Tuesday, April 3, 2012

1/2 Dozen for Megan Mayhew Bergman

was published by Scribner this year --
to wild acclaim.
It's proof that short story collections can, in fact, capture the American imagination and deserve to be published with great gusto.

I've just started reading the collection and, already, I find myself deeply connected to Megan Mayhew Bergman's words,
her incredible characters,
her depth of narration.

Now, here's a 1/2 Dozen with Megan Mayhew Bergman.

Current obsessions -- literary or otherwise.

Literary Obsessions: Nick Flynn, Leonard Michaels’ Sylvia, John Jeremiah Sullivan’s perfect essay, Mr. Lytle. Lauren Groff. Beryl Markham’s West With the Night. Elliott Merrick’s memoir Green Mountain Farm. The Norton Anthology of Criticism.

Miscellaneous Obsessions: Seed catalogs, white chocolate baguettes, plucking tufts of my lab mix’s winter undercoat, miniature donkeys, polish chickens, Wham!, my husband’s job as a vet, Olivia Newton John’s song “Magic”, my wild and rugged daughters.

Pep talk (or bootie-kicking) for the downhearted writer. Let fly.

One day, when my colicky daughter had cried for two hours, an old dog threatened to die on me, and I was delirious with homesickness for the south and blistered with grief after losing my mother-in-law, I just said: F*** it. I’m tired of being scared. I’m going to quit making excuses for myself. Part of modeling good womanhood for your daughter is doing the thing that you love, and doing it passionately.

If you’re going to be in, be ALL IN.

If you want to be a writer, edit radically and be honest with yourself. There were times when I thought I was working when I wasn’t really working. Work, cry, take it on the nose, hustle.

Be aware of your ego and what it tells you to do. My ego was chickenshit and kept telling me to get out of a business where I had to take criticism. But what matters more? Being safe or doing the thing that you love? The thing that you’re proud of?

(I don’t mean to talk big here. Please – someone send these words to me across the next few weeks as reviews for my book roll in. Because I’ll get scared all over again.)

Research. We all have to do it. Sometimes it’s delicious, sometimes brutal. Tell us a tale from the research trenches.

I write about animals, but in a non-Hallmark way. So I’m often asking my husband how a specific animal body part works, or my behaviorist friends what an animal might do in a specific situation. I’ve scrolled through pictures of necropsies (unwittingly a few times), witnessed foreign body surgeries, and endured countless graphic conversations about animal illness over dinner at my house. My husband and his peers routinely marvel at the size of removed tumors – some days I walk in and they’re all eating lunch looking at one.

Once, my veterinarian in-laws and husband used the clinic ultrasound to get a peek at my daughter in utero. That became the genesis for the second story in my collection, The Cow That Milked Herself.

The best research I’ve done is hands on, or heart-felt.

What’s your take on touring?

I fundamentally hate leaving my girls for more than one night, but I like giving readings. There is something genuine in the connection between a reader and an audience, something that as a new author I crave. I’m still blown away when people I don’t know – people who aren’t obligated to read my work –tell me in person how they felt about my book.

That said, I like connecting with readers and writers online, too. I was suspicious of Twitter, but I’ve made real relationships and connections there. Meeting a Twitter friend in person can result in pure joy. And poking. You’re real! You’re a real person!

Are you a writer of place? Is place always one of your main characters?

Obsessively. I come from a long line of southerners, most of whom have never crossed the Mason-Dixon Line. Now, after 30 years in the Carolinas, I live in rural Vermont. I’m a homeland-less, homesick homebody. Though I long for the south, and feel as though I have more clarity about it now that I’m gone, I adore Vermont. I’m also partial to rural life, and proximity to the natural world. There is always a man versus nature element lurking somewhere in my work.

What's your worst writerly habit?

Self-doubt. That and one-eyed cats. Apparently I’m fascinated by my own one-eyed cat Pi, and according to my editor he appeared 3 times in the collection before her edits.

Megan Mayhew Bergman was raised in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. She now lives on a small farm in Shaftsbury, Vermont with her veterinarian husband Bo, two daughters, four dogs, four cats, two goats, a horse, and a handful of chickens. In November 2010, Megan was elected Justice of the Peace for the town of Shaftsbury. She also teaches literature at Bennington College. Her first collection BIRDS OF A LESSER PARADISE was recently published by Scribner.



To read more 1/2 Dozens by novelists, essayists, poets,