Individuals who know Jeff Mitchell nicely are nonetheless a bit befuddled by his pivot towards the world of literature — his associate Barb Hagstrand chief amongst them — as he had spent most of his life studying technical manuals when he taught welding at Kirkwood Group Faculty.
However after one Sunday afternoon stroll alongside the Cedar River about 15 years in the past, Mitchell, who co-owns the Kibbey constructing, Van Gogh’s occasion heart and Gallery Backyard in downtown Marshalltown and splits time between right here and his native Cedar Rapids, had the concept for a complete story that grew to become his first novel, “Stone Metropolis,” fleshed out in his head. The subsequent step was studying the way to write it.
“I’ve at all times heard of the muse, and I truly skilled it,” he stated. “It was simply superb. I used to be simply, like, shellshocked, and I knew I needed to inform the story.”
From there, Mitchell enrolled in inventive writing courses and author’s teams whereas endeavor edits and re-edits, and as of late October, “Stone Metropolis” has formally been printed via Web page Publishing, a Pennsylvania-based outfit. Set in 1969, it tells the story of Jaymes Fitzgerald, a 20-something free-spirit within the vein of Dennis Hopper or Peter Fonda, and Ashley Morgan, a 38-year-old mom of three, who meet in Cedar Rapids and embark on a bike odyssey throughout jap Iowa. The title alludes to the tiny group in Jones County immortalized in a Grant Wooden portray, and each Wooden and the Woodstock Music Competition are key touchstones of the plot.
Mitchell first labored on the novel for six to seven years earlier than he was named the dean at Kirkwood, and the calls for of the place drastically restricted his inventive output. He put it down for seven years, however as soon as he retired in 2017, he knew it was time to provide it one other go.
“I’m a lightweight sleeper. I write in the course of the night time from three within the morning to 6 within the morning each night time on it, and I got here to some extent about 18 months in the past (the place) I assumed ‘I want to achieve out and get some skilled assist,’” he stated.
He ended up connecting with an expert editor primarily based in New York Metropolis who trimmed the manuscript by about 70 pages, and he or she pushed him to flesh out characters, tie up free ends and make all the story extra plausible. Eight months later, he discovered himself earlier than a five-member committee at Web page Publishing, and he bought 5 thumbs up. The enhancing nonetheless wasn’t full, however after 9 extra read-throughs, it was time to place “Stone Metropolis” out into the world.
Iowa historical past is current all through the novel as the primary characters trek from Stone Metropolis — Mitchell’s grandmother, he notes, knew Wooden personally — to the Bily Clock Museum and the Antonin Dvorak exhibit in Spillville. In one other scene, they get to listen to then-up and coming Iowa Metropolis musicians Dave Moore, Bo Ramsey and Greg Brown play collectively at The Mill, a beloved native joint that closed in 2020 after 58 years in enterprise.
Whereas most literary, movie and tv portrayals of late ’60s America give attention to locations like San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York Metropolis and Chicago, Mitchell selected Iowa because the setting for a easy motive: he loves the state and couldn’t think about dwelling anyplace else. He additionally drew on his personal experiences as a youngster within the Cedar Rapids space and reminiscences of pals transport off to Vietnam.
“Although it’s historic fiction… It’s their on a regular basis conversations on the deck of the overall retailer, and so they get into fairly a disagreement over political issues, the Vietnam Warfare, issues of that nature,” he stated. “There’s even faith in right here. It actually hits all the main components, however I feel it’s uncommon as a result of it’s not simply speaking about historical past, per se. You truly get to stay it with the 2 characters.”
A few of the particulars labored their method into the plot by luck or circumstance. For instance, “Straightforward Rider,” one in every of Mitchell’s favourite movies and an affect on “Stone Metropolis,” simply occurred to premiere in Cedar Rapids throughout the identical week that Jaymes and Ashley are on the town within the novel, and he added a scene that reveals them strolling by a theater placard promoting the hippie basic.
Now that “Stone Metropolis” is extensively accessible in hardcover and e-book codecs, Mitchell is taking a second to catch his breath, however he’s excited to advertise his long-gestating creation. He plans to carry a ebook signing from 4 p.m. to 7p.m. on Wednesday at Tannin.
“I’m keen to do something. That is all new to me. It’s type of thrilling,” he stated.
Subjecting himself to the criticism that comes with placing a piece of fiction out to a large viewers has been a bit nerve-wracking for Mitchell, however the perfect suggestions he has acquired to date got here from an avid reader who provided a concise however significant evaluate. She couldn’t inform it was his first novel.
“I simply hope it makes a distinction in somebody’s life. I by no means wrote it for fame. I by no means wrote it for cash. I by no means wrote it for any of these causes,” Mitchell stated. “Each draft that I wrote, I bought braver and braver to say what I actually wished to say, not what I assumed individuals wished me to say.”
Mary Curley, the proprietor of Tannin, stated she’s been studying the ebook every single day for the final week or so, but when work hadn’t tied her down, she would’ve completed it even sooner.
“It’s a grabber. From the primary web page, it had me,” she stated. “It’s very charming, and my first remark to him was ‘The place are you getting these phrases? I haven’t heard a few of them earlier than, however with the context you place it in, I do know precisely what you’re saying.’ It’s intriguing, and I’m anxious to get to the tip.”
Trying ahead, Mitchell hasn’t closed the door on one other ebook — it received’t be a sequel to “Stone Metropolis” if it does occur — however till then, he’s patiently ready for the muse to go to him once more with a narrative price telling.
Contact Robert Maharry
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