Tag Archives: Call Me Home

An Interview with Megan Kruse

28 Nov
Megan Kruse is the author of Call Me Home, which Elizabeth Gilbert called "a most unlikely tale of hardness and hustle, of grace and loss, of painful love and tough breaks."

Megan Kruse is the author of Call Me Home, which Elizabeth Gilbert called “a most unlikely tale of hardness and hustle, of grace and loss, of painful love and tough breaks.”

Megan Kruse grew up in the Pacific Northwest and currently lives in Seattle. She studied creative writing at Oberlin College and earned her MFA at the University of Montana. Her work has appeared widely in journals and anthologies, and her debut novel, Call Me Home, was released from Hawthorne Books in March 2015, with an introduction by Elizabeth Gilbert. She teaches fiction at Eastern Oregon University’s Low-Residency MFA program, Hugo House, and Gotham Writers Workshop. She was one of the National Book Foundation’s 5 Under 35 for 2015.

To read an exercise about creating internal dialogue, click here.

In this interview, Kruse discusses the larger whole of multiple perspective novels, queer sex scenes, and the importance of rural queer narratives.

Michael Noll

The novel is told from multiple perspectives, and I recently heard an agent say that readers tend to struggle to connect emotionally with characters in multi-perspective novels. I guess this makes sense in a way: just when things get tense for a character, the novel often cuts away to a different character. Was this something you thought about as you worked on the novel?

Megan Kruse

One of the things that I love about multiple perspectives is that the result seems greater than the sum of the parts; the reader gets to connect with the individual characters, and in addition, the reader comes to understand the bigger picture. I’ve always written family stories, and I think often about how in any family or group, there is no one on the inside who can fully see the whole story. So many family sorrows—our slights and misunderstandings and our greater rifts and losses—come back to our inability to see outside ourselves, to take into account all of the different narratives and histories that coexist in a family universe. I wanted to write a novel where the reader has the privilege of knowing the family’s story more fully than any of the individual characters. I understand what you’re saying about the potential for the reader to feel less connected to a single character, but I also think that the task of a successful novelist is to keep those threads feeling alive, to keep the reader tracking all of the characters even as the perspective shifts. My hope for my own fictional family was that their emotional ties to each other, the way that they’re searching and echoing off each other, would keep them present even when they weren’t on the page.

Michael Noll

You write a pretty explicit sex scene between Jackson and Don. In general, sex scenes give writers fits. There’s even an award given out annually for the worst sex writing, and very good writers often end up on the list. What was your approach to that scene?

Megan Kruse

I really loved writing those sex scenes! I wanted to write a queer story, to write characters that are so rarely visible in contemporary fiction. Jackson is coming of age, falling in love for the first time, and I don’t think you can separate that experience from the physicality of it. To be young and queer in a place where you don’t have other queer people to talk to, where you don’t have any models for how to live, means that your experience of sexuality is isolated, speculative, and lonely. The double whammy of emotional and physical connections makes that first love so wrenching and impacting when you finally experience it. Don is also Jackson’s boss, which adds another level of power and fear to the exchange. I loved writing into that murk—to put these two characters in a room together and consider how Jackson might feel, with all of these different elements trembling on the line.

Michael Noll

Megan Kruse's novel Call Me Home left the writer Dan Chaon "astonished by her talent."

Megan Kruse’s novel Call Me Home left the writer Dan Chaon “astonished by her talent.”

I love the dialogue in the novel, especially a scene between Jackson and Honey, when Honey is driving Jackson to see the crew boss. In it, Honey resists understanding. He says, “Bet yer scared, huh?” but when Jackson says, “I’m scared,” Honey answers, “Don’t worry. They’re just probably needing more help on this side.”

“You asked if I was scared.”

“Nah,” Honey said.

It makes no sense that Honey says this, or at least not immediate sense. Was this a lucky accident, the sort of thing that pops up as you write. Or did you have a sense of this character and set out to write dialogue that would reveal that sense?

