Cynthia Reeser interview with Meg Tuite
First off, I’m honored to publish your first story, “All We Ever Wanted Was Love,” of this collection-in-progress in the first issue of Connotation Press, 2014. Exceptional! I love how this collection is centered around the ‘heart’. How did the theme unravel itself to work these pieces into a fairy tale landscape about the heart?
Thank you; the honor is mine! Actually, this collection, Lefenstrausse, started out with a theme in mind, rather than evolving toward one. I’ve always been interested in trauma narrative and in the different representations of fairy tales, which are often dark but hold harsh and practical gems of truth. With Lefenstrausse, I wanted to write contemporary fairy tales within the framework of an interpretive, darker sensibility. In the stories I try to capture both unique (to the character/story) and universal fears, largely centering on children and childhood. Children and their experiences of trauma and suffering are at the heart of these tales.
Here are some quotes from the story, “All We Ever Wanted Was Love.” Where did the inspiration come for this particular tale?
“All of the new parents were allowed one picture, and why the nurse chose that moment to honor for time immemorial is anybody’s guess.”
“We and our shared heart had come between them and their love.”
“We pointed the weapons at her, as synchronized as if we now shared a brain.”
With this story, I wanted to write characters who were wronged by their parents—by the people who, above all others, should be their protectors. The reality is that parents don’t always love their children, and they don’t always protect them. My goal for this story was to write something that gets at that truth, but shows the lengths the children must go to in order to protect themselves. In “All We Ever Wanted Was Love,” theirs is an unfortunate circumstance, as their physicality is beyond their control and they are placed in a position that strips them of their humanity and what is rightfully theirs—their art. But they fight back to reclaim what belongs to them.
I’ve had the pleasure of reading of few of the stories from this new collection. Can you share more about the book as a whole?
Lefenstrausse is a collection of thematically connected stories—not just in terms of their being fairy tales or having childhood trauma as their focus—but they all take place in or around the fictional wood Lefenstrausse, which I have situated in Austria and Switzerland. The stories span time periods and some include magical or fantastic elements. There are even some feisty gnomes in the title story, but I doubt they’re like any gnomes you’ve ever read (or seen in film) before.
Did you reread fairy tale collections before writing this? Hans Christian Andersen? Grimm’s Brothers? Who inspired you the most?
I can’t say that any author or book or even any specific fairy tale inspired this collection. I haven’t read Andersen in a while, or Grimm’s fairy tales. I probably should, though! This is more a thematically driven collection, and there’s more than a little of my own experiences woven in to the narratives.
Which were your favorite fairy tales as a child?
My maternal grandmother passed down a 4-book collection to me. These were books I would read every time I visited her. She was a natural storyteller and would talk to relatives for hours while we visited, and I would lose myself in those books, even as early as five. It’s a collection released from Golden Press in 1965 and they were Disney versions of old stories—I still have them. The volumes are Fantasyland, Worlds of Nature, America, and Stories from Other Lands. These were my first favorites, and I later discovered Andersen and Grimm’s.
What are you reading now?
The Question of Bruno by Aleksandar Hemon.
Are you inspired by film or music in your writing, as well? And if so, who are some of them?
I’m very inspired by music, but it doesn’t often translate to what I’m writing—listening to music usually makes me want to write or play music (piano). Film is sometimes inspirational, but I try to be careful with that because I don’t want to inadvertently mimic storylines or characters. I write most comfortably within a vacuum of my own devising, free from outside influence. I do sometimes listen to orchestral works when writing. It seems that I read once that John Keats wouldn't attend poetry readings so as not to be influenced by others’ work; I think there is wisdom in that.
How demanding is it on you to work in so many arenas? Writer, teacher, editor, publisher? How do you juggle all of these?
Very carefully. I’m an ascetic manager of my time, and that helps. I work long hours, which also helps. I don’t teach, but I am a single mother of two. So, in a way, I am a teacher. I’m also the Senior Editor for two management firms, so I have to manage my days (weekends included) carefully. I have ongoing to-do lists, which keep me in check and ensure everything that needs to get done, gets done.
What story did you first publish and where? Can you give us a link?
My first published story, “Sanctuary,” was one I wrote as an undergrad. You can find it in Liturgical Credo .
How has your work evolved over the years?
I like to think it’s grown up a bit, matured. Hopefully I’m better able to capture that ever-elusive original artistic intent and do so more effectively. Writing two (nonfiction) books was very good for me; they were both written in a short period of time on contract and required heavy research. That was a good way for me to get a feel for writing book-length work on a deadline and it gave me a sense of what I could turn out and how quickly.
What is your favorite genre to work in?
Literary fiction with a touch of magical realism.
Tell us something about yourself that might surprise us?
I taught myself to read music when I was nine.
That’s amazing! What is a quote that truly speaks to you as a person?
“Art is not a pastime but a priesthood.” -Jean Cocteau
Love that! Since you are the January 1st featured fiction writer, do you have a goal set for 2014?
Yes. I would like to complete Lefenstrausse and have it ready to submit to agents by the end of the year.
Thank you so much, Cynthia, for sending Connotation Press some of your outstanding work.
Thank you, Meg! I appreciate the opportunity.
In order to preserve the artistic arrangement of the writing, this piece has been created with Print2Flash Flashpaper.