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“Let Them Stain Your Clothes”: An Interview with Meredith Luby

Meredith Luby holds an MFA in fiction from Brown University. Her work can be found in, or is forthcoming from, The Broome Street Review, NightBlock Magazine, Fourteen Hills, Redivider, and Glimmer Train Stories. She resides in North Carolina.

Her story, "Even Quieter Than This," appeared in Issue Sixty-Four of The Collagist.

Here, Meredith Luby talks to interviewer Thomas Calder about dark humor, writing scenes out of order and the potential readers’ perception versus a narrator’s perception.

What was it that first began your story “Even Quieter Than This”?

It started with the image of the flower petals. I think most of my work starts there, with one line or image. Then I read something online about the quietest room in the world, it’s a real thing, and people have only been able to spend a few minutes in it, because that kind of silence is sort of terrifying, and I knew I wanted to incorporate that into the piece as well. From there I decided I wanted to approach this story from a sort of psychological point wherein the magical or surreal parts are driven by the narrator’s perceptions. For me, it wasn’t important whether or not the flower petals were real or imagined, but rather how the narrator views them. And she thinks they are real. But she isn’t exactly reliable. So I was interested in how those things could interact, the potential readers’ perception versus a narrator’s perception.

I love the pace of this story. The anticipation seemed to sneak up on me while I was reading it. Initially I thought I’d entered a surreal world. But as the story progressed, the danger—whether imagined or real for this character—had me on edge. Could you talk about the drafting process and the development of the story?

I often write scenes out of order and decide later where to place them. Those changes ended up making a big difference, especially because time is very narrow in this piece. I had to make sure the events where spread out over the story without feeling repetitive or without taking too long to come to a resolution. In earlier drafts the pacing was different and I went through a few that were either too slow or too quick. That was something I had to refine once I had the bones of the story down. I rarely begin a story with an ending in mind, but once I was satisfied with the last lines I was able to more effectively build towards that moment and arrange the scenes more carefully.

The story’s unnamed narrator is very isolated. Throughout the story objects seem to reflect and capture her loneliness (that dried nectarine pit comes to mind). But she also has a lot of humorous thoughts: whether it was the necessity of a good heartbreak or the possibility of a slow, deliberate thief. How intentional were these moments of humor or were these thought patterns apparent in your narrator from the start?

Though there is no actual violence in this story, the threat of violence is ever-present in the narrator’s life. I wanted to have those moments of humor, even if it was dark humor, so that the story didn’t feel quite so heavy or hopeless. And also because a lot of people, myself included, deal with difficult or potentially terrifying things by couching them in humor. That’s how the narrator is able to keep living her day to day life, despite the fact that, not only is she alone, but also someone is breaking into her house every night, by sort of making it a joke for herself and the person committing the crime.

There are so many beautiful lines in this piece. Lines that I would pause to re-read a second and third time. I absolutely love the line about secrets: “You have to pull them from your blood in pieces and let them stain your clothes.” Are there any lines that stick out to you, moments you remember while writing the piece, where you paused and thought: hot damn that’s a killer line?

I think my favorite little section is, “Most of the ones I knew moved to warmer climates. To places closer to the coast. I didn't like looking off that ragged edge. I wanted the security of walls, of streets that extend for miles and only end in more land. But there was no safety in those things either.” This is one of my few stories that doesn't take place somewhere close to the ocean or water, so I was glad I found a way to work in something about coastlines.

What current project are you working on?

I’m very slowly working on a novel. It’s about a fictional town in France that has a reverse of itself underneath it. And the reverse town may or may not be populated mostly by ghosts. But I haven’t decided yet.

As the year winds down, what were some of your favorite books of 2014?

The best book I’ve read this year was All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. It was so beautiful and careful and heartbreaking. I also really enjoyed Kelly Link’s newest collection, (which I don’t think will actually be released until February) and Patricia Lockwood’s Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals. And if you’re at all interested in humor books Amy Poehler’s Yes Please! was fantastic.

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