Susan Tepper:  Meg, I’ve read many stories about domestic issues, yet few have the “lightning strike” quality that permeates Leader of Men.”  Their kitchen isn’t charged but super-charged!  It sizzles with danger.  I expect something to strike and burn at any moment.

In the first paragraph you write:

He was waving a butcher knife out in front of himself while he spoke, and with each thrust, the knife, a bit of a yes-man itself, nodded up and down in obvious collusion…

The man becomes the knife becomes the man…  some serious aggression going on here, in this excerpt from your brand-new novel, Domestic Apparition.  Give us the skinny on this guy.

Meg Tuite: Susan, he’s a beauty, isn’t he? I’ve always been horrified by what some women or men, for that matter, will take in relationships!! I see this man as a hell-fire dominatrix who throws his weight around in every part of their relationship, including something as inane as how to cut up a tomato! It’s psychological abuse of the deepest kind to attempt to weather someone down day by day, but I have seen examples of this, as I’m sure most people have! This kind of guy is insecure, always tucks his shirt in and wears his pants on the high-side. He parts his hair to the right and has had the same haircut since he was five, although the bald spot growing in the middle of his head disturbs him deeply. He likes to experiment with moustaches. His swagger is a body tic he’s learned to work by practicing in the mirror naked after showers and masturbating to Tom Jones. He drinks scotch on the rocks in public, though in private he likes a nice Kahlua and creme. And he’s an extremist when it comes to working out! He likes fast-walking in short shorts five to ten miles a day, pumping arms and hips, once again to Tom Jones on his headphones or Mariah Carey. And not a big fan of boxers. He tends toward the jockstrap.

Susan:  Holy crap!  I’ve heard of writers being aware of their characters, but you have this guy so fully formed in your mind that it’s scary.  Well I’m scared of him.  I’m scared of control-freak men.   Do you think he was like this from the get-go, when she first met and married him?

Meg:  I think everyone should be scared of him, except for Tom Jones. I definitely see the courtship period as short-lived. He tossed a few bouquets her way and took her out for a few nice meals and then he pulled out the ring. He yanked his psycho-Mom’s ring from her dead finger and put it on his wife-soon-to-be-punching-bag’s finger quickly– before she got to see more than a manly man with glimpses of rage.

Susan:  Since this is a domestic drama (very quirky one) and lifted from your novel of that title, I want to stay with this a little bit more.  I once read that people get the love life they deserve.  I guess a marriage could be construed in the same way.  He must full fill some need in her, or some desire for punishment.  Do you think so?

Meg: I definitely believe that we are drawn to people that will help us either grow and move on to higher ground or to grovel in the pits, until finally the one being victimized fights back. The woman in this story may not be ready for a face-to-face with this Cro-Magnon man, but she gets the final word at the end.  I see her as ready to dump the guy or have it out with him. Or, as a lot of folk do, unfortunately, which is create their quiet revolts without rocking the boat.

Susan: I’m just nuts for this couples stuff, and even more so for the triangle.  We haven’t gotten around to discussing the “third party” here, the latent watching voice: the Greek chorus.  Is yours a boy or girl, and do you know its approximate age?

Meg:  In the novel, the narrator is a young girl, in adolescence at this point. She’s watching her parents dance this dance. She’s a silent observer, who sees many things without being noticed.

Susan:  I felt it was a young girl.  There is a lot of empathy for the Mom, I could hear it just by the way the moments get expressed.   By incorporating this third party voice, the way it’s used in this story, makes for a much more dramatic scene than if it were just the man and woman written 3rd person POV.  That would still be dramatic.  But having this girl-child get in there like a little mouse, well, that is rough.  And as a reader I became fearful of what would transpire in this household.  What the future holds for the Mom and the girl, despite the Mom taking a stand (of sorts) at the end.  I really wanted her to bludgeon him to death, he is so unbearable.  He’s one of those types you see in a café bullying his family, and you want to dump your coffee over his head.

Meg: Once I found myself next to a couple in a car at a stop sign. And he was screaming away like a banshee. And I had just finished working a 12-hr shift, and man, did I get in his face. I told the rat scum that I was calling the police and asked the woman if she was all right. She just stared at me and then I saw a little boy in the back seat frozen in fear and I just lost it. He started backing off and said no, no police, and then I stayed on his tail and called the cops and followed him until they pulled him over. I’ve been haunted by that ever since. I hope to God he didn’t beat the crap out of her afterwards. I was the glad the cops came, but hadn’t thought about the consequences for the woman who couldn’t speak up for herself or the little boy. At the time, I was just filled with rage at him!!!!!

Susan:  I hear you.  I hate that stuff.  It takes a deep soul to write what you have put down in this story, Meg, and in your transcendent new book.

Read Leader of Men by Meg Tuite

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.