Megan Kruse

I don’t remember exactly how I put that scene together, but I wanted to show through that exchange how adrift Jackson is in the fictional town of Silver, where he’s working on a construction crew. He’s trying to get his feet in a world where action speaks, where the currency is work and productivity, and so I wanted his interactions to mirror his confusion. He feels like he doesn’t know how to speak “man,” in other words, and so when he tries, he flounders. There’s another scene where he is at a bar in town with the men on his crew and he over-speaks, revealing too much about himself. He doesn’t know the rules of the world he’s in, and I wanted to capture how he is working to navigate that uncertain terrain.

Michael Noll

In an interview at The Rumpus, you talked about the importance of writing queer, rural narratives and how it’s not enough to portray non-urban places as only dangerous. Why do you think that particular narrative has taken hold? It’s true, of course, that some very bad things have happened to gay people in rural places, but I wonder if there isn’t a certain urban bias at work. I think of the scene in the film Milk when a kid calls from Minnesota or somewhere, wanting to come to San Francisco, saying that he’s scared of his father, but then the camera pans out and we see that he’s in a wheelchair. And, the new film Stonewall is about a gay Midwestern boy who moves to New York and finds himself. This is a common storyline in novels, too—that the city is safer and better, not just for queer people but for everyone. Is it inevitable that the rural, queer narrative will become more commonplace now that marriage equality is national law? Or do you think this narrative lags behind reality?

Megan Kruse

The narratives we hear about queerness are so often about departure—about leaving rural places for the city, for urban places with queer communities (San Francisco in Milk, as you mention—that’s a place where there is finally a critical mass, and you can imagine the joy of that). I don’t think that departure is about safety so much as it is about community—which then becomes safety. My experience has been that to find other people who share your experience, other people who want to live and love like you, is what feels most important, beyond physical safety. It feels safer because you have your people. But things are changing, rapidly, and the world feels different now that it did when I was younger. We’re at a moment in time when our narratives of queerness are being heard more than ever, and we need narratives now of queers everywhere, of those who’ve gone to the city and those who have made communities where previously there were none, of queers thriving and creating the worlds they want to live in. There are so many people who haven’t had a chance to tell their stories, or to read stories that speak to them of their experiences. And those are the stories that light the path for the people coming behind us.

November 2015

Michael Noll Michael Noll is the Editor of Read to Write Stories.

How to Put a Mind into Conversation with Itself

24 Nov
Megan Kruse's novel Call Me Home left the writer Dan Chaon "astonished by her talent."

Megan Kruse’s debut novel Call Me Home left the writer Dan Chaon “astonished by her talent.”

Dialogue involving only one person might seem, on its face, impossible. In plays, a character can talk to no one, and there are terms for this: monologue, soliloquy, or (if the character is talking to the audience) aside. This can be accomplished in prose through narration. After all, first-person narration is really just a series of scenes with bits of soliloquy in between. But that kind of narration still suggests a single speaker, and this isn’t always the case. We have many voices in our heads. Some belong to other people, but others are different versions of ourselves, and these versions can, at times, talk to one another.

A great example of this kind of interior dialogue happens in Megan Kruse’s novel Call Me Home. Kruse was recently named one of the National Book Award’s 5 Under 35, and her book includes an introduction by Eat, Pray, Love‘s Elizabeth Gilbert. You can read an excerpt of the book at The Nervous Breakdown.

How the Novel Works

The novel is organized into three different points of view: a woman who leaves her abusive husband, her daughter who she takes with her, and her son who she leaves. Only the daughter, Lydia’s, sections are told in first-person. There rest of the novel is in third person, except for a short chapter that takes place in a women’s shelter in Alamogordo, New Mexico. The chapter belongs to Lydia, but it’s told in alternating styles: second-person passages in italics and first-person passages in regular font. The passages speak to other each other in different ways.

