Allie Marini Batts interview with Meg Tuite
Your two stories, “Things Your Mother Won’t Tell You, But I Will,” and “In Sickness,” are mesmerizing and heartbreaking. Both speak of living with someone who barely resembles the person whom they originally moved in with; how love dissipates and then it’s time to deal with the aftermath. What were your inspirations for these stories?
I am always so scared of answering that question, but at this last residency, I was lucky enough to work with Tananarive Due, who said something in a lecture on character construction that really resonated with me, and made this question feel a lot less formidable: “The large and small horrors of our personal histories follow us, like ghosts, haunting us.” I’ve been married three times—with varying degrees of happiness and unhappiness—and the large and small horrors of those very personal histories worm their way into all of my writing. Of course, with every kernel of truth, there’s a healthy handful of fiction, but the resonant chord of these stories is the thing that I couldn’t resolve in my real life, in the marriages, and so I looked toward fiction to make some sort of sense of it. With “In Sickness,” it’s the bitterness, the confusion, the misery. “Things Your Mother Won’t Tell You, But I Will,” is more the “moment of clarity”—a cautionary tale for someone else, whose mother may not have told them that sometimes, it’s okay to just GO, when you’ve reached your limit.
Here are some quotes:
“A black puddle of blood, not all that different than spilled cola, gumming up the hair near his ear and his skin so pale that the outline of his lips looks like it’s been erased.”
“A different doctor at a real gynecologist’s office took me apart piece by piece—it’s me that’s been dismembered, not her—first a cystectomy, then an ablation, then the left ovary with a blocked tube, and then finally, the weeping mass that was left behind.”
“We’re strangers, the darkness and shadow in each other’s lives, because of him.”
“...meat and potatoes paid for in blood and vows, two rings of gold that are both empty on the inside.”
I love that you delve into those dark corners. These characters are vivid and the inner dialogue is exquisite. No bullshit. What are you working on at this time and do you find that your writing is driven more by the characters than the plot that wraps around them?
Thank you! Again, I’m going to have to give a huge shout-out to my Antioch University Los Angeles mentors for my final project and manuscript. I worked with Alistair McCartney. One of the things we focused on, with intensity, was not shying away from the dark corners. I’d been sort of dancing around the dark material, skirting it, I don’t know, courting it, even—and with Alistair, it finally felt natural & comfortable to just jump into it. I’m most myself when inhabiting another character. The truest things I’ll say are hidden in characters I create as proxies for myself. I think that’s why the characters seem to be real—because to an extent, they are. The situations may not be my own experiences, but their speech, their reactions, their thought process—the part that feels real, generally is real.
I have a couple of works-in-progress right now. I write cross-genre in fiction, poetry, and literary translations. I have a couple of creative non-fiction essays, but only a few because, like confessional poetry, its success depends on truth-telling, and as a writer, I need the plausible deniability of fiction & poetry, or the ego sublimation of literary translations.
Like any author, I’ve got the “Novel I’m Writing, Swear To God, No This Isn’t Like My Canadian Boyfriend That You Can’t Meet, But I Swear He Exists.”
I have one complete MS that’s under consideration with a publisher I really admire, so we’ll see. The other two are a YA novel that is only missing one chapter, about a girl who’s obsessed with The Smiths. The other is like a V.C. Andrews-type supernatural family saga, except, you know, written a little less purple than Flowers in the Attic (so far, no incest, either.) To the haters, I say, My Sweet Audrina is STILL one of the best psychological horror stories ever, and a writer could do worse than to shoot for V.C. Andrews, you know? So, in addition to My Canadian Boyfriend Novels, I have a spec-fic short story, whose working title is Forgotten Coastline, about an Apalachicola fisherman & his wife who unwittingly net a young kraken one morning.
I’ve been sort of bottoming out with the poetry chapbooks I’ve been sending through the circuit, so I’m trying to focus on a new collection, which I envision as dense, prose-y poems. I also recently corresponded with the editor of Tarot Poetry to do some translations from Italian and German. I really like the way that translations force you to take your own ego out of the equation and serve the work first and foremost—in translations, “you” becomes an afterthought. Serving the work and honoring the original author becomes the only thing that truly matters.
What books are you reading at this time and what inspires you most? Do music and film filter into your work? If so, can you give me a link to a song that you LOVE?
Oh my god, reading after graduating from an MFA program is maybe the most GLORIOUS thing I’ve ever experienced. Weirdly, I’m reading even more than I was a month ago when I was required to annotate and participate in group reading discussions. I’m picking books to read, not based on their value as craft examples. I don’t have to check in or argue and defend my position on them. I tend to read a bunch of books all at once and have a stack. I just finished Stephen King’s “On Writing” (I know, I know). While I am glad I read it immediately after finishing the MFA program, I do wish I’d read it immediately after beginning. I have noticed as I moved through the program I was not only reading books with the idea of “What can I learn from this?” but now, more so, “What can I teach from this.” After finishing On Writing, I decided that if I make the move to teach, that will be a required text. It’s craft talk in plain language. So naturally, after reading King, I had to pick up From a Buick 8. I am also reading a novel manuscript by my friend & peer David Bumpus (editor-in-chief of Lunch Ticket) which I think is at present without a title. I’m alternating those with No One Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda July, and If I Would Leave Myself Behind, by Lauren Becker. In my “next-up” stack, I have two of your books, Domestic Apparition & Disparate Pathos, Hard Love by Ellen Wittlinger, and The Onion Girl, by Charles De Lint.
