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"The Detective and All These Ghosts": An Interview with Maryse Meijer

Maryse Meijer is the author of Heartbreaker. She lives in Chicago.

Her story, "Evidence," appeared in Issue Eighty-Five of The Collagist.

Here, Maryse Meijer talks with interviewer William Hoffacker about violence, death, and detective stories.

What can you tell us about the origins of your story, “Evidence”? What sparked the initial idea and caused you to start writing the first draft?

I think I just sat down and typed “the head, where’s the head?” and went from there. When I found out I was writing about a detective I started thinking about what that might mean, but in the beginning there was just this idea of a really messed up dead body on a kitchen floor.

This story’s protagonist is a homicide detective, seemingly detached from other people, obsessed with his murder investigations. To anyone who’s seen cop stories in movies, television, and/or other media, this feels like a familiar characterization. What do you want this story to add to the conversation created by all those hard-nosed, unstable detectives of popular fiction? What was your approach to the tropes of the genre when crafting this story?

If your job is a constant encounter with death and violence—which are not really rational things—then you’re going to go crazy. I think the detective genre understands this, and it gives us all these guys (and, increasingly, women) who are disintegrating in various ways because the real disintegration—death—is so elusive, so hard to really look at. Even as the body of a murder victim is paraded before us, it disappears. So I think we try to talk about violence and death by talking about detectives. As I was writing I was trying to focus on this dead guy, but everything kept slipping back to the detective, who also couldn’t quite focus on the dead guy. Instead he’s obsessed with this woman he’s imagined is the killer, a fantasy he ends up projecting onto a stranger, and we end up in this space where it’s just the detective and all these ghosts who become more real than everything else. How can a person metabolize the endless violence of a job solving murders without losing their mind?

What frustrates me about detectives in popular narratives is how they are glamorized or fetishized, even when they’re falling apart—they always seem to come off as badasses, like Woody Harrelson in Rampart or the guys in True Detective. They’re jerks and they’re a mess but they’re played so cool. My detective is plain sad and losing it. If I couldn’t really say anything meaningful about violence, I could at least try and get at its possible effects on this one guy’s mind.

Your story ends with the protagonist on his knees, clutching a woman’s skirt and begging her to murder him (and he seems sincere, at least in my reading). What are you experiencing when you take a story to such a bleak, morbid conclusion? Do you feel such intense emotions along with your characters, or is it more of an intellectual exercise for you as the author?

If I get emotional about something that happens on the page—and I do, often—it’s not because I feel any of it is happening to me. It’s more like I’m watching something not so great happen to a friend, someone I love but can’t help. It’s never an intellectual exercise, but it’s also not strictly personal—which, if it was, I guess I’d be on my knees freaking out every other day.

Please tell us about your revision process, using this story as an example. How much did “Evidence” change from the first draft to the final? Did you have to make any difficult decisions along the way?

I edit like crazy. I edit for years. But the general shapes of my stories don’t usually go through radical alterations—it’s mostly line editing, and a lot of cutting. Then there’s usually a period where I bloat a story back up, explaining the story to myself by adding a bunch of unnecessary stuff, and then I cut some more. The painful part is leaving stuff out that I worked hard on, that got to something I felt was true but maybe too true to keep…you have to leave room for the reader to enter into the story, and that means cutting out the bits that say too much, go too far. But those bits are often the ones that you like the most!

The trouble with this story was getting the language right—trying to reflect the detective’s distorted state of mind while still making some kind of sense.

What writing projects are you working on now?

I’m finishing up a second story collection and a book of poems, and revising a first novel.

What have you read recently that you’d like to recommend?

Fox, Tooth, Heart is a story collection by John McManus that I think is brilliant. Vertigo by Joanna Walsh is making me very jealous, and I just finished Joyce Carol Oates’ first novel, With Shuddering Fall, which is completely crazy, in the best way.

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