The Foundry is our literary reading series. We hope to see you at The Foundry #3, on Saturday, January 14th at 8 PM at Public Square Coffee House in the La Mesa Village. As we approach the show, we’ll feature the readers so you can get to know them (and get super excited). Up next is Meredith Alling.
Meredith Alling lives in Los Angeles, and is author of the brand new story collection Sing The Song, from Future Tense Books. Sing The Song is beautiful work. Meredith’s stories, some heartbreakingly tiny, some sprawling and vast, are gorgeous and unsettling. She has a sharp wit with language and a gift of crafting characters and places that quickly get under your skin. And we can’t wait to share her voice with you at the Foundry.
So Say We All’s program director and Foundry host Julia Dixon Evans recently had a chance to ask Meredith a few questions about her book, her writing process, and Los Angeles.
JULIA DIXON EVANS: Do you remember when we met? I do. It was on Twitter. But then in real life?
MEREDITH ALLING: I have a really terrible memory when it comes to details, especially when it’s a question of time, but I am pretty sure we officially met on the rooftop of the Standard Hotel in LA one night during AWP 2016. And we had a good time and bonded for life.
JDE: And then the next night I heard you read “Rita.” I remember writing down a line (“nothing between me and the ground is untrue”) and feeling almost giddy when I rediscovered it in Sing The Song. But I loved your live reading. How do you prepare? How do you choose what to read
MA: I actually haven’t done that many readings. Less than ten. How I prepare is by taking half a Xanax and then having a drink. You’re not supposed to mix Xanax with alcohol, but this combination works for me, and I’m still basically blacking out with anxiety, just not to the point of paralysis. As far as choosing what to read, I try to pick stories that will be entertaining when read aloud, either because they are easy to follow or funny or some combination. I’ve been bored at a lot of readings (sorry) so I don’t want to be boring.
JDE: You’re definitely not boring. And that same month, you had just found out that Sing The Song was going to be published! What was the best part of that process, of watching your stories go from disparate little things into a book?
MA: Finding out that the book was going to happen was a big deal. I was a huge fan of Future Tense and for years I had literal daydreams about publishing something with them, so that moment of finding out was extremely special. It was also really great to work with Kevin Sampsell and Bianca Flores on edits. They were both really supportive of my style, and while they had great notes, they always left the final decision up to me. That’s something unique to working with a small press, I think. I have friends who have published with big houses, and sometimes the project can get away from them.
JDE: Let’s go back to that line, “nothing between me and the ground is untrue.” That, and so many other moments in the book (other faves – Lady Legs: the dirt was soft and stupid, Hellsure: Catherine on a wormless morning, praying to God), where every word seems to matter and seems to be incredibly unexpected and revealing, revolutionary almost, made me wonder: do you write carefully? Is it calculated? Or are you more frantic, getting a storyline out of your brain and then you go back to fine tune these gems?
MA: I write very carefully, and slowly. Most of my stories don’t have a strong narrative arc, or a narrative arc at all, so a lot of it is about the mood, and for me, I like to get into that on a sentence level. I spend a lot of time on each sentence. I like to get into the language and work on the tone and create those unexpected moments that begin as unexpected moments for me, too.
JDE: I felt, more than with most short story collections, that your book was unputdownable. Part of that is that the writing is propulsive and brilliant, of course, but also, I think there’s something intentional in the way these stories are pieced together and ordered. Can you talk about that a little?
MA: That is very generous, and I’m glad to hear that, as the process of ordering the stories was a little nerve-wrecking. There are so many, and they are all so different (I think), and so it felt tricky to figure out how to be deliberate about the order. Bianca was really helpful in working with me on that, and we ended up deciding on an order that we felt would build energy as you read.
JDE: What was it like to create new work for the book?
MA: It was fun but also stressful. I had days when I felt really good and confident, and other days when I was worried and scared. I guess that’s just writing (or any creative work), but knowing that what I was working on was possibly going to be part of this book that was already in motion added a new level of pressure. I would try to put that thought out of my head and write as I normally do, but it was hard. Ultimately I feel really happy with the new work, but there were a lot of emotions.
JDE: You have a super fascinating job. Tell everyone what you do.
MA: I work for a nonprofit called 1in6 that provides resources and support to men who have had unwanted or abusive sexual experiences. We also support the people who care about them (family, friends, professionals, etc). I’ve been with 1in6 for almost four years now, and I manage our awareness campaigns as well as our social media and various creative projects. It’s a great organization, and I’ll call out two of our resources here: our free and confidential 24/7 online support line, where anyone can go whether they are in crisis, have questions, or are looking for local resources, and our free and confidential online peer support groups, which meet twice a week for men who have experienced any form of sexual abuse or assault.
JDE: And how do you manage or pair making art with doing difficult, heady work like that during the day?
MA: As part of my work at the nonprofit, I hear and read really unbelievable stories of survival, and that perspective helps to keep me grateful for being able to do things I enjoy and want to do. Writing is really hard work, but it’s also fun, and something I’m doing because I want to do it. I don’t make myself write on any kind of schedule or set any sort of word count goals or whatever, and part of that is because I want it to remain this thing I enjoy and that I’m grateful to have in my life. There’s so much freedom in writing. I’m getting really corny. Writing I love you.
JDE: Writing definitely loves you back. Also, you’re a big reader, which, y’know, is one of those make-or-break things for writers. What book(s) are you the most looking forward to reading this year?
MA: Oh man, a lot. Off the top of the dome: Sorry to Disrupt the Peace by Patty Yumi Cottrell, Sour Heart by Jenny Zhang, Caca Dolce by Chelsea Martin, Too Much and Not the Mood by Durga Chew-Bose, Genevieves by [fellow Foundry #3 reader] Henry Hoke, and Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward.
JDE: In San Diego we feel like the arts and lit communities are up against so much, and there’s kind of a grassroots, on-the-verge unity feeling about that, which is an exciting silver lining. Los Angeles seems like a different beast altogether: bustling and vibrant, but huge. What is the writing and literature/reader community like in LA for you? In what ways do you use it, and how do you serve it?
MA: The LA community is so great, and actually feels sort of small. It’s easy to connect with people and find out about events. Shortly after moving to LA in 2011, I started going to readings and meeting people, and everyone was super nice, and from where I stand, I don’t really see any “cliques.” There are also some great independent bookstores that are really supportive of small presses. I try to support those bookstores as much as possible, and also go to as many readings and events as I can and buy books at those events.
JDE: What’s next for you? I hear you have a novel idea. I hope we get to see that one day, because I will eat that up with a spoon.
MA: I’m working on… something. I can’t tell exactly what it is right now, but someone’s knee is injured.
JDE: Thank you so much for answering my questions, and thank you also for reading with us in The Foundry on 1/14. I love you and your writing, and I can’t wait to introduce you to San Diego and have them love you too.
MA: Thank you so much Julia! Love to you.
Join Meredith as she reads alongside Leah Thomas, Henry Hoke, Cali Linfor, Leah Thomas, and Justin Maurer at The Foundry #3, Saturday 1/14 at 8 PM at Public Square Coffee House.
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