Voice raiser

Joanne Meschery

Photo By David Robert

Writer Joanne Meschery attended high school in Fallon and now splits her time between teaching fiction at San Diego State University and living in the High Sierra town of Calpine, Calif. Her most recent novel, Home and Away, was published in 1994. She’s currently working on a new novel, House Calls, about sex workers in a Nevada brothel. She reads at Oats Park Art Center in Fallon on June 1 from 5-7 p.m. It’s a free event. Call (775) 423-1440.

Tell me a bit about your background.

I never thought of writing as a profession. If you talk to people, everybody has a book in them, and they probably really do. I wrote from the time I was in fifth grade, writing plays and stuff. I always thought of it as a hobby. It never occurred to me you could do this in a serious way. My husband at the time did the Iowa Writers Workshop, and we had three kids. He was in poetry; I applied in fiction. I got a Masters in Fine Arts at the University of Iowa Writers Workshop. It was a great time to be there. I was in a class with Jane Smiley, T.C. Boyle, Michael Cunningham, just a bunch of us were in there together. We had great teachers—John Irving, Ray Carver, John Cheever. It was just an experience of a lifetime. My friend Allan Gurganus—a wonderful writer … I had a fellowship with three little kids, pretending I wasn’t a writer, and he said, “When are you going to stop pretending you’re a weekend writer and take responsibility for what you’re doing and not be afraid?” I think every writer has to come to that place and say, “This is what I do for better or worse,” and just hope the world accepts it and that you can make some difference. I got a fellowship to Stanford right after that. It made me a writer. I finished a novel during the time I had that fellowship, and I sold it right away. I was very lucky. … Especially when you have a family—I saw a lot of sunrises. I’d put the kids to bed and sit down to write, look up, and the sun was rising. I think you’re sort of obsessed, I think that’s what happens. I think that happens in all art. You just have to love the process.

Where do you get your ideas?

I don’t really think there’s a writer’s muse. The muse is really just sitting down as much as you can every day. Putting words on paper. … If you allow yourself to stay open to ideas, they come, and sometimes it’s from the most unexpected places. It’s not always from the spectacular or the dangerous. They’re out there on the street every day. A lot of my ideas early on have been about family because that’s something I’ve been really involved in. I think it’s a subject that’s never exhausted. … That’s just how human relations are—they can be so completely fulfilling and heartening and at the same time heartbreaking. That’s what fiction’s about. Fiction loves trouble. … I don’t think you can live in this society or culture now without feeling like there’s got to be a voice. … I just think we live in a time when the outlandish and the grotesque become routine overnight. There’s some kind of a numbing going on in this culture. I think fiction writers say the grotesque really is grotesque, and the outlandish really is bizarre, and we need to look at this and not tell the truth but a truth. I think that’s when you have an edge as a writer. I don’t think I’m a political writer, but it plays a part. Octavio Paz said, “Literature is just history with a human face,” and I think that’s really true. The other thing I tell my students is, if you’ve ever been in a restaurant, and someone in there gets into a heated discussion, and someone raises their voice really loud, and people look over and go “shush,” I tell writers that we shouldn’t be silenced. We need to be the one at the table saying something.

I don’t think I ever want to go to lunch with you.

(Laughs.) We live in a vindictive culture, where if you don’t tow the line, or you say something that raises opposition, you could be silenced really fast. In those kinds of times, we need writers more than ever. Gabriel Garcia Marquez said “Sooner or later, people believe writers over government.” The governments we know lie to us. I think fiction is a lie, but it’s a lie that tells the truth. It’s not factual, but it’s telling a truth that can’t otherwise be told.