Mario Villalobos


Winter is in full force up here in Montana, with the temperature ranging from the single digits to below zero. The mountains are blanketed with the white sheet of snow, the ponds and streams are frozen, and I have to leave my house much earlier than usual to warm up my car and scrape the ice from my windshield. I turned on my heater yesterday for the first time since at least last December. In short, it’s cold, it’s beautiful, and it’s awesome. I can’t wait until I force myself to buy the camera I want so I can start taking some pictures.

Montana inspires me more than California did. I’m not sure if it’s something about Montana that California didn’t have, or if it’s the fact that I moved up to Montana at a certain stage of my life where I was more receptive to this facet of the world. I have no idea how long I’ll be staying up here; I do have a desire to travel that I has only grown stronger the more I try to ignore it. In fact, if I didn’t get the job I have now, I was planning to pack up all my possessions and drive off somewhere new. That’s a big reason why I chose to buy a big car instead of a smaller car that would have saved me money on gas: I wanted the option to travel with all my stuff. I’ll be satisfying that desire soon, most likely around Christmas time, when I drive to California to visit my family, to shop for furniture, and to bring back eight boxes of books and a plastic bin full of DVDs and other stuff that I left behind in 2012 when I originally moved up here.

I like most of the people I’ve met up here. One of the first things I noticed after I moved up here was how small this whole place felt. I’m not talking naturally. This place is called Big Sky country for a reason. What I’m talking about are the people. Los Angeles is more populous than the entire state of Montana, which means everyone where I live knows each other in some way. I now work at a K-12 school where friends I’ve fought fire with went to every day to learn. I fought fire with someone whose parents teach where I work. I work with teachers who taught old co-workers and firefighting buddies. People recognize me at stores and are nice enough to say hi. The world up here feels small, and part of me dislikes that, but another part of me likes it. Whenever I’ve come back to Los Angeles, I’ve felt the isolation more starkly there than ever before, even though there’s literally millions more people around me.

I started my novel in 2011, and I didn’t set it anywhere specific. I wanted to create my own city, but I didn’t want to think about it while I was writing it because I wanted to finish the damn thing first. I finished the first draft early last year, and I just barely started rewriting it this year. A few weeks after I started this blog, actually. I created my new city, and I set it in Montana. Once I did, the metaphorical floodgates opened up and the story feels new and fresh and much, much better than before. I’m pouring everything into this project, and I don’t think I would be here right now if I didn’t move up to Montana all those years ago. I moved up here over thirty months ago, and I’m finally ready to call this place my home.