Susan Tepper: Meg, though there is a great deal of edge going on in your story “Villa Monterey Apartment, Burbank,” and though I’ve probably read it a half dozen times over the past year, it always gleams technicolor in my brain when I think back on it. Why, do you suppose?
Meg Pokrass: That’s a really interesting question, and it happens to me too with certain stories and I wonder why… I believe you answered it yourself. Your brain processed it in “technicolor” the perfect word you used. Technicolor is an old-fashioned word that symbolizes special or vibrant/colorful and memorable. This story is about first, naive impressions – a child narrator trying to discern what is real from imagined, and in the writing I called in a lot of sensory information, mostly visual. There is a mysterious relationship between writer and reader. My guess: this piece reminded you of a feeling around your own early impressions of the world.
Susan: What you created here is uniquely your own vision. But it hit me so hard. I think, if I am to be deeply honest, I would have to say it touched a place in me that I wished I could go to. A technicolor world outside what has become very gray and uncertain. We now live with terrorism in our midst. What is the terror within this story?
Meg: By “terrorism” I’m assuming you mean anxiety as well as real-life terrorism, the violence around us. Life is full of real anxiety, and some people, additionally, have a brain hard-wired with neurobiological anxiety. For those people, the ones wired for anxiety, the world is twice as hard I believe. I may be one of those people. You may be one. We are acutely sensitive which is why perhaps writing flows from us. It’s a way of coping, at least for me. In this story, the terror is mixed with delight and the excitement of the new. The terrorism was in the world the child narrator left, the terror of an unstable father. The new world promises much delight, but this child is now on guard for more trouble. She can’t completely enjoy this new world which makes it about longing.
Susan: That’s how I felt the terror here, too, which seems to co-exist with this other so-bright world of California swimming pools and sunshine. I love this child-narrator who is almost grown up. The Mom has taken these girls away from a violent family life. This child-narrator seems to delight in her older, sophisticated “famous” sister and movie star boyfriend. You write: “Tanya is so much older than when she left home to become famous a year ago. She walks out swishing a bright red towel behind her. She’s going swimming.” Yet I sense a reticence here with your child-narrator. Does she feel she is safe now?
Meg: The child feels safer when Tanya leaves, she can breathe and feel free of the strong feelings of love and worship for Tanya, her role model- feelings that she can barely tolerate in their crush-like fervor, and she is free, briefly, of Tanya’s misplaced anger toward Sam. And possibly the feelings of resentment Tanya has for this child which are mingled with protective love. Yes. For seconds she is safer from that complex relationship.
Susan: At first your answer threw me. I didn’t realize to the extent of what I read in the story that the sister-relationship was fraught for the child-narrator (younger sister). But now I can see what you mean. Do you think the child-sister (I’ve changed her mojo), do you think she has feelings for the boyfriend, Sam? He says to her: “Can you walk on my back with your little bare feet honey?” That’s kind of loaded.
Meg: Yes, for sure! She is very interested in the “land” of Sam’s body, and his thick skin… how a child can walk on him and not hurt him. He does not seem delicate to her, and he let’s her know it, and that is powerful information which indeed needs to be tested. Sam is Hollywood-handsome, a TV actor, and what better way to test a male ideal than to walk on his back? And Sam, like California, may rupture. The child does not want to hurt Sam, but she must see if she does… she’s called forth as an explorer and doesn’t chicken out here. This is telling about the child’s personality. She has been hurt very early, but not crushed. She may hurt Sam or herself or Tanya by walking on Sam, the man-planet- and she is not fearless, but brave.
Susan: This kid is elastic. You just love her and you can’t figure out exactly why. But somehow you know she’s going to be just fine.
Monday Chat is a bi-weekly series in which Susan Tepper has a conversation with a Fictionaut writer about one of his or her stories. Susan is Assistant Editor of Istanbul Literary Review, fiction editor of Wilderness House Literary Review, co-author of new novel What May Have Been, and hosts FIZZ, a reading series at KGB Bar.