Music tends to wind its way into just about everything I write (along with classic cars….? Haven’t figured that one out just yet.) My musical taste tends to be all over the place, based on where I’m at in my head—it could be P.J. Harvey one minute and Tom Petty the next, honestly. But my go-to music for my dark places is the Golden Palominos, especially the album Dead Inside—all based on the spoken-word poetry from Nicole Blackman’s collection Blood Sugar. She’s worked with Recoil and KMFDM to set her spoken word pieces to music as well, but the Golden Palomino’s album Dead Inside is all her, with compositions by Anton Fier. Nicole Blackman is something my husband introduced me to—before, I only knew her through KMFDM—and I call her work the “best and worst gift anyone’s ever given me.” So, with that in mind, here’s the piece that resonates most to me, taken from the poem of the same title—“The Ambitions Are.”
(I actually wrote a review of Blood Sugar for The Rumpus, and this is one of the poems I specifically talked about.)
I look forward to checking out her work!
What is it like to live in Tallahassee, Florida? Where did you grow up? And how does place play into your stories?
It’s the most beautiful, bizarre place to live—and I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else. I grew up in Davie, Florida, more in the South Florida area, and went to college in Sarasota (southwest Florida), so I may as well just resign myself to getting an orange blossom tattoo. I’ve been in Tallahassee for 15 years, and it’s home. The heat, humidity, weird dichotomies of the state’s identity, the way that money and poverty, consciousness and ignorance, exist side-by-side, ignoring each other until they collide, is part and parcel of what I write. I wouldn’t be the writer I am now unless I embraced that bizarre quality. I’d just be writing watered-down literary fiction wishing I was something other than what I am, from someplace other than where I’m from.
Congratulations on your graduation! What would you say to a writer that is just starting to send out her work?
I would tell her that it’s an ugly business: the rejections, disappointments and little defeats that make you feel petty along the way. Remember that what you choose to do with those feelings is what defines you, not the feelings themselves, and that just because someone else has a thicker skin than you do, doesn’t mean that their way of perceiving the setbacks is the “right” way—or more to the point—the ONLY way. If you didn’t love your work and weren’t personally invested in its success, it wouldn’t hurt. The world has a million ways of trying to silence writers, especially women writers, who make their own worst critics. Be like Sinead O’Connor. Be your own woman; whatever that looks like FOR YOU. Be fearless, even when you’re terrified. Jump, even when you think there’s no way you’ll grow wings on the way down. You will, or you’ll heal from the fall. Either way—you’ll live. You’re never as high up as you think you are.
Tell us more about NonBinary Review and how you schedule your time for editing, writing, and work?
NonBinary Review, the quarterly literary publication of Zoetic Press, wants art and literature that tiptoes the tightrope between now and then. Art that makes us see our literary offerings in new ways. We want language that makes us reach for a dictionary, a tissue, or both. Words in combinations and patterns that leave the faint of heart a little dizzy. We want insight, deep diving, broad connections, literary conspiracies, personal revelations, or anything you want to tell us about the themes we’ve chosen.
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How do I schedule my time? Honest answer is that I don’t sleep a lot. I spend my whole day reading, writing, editing, revising, reading for other people, and hovering around social media making connections and seeing how to get the word out about what we’re doing at NBR—so far, our greatest strength is also our greatest challenge. No one else is doing what we’re doing, so it’s hard to tell people what we’re “like.” We’re not LIKE anyone. But I feel very strongly that in 3 years, people will say, “Oh, this project is sort of like Lithomobilus.”
Do you have a quote that speaks to you? If so, can you share it?
God, I have so many. I’m pretty sure that I’m one of the few people who filled that bitch UP on my profile.
But for now, here are two of my favorites—the first is from the TV show “Torchwood,” and the episode was written by Ray Davies, who a lot of Dr. Who fans have severely mixed feelings about. But because he wrote these words, I’ll love him till forever:
"The average life is full of near misses and absolute hits. Of great love and small disasters. It's made up of banana milkshakes, loft insulation and random shoes. It's dead ordinary and truly, truly amazing. What you've got to realize is, it's all here, now. So breathe deep and swallow it whole. Because take it from me: life just whizzes by, and then, all of a sudden, it's—" Torchwood, "Random Shoes"
The second is from The Scar: "A scar is not an injury, Tanner Sack. A scar is a healing. After an injury, a scar is what makes you whole." ~China Miéville
Those are exceptional!
Thank you so much, Allie, for sending Connotation Press some of your beauties!
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