“John Michael Cummings: a Writer on a Mission,” Profile by John Riddle

John Michael Cummings

Profile by John Riddle 

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Many people dream of becoming a writer, but very few take the leap of faith and make it happen. Make no mistake about it: writing is hard, and for many people, staring at a blank piece of paper or a blank computer screen is enough to scare you to death. But for those people who realize they have the gift of creative communication and believe in themselves, the sky is the limit.

For the fortunate few, writing is like second nature, like breathing or eating. It just happens. That is the case with the very talented and prolific writer by the name of John Michael Cummings, a writer on a mission.

Like many writers, he is reluctant to brag about his accomplishments or creative abilities. “I do not think I have a gift at all,” he says. “I do not think I am talented. What I am is dogged, driven, brutally determined and probably on the verge of madness as a result.”

John is dedicated to the craft of writing, and writing with excellence. He is tenacious, relentless, preserving and has the confidence that most writers dream of. His years of writing has made him a much stronger communicator than most professionals in the publishing world. Yet, there is still a part of him that struggles with self-doubt.

“I don’t believe I am particularly creative or imaginative,” he says.  “However, I will claim to be original. The phrase that best fits me is Writing Down the Bones, the title of Natalie Goldberg’s book. I tear out my guts and mash the fibers of regret and fear and anger and pain with the meat pounder of no-nonsense words.

For John, to write is to live, and to live is to write. When he was asked “What are the rewards of being a writer?” he replied “Surviving myself and surviving writing itself. Being published is gratifying, and being read is complimentary. In the end, though, treating language with reverence is the greatest reward.”

He has published a hundred short stories in about a decade and a half. Some have appeared in Kenyon Review, North American Review, and The Iowa Review. Many are in mid-tier journals, like Alaska Quarterly Review, Berkeley Fiction Review, and Concho River Review.  All are strong literary works and published in magazines of literature.

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“Throughout this wonderful writing life, staying sane is the most challenging part,” John shares. “Literary fiction is a lonely art. Much time is required in solitude, much time and effort in digging inside your soul, much effort outside the realm of an easily recognizable genre, often being paid little, being alone, being poor as a result, living in a state of strangeness of being, always in danger of overthinking, or disappearing inside yourself, losing contact with reality.”
Writers grow up with many challenges, and John is no different. Asked what obstacles, if any, he had to overcome when he first started to write, he replied, “Being illiterate; I graduated fifth from last in my senior high school class.” But that did not stop him. While he might not have realized it at the time, he was a writer on a mission.

“Growing up, I had no connection, no confidence, and no desire with the written, printed word,” he says. “There were no literate minds in my family to introduce the gifts of words and sentences. My father shouted and cussed, and his verbiage was negative, opinionated, and at times racist. So, I closed my ears to English.”

Asked to share what inspires him as a writer, he stated, “Emotional pain inspires me. Loneliness inspires me. Both rouse me, and both goad me. Fear of failure as an author spurs me on, and the irony of this life always moves me. The magic of language likewise encourages me. Being published energizes me.”

John is one of the most disciplined and dedicated writers you will ever meet. He gets up early and writes until long after the cows come home. When the rest of the world is watching mindless television after a hard day at work, you will find John creating worlds and words that bring satisfaction and rewards to his readers.

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He has written three novels and over 100 short stories. His debut novel, The Night I Freed John Brown, won the Paterson Prize for Books for Young People and was selected for Black History Month by USA Today. He has taught English at Seminole State College of Florida and written business news for the Fairfax Times. He holds a BA in Studio Arts and Graphic Design from George Mason University and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Central Florida.



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