Meg Tuite’s work is at times uncomfortably intimate, vulnerable but never precious. Like one of her characters who is being asked by her therapist if she has a history of mental illness, she responds: “I don’t know anyone who isn’t mentally ill.” In Meg’s latest book, Meet My Haze, she takes that signature matter-of-fact approach to otherwise dark topics, and her exploration of dysfunction is sober and pragmatic, only hinting at the drama underneath. She can conjure entire histories in an off-hand comment about father’s “pasty skin” that another writer would spend an entire book on. And that is Meg’s gift–even in the condensed world of flash fiction she has a poet’s sensitivity for brevity and density of language and meaning. She is a poet storyteller in prose skin.
Nancy Stohlman: Describe this book in six words.
Meg Tuite: ‘It’s a parade of the lonely.’
NS: You have published many other books, including Domestic Apparition, Bound by Blue, and Bare Bulbs Swinging. How is this book different than your other books?
MT: Each book has been work and I’m happy to have them out there. I worked hard on all of them. Bare Bulbs Swinging is a collaborative poetry collection with Heather Fowler and Michelle Reale and we won an award for it. Bound By Blue is longer short stories. A newspaper reviewer wrote “She wouldn’t know a happy ending if she saw one.” That’s true. I wouldn’t believe it. I am drawn to those who expose their inner lives or at least have an awkward time trying to conceal it.
NS: “The blasphemy of a coat” or “three tornadoes away from sanity”–You have so many gorgeous, stand-out phrases I can’t possibly list them all. There is a wonderfully poetic sensibility to your sentences—they are dense and complex. Does your work come out this way or is language something that you spend a lot of time sculpting?
MT: I am in love with poetic prose. The rhythm of words and how they meld with each other helps when the content tends to be darker material.
NS: So…are you a poet or a prose writer at heart? Like if someone held a gun to your head and made you choose would you pick lines or sentences?
MT: Definitely poetic prose.
NS: I love the way your matter-of-fact demeanor takes the edge off some of these dark topics and you humor that is right on point. In fact, I think one of your gifts as a writer is being able to add the exact right amount of humor to otherwise intense, serious, even tragic moments. I actually laughed out loud at the description of a hospice worker tying her elderly patient back into a chair: “our movements are sluggish and dragged out like German cinema.” How important is humor in your writing? Do you think humor opens the door to these otherwise overwhelmingly heavy topics?
MT: Humor definitely cuts the edge on the intensity of the situations. Although, not all would agree. Here is the Kirkus Review I received for Meet My Haze:
“Tuite offers a series of tales that catalog the many ways in which minds and bodies can break down.
In this dark, often morbid short story collection, the author explores the underbelly of humanity in all its decay. “A day with death is never a dead day” begins the first story, told from the perspective of a hospice worker. Various characters with mental and physical infirmities come to grips with tragic events as each story unfurls. A microwaved lava lamp explodes in a hapless father’s face in “The World Gravitates Toward the Ditch”; in “The White Witch of Ojo,” a scoliosis-afflicted witch declares that her landscaper has no soul; a woman meets Don Quixote, Socrates, and Plato on her deathbed in another tale. These stories contain plenty of blunt talk about such topics as impotency, scatological obsessions, and suicide. It seems as if nothing is too foul; one story introduces a Great Dane that eats “soiled underwear.” In one particularly violent tale, a woman deliberately injures her genitals with a lemon zester, “breaking open cells like succulent seeds in juice flooding the tile with the pinkest reds she’s ever seen.” Occasionally, though, the stories turn tender, as in “The Vastness of Love,” in which a mother overcomes her agoraphobia to take her children to the library every Saturday. Tuite is clearly a talented writer, and her descriptions are superb and visceral; for instance, she describes a man’s teeth in “A City Bound by the Corpse of the Habitual” as being as “brown as his beverage.” The stories’ first sentences are like literary whiplash, jolting the reader to attention: “Freud proved that eels have testicles and I can’t even get out of bed,” she writes at the top of “So Who Knows More about Eels?” But the shock and awe and gratuitous gore eventually grow tiresome, and many vile characters exhibit few redeeming qualities, making it difficult for the reader to sympathize with or invest in them.
A well-written but excessively gruesome collection of stories that, in the end, provide little insight about human suffering.”
It doesn’t seem that the Kirkus reader saw any of the humor in this collection.
NS: Some of your stories are so gritty and raw—I love how you just seem to unabashedly lay it out. Do you ever second guess whether a story should be published?
MT: It’s not the grittiness that stops me. If anything it’s that I’m not sure if the story is ready. I rarely send a story out that I haven’t sat on for a while. It has to read well aloud and on the page for me before I will submit it.
NS: You have an entire story, “Letter to a Dead Writer,” dedicated to Clarice Lispector. Talk about her importance to you and your work.
MT: Clarice Lispector is an inimitable writer that you either LOVE or HATE. I distinguish her as a philosopher. Reading her over and over always feels like the first time. She is brilliant and unparalleled. Her words inspire me.
NS: What is your favorite story in here and why?
MT: The World Gravitates Towards the Ditch took a long while to write. I sat on it for months and then, apparently sent it out to a few places when I was drunk. I found out it had placed with the Bristol Short Story Contest through twitter. I saw writers talking about the long list and congratulating me along with many others. I have no memory of sending it to the contest, but was elated that I did. I placed third and also the story was short-listed at Glimmer Train. I don’t send to contests very often. Unless I have the cash, the willingness, and a few drinks! Damn!
NS: We are both Big Table Publishing sisters! But you have published with many presses–talk about publishing with Big Table.
MT: Robin Stratton of Big Table Publishing is amazing! I love her and the books she publishes. And I was really excited that you had a book that was coming out of BTP, as well! Congratulations! There’s a lot of promoting to do with this press. You are amazing in that arena, and we’ve talked about the title you came up with in terms of getting the book out there once it’s been published: So You Published a Book: Who the Fuck Cares!” I totally get that! I’m not as good at promoting as you are. I love that you had a circus and did an entire performance the evening of your launch party! That is so great! Meet My Haze kind of fell through the cracks. I do love the collection, but didn’t push for reviews or interviews. I so appreciate your interviewing me now! Thank you!
NS: Your work has won or placed for many prizes. Do you approach prize submissions differently than regular publications? More or less experimental? Advice for authors wanting to venture into contests more?
MT: Try not to send out to contests when you’re drunk! It’s helpful to remember where you’ve sent the stories.
NS: Best advice ever–ha! Anything else you want to add? Advice to writers working on a book, perhaps?
MT: I have always gone the indie route. I do love indie presses. They tend to give you a lot of leeway with your cover, your title, and your format. I haven’t looked for an agent and so have nothing to add in that arena. One thing that’s important to know is that you have to do the work. You pay for the readings and set up the engagements. So be excited about your book. Let the world know that it’s out there and celebrate the work that you’ve done!
Links to buy the book:
Thank you so much, Nancy, for the insightful questions and taking the time to send them my way!
LOVE LOVE, Meg xoxo
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