Editor Ariana D. Den Bleyker interviewed Allie Marini about her story “No Reason To Waste Good Meat“, and her work as a writer.
What is the first book that made you cry?
The first book I remember making me cry was when I was around 11, reading the short story The Body in Stephen King’s Different Seasons(the story that became the movie Stand by Me.) The way that the character Chris died in the epilogue—breaking up a knife fight, trying to do the right thing—it was the first time the colossal unfairness of the world showed itself to me in fiction. Oddly enough, that meltdown led to a conversation with my dad, where I learned that my great-grandfather had died the same way: breaking up a knife fight, on his way home from work.
What is your writing Kryptonite?
As in, the thing that makes me weak or strong? (Remember, ON KRYPTON, Kryptonite is just a plain old rock!🤣) The thing that derails me is always always always anxiety, insecurity, & impostor syndrome. Occasionally gin. The thing that makes me strong is also occasionally gin.
What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?
The first time I answered this question, I felt bad singling people out for praise when the truth of it is this: I’m friendly with a lot of people, but close with few. My partner, Brennan DeFrisco, is also a writer, so he’s my built-in beta reader & confidante. There are a lot of writers that I’m friendly with, a few that I’m close with. I don’t really share my work with a lot of people before it’s published, because I’m a really skittish & anxious kind of friend. Despite being a little prickly, I’m a good literary citizen. There are a lot of fantastic writers with whom I regularly interact on Twitter & everyone whose work I read teaches me something valuable. I guess the best answer I can give is this: I search out writers who I think are better than me, & try to learn something from what they’re doing — whether it’s a technique or an idea, or just a way they have with making the reader feel at ease (or not).
Do you want each story or poem to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each?
When I started putting together collections, I didn’t have a plan. My process was a “one piece to the next” approach to writing. Which, at the beginning, I think is necessary for writers to figure out the things they’re good at, the things that interest them, & the way it makes sense for their work to evolve. In the 5 years since I left my MFA program, I’ve gone through a lot of personal upheaval. Concurrently, I’ve noticed a distinct volta in my work & my approach: I am no longer really interested in self-contained poems or even stories, but in the bigger arc of the stories they tell. I couldn’t tell you if that’s a change that happened BECAUSE OF the MFA, or IN SPITE OF the MFA.
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
You’re never going to believe you’re any good at this, so just focus on trying to get better at this. Don’t maintain connections with writers who make you feel bad about your work. Choose mentors who see your potential, not your limitations. But most of all, this: Tell your story, the way only YOU can.
What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
When I was very small, I broke my leg & learned to read, & read all my books, then started authoring NEW books to read to my infant sister, who was too little to understand…or leave. As I got older, I kept writing, mostly in a diary or journal, & by high school I’d gotten onto the school literary magazine, and finally found my place, both writing, and curating collections/preparing them for publication.
As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar?
A possum, because they are small & sweet & nervous & misunderstood. They are considered ugly & are hated by some people, but beloved by those who see the value in what’s not the most beautiful but is probably in your trash can right now, looking for something they can use. Also if I were a possum I’d be immune to rattlesnake venom, & anyone who’s ever had the misfortune to cross a snake knows how valuable THAT talent could be!
Do you hide any secrets in your stories or poems, like Easter eggs, that only a few people will find?
Yes. Usually it’s song lyrics, but a lot of times, it’s names. Stephen King has always been a hugely influential writer for me, & I love that so much of his fiction resides in the same world. So like he does, I include names of places & surnames that show up in many of my stories, particularly the pieces I call the “Dogpatch” stories, of which “No Reason to Waste Good Meat” is one. Like in the real places the Dogpatch stories are set, there are a few family surnames that come up a lot: Revell, Snell.
If you had to do something differently as a child or teenager to become a better writer as an adult, what would you do?
I wouldn’t have quit doing it for 5 years because my ex-husband believed there was only room for one artist in our marriage. I’d have believed in my work, even if I didn’t believe in myself. I wouldn’t have set myself up for a lifetime of listening to people who made me feel bad about my work.
What is your favorite line in No Reason to Waste Good Meat? Why that line?
So the funny thing about No Reason to Waste Good Meat is the first draft of it started about 2 years ago, at a North Bay reading series run by Peg Alford Pursell called Why There Are Words – every reading is curated & themed, & when I was invited, the theme was “Rhyme or Reason”. So this story actually started from a draft called “Vernacular”, and the line: “Because what there’s no rhyme or reason to is why we’re still on this here porch, all of us chilling a cut of meat in the icebox, & there goes Loretta, off to church as fine as you please.” Initially, the piece employed a lot more regional Southern idioms (“eat corn through a picket fence, fly out like a haint in a house, etc.) to tell the story. In the ensuing time since the first draft, I whittled the idioms down to only what was critical to the story, the things that felt natural, the things that felt organic to the characters as I knew them. So even though there are a lot of other, arguably more powerful lines in the story, the fact that this line is the one that was the genesis, and remains the one that’s critical to pivot the story – it’s where Gracie’s mom acknowledges the cyclical nature of domestic violence & her part in passing that along generationally – but doesn’t resolve whether or not it’ll result in any tangible change, or anything immediate.
At what point did you know how you were going to nail the ending in No Reason to Waste Good Meat? It certainly packs a punch. Does the ending metaphor permeate the rest of the Dogpatch Series?
I wasn’t, to be honest. In many previous drafts, the story ended with Gracie being caught behind the door, on the words, “Ain’t polite.” As the story went through each revision, I felt like I was peeling back a lot of layers to something I needed to communicate, as a domestic violence survivor myself. While I’m not a mother and DV wasn’t something that was passed down generationally in my nuclear family, it was MY mother who chose to break those cycles. I’m the proof that you can make all the “right” choices & still have the shadow of generational DV rear up its head. As I continued to work on this story, I knew that there couldn’t be a neat or tidy ending; poverty & domestic violence aren’t neat or tidy in real life, so I knew there was no way I could bring that falsehood to the story. In some of my previous stories, I’ve personified insects, so here, the compost heap felt like the logical place to end the piece: it’s a place where things no one wants, things that aren’t useful anymore, are compressed over time into something that can be repurposed to grow something better. That feels like hope, to me, and hope seemed like the most honest way I could end this story.