Author Interview : Caitlin Myer
Today I’m excited to give you an author with Caitlin Myer, whose memoir Wiving : A Memoir on Loving Then Leaving the Patriarchy was published on July 28th
I received an advanced copy of Wiving this spring from Mind Buck Media. The synopsis sounded interesting, though I had no idea the book would resonate with me as strongly as it did. I’m truly grateful this book crossed my path! (For more on my reading experience, check out my Goodreads review. ) I was thrilled when Caitlin agreed to answer some questions for me for today’s post.
From her website: Caitlin Myer grew up in a half-finished mountainside house in Provo, Utah, the youngest of a chaotic family of six children, a poet mother, and an artist father. A lust to go as far and as fast as possible was born when she was nine years old and her father directed a six-month study abroad in France. She was a kid from the righteous nucleus of Mormonia, dropped into the middle of Paris with only a few words of French, a metro card, and vague directions for finding her way home. She fell in love and never recovered. Myer left home and Mormonism at sixteen, returned at eighteen, left the church again at twenty, and moved away from Utah for good at twenty-two.
Her short stories, poetry, and essays have appeared in No Tokens, Electric Literature, The Butter, Cultural Weekly, and Joyland, among others, and she was a 2012 MacDowell Colony Fellow. In 2010, Myer founded the San Francisco–based literary reading series, Portuguese Artists Colony (PAC), which had its first ever performance in Portugal in September 2019. For seven years she traveled the world, and she has recently settled in Guimarães, Portugal.
Author Interview : Caitlin Myer
Ramona Mead: When writing a memoir as personal as Wiving, did you consider the reader while writing, or is it easier to get your story out first before you imagine it being read?
Caitlin Myer: I had to trick my brain in early drafts: You can always cut this later, I told myself. Nothing was fixed, and of course not everything made it into the final draft. But that lightweight self-deceit was absolutely essential in the early process.
We all tell stories about our lives, but we curate those stories, and we tilt them in a particular way: to make ourselves look good, to protect people we love, to make people laugh over dinner. It is not particularly sociable to tell your most brutal truths while getting your nails done. But for memoir, you must cut through all of those people-pleasing layers to get to the guts of your stories. It is not a pleasant process. In curating those stories for other people, you convince yourself, too, and it can be a terrible shock to the system to find that what you believed was not precisely true. In my family, for example, we tell the story of the blueberry summer as a charming, hilarious adventure story. And it is! But once I began to pull it apart as an adult, the whole tenor shifted. Can you imagine leaving children alone on a remote farm without enough food?
While I was always writing with the intent to publish, yes, I absolutely had to lock my imaginary audience out of the room during early drafts.
RM: How did you decide on your formatting choices, specifically not using quotation marks?
CM: Quotation marks, for me, emphasize the artifice of a dialogue. It’s the tiniest skip in the brain when I run across them, and I’ve been grooming them out of my work for many years now, honing the clarity of my quote-less flow. For me as a reader, quote-less dialogue feels as though it is arising inside my head, rather than being imposed from the outside. It’s a more intimate experience.
RM: Throughout the book you comment on the fallibility of memory. This made your writing feel deeply honest and “real” to be. But, how does it feel to put a story into the world in which you acknowledge you can’t recall all parts of a scene?
CM: Just about every memoirist will come up against the limits of memory. Nobody’s memory is infallible, and it’s just a matter of choice how you deal with it. Mary Karr’s work is stunning in part because of her detailed recall, and there was a moment when I felt almost defeated, certain that if I couldn’t achieve that sort of crystalline exactness I should never even try. But then I saw that even she had blank spots. There’s a scene in Cherry where she writes straight out that she doesn’t remember what happened next.
I realized that not only could I do the same; it was necessary for me to do so. Throughout the writing process, I was unsparing with myself in order to make the work as honest as possible. That honesty demanded that I deal with my memory gaps head-on, rather than try to gloss over them.
RM: How did you come to the sub-title? Did you have alternative title for the book?
CM: The main title, Wiving, came to me all at once in early drafts. That’s when the heart of the book snapped into place for me. The subtitle was a different matter! I didn’t have one at all until I was in the final editing process with my publisher. My editor told me that a subtitle is necessary for memoir, just to give people a sense of what the book is about. I went through a couple of mad brainstorming sessions with writer friends, and there was some back-and-forth with my editor. I wanted a subtitle that was muscular, badass. The “one woman’s journey…” variety of subtitle just didn’t do it for me.
My favorite alternative was one that would never have been approved: How I Learned to Fuck the Patriarchy
RM: Does writing generalize energize or drain you?
CM: Procrastinating writing drains me. Writing itself, especially when I find the flow, is sublime. I am absolutely energized after a good writing session; I feel like I can eat skyscrapers and follow them up with sportscars for dessert.
That said, this memoir took me so many terrible places, I was often left feeling utterly broken after a session. Some memoirists find the work cathartic, or therapeutic. That was not my experience at all. At times I wasn’t sure I would survive the process; what pulled me through was a sense of purpose. I was not writing for my own therapy, but for that one person who most needed to read the resulting book. Even so, even with all the terror and exhaustion, finding that shining clarity in the words was a kind of exaltation.
RM: What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
CM: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. –King James Version
I learned to read early, and came from a literate and religious family. How could I believe otherwise?
RM: Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?
CM: There were times I wished I could pull an Elena Ferrante! But I am not her. As terrifying as it is to expose my life this way, I wanted to be able to claim the work as my own. One of the major themes that I deal with in the book is shame, and a pseudonym would have been a capitulation to shame, when in fact I want to smash it to pieces.
RM: What’s your preferred method for writing? Do you write by hand at all?
CM: I wrote my one-woman play entirely by hand on yellow legal pads, and then typed it all up on an IBM Selectric! But that was in the days before laptops. Now I write in little notebooks that I carry everywhere, in my little purse, in my backpack, I feel naked without one. But when I’m working on a longer piece, I do most of the work on my laptop. I’m faster typing than writing by hand, and at a certain point I need to be able to see the whole of the piece. I’m absolutely in love with Scrivener (for-dprocessing software designed for authors), although I don’t have the patience to do the tutorials, so I know I’m missing out on a lot of its capabilities. Still, what I’ve been able to figure out just bashing my way around is hugely helpful in my process.
RM: Do you read much and if so who are your favorite authors?
CM: Reading is my treat, my escape, my food, my church. My list of favorite authors is constantly shifting as I discover new work. I’m absolutely in love with Helen Oyeyemi and Carmen Maria Machado. José Saramago has been a huge influence. W.G. Sebald and Halldór Laxness. Charlie Jane Anders, Nayomi Munaweera, Alia Volz, and Kendra Atleework. Toni Morrison forever. I love graphic novels, and I’m currently rereading Marjane Satrapi and Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoirs. They are both stunning, I just want to sing at every page.
RM: How do you get your creativity flowing?
CM: Reading something inspiring. Long walks, especially at night, especially if trees or ocean can be found along the way. Good coffee. A good stretch of time alone, unplugged from the internet, woolgathering.
I can’t thank Caitlin enough for taking the time to respond to my questions. To learn more about her, you can visit her website.
To order a copy of Wiving, click here.