By Ivan Raconteur
WINSTED, MN Winsted author Mark Mitten continues a lifetime of reaching for higher peaks with the publication of his latest novel, “Hard to Quit,” released in September by Sunbury Press.
The book is set in 1892 Colorado.
According to the book jacket, “In a boom camp like Creede, most people want to get rich either mining silver or playing cards. LG and Davis have a different plan sell beef. Fighting the bitter temperatures and the winter snows of the Colorado high country, they string wire and bring in cattle. But there are things more dangerous than the weather.”
Mitten broke into the field of western fiction with his first novel, “Sipping Whiskey in a Shallow Grave,” which was nominated for the Western Fictioneers Peacemaker Award for Best Western First Novel in 2013.
Born in Texas, Mitten grew up in Colorado, and it is the mountains of Colorado that continue to inspire his work.
“My compass points west, and always will. That’s a big part of who I am,” Mitten commented.
A member of the Western Writers of America, Mitten noted that much of the western fiction that has been published is based in the Southwest.
He said a lot of the history of the west took place at higher elevations, including the mining towns of Colorado, and this is the region that provides a backdrop for his fiction.
Mitten strives for historical accuracy. Doing research and weaving historical characters into his writing has been an important part of his first two novels. He has already started researching his third book.
Mitten’s literary influences include western writer Larry McMurtry, known, among other things, for the Pulitzer Prize winning novel, “Lonesome Dove,” and Norwegian author Per Petterson.
Mitten said Petterson writes “very internal books” that get into the thinking of his characters, which appeals to Mitten.
He said he likes the idea of giving his characters more depth.
A mountain of experience
Much of Mitten’s early experience involved church leadership and volunteering. He graduated from Moody Bible Institute with a bachelor’s degree in theology, and the Liberty Theological Seminary with a master’s degree in religious studies with the goal of getting into teaching, but his path took a turn toward more artistic outlets.
He has several years of acting experience in Colorado-based independent films.
He’s also a musician.
When he was 20, he got his grandfather’s guitar and took about six months of lessons.
He has recorded four solo albums and one folk-rock collaboration.
As a singer/songwriter, Mitten has mostly confined himself to folk music.
“For me, music is almost pure personal expression,” Mitten commented.
He performed in small venues such as coffee shops while living in Colorado, but has not performed for an audience since moving to Minnesota.
He hopes to someday get together with other musicians again, because he says “playing with a band gives a whole new life to music.”
Mitten also scored some independent films in Colorado, and hopes to do more of that in the future.
Mitten is an experienced mountain climber, and has summited all 54 of Colorado’s highest peaks.
He said it took him 20 years to climb all of the peaks more than 14,000 feet, although he was climbing other peaks of 13,000 feet during the same period.
A friend got him started in rock climbing while they were in high school, and he started climbing in Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, CO. He has also climbed Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming.
One of his goals is to climb in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming.
Mitten met his wife, Mary, during their college years.
He was head mountaineer at Bear Trap Ranch in Colorado Springs, and she was head wrangler.
During that time, he was the senior climbing and rappelling instructor at the ranch.
They have worked together at other facilities since then.
Later, Mitten worked as marketing manager at Sport Climbing Center in Colorado Springs.
He also has experience in stable management at therapeutic horseback riding centers.
The road to Winsted
Mitten and his wife moved to Minnesota when Mary had the opportunity to accept a job as executive director at We Can Ride, a therapeutic horseback riding facility in Maple Grove (the organization is now in the process of moving to Medina).
Since moving to Minnesota, Mitten has made annual trips to Colorado, with the goal of doing some climbing and “getting a new peak” each time.
Writing western novels helps Mitten stay in touch with the west and his personal background.
He and Mary have lived in Winsted for the past three years.
The writing life
Mitten said he has spent the last several years figuring out the publishing process as he went along.
He said he’s fortunate to work with a publisher like Sunbury Press, which allows him to keep final creative control over his work.
He noted that there is a difference between a publisher and a publicist. A publisher publishes the book, but authors who are just starting out are responsible for promoting their own work.
Mitten has been making the rounds, visiting libraries and other venues to talk about his books.
He has also shared his experiences on the path to becoming a published author at local events, including a recent event at the Winsted Arts Council site hosted by the Winsted Library.
Mitten has a relaxed, easygoing manner, and appears to enjoy sharing his experiences with others. He doesn’t suggest one way is necessarily right or wrong, but talks about what has worked for him.
Mitten’s advice to new writers is simple: finish something.
He said everyone has to start somewhere, and even if a project isn’t perfect, it’s important to finish it before moving on to the next thing.
“It’s all part of refining your artistic skill set,” Mitten commented.
He also said new authors shouldn’t be afraid to throw things out as they edit and improve their work.
Mitten said he has incorporated more self-discipline into his writing as he gained experience. This can involve “chasing creativity versus waiting for creativity to come to you.”
Mitten also advises writers to “be authentic and find your own voice.”
In addition to his creative writing, Mitten has done freelance work for Herald Journal and its sister papers for the past two years.
Mitten seems to approach life the way he approaches those Colorado mountains he uses the skills he has built up in each phase of his life to take him to new levels, and although he’s serious about setting and achieving goals, it’s obvious he is having fun along the way.
To learn more about Mitten or where to purchase his books, follow the links below:
Mark Mitten's website
Mark Mitten - Hard to Quit