I was happy to get the chance recently to interview Meg Tuite, one of my favorite writers. Her stories, beautifully written yet often brutal in their honesty, strip away the many layers of domestic life to show us the soft white underbelly beneath. Her writing is unflinchingly true to life and impossible to forget.
Meg is the author of two short story collections, Bound By Blue (Sententia Books), and Domestic Apparition (San Francisco Bay Press), and five chapbooks. She won the Twin Antlers Collaborative Poetry award from Artistically Declined Press for her poetry collection, Bare Bulbs Swinging, written with Heather Fowler and Michelle Reale. She has been published in numerous anthologies and over 500 literary magazines. Nominated nine times for the Pushcart Prize, she is also a four-time finalist at Glimmer Train.
She teaches at Santa Fe Community College, and is a columnist at Connotation Press and JMWW. She can be found at: http://megtuite.com
Sandy Ebner: Hi, Meg. Thanks for taking the time to talk. Others have said this many times, but your fiction reads a lot like poetry. It’s lyrical and dense but also very accessible. The poetic nature of your writing was the first thing I noticed when I read Grace Notes, your collaboration with David Tomaloff and Keith Higginbotham. What draws you to prose poetry as opposed to more traditionally structured narratives?
Meg Tuite: The rhythm of language and love of words has always added to my addiction to reading and writing. I surround myself with collections of poets when I write, and prose writers who huddle inside that beauty, as well.
SE: Does collaborating with other artists make the creative process easier or more difficult? It seems as if there would be control issues, depending upon the personalities involved, but maybe that’s just me.
MT: I have two books that were collaborations and they were both great experiences. David Tomaloff is one of my favorite poets out there and it was exciting to work with him. I would write a poetic prose piece, send it to him and then he’d work off of each one. David suggested we add Keith Higginbotham’s collages and I was blown away by all of them! I’m very happy with that collection and that it was published with Bud Smith (Unknown Press). The other collection was a collaborative contest by Ryan Bradley (Artistically Declined Press). I worked with Heather Fowler and Michelle Reale and we used the “word loop.” The last line of my poem became the first line of the next poem and we alternated throughout. It was a great challenge and I LOVE the work of these two writers, and DAMN, YES, we won! That was very cool.
SE: Speaking of collaboration, will you talk a little bit about “Exquisite Duet” and how that idea came about?
MT: I had a column up at Used Furniture Review “Exquisite Quartet” and would write a story with three other writers each month. One would start and pass it on and in the end I would edit the stories. Some of them were absolutely seamless. You couldn’t tell where one writer left off and another began.
But it took up a lot of time and after three years I felt it was time to move on. I have three anthologies from those years. Jen Michalski, founder and editor-in-chief of JMWW, picked the column up when UFR retired and I finished off the last year with JMWW, a magazine I have always LOVED and was excited to be a part of.
I wanted to keep working with Jen, who is every kind of amazing and fantastic to work with. So I came up with the idea of giving two poets or flash writers the same first line and 250 word count and letting them go off to see where they would end up without seeing each other’s work. And now, I am finishing up the 2015 print anthology that is exquisite!! The work is outstanding!! I enjoy challenges and it seems that the writers who have been a part of Exquisite Duet have had a good time working on it.
SE: Your new collection of flash fiction, Lined Up Like Scars, looks at family life in a wonderfully skewed way, exposing dysfunction right alongside iPhones and Wonder Bread. It’s almost like Stepford Wives on acid. This is a theme I’ve noticed in a lot of your work, the hidden cruelty of family. Will you comment on that?
MT: Haha! I like the Stepford Wives on acid! Domestic horror is my favorite. I have experience with it, as does every person I know or have read. (Okay, maybe a few exceptions, but that happily ever after bullshit has never jived with me.) I’m fully engaged when I am reading a writer who takes risks and reveals secrets.
SE: One of my favorite stories in Bound by Blue is “Creep.” Somehow you manage to make a despicable character seem almost human. Will you talk about your approach to characterization and how you make an unlikable character sympathetic to readers?
MT: The first time I read “Creep” aloud was here in Santa Fe. This guy, who I’d never met before, came up to me and said, “How the hell did you write my father? That was him, every part of it.” He was crying and I was blown away. The amazing beauty of a deep connection with a stranger is everything to me. He said he was going to write his memoir that he’d been afraid to write before then. That is as HUGE as it gets for me. I will never forget that. He is now writing that memoir! And I’m thankful the protagonist in “Creep” didn’t come off as two-dimensional. I believe we humans carry our loads of fear, grief, and trauma, but also love and connect with some more than others.
