I believe that you must write for and toward the world you want to live in.—Megan Kruse
A native Pacific Northwest fiction and creative nonfiction writer, Megan Kruse received her MFA from the University of Montana. Her work has appeared in many publications, including Narrative Magazine, The Sun, Witness Magazine, Thumbnail Magazine, Bellingham Review, Phoebe, Portland Noir, and Portland Queer: Tales from the Rose City. Already decorated with scholarships, awards, prizes, residency grants, and fellowships, Kruse has an impressive CV for a debut novelist. Call Me Home has been cheered for its “ferocity and grace” by Publishers Weekly and deserves every word of the praise she is garnering.
All right, on to part two of the interview! My questions are in bold, followed by Megan’s answers. Enjoy!
The scenes of intimacy in Call Me Home absolutely captured that complexity of an emerging queer identity that you spoke about in the first part of the interview. At one point, Amy secretly travels to Seattle to attend a gay rights rally, dreaming that one day her closeted son will live a life that is not limited by his orientation. More than anything else, I love that this work gives a strong voice to those who are too often silenced. Do you feel that your writing is a form of activism?
There’s a quote from James Baldwin that I love, from a 1979 New York Times interview: “The world changes according to the way people see it, and if you alter, even by a millimeter, the way people look at reality, then you can change it….If there is no moral question, there is no reason to write. I’m an old-fashioned writer and, despite the odds, I want to change the world.” I’ve always loved that quote. I believe that you must write for and toward the world you want to live in. I think we have a responsibility to tell stories that aren’t told, to extend the reach of our eyes and ears. There are a lot of different reasons that people write. I hope that my characters are believable and that they resonate, but most of all I hope that they are recognizable, that they give life to people in places that often linger in shadows, and that people might read those stories and recognize themselves.
As I mentioned, Call Me Home has earned praise from Elizabeth Gilbert, as well as Jess Walter (one of my personal fiction heroes), and many others. How does it feel to have this kind of support for your debut novel?
The publication of this book changed the way I viewed the world, and one of the things that’s really happened is I’ve felt the underpinnings, the scaffolding of connection in my life everywhere. I have the most ocean-full sense of gratitude to the people around me, both the writers who have supported my novel and the friends and family who have made it possible in more ways than I could ever hope to express. I never want that feeling of gratitude to wear off.
Now, I hope that I can keep extending that kindness and generosity further down the line. I think we owe it to each other to keep our hands extended, to welcome and support and champion each other. Competition in the writing world often succeeds only to further fragment people whose voices are already quieted.
Your short fiction has been well received in online and print publications, featured in anthologies, and earned you recognition in the forms of awards and grants. How has the process of writing a novel been different then that of short stories?
I’ve always wanted to be a novelist. I started writing short stories because it was the thing everyone said you should do; the short story was the form that you should master to become a writer. Every short story I’ve written has felt a little bit like a coat that didn’t fit right. I love the size of the novel, the way it can encompass you completely and then let you go. You can’t skim a novel; either you enter it or you don’t. I don’t know that my process for writing differs between forms, but I do know that when I sign on to a novel, it’s not easy to walk away from. I think that’s what the novel does for me: it calls my bluff. If I’m going to start writing a novel, it has to be something I really, really care about, because it’s going to be consumptive.
You have tweeted the personal writings of Mary Oliver. What other writers and artists have influenced your work? What are you reading and writing right now?
I read in a very scattered way, and it’s similarly hard for me to pinpoint who has influenced me the most. I read poetry for ideas, for beautiful turns of language: Richard Siken, Elizabeth Bishop, Tracy K. Smith, Michael Ondaatje. When I was younger, I loved Jeanette Winterson for her lyricism and sexuality. I love fiction that looks at the gorgeous wreckage of life: Denis Johnson, Louise Erdrich, James Baldwin, Joy Williams, Mary Gaitskill, Raymond Carver, Dorothy Allison, and stories that leap into the divine: Ann Patchett’s The Patron Saint of Liars, David Guterson’s Our Lady of the Forest. I’ve had incredible teachers, too. Dan Chaon taught me the novel form, and I owe a lot of my focus on language to Beverly Lowry, who told me once, “You’ve got the beautiful ideas, but that doesn’t mean anything until you can write a strong sentence.”
Right now, I’m writing a lot about questions of guilt—I want to address some of the same themes that I considered in Call Me Home, but on a larger scale. I’m reading a lot of novels that address those questions: Bernhard Schlink, Edwidge Danticat, Tim O’Brien. How do we reconcile the sins of previous generations? How do you survive the traumas that you inherited simply by being alive? I love Carolyn Forche’s The Angel of History, which asks how we come to terms with things that seem impossible to live through. I’m interested in questions of complicity generationally. I have an odd writing practice where I read and read and read, and then I’ll finally stop reading for a while and start writing. I’m getting excited for that to come soon.
You can read part one of the interview here.