At times, the italicized passages suggest a plan of action:

First, gather everything. The credit cards and your birth certificate. The bank statements. The social security cards. If they are gone, it’s because he has taken them. This will make things harder, but not impossible.

The passage ends like this: The world is big. It’s best if you keep going.

Here is part of the first-person passage that follows:

We drove for four days to get to New Mexico, through the mountains, the red Utah canyons, the flat sand. I watched the lava fields and they were ghostly as the moon. At the shelter there was a room with a sink and a tall window I couldn’t see out of. We sat for hours in a little room talking to the caseworkers.

The passage ends with the caseworkers talking about the place where the mother and Lydia have come from:

It was a small town, they told us. He knew the car. He might have had surveillance equipment. They told us that it’s different, now.

When the next italicized sections begins, we realize that it’s the voice of the caseworkers as filtered through Lydia’s consciousness. What gets said in the passage is a version of what the caseworkers actually said, but there’s more there, too, as you can see here:

Try not to think of the times when things were not what they seemed: when your mother carried in a bowl of yellow pears that had been eaten to lace by insects, and how you watched her from the kitchen window as she cried, wondering at her despair.

The first-person passage that follows begins like this:

It was as if I went to sleep and woke up in a dry and brittle country, and I was older, with a different name, and I had no brother.

Kruse has created a narrative structure that allows her character to think about what has happened to her, to hold the past and present side by side in her head, and to allow her feelings about one to inform the other. In short, these different parts of her experience (what Lydia has been told by the caseworkers, her mother’s flight from home, and Lydia’s reflection on both) are put into conversation with her. It’s a kind of dialogue of a character’s selves.

The Writing Exercise

Let’s create a dialogue of a character’s selves, using Call Me Home by Megan Kruse as a model:

  1. Choose an experience for a character to reflect upon. In Kruse’s novel, Lydia is remembering leaving her hometown and escaping to a women’s shelter on the other end of the country. That’s the wide-lens version. She’s also remembering specific moments: the counselors at the shelter talking to her and her mother and moments from her childhood in her hometown. That’s the narrow-lens, intimate version of the “experience.”
  2. Identify the different voices in the passage. In Call Me Home, there is Lydia’s voice and her mother’s voice (through traditional dialogue), and the voice of the counselors. So, decide who is talking and who is doing the reflecting (for instance, the passage would read differently if Lydia’s mother was doing the reflecting rather than Lydia).
  3. Identify the different selves in the conversation. In Call Me Home, there is Lydia’s self as she sits and reflects in Alamogordo, her self as she listens to the counselors, her self on the road away from home, and her self as a young child when her mother carried the bowl of pears. These are not the same selves because the circumstances, ages, emotions, and stakes are so different. We feel this intuitively about ourselves. We compare ourselves now to our selves as kids and think, “I’m a completely different person now.” But we also sometimes think back to our childhood selves and think that we’re basically the same person that we were then. That sense of continuity is what allows us to tell stories that run intelligibly from childhood to adulthood. But that sense that we’ve changed, perhaps often, is what informs much of our reflection. So, consider what moments in your character’s life have caused her to feel that she’s changed a great deal, even completely.
  4. Separate those selves into different sections. Kruse uses italicized, second-person sections and non-italicized, first-person sections. These don’t align neatly with all of the different selves at play in the chapter. The point isn’t to create a neat replica of the character’s consciousness. Instead, the point is to create a structure that puts the character’s selves into conversation, or dialogue, with one another. This may require combining selves or grouping them. Try this: Divide the passage into two parts. In one, a voice in the character’s head (which may be someone else’s voice, like the counselors in the novel) are talking to the character. In the other section, the character is responding to or thinking about what is said.

You may end up using italicized and non-italicized sections. You may switch between types of POV. Or, these different voices may get mixed up into a single paragraph, with no stylistic distinctions between them. Don’t get hung up on trying to faithfully imitate Kruse’s structure. Instead, try to pull together all of your character’s selves, voices, and experiences into a single passage, as Kruse has done.

Good luck.

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