Guest Post, Kat Meads: Houses, House Trailers and Memory

Such Irrevocable ActsAlthough I repeatedly forget names and faces, I remember in crazed detail the interiors of houses I entered before losing my baby teeth. The slant of light, natural or artificial. The furniture. The furniture arrangements. Whether or not one couch cushion (more compressed than the others) showed evidence of a favored seat. Lamp globes and ashtrays, chipped or whole. Framed or unframed wall prints. Scatter rugs perfectly or imperfectly aligned with doorsills. Floorboard patinas. Even now, I’m a more reliable reporter of, say, the direction a chair faced in a room than the conversation that took place in and around that chair.

Given all that, I probably shouldn’t be surprised that what I remember most about my novels after they’re done are my characters’ homes or temporary lodgings—what’s in them as well as what’s not.  Kitty Duncan’s breadcrumb-y bedroom in The Invented Life of Kitty Duncan, for instance. Thomas Senestre’s light-starved apartment in Senestre on Vacation, for another.

But there’s been a bit of an expansion in my “dwellings fixation” with regard to my most recent novel, In This Season of Rage and Melancholy Such Irrevocable Acts as These. This go-around I seem to have fixated on three:

1) The dilapidated “Cracker” house of Mickey Waterman’s childhood that he visits daily for incentive.

2) The Scaff farmhouse that George Scaff loves and his wife, Leeta, loathes.

3) The trailer in the middle of a cornfield that Beth Anderson initially associates with the joys of motherhood but that becomes, after her miscarriage, a reminder of failure and the setting for visits from an accusatory, tuxedo-wearing god.

In proofing the novel for publication, I returned to the manuscript some months after my last revision. Theoretically (at least), the break might have changed my perspective, diminished the importance of those two houses and house trailer. Didn’t happen. Instead those dwellings took on even more importance, so dominating the text they almost, almost assumed the status of characters.

Or so it seemed to me.

My interpretation only?

Would any other reader feel the same?

I do know that I was never unaware of those three residences and the interlock of their compass points during the writing. Even when Mickey and George and Leeta and Beth were physically elsewhere—playing softball in another county, drag racing, earning a living at their various job sites—the contents and spatial set-ups of their lairs felt omnipresent to me, narratively insistent. I also dreamed incessantly about those spaces—my nighttime working out, I suppose, of what should/shouldn’t happen in or around those homes to satisfy plot. The book is finished, out in the world, published in August by Oklahoma’s Mongrel Empire Press. And yet I still dream about Mickey’s “Cracker” house, the Scaff farmhouse and Beth’s cornfield trailer.

Will I always?

Very likely.

Guest Post, Kat Meads: The Fun Stuff

In a Paris Review interview Julian Barnes dubbed weekends “a good working time because people think you’ve gone away and don’t disturb you.” Christmas, also. “Everyone’s out shopping and no one phones. I always work on Christmas morning—it’s a ritual,” he said.

Sounds a lovely time for Mr. Barnes.

My ritual during the quieter-time Christmas stretch is to devote an afternoon to excavating the catch-all contents of a dresser drawer in my study. What’s in there? Eleven plus months of paper scraps on which I’ve scribbled notes, ideas, books I’ve read, quotes—whatever my reading/writing brain took in and took up during that time frame. Reacquainting myself with that cache counts as a kind of holiday gift to myself. It can spawn a plan of action, writing-wise, for the year ahead. But even when it doesn’t, there’s fun to be had in the sifting through.

Some of what I took the trouble to write down gets immediately tossed, of course. (Typically the “possible titles” category takes the heaviest hit.) Still, in the sorting process, I try to give even my bad ideas their moment of reverie, if only to recall what prompted the clunker—and when. (It’s good to laugh during the holidays, isn’t it?)

A random sample of what made the cut for further mulling, 2014:
• Remember/use: Southern phrase “Hug on her a little.”
• Remember/use: “dog bread” (Corn meal and/or various leftovers, fried)
• Remember/use: the word noctuary
• Quote: Jane Austen in letter to sister Cassandra: “I hate tiny parties. They force one into constant exertion.”
• Quote: “God is not stoic.” Jack Miles
• Quote: “…the way the color sat…” Julian Schnabel
• Quote: “Hanging on to dreams is like trying to eat a smell.” Robert Coover
•Quote: “Go ahead, Lilly. Buy a sable coat.” Dashiell Hammett
• Character names: Tick. Adabelle. Jaybird. Pess Kight.
• Title: Bugs and Adultery
• Title: The Likelys
• Title: Vic Did His Best, But
• Spam email received, subject line: your life is to (sic) empty try our drugs
• Fact: Highway Act of 1956 funded 42,000 miles of interstate highway
• A thought: Historical characters are by necessity caricatures to us.
• A thought: Irony requires funding.

In 2013, I seemed to have gone on a (by and about) Lady Caroline Blackwood binge (For All That I Found There, The Stepdaughter, Great Granny Webster, The Fate of Mary Rose, Nancy Schoenberger’s Dangerous Muse, Ivana Lowell’s Why Not Say What Happened?). Followed by a Janet Malcolm binge. Followed by an Alan Dugan (rereading) binge. Followed by a Margery Allingham binge. Followed by a Sam Shepard binge. Among the year’s one-off reading pleasures: Claire Vaye Watkins’s Battleborn, David Canter’s Forensic Psychology, Carmen Bugan’s Burying the Typewriter and Philip K. Dick’s classic Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said.

And because I haven’t broken free of my Russian obsession—even though my novel For You, Madam Lenin is finished and published—I read Bertrand Patenaude’s Stalin’s Nemesis: The Exile and Murder of Leon Trotsky. And because a Los Angeles road trip was in the works, I hastened to finish a Ross Macdonald biography that included several of the author’s Santa Barbara addresses which I loaded into the car’s GPS for a bit of literary touristing along the way. And because as an insomniac I am a sucker for any title that aligns itself with my malaise, I read Jacqueline Rose’s On Not Being Able To Sleep: Psychoanalysis in the Modern World.

Best of the best part of my end-of-year assemblage, though, is my find it/buy it/read it note pile. The mere sight of all those titles-a-waiting puts me in a celebratory mood. If I have those volumes to look forward to, how awful can 2014 turn out to be?