WIPs Conversation: Kat Meads on her work in progress

Kat Meads headshotKat Meads is the author of 15 previous books and chapbooks of prose and poetry, including: 2:12 a.m.; For You, Madam Lenin; The Invented Life of Kitty Duncan; Sleep; and when the dust finally settles. She also penned a mystery novel written under the pseudonym Z.K. Burrus. She has received a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, a California Artist Fellowship, and artist residencies at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Yaddo, Millay Colony, and Blue Mountain Center. Other prizes include the Chelsea award for fiction, the New Letters award for essay, and the Editors’ Choice award from Drunken Boat. Her short plays have been produced in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Las Vegas and elsewhere. A native of North Carolina, she teaches in Oklahoma City University’s low-residency MFA program.

Kat, this excerpt from In This Season of Rage and Melancholy Such Irrevocable Acts as These begins with the story of Elizabeth Jane Anderson’s brief relationship with a soldier on leave that leaves her pregnant but determined. She chooses not to inform the soon-to-be father and instead moves out of her aunt’s place and into a small cornfield trailer, prepared to raise the child by herself. But she miscarries. To quote her God, “All [she] had to do was sit back, grow fat and lazy.” How does Elizabeth’s pregnancy and the loss of her child affect her actions moving forward?

The miscarriage has a devastating effect on Beth (Elizabeth). Although the pregnancy wasn’t planned, having a child turns out to be something she desperately wants—something that gives her a purpose, something to hope for, live for. When Matt Spruill starts pursuing her again and proposes marriage, she feels trapped and cornered, convinced that she’s not “wife material” either.

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Kat Meads: “Come My Love, and Be with Me,” an excerpt from In This Season of Rage and Melancholy Such Irrevocable Acts as These


She supposed Matt Spruill had found Aunt Grace’s number in the phone book—or gotten it from his own parents, who still lived in Mawatuck. Because he graduated too late for a Southeast Asia tour, he was stationed at Fort Bragg, training recruits. From Fayetteville, Matt Spruill, anyone with a car, could reach Mawatuck in a few hours’ time.

On the telephone, by way of reintroduction, he said: “Hi, Beth. It’s Matt Spruill. I saw you at the bank last time I was home.”

She thought he’d said that. Matt Spruill’s voice was a murmur. It sounded farther away than it was.

“I guess you don’t remember me.”

“I don’t, no.”

“That’s okay,” he said, absolving her when she hadn’t asked to be absolved.

When he invited her to go to the movies the following weekend, inexperienced in the etiquette of accepting or declining dates, she committed the first of many errors by failing to say no instantly. Her hesitation he interpreted as consent.

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WIPs Conversation: NancyKay Shapiro on her work in progress

NKShapiroNancyKay Shapiro is the author of a previous novel, What Love Means To You People. She lives in New York City.




NancyKay, your novel Céline Varens gives resounding voice to a minor character in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. In the excerpt we find Céline in Paris discovering that the woman whom she left her young daughter Adele with years before has already turned the girl over to Adele’s father, Rochester. Céline tells M. Carmichael that Rochester only took the girl “To punish me. To punish me. To punish me.” What intrigued you about Céline that inspired you to write a novel in which she becomes the protagonist? Do you feel she was overlooked in Jane Eyre?

Not overlooked. In Jane Eyre Céline’s not a character—she’s a necessary object, part of the plot function, referred to in dialogue but not otherwise seen by the reader, who has to take Mr Rochester’s word for her. Céline is a key figure in Rochester’s past, which he’s got to confess and live down in order to be worthy of Jane in the end. She helps make the story wheel turn, by representing for him the venality of women in general, and birthing the little girl whose presence requires Rochester to need a governess.

But to step back from the immediate question, I’d like to describe a little about where the idea to write a novel in conversation with another novel came from.