SE: You’re a writer and a teacher. How do you find a balance between the two and also have time to have a life?
MT: I’m only teaching one class right now and doing a feature every couple of months for Connotation Press. I do have a day job, working Hospice, and have for over fifteen years.
SE: There are hundreds of literary magazines out there. What are some of your favorites (both new and established), and how do you decide where to submit?
MT: It’s hard to rake through them, and there are so many different genres. I’m not sending work out like I used to. I do enjoy it, though. I can only pick and choose from the ones I know: Connotation Press, JMWW, Literary Orphans, Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine, Superstition Review, Corium, Blink-Ink, Rat’s Ass Review (a new favorite after reading the guidelines! Everyone should read those and then submit) SmokeLong Quarterly, The Nervous Breakdown, wigleaf, KYSO, Revolution John, decomP, DOGZPLOT, Right Hand Pointing…You get the point. It’s endless!
SE: Who are some of the writers that have influenced you over the years?
MT: Fernando Pessoa, Flannery O’Connor, Kafka, Djuna Barnes, Jane Bowles, Anne Sexton, Emily Dickinson, Kate Braverman, Bruno Schulz, Janet Frame, Toni Morrison, and they still do.
SE: What have you read lately that’s rocked your world?
MT: Lidia Yuknavitch The Chronology of Water, Elena Ferrante The Days of Abandonment, Roxane Gay An Untamed State, Barbara Gowdy Mister Sandman, Margaret Malone People Like You, bell hooks Bone Black. And this list goes on and on.
SE: My writing style has remained pretty much the same over the years, but now that I’m a bit older I’m willing to take more chances in what I write about and have started branching out into other genres. Creatively speaking, it’s been very rewarding. How important do you think it is for a writer to push boundaries?
MT: Write what feels right for you. I think we are pushing boundaries every time we sit down with a pen or pencil or laptop. Yes, there is so much to say and however you want to write it is the right way.
SE: Is it possible to do that (push boundaries) successfully at the beginning of a writing career, or do you need a little bit of life under your belt first?
MT: Life is always bulging out from under our belts. We just need to sit down and let it pour or dribble through. Write what scares you. I like to work from that premise.
SE: Like many other writers, you and I first met on Facebook. I find a tremendous sense of community there. However, it seems as though the indie press, and the publishing industry at large, has seen its share of nastiness recently, which has, of course, all been played out on Twitter and FB. Bad behavior in the publishing industry is nothing new; we’re just more aware of it because of social media. Any thoughts?
MT: I first found out about you when I read your unforgettable essay at Connotation Press! And the connection was made. I have met so many exceptional people through FB. And also found out about their work. That is the plus side. It’s a great place to promote writers’ latest publications. I’ve found so many great essays, stories, collections, and novels that way. However, too much of anything is not good and thus the name “Facecrack” developed.
SE: Perhaps it’s simply because the odds of having your work published is so low that people just lose their minds.
MT: That’s when we forget why we write. There has to be a deep love and need to sit down and stare at a blank page day in and day out. And so when I keep myself planted in the writing and reading, whatever mind I haven’t blown already stays in a good place.
SE: Can you talk about what you’re working on now?
MT: I’m working on a novel. As a friend said, “like a gravedigger using a teaspoon?” YES. I love collections and always have thoughts around those, but try to keep myself focused on this project. It’s been five years so far, and a lifetime or two.
SE: Is there anything else you’d like to talk about before we sign off?
MT: I can only say you are an amazing interviewer and I thank you for thinking of me. You rock it! HUGS!
Sandy Ebner lives and writes in Northern California. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Connotation Press: An Online Artifact, Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, The Doctor T.J. Eckleburg Review, the HerStories/ My Other Ex anthology, and other publications. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from California State University, and is an alumna of the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley. She previously served as the creative nonfiction editor at MadHat Lit and MadHat Annual (Mad Hatter’s Review), and is working on her first novel.
Read Sandy’s Work:
To read that “unforgettable essay at Connotation Press” that Meg refers to, click here. Enjoy. ~ sm