Thursday 30 August 2012

A visit from Meg Pokrass

So, a while back, a facebook friend, the writer Meg Pokrass, invited me to be a visiting editor on Fictionaut, the online writers' hub and forum she helped to create. I had a very enjoyable week or so, reading all the poems and stories that were uploaded - with a brief to pick the ones that struck me as fascinating/good/well done as opposed to those which had the most likes and comments from the members... an interesting ask, yes? And very important, I felt, to acknowledge that bias that creeps into writing group behaviour and try to do something about it. I liked that.
Meg is a prolific writer. She sent me her amazing collection of flashes, 'Damn Sure Right', and I have loved the ride through an extraordinary 80 pieces of work, the vast majority of which have been published in excellent journals. She is also a novelist, a poet, a playwright. And now she is an interviewee here. But before all that, here is a taste of her work, with her permission.

She Wanted a Dog
 Her daughter was shy and reclusive. Her husband had wanted a son. Her family seemed downtrodden and anxious. They were a small family of three—fastidious. She thought about the idea of bringing home something furry with hot breath that didn’t come with an elaborate set of instructions and warranty options. She pictured her husband and her daughter at the beach with it, throwing it a Frisbee. The agile dog catching it in his mouth and running, running, running. Her family battling their brittle nature, chasing each other on the sand. The three of them laughing over the brown paw prints on the beige rug after a walk with the dog. They could care less, they would love that dog so much. She could see it in her mind and even smell the dog on her hands. She also knew she was lying to herself. She remembered how it had been hard on their relationship when she had rescued a parakeet during their courtship. He hated knowing the miserable bird was captive in their one room apartment, watching. Fucking became strange and self-conscious. As predicted, the bird became quiet and lost most of its feathers. Finally, she gave it to a cab driver out of desperation. They didn’t break up, but they never spoke of it again. 

VG: Love it! And I love the quote about your work from Frederick Barthelme  “Meg Pokrass writes like a brain looking for a body. Wonderful, dark, unforgiving.” ! So - tell me a little about you, and where writing fits into your life.

  • I have worked at home for the last 20 years doing corporate consulting. Writing has always been something I’ve had in my life. I have worked privately with a few writing mentors… however, I was often blocked. The worst block was during an extended illness. When I recovered, and my energy returned (about 5 yrs ago now) I discovered flash fiction was growing in venues through online publications, such as Smokelong, elimae, Flashquake, Storyglossia, and Hobart. I decided to try my hand at little stories which my poems had always felt similar to. Blocks and inhibitions went away when I found my voice in flash. Ecstatically, I wrote a ton, submitting to magazines in quantity and I suppose, rather fearlessly. In my then community of poets, eyebrows lifted. My pieces began to be published and a few poets in my poetry group were appalled that I was writing flash and publishing on line. It felt like becoming a stripper! Feeling their disapproval made me even more determined to succeed at publishing my work.
VG: Wow. isn't it funny, how others sometimes try to undermine what we do? Luckily they are few and far between. How does writing fit into your life now?

  • Writing defines my life. I’m terribly glued to it. Currently I am co-writing a screenplay which was commissioned from my novella “The Sticky Lust of Hummingbirds.” with screenwriter Graham Gordy. I am writing a lot these days, fueled and inspired by working with a writer I admire more than any other. I am the most fulfilled, creatively, that I have ever been. I spend days reading, editing, interviewing, writing, doing animal chores, driving my kid Molly (15 yrs old) to where she needs to go, maintaining a home with 6 animals and 3 humans living inside it.
VG: Tell me about writing this collection? How long did it take you? How did you decide which pieces to include and which to leave out?

  • Writing the collection took around a year-and-a-half.  Choosing was simple: I put in my favorite pieces, 90% of which had been published.
VG: Damn Sure Right is, as the title suggests, a collection of raw, strong
writing, flashes in which characters and their lives are conjured in a few
sentences, with many finely wrought layers of emotion, and conflict. Sexual
experience features large, especially early sexual experience.