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NancyKay Shapiro: an excerpt from Céline Varens


After weeks of journeying, she found, when she’d finally reached Paris, that she could not proceed directly to Marie’s. Her very eagerness for reunion with her daughter checked her. Shame fouled her, tangled like rope around her ankles, hobbling and tripping her up. A four months’ tour of the provinces! That was all it was to be, a chance to save a little money and come right back. Yet she’d allowed that to turn into almost two years, to convince herself that it was for Adele’s sake that she followed Semyon further and further across Europe, all the way to St Petersburg. How many instances did she require, to learn once for all the worthlessness of men, the hollowness of their promises and inducements?

She nearly walked by the Marie’s now, not recognizing it. The house front had been re-painted in her absence. But there was the laundry, and there was the butcher—it was where the strong smells of borax and blood met and did battle, that one turned in at Marie’s doorway.

The city constantly shifted and moved, but there were some pockets, some streets and neighborhoods, that were so out of the way and ancient, so unthought-of by the powerful, that one might imagine them eternal—eternally crumbling, smelly, begrimed. Such was this little enclave not so far from the Opéra, where so many of those who toiled backstage lived their off-hours. The concierge gave her a half-stare, and a half-bob of her head. Céline returned her a smile, and said she was just going to run up to Madame Marie’s rooms, in the eaves, at the back.

The concierge said something, but she did not pause to listen. In a moment little Adele would be in her arms—right now the child was still ignorant that today was a golden one, but in a moment she’d hear maman’s call, her steps on the stairs, and know it. She fairly bounded up, holding her skirts in one hand, and in the other, the nosegay and the peppermints she’d bought along the way. The first landing smelled of fish soup, the second of tripe, the third of cabbage, and on the fourth she almost expected to see the door already flung open and her daughter rushing out with arms outstretched.

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WIPs Conversation: Vincent Panella on his work in progress

vincent panellaVincent Panella grew up in Queens and now lives in Vermont. His stories have appeared in recent issues of The MacGuffin and The Paterson Review. Two others will soon be published in Voices in Italian Americana and Carbon Culture Review. Three of his books are The Other Side, a memoir subtitled Growing up Italian in America, Cutter’s Island, a novel about Julius Caesar which won a ForeWord prize in 2000, and Lost Hearts, a story collection published in 2010. After graduating from the Iowa Writer’s Workshop he worked as reporter for the Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, then as a writing teacher at Vermont Law School. He can be reached at vincentpanella.com

Vincent, in “Canada,” Bobby finds himself up in Vermont in limbo, his car with a blown head gasket, spoiling his plans. He’s used to trouble, of course, and is careful in what he reveals to the inquiring Rebecca. She’s known plenty of trouble and pain herself, what with her cancer and a restraining order on her combustive ex. As JB realizes, they will inevitably connect. For Bobby, Rebecca’s care and affection are restorative. Should the reader expect Bobby to shelve car repairs for the foreseeable future?

Bobby is ready for the next step. I held that out in the end when he reluctantly accepts the most painful parts of his experience with the first and only male lover in his life. Canada ends in hope, not despair – it can’t be any other way. Rebecca is the angel who shows Bobby how to laugh at the naiveté that once shamed him. I tried to render that ending without being gamey or ambiguous and in a way that gives the reader something to think about. This is one of the pleasures of fiction that I aim for in my writing.

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Vincent Panella: “Canada,” a story from Disorderly Conduct, a collection in progress


Bobby wondered if JB had offered him the Airstream so he could hook up with his sister. Her cabin was just up the hill, and on his first day at work she stormed past in a beat up Mercedes. She wore a cap to hide the hair loss from the cancer JB had mentioned without saying what kind, and despite the cancer she still smoked, biting the filter and wiggling the cigarette playfully. Later she came down to the Airstream where she backed up to the woodpile and stepped around to open the trunk. She was built like JB, tall and wide shouldered. She moved like him too, manlike and hulking in high boots and woolen trousers. After flipping away a cigarette she began picking splits from the stack and throwing them into the trunk, so careless of her aim that one or two pieces hit the bumper.

“That’s no way to treat a Benz,” Bobby said.

The words brought her up short. She was square faced and drawn from the winter, and Bobby sensed a challenge as she cradled a split in one arm and held up her free hand as if stopping traffic.

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