Who knew the life of a waitress could be so brutal, compelling, and nasty. Merritt Tierce's gripping and gritty debut novel Love Me Back is the story of Marie, a single mom in Texas who can't seem to stay away from the drugs, sex and bad choices that have created an obstacle course between her and adulthood. Fiercely written and uncompromisingly blunt, Tierce (a National Book Foundation "5 Under 35" honoree and a Rona Jaffe Award-winner) is a bold writer and a powerful new voice.
Ten words that describe Love Me Back?
Dark, dirty, fierce. Woman, mother, sex. Men, appetites, sex. Restaurants.
I wrote it for myself, and for Marie (the book’s narrator). I don’t write with an imaginary reader in mind, or to satisfy anyone other than myself--I write to make sentences that sound whole and original. I read for the same reason: not to find out what happens next but to hear the best words in the best order. When I say I wrote it for Marie I mean that I was inside her mind and I was trying to tell her story in a respectful, honest way. To the extent that Marie is a version of my younger self, especially in the first few chapters of the book, I wrote the book for all three of us--a way to salvage whatever was important about all that. Writing is the alchemy that refines the joyless experiences of my youth into something of value.
I have a cedar closet that I’ve converted into a writing space. It smells wonderful and it’s small, about two feet deep and four feet wide. I love small spaces and I love being hidden away from the world. I put a rocking chair in there and my husband installed some reinforcements under the closet’s shelf so I can climb up and dream-nap. There are string lights and a paper lantern. On the walls I’ve posted many beloved talismans--handwritten notes from friends, drawings my kids made for me when they were little, some favorite photographs--as well as strong ideas I’ve had over the years, one per notecard.
That space is where I go when I can’t write anywhere else in my house. We have seven pets and three children, so our home is rarely quiet. If I’m not at home I can be exceptionally productive in transit. Something about being confined to an airport, or on a train/plane surrounded by strangers, opens the vault. Constraints provoke creativity.
I usually write on my MacBook Air. I write in Word (although I’m recently enamored of Pages), but I never write with the document in typical manuscript layout--portrait orientation, double-spaced, etc. I can’t stand to see that on my screen. The words look vulnerable and weak and I instinctively want to herd them closer to one another. I have a template I use to make the document look more like a book: landscape, two columns, justified, Garamond 13 pt, specific margins and spacing, among other elements I conform. If I could make the white background more page-colored I would. I often set the View mode to Focus so all the toolbars and rulers and menus disappear.
When I write by hand I like Pilot .38 pens. They are hard to find in stores because the tip is so fine, which is what I love about them. And while I’m more disturbed all the time by the firearms violence in this country, it’s not lost on me that I write with a .38 and I do believe that words are extraordinarily powerful. My pen is my weapon.
I need either complete silence or loud, loud, engulfing sound. I finished one of my last drafts of Love Me Back at a goth club in Dallas. I sat in a high-backed red velvet chair at The Church and slipped right into flow state.
When I’m really writing, especially something new, my body seems to enter a version of suspended animation--I suppose temporarily suppressing its normal operations to push more blood to my brain. I don’t become tired or hungry or thirsty until I’m out of the grip, and then I find I am behind on all kinds of systems maintenance.
I love weeding. I took a class on Chekhov from Allan Gurganus, and one of his many wise prescriptions was that we [writers] should all garden. I hadn’t had the yard or time to do that until after I graduated from Iowa, but over the past couple of years I have discovered he is absolutely right. I love visiting my plants every day and weeding is so restorative, for both my head and the flowers. Sometimes I’m disappointed if there aren’t any new weeds.
Frequently I fall asleep when I sit down to write, which used to frustrate me. I felt like it was a sign that I wasn’t disciplined enough to just force my mind into a keen, industrious state. But I’ve realized that my brain is actually taking a bath. It’s soaking itself in some sleep to wash off whatever film of clamor or preoccupation has built up. When I awake from these naps I can hear myself more clearly.
Walking is a great generator as well. I’ve written about this in a story called Everything I Did in Madrid. In that story, a writer can only have ideas while running--once the heart starts beating hard it gives up the good stuff.