to Christmas and was slightly expecting that he and I would get in a shouting match. But I got there and he was very friendly. It was weird because I imagine he was aware that I knew what he had said about me, and perhaps fortunately nothing happened between him and I.”
“But what’s funny, and this is a bit of poetic justice, if you will, but my cousin ended up getting in a heated shouting match with a different member of my family over politics. And at the end of it he called everyone in our family racists and stormed out, and I haven’t seen him since.”
“It was one of those things, and I almost feel bad saying this, but the way things played out made me happy because I felt like he went out of his way to be a dick to me. He could have said he didn’t like the book and listed a number of different reasons, and that would have been fine, but instead he was condemning me, as opposed to the work I had done.”
“So, as far as haters, they’re always going to be there. My blog certainly receives some hate, albeit indirectly. A lot of people aren’t willing to leave a comment. They’re more likely to send an email or Facebook message. But really, I welcome all the pushback because if someone is going to go out of their way to be critical of my work, it lets me know I’m doing the right thing.”
MM: “The eloquence of haters absolutely floors me.”
“But the point I would make is that writing is power, and if you lean on that power inappropriately, that’s not good. I also think a lot of people are feeling powerless these days and they are going after people who have writing power.”
“That’s why you have to have trust in your blog.”
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Quentin Super is also a ghostwriter. Are you curious about what exactly a ghostwriter does? Click here to find out more information, then watch this 4-minute video for even more information