This Wednesday, Creative Writing faculty member Ben Marcus hosted a reading by author Carmen Maria Machado of her forthcoming debut memoir, In the Dream House in Dodge Hall.
Following her short story collection Her Body and Other Parties, Dream House, the story of coming to terms with domestic queer abuse and that every house is, or should be, haunted. New Bwoggers Krystle DiCristofalo, Shreya Ganguly, and Sarah Perry crashed the party, and they give their thoughts on the event.
Carmen Maria Machado is queer, smart, dark and unapologetic. Dodge 501 was packed within minutes, followed by raptured silence as a room of enthralled listeners fervently jots down her offerings of wisdom. It’s pretty clear why. Machado’s upcoming memoir In the Dream House recalls a toxic relationship with her ex-girlfriend, exploring the realities of intimate partner violence in queer relationships that the domestic violence awareness movement has largely overlooked. The book follows a unique structure: each chapter is a play on different genres and narrative tropes, ranging from coming-of-age to horror to erotica. The rest of us are playing checkers while Machado’s playing chess.
Machado begins by narrating excerpts from In the Dream House alongside an essay she wrote while beginning what would later become the memoir, and as she speaks, the whole room listens intently to what she has to say. Machado shares deeply personal feelings about visiting Cuba to learn more about her family history and interconnects this with her experiences in writing. Writing, she explains, is like building a haunted house. When writing, the writer should show the reader the house they’ve built–and that house should have been built to be lived in. The writer haunts the text that they’ve written, just as Machado’s narration haunts everyone in the audience. She concludes with two chapters from her completed book, which releases in early November, directly illustrating the memoir’s unique structure.
When the readings are finished, Machado turns control to the audience. She is asked whether she feels self-conscious about her writing, and gives a winding answer about how many iterations Dream House went through, and concludes that she’s proud of it (and rightfully so!) because of how long it took. She often retells fairy tales (her short story The Husband Stitch is a retelling of the horror folk tale The Green Ribbon); how does she keep retellings fresh? She believes people love them – the bones exist and she’s putting new flesh on them. She asks herself what about the story that speaks to her hasn’t been sufficiently explored in other versions. Whose story hasn’t been told?
What advice does the National Book Award finalist have for budding writers? To paraphrase the soothsayer of the queer creatives, a story is not a road to follow but a house with its own distinctive architecture and atmosphere. Good writing is not constructed, but born out of need. No matter how many craft elements you expertly employ, it is the echoes of your footsteps that your reader needs to hear. Let yourself leak into your writing. And if all else fails, remember, “Pure spite will get you very far.”
She isn’t joking. A guy in a writing workshop she once took called her a prude because she criticized a sexist story he wrote. She now writes sex scenes out of spite. It’s not her only source of inspiration though; ideas also come to her in the shower. For her weirdest stories, she draws inspiration by looking at things that are normal and wondering what it would be like if something were really fucked up about it.
Having brilliantly redefined the boundaries of fiction and nonfiction, Machado is now making a foray into comic book writing with DC’s The Low, Low Woods, which she refers to as a “gothic horror mystery starring two queer dirtbag teenage girls.” Calling comics a nice sweet spot between working in a visual medium (like screenplays) and prose, she says that only time will tell how it will compare to her short fiction.