This May will bring more than flowers in Greensboro. This month will welcome the release of “Cloud Diary,” the debut novel by writer and co-owner of Scuppernong Books – Steve Mitchell.
Though “Cloud Diary” is Mitchell’s first novel, he has previously published a book of short stories, titled “The Naming of Ghosts,” in 2012. His other previous works appear in many publications including “December Magazine,” “The Southeast Review,” “Flash Fiction Magazine, “The North Carolina Literary Review” and more.
Mitchell is an award-winning writer, including his reception of the 2017 Curt Johnson Prose Award, the 2012 Lorian Hemingway International Short Story Prize, and a finalist in both the 2010 Ron Rash Award for Short Fiction and the 2009 Fulton Prize for Short Fiction.
His newest book, “Cloud Diary,” tells the love story of Doug and Sophie – two young artists – who initially meet in their 20s and live together, sustaining themselves with boxed wine, ramen and intimate moments. The beautiful mundanity of their shared lives terminates after something violent occurs, separating them for eight years. When Doug reconnects with Sophie, he discovers she is about to make an alarming decision.
The novel uses a jumbled timeline, with Doug narrating in first-person. He reminisces about his past with Sophie, his present and the time they reunite.
“I was really intrigued with exploring how people deal with being powerless,” Mitchell said, also mentioning how “Cloud Diary” is different from the atypical storyline of powerlessness ending with redemption because of the character’s patience.
In addition to the theme of powerlessness, Mitchell explores, as he commonly does throughout his literary work, the connection between memory, stories, time and “the belief in the prosaic.”
“Some of it has to do with memory and how memory actually works,” he said. “The difference between memory and stories that we tell ourselves. I think there are distinct differences between those two things.”
Mitchell was interested in how we create stories from our memory and how those stories impact our lives. To effectively capture these themes, Mitchell likes to write in first-person.
Unlike many novels, “Cloud Diary” focuses on the relationship between two people, with limited use of secondary characters and subplots. Mitchell said he wanted to emphasize the relationship of normal people, who each have flaws, make mistakes and have regrets towards the way they treat one another.
“I would hope that these characters are real – real enough that people connect with them,” he said. “I don’t have a lot of patience at the moment with superheroes and secret agents and things like that, and I want to write, at least lately, write about people who have to scrounge their change together to do their laundry…”
Mitchell believes this is not for “completely political” reasonings, but more about speaking to the commonplace people he tends to see. This notion of the “prosaic” is important to him as an author of fiction.
“I think there is also this element in those other kinds of fictions that kind of tell us in a subliminal way that normal lives don’t matter – that it has to be something really dramatic or really amazing…and I don’t really believe that,” Mitchell said.
As a writer, Mitchell said he begins by asking questions and does not want to persuade people to believe any specific conclusions. He also said his literary works tend to not be plot-forward, and “Cloud Diary” takes on a similar feeling.
“Even though there is a plot to the novel, per say,” Mitchell said. “I’m not terribly interested in plot as a writer. I’m more interested in character and in what we’ll call mood.”
For example, “Cloud Diary” has a “skeleton” or a “structure that things hang on,” so people can follow some ongoing story.
Though publishing a debut novel is impressive, Mitchell added to it with a collaborative music project, including 19 artists from North Carolina and outside the state.
A few years ago, with the help of Ben Singer and Abigail Dowd, Mitchell began an experiment in which he incorporated music during a reading of a previous short story he wrote. The author was interested in continuing this experimentation with “Cloud Diary.”
After some hesitation, Mitchell went to social media and asked through word of mouth if any local musicians wanted to write an original song or an aural response to a scene from “Cloud Diary.” If a musician was interested, Mitchell would only send a 500 to 2,000-word scene to them at random and the book’s synopsis. The only restriction was that the song had to be original.
“There’s kind of a thing now where a lot of authors will put together playlists for their books,” Mitchell said. “This is a little bit different because it works the other way because the music was inspired by the book instead of the music being part of the writing.”
In the end, Mitchell received 24 pieces of music, spanning genres including electronica, bluegrass and bar room songs.
“Which was an amazing response that I did not expect,” he said.
Information about the musicians, or which scene their original song is based on is located at http://clouddiary.org/. To listen to “The Cloud Diary Music Project,” go on the website or visit SoundCloud and find the playlist under “Cloud Diary.”
Though “Cloud Diary” is planned for release everywhere in May, copies of the book are available at Scuppernong Books or other North Carolina independent bookstores. To preorder the novel, visit the C&R Press website.
For music lovers and readers alike, you can attend the first-ever Greensboro Bound: A Literary Festival, where Mitchell and several musicians will perform “The Cloud Diary Music Project” on Saturday, May 19 at 8:30 p.m. in Scuppernong Books.