We were thrilled to have the chance to interview the talented Carmen Maria Machado. Her debut short story collection, Her Body And Other Parties, has been met with much-deserved acclaim and was recently shortlisted for The National Book Award. In one of her stories, a woman always wears a green ribbon around her neck, with the understanding that others aren’t meant to touch it. In another, a writer meets an otherworldly cast of characters at a residency. Machado’s voice is wholly unique. Here, we talk to her about her influences and what we can look forward to seeing from her next.
“I honestly just wondered if it would be possible to write a short story in the form of episode capsule summaries, where the episodes could function autonomously or as part of a larger narrative.”
First of all, I have to say that I really enjoyed your debut collection. The stories are wholly unique, and they are tinged with all sorts of different genres: fairy tales, ghost stories, horror, dystopian fiction. So I have to ask: Who are your influences? What do you love to read?
Thank you so much! My influences are pretty wide-ranging. Some are obvious: Kelly Link, Karen Russell, Shirley Jackson, Angela Carter, Helen Oyeyemi. Some are set a little deeper in my past: Ray Bradbury, Lois Duncan, John Bellairs, Louis Sachar, Roald Dahl, Gabriel García Márquez.
I will follow that up with: what are some of your favorite scary stories?
Shirley Jackson’s “The Tooth,” Adam Nevill’s “Where Angels Come In,” Angela Carter’s “The Bloody Chamber,” Victor LaValle’s “The Ballad of Black Tom.”
There are a lot of darker elements to your stories, but one of them is that many of the female protagonists are denied control over their own bodies. The wife in “The Husband Stitch” asks for only one private thing: that her husband not touch the green ribbon that is always tied around her neck. But, her husband cannot accept this. In “Real Women Have Bodies,” women begin to literally fade to nothing, and no one can explain it or help them. In “Eight Bites,” a woman who undergoes bariatric surgery is haunted by the ghost of the parts of herself she has given up (if you would agree with this description). This seems like a very intentional theme of the collection (it is even echoed in the title). Can you tell me more about the process behind it?
It’s less intentional than you think! The fact is, women are denied control of their own bodies in a horrific number of ways, and so it makes a lot of sense that writing from my own voice, thoughts, and experiences would result in stories where this theme continually resurfaces.
The collection includes a novella in which you reimagine episodes of Law & Order: SVU as a series of short summaries full of an otherworldly cast of characters. The novella works beautifully as a whole, but the individual stories are also complete in themselves. I thought this was really cool! Could you talk about your inspiration for this story and the process of writing it?
I’ve always been interested in writing about TV. One of my favorite short stories is Kelly Link’s “Magic for Beginners,” which is its own surreal, fabulist love letter to fandom and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I honestly just wondered if it would be possible to write a short story in the form of episode capsule summaries, where the episodes could function autonomously or as part of a larger narrative. I used the actual titles from the first twelves seasons, so I had a little flake of inspiration for each one. Eventually, the plots and subplots grew out of there. As I was writing it, I found myself engaging with my complicated feelings about the show on the page. The rest is history.
What are you working on now? What will we see next from you?
My memoir House in Indiana is coming out with Graywolf in 2019, so those edits are the next big thing I’m tackling. I also have a few other things in progress—an essay collection, a novel-in-stories.
Interviewed by Sadye Teiser