AA: Ok so let’s talk about the pizza in your stories.
MM: ok, let’s. i was just looking at “cedars” and there’s pizza in it!
AA: The woman’s boyfriend wants to spend lots of time cleaning out an old trailer so they can take it to a campground called Cedars of Lebanon and have some pizza in a more natural setting.
MM: yes. the boyfriend wants her to help him. they’ve gotten to this place where they’re both pushing each other to be people they aren’t, people they don’t want to be. she loves him and wants to be this person he wants, but she also wants to keep her own identity so she’s struggling for some kind of balance
AA: Reading it made me really uncomfortable in the best way. We should probably clue people in to the pizza reference - do you want to recap or shall I?
MM: thank you. i wrote this story about a guy i dated shortly after my divorce. i had sort of gotten myself back into the same situation i’d come out of—trying to be someone i wasn’t, trying to fit somebody else’s idea of who i ought to be
AA: Alright dear tumblr readers, Mary and I were chatting just before this online chat and I observed that the sex in the BIG WORLD stories, as well as sexual scenes in LAST DAYS OF CALIFORNIA (even that really uncomfortable phone call) is very often lonely, unfulfilling, and isolating. And you explained about pizza. Take it away…
MM: with men, even bad pizza is good. it’s like sex. even when it’s bad it’s good. but for women, bad pizza can just be bad pizza, same as bad sex. it can be…very disappointing.
AA: (just saw the msg about the actual pizza…that’s right!)
MM: she even eats his kind of pizza: wheat crust with sausage, bacon, and pepperoni, a kind she wouldn’t have liked, or eaten, before she’d met him.
AA: She lets him set the agenda about a lot of things.
MM: she likes how they have things that are theirs, even if they weren’t hers before and won’t be hers in the future. she desperately wants to make something that’s floundering work, which is often how relationships are. we try to fit a square into a circle. and we just keep trying, even though that circle will always be wrong.
AA: We’re still the same people, I suppose. Reminds me of a woman whose therapist told her to just go take a vacation to feel better and her first thought was “but I’d have to take me along.”
MM: yep. i’ve spent a lot of time moving around, trying to change things geographically. sometimes it works, at least for a while.
AA: You just left Austin and it was pretty clear from one of your earlier posts that you were done for a while there.
MM: yeah, i was. i moved to austin to go to the michener center for writers, which i loved so much, but i stayed a year too long. once the program was over, once i didn’t have the security of the program, i floundered. change is hard. i also went through a breakup at the time the MFA program ended.
AA: and now you’re headed to Ole Miss, yes?
MM: i am! i’ll be there in august and stay until may. i’m so excited to be in oxford, where i have friends and will still be close to family. but it’s a temporary gig. after may, i’ll be looking for something else.
the life of a writer can be a very peripatetic one. uncertain.
AA: maybe something else will find you during the coming year. Is there something you’re working on specifically while you’re there or something you’ll have time to do?
MM: i’m working on a novel, sort of. and some essays and stories. novels are hard, and the novel i’m working on is more challenging than anything else i’ve ever written, so it’s kind of freaking me out. but i’ll have plenty of time. i’m only teaching one class a semester.
my goal is to have a very shitty first draft by august 15th and spend the year revising it.
AA: I like your approach - much less daunting to complete a shitty first draft. I used to tell my acting students to do a sucky version of their scene for class, and those were always so energetic and funny because they were supposed to fail, no fear.
MM: the only way i completed the last days of california was to power through it. i couldn’t try to perfect each sentence like i do with a short story. i couldn’t get stuck reading and rereading the first ten pages. novels and short stories are so different this way.
AA: Makes sense. I’m interested in the commonalities between fiction writing and songwriting and hoping this subject comes up in September when we record BIG WORLD in Nashville. I think at some level, writing is writing, and you’ll all have a lot to talk about.
MM: are you a musician? i come from a family of musicians and i’m the only one without any talent in that arena, besides my dad. with the best short stories, they’re often written fast, in a few days, from what i know, and my sister and brother, who are songwriters, have said the same thing.
AA: I’m certainly not a professional musician, but come from a musical family myself (an interesting mix of sort of highbrow and lowbrow) and am a huge music fan for sure.
MM: of course, sometimes the story that takes six months is also good, but those are the longer ones, the ones that are more ambitious structurally.
what do you play?
sometimes my people make me sing backup, but i have to have a few drinks in me.
AA: I had 10 years of classical piano, which means I suck at ensemble playing because it was all solo stuff. I sing occasionally. My mom and her sisters sang all kinds of stuff together, 1950’s stuff.
MM: oh, that’s so cool! my uncles and aunt were on Sun Records in the late 50’s. they played on american bandstand with dick clark and met elvis and shit.
AA: backup is the best! I love harmony singing.
MM: they blame the downfall of sun on jerry lee lewis, which may be true, but i don’t know enough to corroborate.
i’m not that great at harmony, though. i love it when it works. it feels magical.
my sister is such an excellent singer.
AA: See - this Nashville thing was meant to be. It’s gonna be the real-life version of “if you could invite any six people to dinner, who would they be”
MM: ha! totally.
and my sister lives in nashville! she had a publishing deal and wrote country music for a few years after college. she wrote a song that was on dolly parton’s album.
AA: On that note (or not), this sentence in one of the BIG WORLD stories keeps bubbling up in my mind: “I like stories about fucked up people.” That seems to be true of you too, if I may be presumptuous…is that true? And if so, do you remember the first time you looked at something in the world that way?
MM: but then she grew a little tired of writing country music, a song a day, it became work, like any other job.
AA: sorry these msgs are leapfrogging somewhat - that last msg followed the “i love musicians” comment, not the thing about your sister!
MM: of course! i love stories about fucked up people. my question would be: are there any other stories? i mean, really? are there any other good stories?
AA: re: your sister - hope I get to meet her!
MM: you will. she’s great. she’s so funny and bossy and great.
AA: well we rarely read stories about people who’ve got everything all figured out…that would be boring…
MM: yeah, and when i do, i’m usually annoyed or angry or feel like i’m being deceived in some way.
AA: But there was a review of last days entitled “eeewwwww” or something like that, and I thought yeah, exactly, that’s why I LIKED IT. You have a way of making the reader trust you as you take us into eww territory.
MM: what is there to write about, unless you’re trying to figure something out?
AA: braggy Facebook status messages?
That great Peggy Lee song “Is That All There Is?” is so perfect, I think, in that way.
MM: after big world was published, i knew my audience would be fairly limited. i mean, people are miserable and mean and ugly, at times, and a lot of people don’t want to read about that. they want to read about people who WANT to be better, and a lot of my characters don’t want to be better.
or if they do, they aren’t going to do what it takes to get there.
AA: Some of them aren’t self-aware enough to even see what else they might do, and I think most people on the planet fit that description.
Well on that happy note…
MM: totally. most people would not recognize themselves if you described them to themselves. as a writer, i think i’m more objective than most, but perhaps this makes me even less self aware.
AA: perhaps we should let people click on the “Cedars of Lebanon” link and have a listen.
MM: yes, let’s!