An Interview with Meghan McCarron

21 Mar
Meghan McCarron's story "Swift, Brutal Retaliation" won a 2013 Nebula Award. It was published at Tor.com.

Meghan McCarron’s story “Swift, Brutal Retaliation” was nominated for a 2013 Nebula Award. It was published at Tor.com.

Meghan McCarron is a writer based in Austin, TX. She grew up in the Philadelphia suburbs and has lived in Los Angeles, rural New Hampshire, and Brooklyn. A former Hollywood assistant, boarding school English teacher, and independent bookseller, she is one of the fiction editors at Interfictions and an assistant editor at Unstuck. She and her girlfriend live in the same neighborhood as the flying burger monster.

In this interview with Michael Noll, McCarron discusses her approach to “Swift, Brutal Retaliation,” which asks the surprising question, “Can you contact a dead person on Facebook?” A writing exercise inspired by the story—especially the way the supernatural premise is combined with a realistic world—can be found here.

Michael Noll

My favorite part of the story is when Sinead decides to send her ghost brother a message on Facebook. The sheer impossibility of it made my day—not just that it’s impossible for a ghost to log on to Facebook, but the fact that Sinead would even think to try. For me, it was the moment when the story left the stomping grounds of the traditional ghost story and became something fresh and new, something I’d never read before. What led you to write that scene?

Meghan McCarron

I have always been fascinated by the internet presence of the dead. Blogs that have gone dark and silent facebook walls seem to serve as a space where people leave messages that they hope will reach beyond the grave. It makes sense – on the internet we post words in the ether and miraculously, sometimes capriciously, they are received! As a result, these frozen internet spaces feel haunted to me, more so than, say, a room where someone died.

The internet shows up a lot in my fiction in general, especially when my protagonists are kids or teenagers. I spent a few years teaching at a boarding school in New Hampshire, and I was fascinated by how my students structured their lives between in-person and online interactions. I’ve had a social life split between the internet and IRL since I was twelve, but I was a dorky outlier. It was fascinating to see “popular” kids using social media as obsessively as everyone else.

Ian created a life outside of his home that he far preferred, and the internet was an essential part of it. Sinead’s instinct to contact him over Facebook seemed natural – he was never reachable in their home, but perhaps he could be reached online. I’m saying all of this as if I had it figured it out at the time. Really, picture me huddled in my old apartment in Brooklyn thinking, “Hmmm what now?”, my feet pressed against the space heater.

Michael Noll

Your story does such a wonderful job of giving the ghost objects to play with—the mirror, obviously, but also the lasagna and the Nair. The story pivots very cleanly from the mirror, which we’ve seen before and expect (the mirror almost allows us to settle in, to say, “Okay, I know this story, and I like it”) to details we’ve likely never seen in a ghost story. The details work—and become spooky—because they fit the living characters so well. The world makes perfect sense. It seems real. How did you create this world? Did you start with the characters and populate the house with objects they’d likely use? Or did you have a particular scene in mind and build the world around it?

Meghan McCarron

You know, I have no idea how I started this story. I knew I wanted to write a ghost story – I’d never written one before. I’d been reading a great deal of classic ghost stories, hence the mirror. I also really admire the way the writer Kelly Link makes mundane physical objects creepy and strange. Her story “The Hortlak” features pajamas of lovecraftian horror, and in “Stone Animals,” familiar objects become “haunted” and no one wants to touch them anymore. So perhaps I was thinking a little about that.

My mother had a dusty bottle of Nair hidden in a medicine cabinet, and once someone told me about the prank of putting it in someone’s shampoo. From that moment on, I was terrified of that bottle of Nair. It seemed like a gun on the mantlepiece of my life: sooner or later, someone was going to sneak it into MY shampoo and my hair would fall out. I have no idea why I was obsessed with this – something something fear of puberty?

The lasanga – well, lasanga is disgusting, and delicious because it is so disgusting. It just seemed obvious.

Michael Noll

I love ghost stories. I’ve been hearing them—actual encounters with actual ghosts—ever since I was a kid. As a literary genre, it’s one of the world’s oldest. Even Shakespeare uses ghosts (and witches), and not infrequently. Ghosts—and the supernatural in general—seems to be innately interesting to most of us, even though we’ll likely never encounter an actual ghost–and likely do not (if pressed) believe they exist. Why do you think we are we so attracted to the idea of ghosts?

Meghan McCarron

I recently finished John Crowley’s Little, Big, which has a big section devoted to the magic of memory palaces. Basically, there’s an ancient system of memorizing that involves “putting” pieces of information in various rooms of a remembered house. The memory palace is a perfect metaphor for how our imagination mirrors the physical world. Our memories are always haunted, aren’t they? Ghosts seem like a useful way of externalizing that haunted feeling, of expressing the obsession of grief. If we’ve all got houses in our minds full of wandering people, dead and alive, but only the living ones wander around in the physical world – well, wouldn’t the dead ones be there, too?

March 2013

Michael Noll is the editor of Read to Write.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: