Janet Freeman interview with Fiction Editor Meg Tuite
“One Pop,” “Stranger At the Gate” and “You Who Caused This” are three incredibly powerful stories with very serious themes. Can you tell me about your inspiration for writing these memorable flash pieces? This is one reader that will never forget them.
Meg, you are too kind! Thank you.
“One Pop” actually came to me after reading a news article about a man who’d convinced his girlfriend to try and abort their child with…a pencil. Immediately I wondered about this young girl, who she was and what her relationship was like with this guy. Why would she agree to such a terrible idea? I felt sorry for her.
For “Stranger at the Gate,” I’d say landscape most influenced the story’s origins. At the time I was living in Santa Fe during a summer of raging forest fires, and the image of a little girl talking to a stranger through a fence came to me tangled up in another vision of a sky filled with smoke. I decided to find a thread and yank; as I wrote the man became more and more sinister, to the point that I almost couldn’t go on. Finishing was tough.
“You Who Caused This” was entirely voice-driven. The narrator’s voice got in my head—she was distraught, pissed…and not leaving anytime soon. I actually didn’t know the source of her anger until I reached the end, which came as a bit of a surprise. I only knew that her husband had betrayed her somehow—her voice and despair truly drove the narrative.
Do you tend to start with characters that develop in your head or do you get lines of dialogue first that inspire you?
Oh, how interesting! I’d have to say it’s usually the characters that come to me first—or a scene, usually where someone is doing something they shouldn’t be. I love dialogue, but can’t think of a time when it’s inspired a story—I wish it would!
From the work I’ve read of yours, I see that you don’t shy away from the darkness of humanity and instead move toward it and open it up to the light. I call this warrior writing. Is this the kind of writing you’re drawn to?
You know, until this year I hadn’t given it much thought, but as my stuff has become darker I often find myself at odds with reactions to my characters’ motivations. For instance, I wrote a story about a young boy who ends up having this shady moment with an even younger friend who’s a girl. She’s sleeping in his room and, curious about what he’d glimpsed while she was undressing, he ends up slipping his hand under the waistband of her underwear as she sleeps, but stops before anything else happens.
To me the story’s always been about this boy trying to make sense of his world at the same time he’s exploring his own impulses that may or may not be unnatural. But everyone who reads it commends me for doing a great job portraying a young pedophile! That reaction totally stuns me—I like this kid. He never goes on to do anything else untoward, it truly was just a moment. Maybe I need to see a therapist…
Who would you say are your most important influences in writing?
Oh, man! There are so many. I love Grace Paley, Edith Pearlman, Per Petterson, Joshua Ferris, Anne Lamott, Nick Hornby…the list goes on and on, but I do love writers that bring a certain energy to the page—prose that careens off the margins and is impossible to put down.
What books are you reading at this time?
I’ve been slowly working my way through Edith Pearlman’s Binocular Vision, one of the best collections of short stories ever written, as far as I can tell. I also recently read Robin Romm’s The Mother Garden, which blew my mind. There isn’t another soul on the planet writing like that—she’s a true original.
What projects are you working on?
Right now I’m working on a short story collection, Girls on Fire. Some of the stories are linked, but not all, and it includes some flash pieces. I also have a couple of old novels I fiddle with from time to time, but I’ve never been satisfied with them. My heart really is in the short story.