Interviews

Maryse Meijer Just Keeps Creeping Us Out in the Most Delightful Way

She's back with a second short story collection, 'Rag,' and it's intense.

It’s been over two years since I read Maryse Meijer’s Heartbreaker and yet some of the stories have stuck with me in a way that makes it seem fair to call them ‘unforgettable.’ If you’ve read Meijer’s work, you know what I’m talking about. She has a gift for writing sharp, vivid stories that are strange and horrifying in the most delightful way.

Fans of Meijer won’t be disappointed by Rag, which is even better — and darker — than her debut collection, and a fantastic follow-up to last fall’s novella, Northwood. From a story about the connection between a man and the stranger who has a miscarriage in his pizza shop to a girl who helps her boyfriend kill her old friend, Meijer tells stories that haven’t been told before.

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Maryse Meijer via email.

Rachel León

Your writing is so imaginative and vivid. Some of your stories (from both collections) have stayed with me because the imagery is so rich and the premise so warped. I’m really curious about your writing process and how you come up with your ideas for stories. 

Maryse Meijer

I just sit down and see what happens. I don’t write from my life, so I depend on other people’s art to inspire my own — movies, books, music, painting, dance — I get very jealous of other people’s work, of how it makes me feel, and I come to my desk full of the longing to remain in a space that someone else’s work has created for me; when I write, I’m trying to hold on to this atmosphere that belongs to another piece of art. It’s really just about desire, longing for a fantasy that I can only extend by writing through it, on top of it, until the original inspiration is overwritten by something new. Some of the stories in Rag are direct homages to other writers; “Pool” was written for Dennis Cooper; “Jury” and “Her Blood” came out of a long Joyce Carol Oates binge (particularly her stories from the 1960’s). And “The Brother” was inspired by Harmony Korine’s film Spring Breakers. Others, like “The Shut-In” and the title story, just came out of me sitting at my desk and longing to be in someone else’s world. The most mystical part of writing is looking at the page and moving your hand without thinking about what’s going to happen. And a lot of the time, nothing does.

Rachel León

Just a few months ago you published a novella, Northwood. Can you talk about the experience of publishing two books so close together?

Maryse Meijer

It takes the pressure off — I suspect that most books fail to inspire the excitement and apprehension of the first born, but having two come out back to back really keeps your mind off the specifics. I didn’t have time to wring my hands about how Northwood was “doing” — I immediately had to shift focus to Rag. And, too, both feel different in terms of my confidence — with Northwood I was trying out a completely new form, and I still don’t quite know what to make of it. Rag, however, is a book that feels really finished — I know where I stand with short stories, and I’m much more confident that I can “read” myself as a short story writer than I can as a writer of hybrid fiction. So I have used my certainty about Rag  to assuage some of my insecurity about Northwood. The pride I felt in having improved myself as a story writer, in having extended myself in that form, allowed me to just deal with being a novice in this other realm.

It’s also particularly nice, I think, to skip through the awkward sophomore phase—there’s a particular pressure on a second book that can feel really uncomfortable; to have three books behind me so quickly is, more than anything, a relief. Maybe I miss, a little, the sense of specialness and euphoria that a first book brings, or a book brought out after a long fallow period, but it’s worth giving that up to get to the place where publication itself no longer feels particularly important — the reception of a book occupies much less of my mind now than it did a year ago. The focus is much more on what I’m writing now than what I’ve written in the past.

Rachel León

Rag feels like Heartbreaker‘s cool but twisted older sister. Some of the themes of your first collection are amped up to another level here. Were you intentionally pushing boundaries further or was that more of a natural progression with your work?

Maryse Meijer

I felt that I had pulled a few punches in Heartbreaker; there were things I didn’t know how to do, things I was scared of doing. Some of the stories seemed to settle into conventions that didn’t appeal to me, but either out of fear or ignorance I couldn’t seem to move them into more satisfying shapes. I had really labored over those stories for ten years, without having a cohesive vision for my work, or any idea at all of making a collection — just polishing individual pieces. And that’s normal, I think — you have to teach yourself how to write, after all, and you have to teach yourself how you write, and you may want to do something you just can’t do at the time — you’re always trying to write beyond yourself. After HB was published, I felt very free — I had achieved this goal, of getting a book out there, and I remember thinking, well, it doesn’t matter if I never publish another book; now I’m just going to do what I feel I need to do. And in about a year I wrote fifteen stories, ten of which went into Rag. I had never worked like that before — but I could feel that there was a bigger narrative at play, something pulling all these pieces together. I was really upset by the stories, frightened of them, but also free inside them. And I felt that, having written HB and after doing some of these stories, that I understood myself as a story writer, at least at that moment. Now, having not written a story in almost two years, I think I’ve forgotten how to do it! There’s a sense of needing to start over, come back to this form later and reject the system I’d developed with Rag, do something new. But I don’t know what that is, yet.

Rachel León

I’m always fascinated by the process of how one selects stories for a collection. Was the process similar to choosing stories for Heartbreaker or was it different this time around?

Maryse Meijer

Rag was different because I had so much fresh material, and I felt from the start that I was writing towards a collection, whereas with HB I was just at that place of needing to put something together out of a pile of work. This time around I would finish a story and know, more or less, that it would or would not belong in a new book. There are three or four pieces in Rag that were rejects from Heartbreaker — it was interesting to see which pieces suddenly made sense in the context of the new work, things that previously seemed like total outliers. And my agent has been a very strong voice for both collections, as far as helping shape them, from story selection to ordering to titles — so I rely very much on her advice.

Rachel León

You’re based in Chicago. What are your favorite things about being a writer here?

Maryse Meijer

The strength of the independent bookselling community in Chicago is incredible; the booksellers know each other, communicate constantly with readers and authors, and are so committed to the world of the book; I think the publishing industry in New York has no idea how strong the culture is here, and big authors sometimes pass us by, which is a shame. I live in Hyde Park, and there are three incredible, world-class bookstores within walking distance—Powell’s, 57th St. Books, and the Seminary Co-op. And that’s just one neighborhood! In the city there’s a worthwhile literary event almost every night of the week; it’s a bit of a wonderland, really. And the community of writers in Chicago is one of the least competitive, most supportive groups of artists I’ve ever encountered. We show up for each other. I’m really proud of my city’s bookstores and our writers.

Rachel León

I typically end interviews asking what’s next for a writer, but considering you published two books in a few months, let’s talk reading. Are there any books you’ve recently read that you loved?

Maryse Meijer

I just finished Christine Hesselholdt’s Companions, which was a real joy, and right now I’m enjoying a collection of stories by Greg Mulcahy called Out of Work; really dry, strange stories from the ’90’s, and the newly translated Mishima novel The Frolic of Beasts, which is the kind of book you scribble all over in excitement because every line is so brilliant. And I just got through marking up catalogues from Fitzcarraldo Editions and Open Letter, two publishers that produce excellent foreign works in translation — everything I’ve read from both so far has been fantastic — I recommend both as sources of titles you might otherwise miss.

FICTION – SHORT STORIES
Rag
Maryse Meijer
FSG Originals
Published February 12, 2019

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