Margaret Luongo’s stories have appeared in Tin House, The Cincinnati Review, Granta, New South, Consequence, The Pushcart Prize anthology and other publications. Her second story collection, History of Art, will be published in early 2016 by LSU Press. She teaches creative writing at Miami of Ohio.
Margaret will be reading submissions sent in March 2nd through March 8th.
SLQ: Tell us about the writing process for the most recent story you’ve written or published.
ML: “Repatriation” was supposed to be a segment of a short story sequence called “History of Art”. I was intrigued by the idea of lost art, and the influence it has had on artists even after it has been lost. I struggled with the opening of the piece for a long time, starting off with something really character driven, from the point of view of an art historian during WWII who was sent to Europe to repatriate stolen works of art. I got one sentence into it and then got stuck, put it aside for about six months, and then told the story from his daughter’s point of view. It was too long to be part of the History of Art sequence, but it seemed to need expansion even still. I tried to expand it, and then decided to make it as short as possible, because I was having time-management issues, short as it was. It jumped all over the place in time, even though it mostly took place in the daughter’s head. My first response to any problem in short fiction is to truncate. I figure if it’s weird, unwieldy, or ugly, if I make it short enough no one will complain. “At least it’s short.” I actually say that to myself. So, I compressed as much as possible and sent it to Cat Parnell at Consequence Magazine. She immediately recognized my failure and encouraged me to “decompress” in a few key areas. I ended up revising with Cat, via emails and phone calls, for several weeks. I also sought help from a former student and a family member regarding certain technical aspects to do with guns and target practice, most of which I ended up cutting. The last revisions happened fast (for me). I was surprised by them and really grateful for Cat’s attention. The story is still weird, but it’s a better story than it was. I really like the characters and I was glad to spend more time with them. (The story can be found here: http://www.consequencemagazine.org/)
What music helps you write or feel relaxed enough to get started?
Lately, for the last year or so, I’ve been listening to classical guitar while I write, mostly Andrés Segovia and Carlos Barbosa-Lima, sometimes Christopher Parkening. I went through a brief Brahms phase (Ein Portrat) when working on the revision of Repatriation. On the way to and from writing, I really like Foo Fighters. I find their music oddly bracing and cheering, especially In Your Honor and Sonic Highways.
If you accidentally insulted a witch and she cursed you to live the rest of your life in a work of fiction, what would you pick?
Oh, boy. I would probably pick Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson. All the characters live perpetually in interesting times, and they get to do it over and over, with varying results. Eventually, the characters attain wisdom and detachment through this perspective, though the hurts hurt just as much. The book takes place mostly in London and the English countryside, both places I’d like to spend more time in, even though much of the book is set during wartime.
What do you think takes a piece of fiction from good to great?
The writer’s extreme attention to every single thing in the story—sentence-level felicity, form, character, language, style, everything. I like it when a writer makes me forget everything I think I know about what a story should do; the story is so idiosyncratic that no one can learn anything from it. It’s not a model for anything but itself. I don’t think I could tell anyone how to achieve that effect, except by paying extreme attention, to avoid the usual narrative and craft-related moves. Sometimes I think we’re too quick to eradicate what’s strange in our work, in order to make it conform, but often it’s the strangeness that gives the piece life.