Mischa Merz: The Sweetest Thing, from the Punch to the Pen

Somehow you manage to put writing and boxing in the same sentence when talking about what you do. You write. You box. And you write about boxing. How did this happen?

It was a happy accident. Not long after I started actually sparring as opposed to just doing boxacise, I had an idea. And as with most ideas I get I started saying it out loud. ‘What if I had a fight and wrote about it?’ and people started saying ‘Yeah, great idea’. Pretty quickly I got an agent and a publisher and before I knew it I had signed a contract to write about having a fight. I had to fight. To back out would be just impossible. It was my first book and I’d managed to get the attention of Picador Australia so I couldn’t possibly waste the opportunity. And as it happened, I kind of liked the fighting and the writing about it and weirdly, it has become my thing. And actually it’s turned out to be quite a rich and rewarding beat. I look at some of the options in journalism that my contemporaries have pursued and I can’t think of one that could suit me better. I would never have set out to attain such a goal. That kind of thing can only happen if you go with the flow, and that’s basically how it happened. There was no plan.

Obviously, yours is not a 9 - 5, clock in and out type of job. What is a typical day like? Atypical, perhaps?

A typical day will start with caffeine and Facebook at about 8am. And when I’ve wasted enough time I started resuming writing projects I have begun or promised to people that I will start and others that I have launched myself with no immediate prospect of publication. When my arse gets sore from sitting I go for a run, come home, have lunch and these days have started reading the paper on the iPad I convinced my husband to buy. The rest is a moveable feast of giving people one-on-one boxing lessons, aka personal training, holding boxing fitness classes, sparring and doing a little weight training. I try to keep mornings free for writing but it doesn’t always happen that way. I break the day up with a nap before my gym day starts at about 4-5pm and I often don’t get home until about 9pm. I usually find myself cooking dinner with my boxing boots still on. My husband Peter is often playing tennis when I get home but I can’t wait for him to get back so I can tell him what he calls ‘my gym stories’. Sometimes that stream of consciousness post-gym babble can actually turn into literature. But often not. It’s really my first draft stage for a lot of writing though.

Fighting and writing have taken you around the world. Is boxing culture in Australia different to what it is in America? And how about the publishing scene?

Boxing is much more revered in the US than it is in Australia, where it is quite marginal and unknown. People think it’s like what you would see in a Rocky film and when they say to me I don’t look like a boxer I have to remind myself that they’re really saying I don’t look like Sylvester Stallone, which is probably a good thing. But to me looking like a boxer means you look in great shape. The fitness boxing scene is big in Australia but that’s a different world. Actual boxing culture is more ‘white’ in Australia, more Aussie working class. It has a somewhat different rhythm to it than what you would find in say New York or Atlanta, where it is very much black and Hispanic and has much more of a syncopated swagger to it. It’s like AC/DC in Australia whereas it’s more like James Brown in the US. I also met a lot of boxers from all over the world when I went to the women’s world boxing championships in Barbados last year and the training tent was a real melting pot. It was chaos in about ten different languages. It made me think that actually, boxing is a universal language with dialects. Everyone knows the basic vocabulary and there are regional nuances. As for publishing? Who knows. I’ve been pretty lucky in that I usually snare the first publisher I approach. But the selling of the books is the hard part. I’ve been encouraged by the iPad experience. I can almost foresee a time when buying a book is cheap and easy and people will do a lot more of it once we’ve let go of this idea of the cumbersome production of the actual ‘book’. The net kind of killed long form journalism for a while but surely people will tire of reading captions and crave something meaty. I’ve really been enjoying the meaty stuff I can get from the New Yorker, Harpers and the Atlantic on the iPad apps. I haven’t read a book on it yet but I’m keen to do so. I think a lot of the costly infrastructure of book selling will fall away, bookshops, distribution etc and we will be left with writing, editing and design. I don’t think that’s such a bad thing.

What are some of the particular challenges of writing boxing literature?

It’s a bit of a niche audience, although I’d like to think I can make it accessible to a broader audience. If it was cricket or football I was writing about here I’d be working around the clock trying to keep up with demand.

When does your next book come out and when/where is your next fight?

The Sweetest Thing — a boxer’s memoir, published by Seven Stories Press will be released at the end of March, launched at Gleason’s gym in New York on April 12 and my next fight is in Atlanta on April 23.

Photo credit: Seven Stories Press