Here, Where We Live (Rose Metal Press, 2014)
What are some of your favorite novellas? Or what are some novellas that have influenced your writing?
Mr. Bridge, Mrs. Bridge by Evan S. Connell; We, The Animals by Justin Torres; and Monkeys by Susan Minot.
What might these favorite or influential novellas suggest about you and your writing?
They suggest that I prefer to bond and care for fictional characters through skillful vignettes and unexpected, sometimes random, unusual moments minus any linear narrative.
What’s your novella about?
It is a coming-of-age story about a teenager, an only child, whose father was tragically killed, and whose mother is battling breast cancer.
If you have written more than one novella or chapbook, could you describe each of them in chronological order?
Here, Where We Live is an offshoot of The Smell of Good Luck, a much longer novella I wrote first. The main character in both novellas is loosely based on a young me, in that she sees the world the way I did at that age. After writing The Smell of Good Luck I was drawn to take a very similar character on a different path. I created a different family situation for her, with new obstacles and complications…and of course, a different dog. Recently, I have written a third novella (composed of microfiction stories) called The Truth is a Hat. That one is about a middle aged woman who is no longer in love with her husband of many years, or he with her. It is about her life during the denial of that reality, and how she comes to terms with it. It is about an affair she has in an attempt to regains a sense of wellness. I believe I wrote that novella after the other two because it could very well be an older “Abby”. I think my desire (after writing so much about teenage life) was to write about adult life.
How did you decide on the length and title of your novella? What were some of its earlier titles?
The length decided itself, oddly. It felt done at a certain point, and I knew that going any further would make it unfocused and vague. The title didn’t change. I named the novella after finishing it. It stuck.
Did you submit your novella to contests, open reading periods, or both?
I submitted The Smell of Good Luck (then called The Sticky Lust of Hummingbirds) to Rose Metal Press for a chapbook contest. They wrote back and said it had almost made it, and about a month later, they asked if I had another. Right when they asked me, I was writing the new one, which is the one they accepted. Editors at RMP worked strongly with me on every draft. They are wonderful editors.
To what degree did you collaborate on the cover image and design of your novella?
Rose Metal Press did all of the design work. I’m glad, because I love what they did with the book. I would never have known how to make it look so wonderful. Because there are 5 novellas inside the larger book, which is titled My Very End of the Universe and contains 5 novellas-in-flash (by myself and 4 other authors: Aaron Teel, Tiff Holland, Chris Bower, and Margaret Chapman). Rose Metal Press’s editors chose a line from Tiff Holland’s Betty Superman to inspire the book’s cover image. All of our novellas in the book have to do with childhood and/or involve coming-of-age, so My Very Corner of the Universe‘s title and image were ideal.
What have you done to promote and publicize your novella?
Facebook, especially.. as well as many appearances and readings. The book won a Gold IPPY Award, and that was very good for publicity. I have done audio readings on the radio which I have posted to my website, etc. When one is with a small independent press, it is very important to do whatever you can do to get the word out. I am not afraid of social media, and pride myself on being creative in how I use it.
What are you working on now?
I’m creating new pieces, stories and prose poetry, and will be making new collections out of them.
What is your writing practice or process?
I write at the end of the day for as many hours as I can do. I like to write when I’m tired and not as hard on cogency, in order to get to places that are more vulnerable and less guarded. Sometimes I do my best writing at bedtime, and right before sleep. I typically rewrite and edit my own work in the daytime, with a more rational brain.
What advice would you offer to an aspiring novella author?
Don’t ever give up. Don’t face the facts! Just believe in your voice, and nurture it. Bobbie Ann Mason says “naive optimism” is what worked for her. She didn’t overthink it, she believed in herself and went for it. Be naively optimistic… Insist on it.
Do you have a favorite prompt or revision technique? What is it?
Yes, I like a spell check exercise very much. It involves typing a story or poem as fast as you can into a word doc or e-mail with spellcheck… writing at lightening speed and so you will have spelled quite badly. When you are done with it, go to all of the misspelled words and replace them with some of the most unlikely words they recommend, the more absurd the word choice, the better. See how it changes your piece. Rewrite it then, using a few of these absurd ideas.
Is there a question you wish you would have been asked about your novella? How would you answer it?
Q: Why do you think kids, like your character “Abby”, act or seem mean toward an empathetic, vulnerable parent? A: I think teenagers are so subconsciously hard on themselves that they can’t help taking it out on parents or on one parent if there are not two. It is their wonderful and terrible love for their parent (s) which makes them seem so mean at times… they are experiencing a perplexing kind of love. They know they will be somewhat like their parents if they aren’t careful. The ways in which they act out are thrilling to me as a writer. Abby loves her mother but is worried about her, so she makes fun of her to create a healthy distance.
What question would you like to ask future novella authors featured at Speaking of Marvels?
Q: Did you have a pre-conceived idea and an architectural structure and plan for your novella? Did you map out a narrative arc? How much of it changed in the process of writing it?
Who is your intended audience? What kind of person do you imagine writing to?
I wish that I were writing for the average reader. I am afraid mostly the novellas were read by other flash fiction lovers and writers of novellas. It would be amazing to have the work read by people who are entirely new to the form.. that is, not just writers or creative writing students. Finding a wider audience is a literary writers’ dream.
How does the novella allow you to do things you wouldn’t normally do in a full-length book? Why does it allow you to do it? Is it because the novella is more under the radar? Or is it because of its format? Its length?
I like how it blossoms but does not take over one’s life. At least, it didn’t take over mine. It allowed me time and focus to write other things as well.
Meg Pokrass is the author of Here, Where We Live a novella-in-flash in the 5-author anthology My Very End of the Universe (Rose Metal Press, 2014),Damn Sure Right (Press 53, 2011), Bird Envy (Harvard Bookstore, 2013), Cellulose Pajamas – Prose Poetry (Blue Light Book Award, 2016), and The Dog Looks Happy Upside Down (Etruscan Press, 2015). Her flash fiction is internationally anthologized, most recently in Flash Fiction International(W.W.Norton, 2015).
A few months after chemotherapy, Mom got a part-time telemarketing job selling ballet season tickets. She didn’t sell enough, though, so they fired her after just three weeks.
Mom said she hated selling people tickets they didn’t want. She would tell people not to buy anything over the phone if they sounded old. She was proud of getting fired.
Unemployed, she still sends money to Friends of the Bird Refuge, The Homeless Coalition, and Save the Trees. I worry about where she is finding money to do this. Daniel works, and he lives here rent-free, so I figure they must have some arrangement to even things out.
I look at old photos of Mom from when she was an actress—her hair all modelish and her eyes full of sparkly plans.
Now she wears hats, scarves, hoop earrings, wigs. But nothing makes her look normal.
The new baby-chick fuzz on Mom’s scalp feels so soft that sometimes I pet it and say “nice nice fuzz,” but Mom touches her scalp too much. When she does that, even at the beach art show, even where everyone is supposed to be interesting and artsy—even there, she looks like a bald weirdo fingering her head.