Jonathan “Bluebird” Montgomery has just released his new book, The Reality Traveler, a pop culture allegorical/philosophical tale with Jonny “Bluebird” as its picaresque narrator and Reality Traveling tour guide! Think Don Quixote meets the Alchemist meets the Guardians of the Galaxy.
Jonny, can you tell us what the book is about in exactly six words?
Do you like old songs too?
When you say the narrator is “reality traveling”, what do you mean by that?
The narrator has a mythological sense of himself and invents all this terminology to express how the world feels to him. Other people seem so different from him he thinks of them as their own ‘Realities.’At the same time he also sees himself on a God-given mission to meet (‘Travel’ to) and relate with (‘Me&You’) as many people as possible. So Reality Traveling pretty much means transcending differences, but it doesn’t come naturally for the narrator at all.
Where did you get the idea for reality traveling?
The whole book is based on a cross country road trip I took to my friends’ wedding years ago. It was like a weeklong whirlwind back and forth from Colorado to New Jersey, visiting everyone I knew along the way. Like one moment I’d be watching TV on the couch with my mom in Ohio and the next I’d be in a bar in New York City with a college friend and the next I’d be on the road again stopping at some middle-of-nowhere gas station in Illinois with a bunch of strangers. They really felt like separate Realities, and I realized how relating with each of them required following totally different sets of rules.
What are some of your favorite realities to travel to/through?
Alone Reality, which is just when you’re by yourself. In the book The Professor, who lectures on all the lessons of Reality Travel, considers Alone Reality a problem because you can’t actually Me&You anyone else there, but I never said I was a good Reality Traveler. I do like taking road trips to far off and exciting places, recently I’ve been traveling a lot to the Southwest. I’m drawn to the Desert.
So originally the Me&You “catchphrase” in this book was MeToo!, a catchphrase you have been using in your books for over a decade, and once the #Metoo movement started you had to make a decision about whether or not to keep it. Can you talk about that?
I wrote a whole essay on it here.Letting Go of ‘MeToo’
But additional thoughts for right now… I guess I connected with the phrase ‘me too’ because it was so commonplace and simple you almost didn’t realize the true beauty of it, and I wanted to draw attention to that. But because it was so common it was also foolish to feel like I had any ownership of it. I’m a supporter of the #metoo movement, but isn’t it weird how a phrase once so common and generic now means something so specific?
This isn’t your first book. You’ve also published Taxis and Shit and Pizzas and Mermaid. How is The Reality Traveler different from your other books?
Taxis & Shit is a book of poetry and stories. Pizzas and Mermaid is a book of mainly stories. Those are collections of open mic pieces, designed for performing during a 3-5 minutes slot.
The Reality Traveler, on the other hand, is a novel. The earliest versions were started while I was still in grad school a few years before I was really hitting the mics. It’s always been sort of this ongoing secret project which was more difficult to share in public because it was too long and too much would be out of context.
I think the shorter pieces in my earlier books individually are more poetic and pack a more aggressive punch, but I’m more proud of The Reality Traveler because I was somehow able to coordinate like 150 short episodes at once, interweaving several themes into a cohesive narrative. It took 13 years and was a huge focus of my creative life.
You have published with indie presses as well as self-publishing. Tell us about the publishing process for this book?
In the past I had friends with small presses who helped me. For The Reality Traveler I made an attempt to find an agent or a publisher, but nothing came of it. But I’ve always felt like conventional publishing is really weird and try to question everything we take for granted about it. We really seem to tie our self-esteem into some stranger deciding you’re a good enough writer to sell your work to other strangers. Is that really why we make art? It feels more natural that I’m just writing for myself and people in my community who really get me. Any greater ambition just seems to lead to suffering. So I actually put up the novel on a website for free this spring, posting one episode every day for a few months, and it was a spiritual exercise in not trying to care too much how many people actually viewed it. But the problem was I didn’t feel like the blog style format was a very reader friendly experience, so I decided to put it in print. And it’s pretty easy to do these days, and I did basically everything myself. I feel like I’m putting a picture on the fridge in just a more elaborate way. I think I’m okay with whatever result comes of it.
You have what’s being called a “SuperConcert” set up for the release of this book on November 10th in Boulder. What’s a SuperConcert? What should we expect? I heard Bono might be there?
The recorded voice of Bono might be there…
But yeah, Bluebird, the main character in The Reality Traveler, is a MusicMan Traveler who Me&Yous via The Great List of Old Songs, or at least tries to. The whole book he’s trying to get people to relate to this mix he made of old radio hits, with some disappointing results. In a way it’s about the naivety that I think a lot of kids who grew up in the suburbs in the 80-90’s shared, that pop culture would be enough to bring us all together. But in another way those songs can be pretty damn Me&You-able with certain people.
One of my favorite things ever is the Live Aid Concert from 1985, in which all the superstars of the day performed together for the cause of African hunger. So I wanted to do a mini version of that, where we get as many local musicians together for the cause of my novel, ha. There are 19 songs on the Great Trip Mix and 1 song on the Anti-Mix, and various bands will be doing live covers for most of them. I’ll be singing Journey and Springsteen. There will also be DJ Davi-D handling the rest as well as adding in his own flair.
Rather than just doing a typical book reading and having it feel all literary, I want it to feel like a party, a celebration for the completion of this thing that I spent so much effort on for so long. I’ll read some, but it will mainly be about the music and people having a good time.
You are also going to be one of the challengers in November 20th, “Fbomb Heavyweight Challenge of the Century” throwdown against Steven “Fatback Freddy” Dunn. The Vegas polls are tied. Can you give us any insights into your strategies for the match and what viewers should expect?
Steven Dunn is doing awesome right now and rightfully so. He may have more publications and awards and teaching and speaking opportunities and so forth, but I feel confident going toe-to-toe with anyone at the mic.
Finally: What advice do you have for someone writing their first book?
Every day I see advice from all these writers on social media, stuff like ‘read more’ or ‘write everyday.’ There’s a phoniness to it. It seems like advice they’re giving themselves, but they act like they’re some kind of authority for others. What if we got past this idea of caring whether your writing is good or bad? No advice anymore. No rules. Just do whatever feels right for you. If publishers think you suck and don’t like it, so what?
Anything else you want to add?
As the Goddess of Faith, The Guardian Angel character from the book would say, “It’s Alright, Baby!”
Jonathan Montgomery was born in 1980 in Akron, Ohio. He’s a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College and Naropa University’s Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics. His previous books are Taxis & Shit and Pizzas and Mermaid. He teaches English at Front Range Community College and lives in Boulder, Colorado.