  • “He didn’t need to hurt her, damn sure right,” are words a good Samaritan (in the title story) says to the cops. The good Samaritan is an African American woman who had been hiding to protect herself while witnessing a mugging. When safe she comes out to help pick up the pieces. This utterance meant many different things to me as someone who had been mugged (that is the only truly autobiographical story in the collection) so I grabbed onto it. Regarding sexuality: Sex is an enormous part of living; dormant or active. In our formative years it seems in many ways that sexuality defines us early; Who do we fall for? Who falls for us? What is our most vulnerable feeling? Who do we want never to hurt, and how inevitably do we hurt them? Who takes advantage of our innocence? In many ways we are never more alive than when directly facing this part of life. All of it interests me.
VG: A while back you kindly invited me to be a visiting editor on Fictionaut.
Tell me about setting up this online writers hub, and why you felt the need
to have occasional visiting editors.
  • Many exceptional stories on Fictionaut were (and are still not) receiving reads or  favorites.This was proven immediately by the 7 or so visiting editors like yourself, just looking at the incoming stories posted in a day’s time. As in any virtual community, the “popular kids” (the most active and supportive in terms of the sites currency which is the “favorite”) are the ones who, for better or worse, have their stories most read and favorite and are routinely up at the top of the “recommended” chain.  It does not always reflect the quality of the writing.  Administrators at Fictionaut felt it made sense to bring in this fun check and balance.

VG: Brilliant. We've all been in these groups where, if you are not in the in-crowd, or don't say what writers want to hear, you are sidelined. Pack behaviour. Well done for trying to rectify the imbalance.      What are you working on now?

  • I’ve been commissioned to co-write a screenplay based on my novella “The Sticky Lust of Hummingbirds,” along with seasoned screenwriter Graham Gordy who recently completed co-writing  the TV series “Rectify” for Sundance. Always writing stories, and so… working on my third collection of stories. And I’m conducting interviews for the Fictionaut-Five, for BLIP MAGAZINE (I just completed interviewing the brilliant author Bobbie Ann Mason) and at Caroline Leavitt’s blog I have a new feature called UNCAGED INTERVIEWS. For that feature, I’m right now interviewing singer Lucy Wainright Roche. Additionally, I continue to serve as senior associate editor for Rick Barthelme’s BLIP, have a role as associate producer for  the documentary “From Ghost Town to Havana,” by Eugene Corr, and I run Press 53’s 53-word weekly prompt contest. 
VG: Not exactly a couch potato, Ms Pokrass! Makes me feel dizzy.  Is there an overall message you’d like readers to take away - a sort of ‘this is Meg Pokrass’ message?

  • That’s a hard one. I’m quite interested in life’s random and disproportionate outcomes… how we skate between good and bad luck, timing and circumstance. I’m very interested in luck. Many of my stories are about people coping with difficult conditions and the lack of luck. Message: (if there is one) I feel it is so important to believe that, no matter how powerless one feels at times, there is always salvation in rediscovering ones imagination.  Most of my stories deal with the internal urgency to escape our bodies and soar.
VG: Thank you so much, Meg. Damn Sure Right can be purchased from the usual suspects, and is a roller-coaster of a ride, a collection of strong, memorable flashes, 90% of which have been published. Finally, here is another piece, with Meg's permission.

 Ma says stand back while she strikes the match, lighting the Wedgewood stove. There is an end-of-the-world whoosh as gas and flame mate—omelets out of scraps are keen, she says, sucking a Menthol—arranging button mushrooms as eyes, red onion slices into tight little smiles. At dinner, my sister’s hair hangs like a thick curtain around her face. Sometimes I’ll poke through it, whispering, how much for your last three bites? A dollar, she’ll say. Ma can even make a piece of cooked cow look lovely, we both agree, trying to raise two children on her own. My sister excuses herself for the bathroom after dinner. Mom and I look at each other as the sink hisses, then the angry toilet joins the music. We pass the time by inventing situations, playing two truths and a lie. 

Meg Pokrass is the author of Damn Sure Right, a collection of flash fiction from Press 53. Her short novel, Card Houses, has recently been selected for a screenplay adaptation.Her work has appeared in over 150 literary journals. She serves as Senior Editor for Frederick Barthelme's BLIPMAGAZINE (formerly Mississippi Review), and lives near the ocean in San Francisco with her husband, daughter, and seven animals. 


  1. Fantastic interview, ladies! It's great to get a little behind-the-scenes peek at the life and writings of the excellent Ms Pokrass - hi Meg!

  2. Ms. Gebbie, thanks for the insightful interview questions you put to the very interesting Ms. Pokrass. I have read a lot of her work. Her considerable talent has her soaring now. I think she's the best flash writer anywhere.

  3. This is a good interview. Well worth reading. Thanks for publishing!

  4. Kate Hill Cantrill3 September 2012 at 18:13

    Great interview!! Great Qs and great As! Meg has energy that swoops and soars and dag, lady! Where is your cape already?!