Karen Stefano interview with Meg Tuite
“The Secret Game of Words” is one powerful story that weaves in the beauty of ‘misreading words’ and coming out with truth rather than misconception in tune with the narrator’s psyche and all of life. It’s exquisite. Here are some quotes. I had a hard time narrowing them down. There are so many exceptional lines in this short story:
“While we’ve always told some version of the truth, I’m sick of living in a truth with versions.”
“I reveled in the rebirth of a clean basket of laundry, or trash day, the cleansing gift of having my stinking mistakes carted away by strangers.”
“A body may grow lighter but the man inhabiting it grows heavy with defeat.”
“I’d taken up jogging. It began as a test to see whether old Sir Isaac was telling the truth, whether a body in motion really stayed in motion, or whether the old man was full of shit.”
“I thought about women who pick up hitch-hiking men, tried to remember the rules to the TV game show Truth or Consequences, wondered if there’s a name for the phobia where you fear the passage of time.”
“I wanted to talk about subtleties that make English the most difficult language to learn. Like being too close to the door to close it, how quicksand works slowly, how oversee and overlook are opposites.”
“You stand scratching your head realizing that Endless Love has become Loveless End, an anagram of your vows, and you look at your life feeling something akin to buyer’s remorse.”
This story is empowering as the narrator’s email to her ex-husband spirals forward. It is sublimely ironic in that she loses the facade of the only life she knows through the misspelling of a word and yet finds her strength and truth within those same loopholes of language. Can you share the inspiration for this story and how you built the mesmerizing structure?
Let’s just say that in the past several years I have learned that our carefully constructed lives can unravel pretty quickly. Our identity is so often based on the roles we play. In this character’s case, those roles are Daughter. Wife. Person Of Means With A Prestigious Career. I wanted to see what happened when each of these roles got stripped away.
The epistolary form has always fascinated me and I have used it in my writing at times, with varying degrees of success. Also, I know many couples who have their fights via email, which I can understand, because sometimes it’s easier and more satisfying to lay out your beefs with your partner in writing versus screaming at each other…So that’s how I stumbled upon the structure for this story.
I was blessed to be in a workshop with you five years ago at Tin House. Your story was the most memorable for me that summer. What gets that mojo of a story working through your brain? And how do you sit with it? Do you work with different points of view, let it simmer?
I think I am like every other writer in this respect: I see, or hear, or experience something that moves me in some way. Often the something is the pain of loss, or the pain of betrayal, or the devastating sense that time is moving forward without you, or the shock of realizing everything you thought was true in your life isn’t true at all. Then I try to use it, to put it on the page in the form of a story. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. I throw so much away. It takes me a long time to finesse a story and get it to work.
What projects are you working on now?
I have just pulled a collection of short stories together and will see where that goes. Stay tuned. I am also hard at work on a novel. The working title is “Woman Attacks Man With Scissors” (the title of a news article featuring an incident with my grandmother in the 1950s). I say “working title” because I don’t think any publisher would ever sign off on such a title. It’s a three-generation mother-daughter conflict story told from alternate points of view at different points in time over several decades. It’s an incredibly difficult story to write.
It sounds amazing! I can’t wait to read it.
Who are the writers that have and continue to inspire you?
This is tough to answer because there are just so many writers I love. Definitely on the list are Lorrie Moore, Donna Tartt, Dorothy Allison, Ann Patchett, Steve Almond, Stephen Elliott, Benjamin Percy, Victoria Chang, Terrance Hayes, Pat Pujolas, Sara Lippmann, Donna Trump, Robert Vaughan and Len Kuntz.
What are your thoughts on the publishing world? Sending out work to an indy press or looking for an agent to find a home for your work?
I don’t know WHAT to think of the publishing world, and like everyone else am constantly trying to figure out how best to navigate it. Within the past year or so, I have done a complete 180-degree shift in my thinking and am pretty certain my next step will be to find an indy press to publish my collection of stories. I know that the typical number of such books sold hovers at around 200 copies, which in the past never seemed like enough to me. But I want to keep getting my work out there. I want to move forward.
Tell us something about Karen Stefano that would surprise us?
I’ll tell you three things, how about that?
First, I have seen the inside of more prisons and jails than you can imagine. For eight years I practiced criminal defense exclusively. Suffice it to say, I met a lot of interesting people, many of whom had some pretty incredible stories. So far, I have never quite been able to write about any of these people or the experiences we shared. I feel such intense emotion, but it comes out completely flat on the page.
Second, a few years ago, I was selected among the top five candidates to be a federal Magistrate Judge in the United States District Court for the Southern District of California. Very close, but no cigar: ultimately I wasn’t selected. I guess I was meant to write my novel instead.
Third, and most importantly, I am unbelievably talented when it comes to parallel parking. I am a downright gifted genius in that department. My father taught me how to do it when I was fifteen. I like to imagine him watching me from somewhere, smiling with pride when I pull some of my maneuvers.
If you could go back in time and spend an hour with someone, who would it be?
Definitely my childhood self, to whom I would say, in essence: “Chill the fuck out. Everything is going to be okay.” Actually, that’s probably pretty good advice to my adult self as well.
So maybe not. Maybe instead I would spend the time with my great-grandmother, who in 1910 woke up one night, packed up herself and her infant son and disappeared forever, leaving her other three small children behind, leaving them to spend their lifetimes wondering, “Why didn’t Mama pick me?”
Wow! That’s quite a story. Yes, I want to know why!
Thank you so much, Karen, for sending Connotation Press some of your pure brilliance.
In order to preserve the artistic arrangement of the writing, this piece has been created with Print2Flash Flashpaper.