Reno is a place I grew up near, and a place I returned to after a good deal of time away. I am familiar with the city, its foibles and its promise, its thoroughfares and its back alleys. The city itself is a character, rebellious and iconoclastic—it draws like-minded individuals. In Reno, characters and events that would be implausible elsewhere are at home. I meet them every day, and I want to tell their stories.
The stories in Grind include a wide variety of characters, from air race pilots and casino winners to truckers and wild horse catching inmates. How did you create them?
I am interested in the fact that people don’t always do what they love or excel at, and that they sometimes have an opportunity to change or rise above their situation. One’s occupation doesn’t wholly define him or her, but it puts people in places where others would never be, and challenges them in different ways. One quote that I’ve always likened to creating characters in fiction was from Mack Brown, the University of Texas Football coach. He said, of a particular player who had been experiencing personal challenges, “You see a guy on a good day and you don’t really know him. It’s the bad days that reveal who people really are.” I believe that’s true for characters in fiction as well.
Describe some of your favorite (or least favorite) routines as a stay-at-home dad.
My favorite routines when I was a stay-at-home dad involved unstructured play with my sons. We enjoyed going to parks, exploring on short hikes and just generally getting dirty in the backyard. I also got to relive my own childhood, getting to play with trucks and action figures and Legos and building (then destroying) things that I used to play with as a kid without feeling immature or childish (I was just playing with the kids after all). The lasting accomplishments that I am proudest of from my stay-at-home dad days are my sons’ love of reading, and also any superficial scars that remain from the scrapes and cuts my sons will carry with them through life as a reminder of early days of “boys being boys.”
My least favorite thing was the play-date. Parents (almost exclusively moms) of my sons’ classmates would call the house and want to schedule very structured playtimes with us. I found the social construct of a play-date to be awkward and forced. I much preferred when our boys got a bit older and could simply spontaneously play with friends and neighbors. Now they get on the phone and figure out their own time to hang out with friends, saving me from hours of kid-centric “social time” with parents that I hardly know.
Now that my wife and I both work full-time and the boys are older, we enjoy a more balanced life as a family and I have to admit that we now have some great friends that we’ve met through the boys.
Could you tell us more about your time as a journalist?
Less than a year into my job, which involved updating a series of regional newspaper websites on a daily basis, the 9/11 attacks occurred. It was a strange few days working to continually update the frenzied headlines of tragedy and speculation as a journalist, while trying at the same time to process things as a human being.
As the managing editor of visitor websites, I got to pitch and write my own stories so I really pursued what I thought would be most unique and interesting. I was able to attend a wild horse gather, ride for five days as a guest drover on the Reno Rodeo cattle drive, helicopter ski in the Ruby Mountains, and watch the National Championship Air Races from the base of a course pylon. I also got to interview some very interesting people, including Lou Rawls and Cajun chef Paul Prudhomme. I still regret that a miscommunication on my part resulted in a voicemail from Bill Maher that was supposed to have been a full interview.
I had the opportunity to work as the interim managing editor for the Sierra Sun, the newspaper of Truckee, California. I remember scrambling late one evening out of the newspaper office to a local reservoir after hearing on the police scanner that the body of a missing man had been found on the frozen shoreline. I grabbed the newsroom camera and bolted out the door. I remember the adrenaline rush driving toward the scene, and also wondering about how to write about the discovery, and what to photograph in order to best tell the story without sensationalizing someone’s death. Alas, my four wheel drive car got high-centered on the road out to the reservoir and I was unable to proceed further without needing rescue myself. It was at that point that I realized what it meant to cover the story rather than becoming a story oneself.
What do you like about performing comedy, and what’s your favorite routine about?
My favorite thing about performing comedy is making a connection with an audience. I’ve always thought that comedy was about the performer being brutally honest about personal experience in such a way that the audience can relate in a “wow, so I’m not the only one who has ever had that thought or lived through that experience” kind of way. While I’ve only ever performed at a very amateur level on the tiny stage at the back of a bar, it is something that I hope to continue to pursue.
My favorite routines have all been based on real-life experiences and are usually self-effacing. These include my experience with being a stay-at-home dad and going to play-dates to owning a designer breed dog (a Labradoodle) and paying for the pedigree of what is essentially a mutt, albeit a very lovable one. I find that writing stand-up routines has helped my other creative outlets, including my fiction.
How has the West shaped you?
I have lived in a major metropolis, a world class city and a town of 6,000 people—all without ever leaving the California/Nevada area. I am a fifth-generation Californian and my sons were both born in Nevada. I can step outside my backdoor at night and see the Big Dipper, Sirius and the brightest of the planets, and I still frequently remember to take a few moments and enjoy those big skies, majestic mountains and towering trees.
I know what it means to travel eight hours one way by school bus to a JV basketball game, and, game over, get back on the bus and go home. I know to always bring a T-shirt to the mountains and a warm jacket to the desert. I think nothing of getting up before dawn to drive hundreds of miles sipping cold coffee, the only car on horizon to horizon stretches of highway just to fish, ski or hike away from the crowds.
I think people have a responsibility to leave the wilderness the way they found it, but I also have a fierce independent streak that feels the wild should not be signed, fenced, regulated and bureaucratized. I know what it means to believe strongly in preserving and protecting the environment and enjoying freedom and personal responsibility. I also understand how often those two closely held beliefs run into conflict with one another.
Mark Maynard lives in Reno, Nevada with his wife and two sons. He teaches composition and creative Writing at Truckee Meadows Community College where he is also the fiction editor for The Meadow literary journal. He can sometimes be found performing stand-up comedy at the Third Street Bar in downtown Reno.