  1. Sam Rasnake

    Wonderful interview. Enjoyed your take on the details, Meg – and especially your comments on point of view. Great discussion, Susan.

  2. Matt Potter

    Excellent interview, and I am so glad to feel at one with Meg: her tirade against the shithead-man in traffic is something I would do too. Brava to more brave hysteria! And I am fascinated to read Meg’s ‘fashion as psychodrama’ description of her character. Harry Highpants indeed!

  3. Meg Tuite

    Thank you so much, Sam, for your comments!!! Yes, Susan really gets down with the questions!!! She’s a great interviewer!!

  4. Meg Tuite

    Dear Matt,
    I love “Harry Highpants!!!! And “fashion as psychodrama.” Ha!! Thanks so much for reading and always love your comments!!!

  5. Robert Vaughan

    What a wonderful exchange between two of my favorite writers who just happen to be amazing women both. These couples are so fascinating to me, too, the ones with the dominant partner who just can’t help but go “overboard” (and I have to agree with Susan here, Meg, you really NAIL this guy in your description!) I was especially moved by your spurn-to-action at the stop light (what a metaphor that is!) Knowing you, as I do, you would move mountains for the underdog, for the downtrodden, for the unfortunate. And finally, I do believe, that women are, in most ways, the “Leader of Men.” I can’t wait to read your book, and thanks for this great expose.

  6. Gloria Mindock

    A wonderful chat here. Congratulations Meg and Susan. Wow Meg, you really thought about his character. What a description of him. Scary for sure. I thought this was such a good chat. Susan, you ask the best questions in your chats.

  7. Christopher

    Great interview, Susan and Meg. Great characters as well.

  8. susan

    Another great dip into the writer’s mind and this time, we got quite a long peek. I lived with a character that thoroughly once, in a novel-length story. My characters now, with flash fiction daily writing, pass through like clouds. Time, I think, to take a deeper look as both Meg and Susan have done here. The story itself reveals the understanding of character that Meg had when she wrote it.

  9. Foster Trecost

    This was wonderful. A story this powerful, it’s nice to get more information. Susan, you asked all the right question, and Meg, I loved your answers – there’s so much in this story, and you’ve just given it even more. fos.

  10. Marcus Speh

    powerful stuff here, thank you both. been talking with my wife just tonight, before i read this, about the difference being a girl in the 1960s and today and gosh are times different now. meg uses brutality in her piece in a very subtle, admirable way to highlight gender relations, and here you both explain some of the back story, all our back story, really, so well.

  11. James Lloyd Davis

    Great story, wonderful author, interesting and insightful interview. I’ve read “Leader of Men” several times now and it’s got me writing a story of my own. It’s what I love about this place, a well of inspiration that never runs dry.

  12. susan tepper

    Thanks you guys for your comments on Meg’s chat!

  13. estelle bruno

    such a real description of a hateful man, he finds a weak woman and dangles a diamond, then she falls for it. How awful. This is an amazing story, and an amazing interview.
    Kudos to you both.

  14. MaryAnne Kolton

    Susan and Meg, How could this be anything but superlative with two of my favorite people!

    “I once read that people get the love life they deserve.” I find that comment so interesting beccause I learned in some Psychology class that “we always look for what or who we’re familiar with” when it comes to relationships. How curious to think these statements might both be true.

  15. Gary Percesepe

    wow, eh?

  16. Julie

    much to think about here, thank you both!

  17. Meg Tuite

    Dear Robert,
    I so thank you for your most generous comments!!! WOW!! I feel like most of the domestic abuse is a daily thing that slowly beats the partner down and I’m always hopeful that it will compel that so-called victim to fight back, say enough already or leave!!!! Your always so insightful, Robert, and I so appreciate it!!!

  18. Meg Tuite

    Thank you so much, Gloria!!! Susan is an amazing interviewer! She gets in there and gets to the heart of it!!! I so appreciate your reading and commenting!!!

  19. Meg Tuite

    Dear Susan,
    Thank you so much for your comments!!! It was a great interview and Susan Tepper digs deep! I love that! Didn’t know I had such a visual of the man until she asked!!!!

  20. Meg Tuite

    Thanks so much for reading and commenting!!! Nothing on Tom Jones? I thought sure that you’d have something hysterical to add!!!

  21. Meg Tuite

    You rock it! Thanks so much for checking it out!!! Yes, Susan pulls it out!!!! She’s a great interviewer!!!

  22. Meg Tuite

    Dear Marcus,
    The back story is always interesting to me and Susan really pulled it out! I wanted to create a moment with a couple that said so much about their relationship on the whole! I’m so glad you saw that and it came through in the writing!!!!

