Heather Fowler interview with Meg Tuite
Is there anything you would like to share with our readers about the inspiration for this story?
I wrote this story in a Paris cafe. I was fascinated by the idea of siblings often being paired in frames of "the one who does" saddled with "the one who tells." At the time, I had a morbid fascination with the idea of how extramarital affairs impact the sexuality of children, their sense of self-worth and their willingness to either rebel against or pattern after what they see in their formative years.
This story is intriguing in so many ways. It feels like a myth or a story within a story within a story. How did you come up with this structure to tell it?
I think the story's impulse was that of a guilt narrative, a survivor's after-the-fact narrative--perhaps about how we sometimes see the people we love, no matter how outwardly beautiful, lose faith in themselves or violate themselves, but are impotent to help or stop them. This story moves and bends like the attempted placement of an escalating motive based on experience for the eldest sister's ultimate action. I wanted it to advance chronologically and have the scenes, dialogue, and images feel like progressive collages, parses of memorable historical details--with the theme of incremental revelation of a negative sexual development, or be rooted in a retelling attempt to get at the base roots of the eldest girl's self-hatred--as well as touching on the raw grief of the younger sister she was supposed to shepherd, though failed.
Your language is always so musical; poetic. I can tell from having reading many of your stories that you have a true love of language. Do you consciously work with the rhythm in your work?
Yes--thanks for noticing. I call this "tapping the lyrical register"--and I like to bring poetry to the language in my work. Sometimes, I've asked students to "Listen to the song a story is singing," and by that I mean tonally, I mean structurally, listen both to form and sound and content. I like the musicality of language used richly--and I like that an artful writer can provide interesting contrasts and pacing when they alternate between language that is more poetic and language more blunt. I like a story that sounds like a cross between a symphony, a nature soundtrack, and a fender bender.
Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers about “Ledge”?
Yes. I'd like to share that, for me, this piece does not advocate promiscuous behavior--but attempts to champion the idea that girls without death wishes should try very hard to avoid becoming too dependent on receiving the attention of the opposite sex based on their looks as opposed to their true selves. So many young girls in today's society ache to be sexually active far too soon-- this due to advertising and television and internet influences. Also, they base their perspective of personal power in their sexual desirability index, but many act too soon and learn quite early how love or its absence can affect them when enjoyed with people who did not care for them. That, or they watch the suffering of older women, lots of divorces these days, and often lose their belief in love. The young sister in this story is plain, but far sturdier. Perhaps this is my version of a cautionary tale. It is as if I want to say, "Too much beauty or faith in vanity can destroy the woman who borrows her power quotients from bad examples," and "Girls, please. Wait. Develop yourself. Take care of your sisters." Stand on a rock, not a ledge. That is all. But I always like people who take care of their sisters.
Do you have a writing schedule you adhere to and/or any tricks you might want to share with your readers?
I write as a mode of life interpretation. Sometimes I start writing and don't feel I can stop. Many times I lose sleep. The tricks I'd share with a reader about how to keep it fresh or interesting when they write their own stories is to determine, after much practice, what each story means to them and what "drives" the impulse. I sometimes find my stories reflect varied layers of struggles and questions in my life, with the story itself as the vehicle for pent-up emotion. Through the years, I've learned there's no better way to take my own pulse than to make up a bunch of lies known as fiction and see what falls out: Oh. There I am.
Often, I find my stories know my heart before I do, or vocalize the heart's impulse, like cryptic fortunes or tea leaves. Somehow, they make it possible to tell one's own future. If I am blocked, it's often that I am too tired to process how or what I'm feeling. I'm not blocked often. When this happens, I read. It re-energizes the work, gives me another voice to argue and/or play with stylistically.
What books are you reading at this time?
I'm currently reading Lost in the Funhouse by John Barth, to be followed by Drinking Closer to Home by Jessica Anya Blau and My Antonia by Willa Cather. At least that's what's slated.
Name the top two or three most influential writers of your writing career and maybe a line or two telling us why. Flannery O'Connor--because I love the dense, honest, dark quality of her work, her ability with near-instant characterization, and the unapologetic fearless way her work does not shrink from the truth it wants to tell. Vladimir Nabokov--since the man is a genius with cadence and melody and image. I love his stories, nearly all of them. His use of symbol is spot on. The language alone makes my heart flutter. Etgar Keret--I unreservedly adore his work for many reasons; primarily I swoon because it is so modern and yet so etched with bravery, humor, and pith. He does more with a story than most people accomplish with a novel. His depictions of sexual interactions and motivations feel spot on, yet he touches the bigger issues too.These are my "go-to" influences each time I am sad at the state of what I'm reading in some modern work I come across. They remind me, when I forget, when I get weary, what sort of fictive work demonstrates the beauty and the power of the literary arts, the result of obvious craft mastery--and I feel that work that sings as this work does, that which seemingly effortlessly seduces, this is the goal.