Sandra Arnold Interviews Meg Tuite about her story in NEW MICRO (W.W. Norton & Co., 2018)
SA: Your story in New Micro, Dad’s strung out women blues is uncompromising in its bleak portrayal of an alcoholic father and his watchful daughter. Lines such as these paint a vivid picture of broken lives: ‘The sports bar stench of burnt brain cells and stale beer tackled the smoke as I walked towards my father.’ ‘…poured into his dollar-store jeans…’ ‘She was another in a long line of tired notes.’ ‘I was there to string all those painted smiles into some kind of demented tune’. Can you tell us about the origin of this story?
MT: If you’ve ever been in a bar during the day you find humans with deep sadness. I know deep sadness and imagined a girl who felt insecure about herself, but had someone who looked up to her. Her dad. They shared a bond through their inadequacies in life and also felt some security in each other’s company.
SA: The title of your story immediately draws the reader in for a closer look. Did the title come to you before or after writing the story? How important do you think titles are to the success of a piece? How important is the first sentence and the last sentence?
MT: The title came after I got that last line. There was a musicality to the story and I wanted to include that in the title. In a flash story, I find that all the sentences are important. And definitely the first and the last.
SA: Where do your ideas for stories come from?
MT: A lot of ideas come from stories I remember as a kid. We had the run of our neighbourhood in Chicago, so I had a good childhood when parents said ‘get out and don’t come home until dinner.’ That made for some adventures.
SA: You have published several short story and flash fiction collections, a novel-in-stories and poetry and have won and been placed in many awards. You also teach and edit and run writing retreats. How do you fit all this into your life? Do you have a disciplined writing routine?
MT: Right now I’m not teaching. Except for one online class in January for Bending Genres. The writing retreats are with the amazing Robert Vaughan, and we have week-long sessions twice a year. One is at Synergia Ranch in Santa Fe and the other is at The Mabel Dodge Luhan House in Taos, NM. The writing comes and goes. We have a small group of excellent writers that include Robert Vaughan, Karen Stefano, Len Kuntz, and Sara Comito and we produce one story each week online and critique it. That helps keep the block at bay.
SA: Flash fiction and micro are often taught on Creative Writing courses because of their brevity and apparent easy style. Are they easier to write than short stories, in your opinion?
MT: A well-written story is difficult, no matter the form. With flash and micro there is room for only one scene, whereas in a longer story the writer has room to weave in more than one story line.
SA: Do you have a preference for writing in a particular form?
MT: I love writing flash. I love to read a powerful, condensed story that packs it in and keeps the emotional energy high. Even in novel form, I love to read flash chapters.
SA: You are currently one of the editors for Bending Genres. Has this influenced how you write?
MT: It’s always great to read other writer’s stories and see what they’re up to. I’ve really enjoyed it and love working with Robert Vaughan.
SA: What makes a micro successful, in your opinion? Are there any magazines or writers you are especially drawn to?
MT: When I have an emotional response to the writing it is a powerful piece for me. There are so many great writers out there, I can’t name them all here. I do especially love the work of Lucia Berlin, Janet Frame, Kate Braverman, and Bruno Schulz. I reread them all the time.
SA: From first idea to writing the last line, how long does it take you to complete a story? How much revision do you do?
MT: Each story is different. Some are amazingly quick. Though I sit on them to make sure what I read still feels good over the next few days. Others rot half-finished in my computer for years. Or I dump them.
SA: Did you write stories when you were a child? What sort of books did you read then? What do you read now?
MT: I wrote a novel about a girl running away when I was seven. My mom got me one of those desks with the pull up top and said I sat there for hours. I also wrote poetry. I read everything because my mom was extremely prolific and a librarian. Our house was filled with books and everyone read. My house is now crammed with books and if I never bought another book, I still wouldn’t get through all of them.
SA: When did you begin to think of yourself as a writer? What do you find to be the best and worst aspects of a writing life?
MT: When you’re a kid you think you’re everything that you do, so I’m sure I considered myself a writer when I wrote. After I took a few writing courses with Melissa Pritchard and Julia Goldberg, and some other outstanding teachers I knew I wouldn’t stop writing. The best part of writing is when you’re in it and inspired. The worst part is when nothing is coming or what’s coming isn’t quite working for you.
SA: What qualities do aspiring writers need to succeed?
MT: Write whenever you feel it and read, read, read.
SA: Can you tell us something about your future writing goals?
MT: I’m working on a novel, but feeling constipated by the ending. I’ve been attempting that one for years. No goals in mind except to keep the writing moving when I can.
Meg Tuite is author of four story collections and five chapbooks. She won the Twin Antlers Poetry award for her poetry collection, Bare Bulbs Swinging. She teaches at Santa Fe Community College, senior editor at Connotation Press, associate editor at Narrative Magazine and fiction editor at Bending Genres. http://megtuite.com