  23. Meg Tuite

    That makes me so happy that this story has inspired you!!!! Outstanding!!! I love your work and can’t wait to see the result! Let me know when you’ve posted it!!! Cheers

  24. Meg Tuite

    Thank you so much, Estelle, for reading and for commenting! Much appreciated!!!

  25. Meg Tuite

    I believe that it is, because I’ve seen it over and over!!! Scary, but true. But the beauty of it is that people actually work through it and see the nightmare they’re in and find a way out. Not always, as we know, but sometimes!!! That gives me hope for the human race!!!

  26. Meg Tuite

    Thank you so much, Gary, for reading and your comment cracked me up! So few words said mountains!!! Cheers

  27. Barry Friesen

    Dynamite interview, dynamite story, Meg. Explosive, both. “If I push you down low enough, maybe I’ll feel tall.” Sheesh.

    The man in “Leader of Men” is an insecure asshole, of course, but the wife is much more interesting. The truth that we get the relationship we deserve is a half-truth, I think. At least, the pattern that shows up over and over is that we “hire the sort of spouse” who will treat us the way we BELIEVE we deserve to be treated. That’s the glue that keeps the thing rolling along. If she believes she’s incompetent, stupid, clumsy, sloppy, then it’s a very “efficient” move to “hire a spouse” who will give her those messages continually, proofs that the belief is true.

    And our own ways of suffering are so often our favorite possessions, the last thing we’re willing to give up, yes?

    Forgive the soapbox, please. Your story and interview resonated with me. As a former psychotherapist, I worked with a lot of abused women to help them value themselves when they were ready, so they could “fire” the spouses they’d “hired” for these awful dramas. As a former lawyer, I got to put restraining orders on the husband’s sorry asses so the wife would have breathing room. So this turf evokes traumatic, memories, ha! THIS is how you cut a tomato, darling! DEADLY prose, Meg. Literally so, sometimes, unfortunately.

  28. Sally Reno

    Great interview Meg and Susan! My only quibble is likening this guy to a cro-magnon. Cro-mags who were apparently very cool. Sexual dimorphism was unknown in their era and it is unlikely that penis-bearing human mammals of that ilk had any inclination to assume that they were the crown of creation to the detriment of their sistahs. Just sayin’….

  29. susan tepper

    Barry, thanks so much for your wonderful comments here about Meg’s story and chat. You have led a very interesting life, so much fodder for a writer. Cheers!

  30. Meg Tuite

    Dear Barry,
    WOW! Thanks for the work you do and for reading my story and taking it in on the deepest level. The world at large!!! So thankful for your input and I so appreciate what you do!!!! Cheers!!!

  31. susan tepper

    Sally, I hear what you are saying. In my opinion Meg was using the term Cro-magnon in the vernacular, which people often do when they mean someone is a disgusting individual, a type of cave-man personality. But thanks for reading the interview and enjoying it!

  32. Meg Tuite

    Dear Sally,
    Maniac!! So sorry to put a bad label on the Cro-Mags!! Should I have said Neanderthal? Would that have helped the situation!!! I see you are in a sub-cult I knew nothing about!!! Just saying!!! Are you an anthropologist??? I can see it!!! Thanks for reading and commenting, sista!!!!

  33. susan tepper

    Estelle, MAR, Gary, Julie, thanks guys, you all rock!!

  34. Linda Simoni-Wastila

    Super interview, super story. Kind of sucker-punched me the first time I read it. Love the insight into your writing, Meg — Susan really does know how to ask the right questions. Thanks for sharing. Peace…

  35. susan tepper

    Linda, it’s always good to hear from you– many thanks on Meg’s chat!

  36. Meg Tuite

    Thank you so much for your comments!!! I so appreciate it!!! Cheers!

  37. arla

    Accidentally stumbled on all this. Glad you all feel so good about yourselves. Wow, geegolly… I suppose this passes for discussion among the middle classes.
    Actually, I am all for domestic abuse: it landed me in a wheelchair. You all, taking a brave pop-psychology stand against something even the perpetrators know is despicable, are plain empty and despicable, too. I suppose you are ‘for’ children and ‘against’ death, misogyny, and mass-murder, as well.
    As for ‘characters’ in a story, this isn’t the 19th. Century.
    Anyway, thank you for the new-agey babble, it gave a bitter old hag a bit of vent. Whatever catty insults you can imagine to toss my way are true, but a thousand times.
    You see, we are certainly not in the same night.

  38. susan tepper

    Dear Arla,
    Nobody here, including the author Meg Tuite, or myself, the interviewer, espouses Domestic Abuse. In literature there is a thing called satire. It is with great satirical skill that Meg Tuite has presented this disfunctional family. It is any author’s right and privelege to present any material she or he chooses to write. If you feel personally debased about your life, that is a separate issue and should be dealt with in counseling.
    Wishing you all the best, Susan

Leave a Comment