Interview With Megan Martin – Nevers
First can you tell us a little bit about yourself? What do you do for fun? What are some of your biggest dreams?
I got older all of a sudden. Fun is weird in your late 30s. It means different things than it used to mean. I texted a friend of mine recently who has always seemed very cool to me and like she never ages, and was like: Hey, it’s Friday night and I’m tired and here I am on the couch with my cats watching bad TV. What are you doing? She said she’d just worked a 60-hour week and spent most weekends in her pajamas, to the chagrin of her partner. It made me feel better about wanting to do nothing on a Friday night.
I moved from a large and sparkly city (Chicago) to a smaller and slower city (Cincinnati) around 6 years ago and became much more of an introvert than I used to be. So I have introverted fun like going hiking or kayaking, eating new food, cooking, going to museums, watching movies, reading, going to readings, taking pictures. When I think about it, they’re the same things that were fun for me when I was a kid. Maybe I only felt fun in my 20s, when I got really drunk at parties.
My biggest dream? Doing something that has a large impact on a large number of beings, but not in a writing-type way. I don’t know what the something is yet.
Do you mind talking about your background as a writer and which experiences you felt really influenced you?
I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. As a kid in summer, I’d put books and a notebook in a backpack and ride my bike around and sit somewhere outside and write. It has always just been a thing I’ve loved to do. The writing classes I took as an undergrad at The University of Iowa were the first time I took writing very seriously. I learned how to write a story correctly, according to the rules, which is a good thing to know when you’re young. And then in grad school at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago I learned how not to take writing seriously: how to invest in a process and play and enjoy what I was doing and unlearn things and write a story incorrectly, but in a more interesting way where it felt like the story was truly mine and I could write it however I wanted to.
The writing experiences that stand out to me as bringing me the most happiness though have been working on reading series and creating spaces where other people can perform. I prefer being behind the scenes to being on stage. Having friends as writers has been really important. And teaching has been the thing that has most clarified for me what I believe about writing, which has a lot to do with taking risks and believing in your own unique vision, doing whatever your own weird thing is.
What got you started on writing Nevers?
Most projects I start begin in a haphazard way. This was true with Nevers also. I was reading the book of poems BAD BAD by Chelsey Minnis. If I hadn’t read that book I would never have written Nevers. Her poems are really mouthy and funny, and her mouthiness inspired me. I wanted to write something that felt radical and loud and rude and inappropriate. I’ve always been really against manners and conventions; my mother has to remind me to use a napkin; I wanted to write something contrary, cranky like Emerson or Thoreau or Chelsey.
I wrote the stories by hand, and then I typed and read them and they weren’t very good. I put them away for probably a year and got them back out and they still didn’t seem very good to me. But something about them interested me and made me want to work on them, so I worked on them. Gradually I chiseled my pile of crap into pieces that weren’t crap. The process was extremely slow and taught me a lot about patience.
How long did it take for you to write Nevers, and about how long did it take for Nevers to be accepted for publication?
I think it took 5 years? I wrote the pieces by hand over a couple of years, and then there was a period of more than a year where I wasn’t working on them at all. It took 2 years to be accepted. I sent it only to places where I thought it would fit, and at the time there weren’t very many places that seemed like they’d be amenable. I sent it out for about a year and got some kind responses but no one took it. I felt like I didn’t have other options, so I just let it sit rotting in my computer, which felt terrible because I had worked on it for a long time and felt happy with it. I had sent it to Caketrain’s fiction chapbook contest and it was honorably mentioned, so I wrote to them, declared my love for their press (which is huge), and asked if they’d to publish it and they did, which was like my dream because I think their books are so idiosyncratic and fantastic.
What is the best part about having published Nevers?
I’m not ambitious like I used to be. What used to sustain me was the idea of becoming a writer who would be seen as a big deal, and I worked at writing like it was a 9-5 job. That mentality exhausts me now; what sustains me as a writer is working on things I believe in and creating relationships with others who make things. Working with Amanda and Joseph at Caketrain felt like a true and magical collaboration. And publishing Nevers and doing readings brought me into contact with really great writers I wouldn’t have met otherwise. I love how a friendship between writers can just erupt out of thin air because you both work hard doing this weird thing that other people don’t get. I feel like I can often make friends with another writer in seconds because I’m so relieved to be in the company of someone who gets me.
Also before Nevers was published, and even while I was writing it, I was really struggling to understand why writing mattered. Like I said earlier, all of a sudden I got older: I was aware of so many problems in the world that are so large; why was I sitting around selfishly writing? At the time I was feeling this way, I wasn’t reading because I was adjuncting a ton (teaching comp classes, mostly) and had no time to read except for class. I forgot why books were important.
But people I had never met read my book and took the time to write to me about their experience of reading it. And it helped me remember why I started writing to begin with: because I had had so many meaningful experiences with books. I started writing because books were so important to me and helped me feel more alive. So I’m grateful to have been reminded that books do mean something, and for having the revelation that I can write something that meant something to people.
If you had to explain what your book was about in 3 words, what would you say?
Ladies being uncouth.
Can you talk to us a little bit about what you are currently working on? What other books are you interested in writing?
I don’t really know. My writing process is a mess. I’m always operating from a place of having no idea what I’m working on even as I’m working on it. I’m only interested in writing from a place of not-knowing, and this makes me very inefficient and also confused. For a couple of years I’ve been working on a bunch of pieces that sometimes seem separate and sometimes seem like they’re feeding the same project. I’ve written some small stories that aren’t quite as small as the stories in Nevers. I was working on essays for a while but now I’m not. I worked on a project that’s vaguely related to the history of Miss America with a friend that I hope to get back to soon. I worked a project where I wrote in a google doc with two of my friends and we had to write every day. I think there’s a longer project in there but I’m not sure what it is yet. I’m hoping it can be a weird novel, but we’ll see.