Kirby Wright interview with Meg Tuite
These four powerful flash pieces pack a punch. They are like a micro-novel of a family, complete and filled with so much in so little space. Bravo! Tell us about your process in writing these intense, brilliant stories of the characters in this family.
These stories are grounded in actual observations of my immediate family, and of course I embellish a bit. But overall I would call them flash nonfictions, if such a genre exists. They are crystallized moments in time that attempt to deal with multi-generational issues, such as a father’s hatred of his father-in-law for not paying for the daughter’s wedding and later, that same father not paying for his mother-in-law’s live-in nurse. Has the father learned how to be a tightwad from his father-in-law? Or, is he seeking revenge by sending his mother-in-law to the horrible state-run Goddard House? Later, the father’s oldest is torn between hatred and love as he spoon-feeds the hospice father pudding laced with Mexican drugs. Humor and pathos work in tandem in these flashes.
Tell us about the narrator.
The narrator learns at a young age from his father that it’s dangerous to “get too close to the tracks,” that is, too close to anther person because that person could hurt you. You wonder at this point if the narrator realizes that, if his father really believes this, how can he love Mary Quite Contrary? The narrator witnesses his father’s cruelty in the handling of his mother’s mother and determines the wheel of fortune has turned full circle when his father suffers a physical breakdown that reduces him to “meat of machines.” He also witnesses the destruction of his siblings, a deconstruction that renders them misfits lacking the ability to realize their own father is mostly responsible for how they turned out. The narrator seems to be blaming the father in part, but he is also calling on all children to develop the ability to ‘see’ who they truly are and change for the better, before it’s too late. And he’s offering his own brother and sister up as examples of what not to become.
I love how your stripped down prose captures so much in every sentence. Phenomenal writing! I feel pulled deeper into the family angst and relationships with the terse dialogue that says so much. For example, in “Meat of Machines,” there’s Mama’s line: “Funny things go on here.” So many images are echoing in my head from that one statement. How do you see your writing style? Does it change depending on what you’re writing and do you work with poetry at all?
I started with poetry because I was reading an autobiography written by F. Scott Fitzgerald and he said young writers should begin with the poem. So I did. I merged poetic inclinations with narrative forms and fell in love with the non-linear prose poem. I remember including Galileo in one of prose poems and the prof at UCSD said he thought I had “an inkling of talent.” I enjoy weaving in dark comic dialogue because this adds incredible ballast and dimension to a work less than 300 words. My style does change when I shift from poetry to prose in that I tend to build out a story in blocks, with one or more blocks being pure dialogue. But there’s incredible poetry in dialogue, so the poem never gets extinguished completely.
What books are you reading at the moment?
I love books that explore the internal workings of first person narrators, such as Salinger’s THE CATCHER IN THE RYE and Goethe’s THE SUFFERINGS OF YOUNG WERTHER. I enjoy work that explores the underpinnings of a speaker’s psyche by creating external world vs. internal world conflicts. I also find the Nouveau Roman work of Alain Robbe-Grillet fascinating, especially the tortured interior world of the self-deceived narrator in DJINN.
Who do you feel were your greatest influences in writing?
It was probably Ernest Hemingway, mostly because his Nick Adams’ stories are set on the rivers and lakes of Michigan and my psyche was forged in the wilds of remote Moloka’i island. Hemingway was a Chicago boy who spent summers in rural Michigan. I was a Honolulu boy who spent summers in rural Hawaii. The terrain plays an important part in the shaping of Nick Adams’ character and it performs a similar role for my character Jeff. There was this whole coming of age thing on Moloka’i, such as the idea a boy wasn’t a man until he shot a buck in the high country and packed it down or killed a shark out on the great barrier reef. I was also influenced by James Joyce, in particular his stories featuring child protagonists in DUBLINERS. Like Joyce and Hemingway, I am interested in the rites of passage that children experience and suffer through in their families and communities. Why? Because it is those rites that forge their identities.
Thank you so much for sharing your amazing flash with us! Do you have plans for these particular characters? What are you working on at the moment?
These pieces will serve as flash forwards between chapters in my forthcoming memoir. I was hoping they would create fire by offering glimpses of the narrator’s family at radically different moments in time. For example, one chapter ends with the kid sister being a somewhat troubled ten year old and I didn’t want the reader to wait forever to see what strange things she was up to four decades later. The flash, used in this way, can be a visceral tool.