July 23, 2011
Meg Tuite’s novel-in-stories, DOMESTIC APPARITION, is a riveting, somewhat heartbreaking romp through the growing up years of a Catholic girl, Michelle. She gets high with and worships her rebellious lesbian sister, admires her nerdy, genius brother, and is afraid of their sometimes violent father. The book travels from childhood where Michelle and her sister trick their cousin into chugging a glass of straight liquor, to her early twenties where Michelle works at a job she hates with a woman she learns to admire. In between there is stolen art, lessons on the Papal history, and a tall girl who gets a thrill from defecating on a neighbor’s lawn.
Here are five questions for Meg Tuite:
When and how did you start writing? Did you keep a diary as a kid?
My mother taught our family the love of reading. My fondest memories of childhood are the trips on foot, because my mother never drove, up to the local library every Saturday to pick out five books for the week. I couldn’t wait to get through them and always finished reading mine before two days had passed, so I attempted to swap with my siblings, though there was always a price. I did keep a diary and hid it well, believe me!
Is the narrator, Michelle, based on anyone? How much of this is true? It feels very autobiographical, reminding me of Susan Minot’s Monkeys, but maybe you’re really a Jewish only-child and are making up this big whacked-out Catholic family scenario!
I did come from a Catholic background with siblings a plenty, although my mother was agnostic. My dad’s parents came straight from Ireland and were very Catholic. One of my Uncle’s became a priest and his was the only photo up on my grandmother’s mantel. The rest were dogs, compared to him-until he left the priesthood, but that’s another story that needs to be written. So many stories! Michelle can be loosely based on me, but then fiction weaves its way into every story/chapter and it goes off on its own tangent. I pretend to have some control!
Like many great characters, Michelle acts out in outrageous ways (getting trashed at work and answering the phone by saying, “Heidi and Michelle’s hollow-Assface Holidome. . . “, and stealing a Lichtenstein (!) are the first two examples that come to mind). My friend, Tracy, once said to her writing class after receiving a load of boring, witless papers: “Great fiction is filled with people behaving badly.” Would you agree with this? Do you ever write about characters that are behaving properly?
I believe, as a young kid, I tried to behave properly, but was surrounded by friends and family that didn’t, so I went with the terrain. It was much more fun to wreak havoc with the status quo. And I find that when I’m writing stories there is a natural tendency to let my characters work both angles. My narrator, Michelle, is often conflicted with what’s happening around her and yet is jetted forward by peer pressure or family pain. I try to keep them from moving toward clichés in any way, and so I try to work a balance in between badass behavior and working with the system. I must say that the stories I am drawn to have a dangerous quality to them. I think Nathan is a character who has somewhat innocent characteristics, but is drawn to the darkness of the Catholic church and Popes through the punishment that’s been inflicted on him unfairly by the crazed nuns.
After reading this book, there were two things that I desperately wanted to read: 1. A book about the history of the Popes so that I can know as much about them as your character, Nathan, does. 2. Another novel about Michelle’s family. Are you writing either of those books now? If not, what are you working on?
No, although I thought the world would be a much more interesting place if there was an outstanding book on the Papal secrets-behind-closed-doors-and-unearthed-graves. I am writing a novel on another strange family and am quite enjoying it. This family came out of nowhere, but then in crept mouse-like pieces of my memories to chew through these unknown folk and fill the holes with more homegrown insanity. I do love fiction for that.
What single piece of advice would you give someone who was trying to write? And what piece of writing advice would you advise writers to ignore?
I would most definitely say as a writer and an editor that the single most important aspect to becoming an interesting writer is to read, read and read! I can immediately tell when scouring submissions from writers whether they have read obsessively or not. It makes such a difference to know the craft before dipping into it. Everything else will follow, but read not only the living but the dead writers. Work through a few centuries and see what comes of it. If nothing else, you will have been many places and met many characters.
I would ignore some sort of stringent setup on how a writer should work. Some go to MFA programs and do well, some don’t. Some learn to write on their own through reading and experimenting, go on to win awards and create a voice that is quite unique, while others work better with many classes under their belt. I do think it’s a good idea to have at least one or two people you trust reading your work, as well, in order to get some feedback, but then, look at John Kennedy Toole, who wrote one of my favorite novels, The Confederacy of Dunces. He worked in a locked bedroom writing out his manuscript on Big Chief notebooks with no one checking in. Read and then write, whatever feels good to you.