Smoke and Mirrors: An Interview with Meredith Alling

by Brenna Womer Read the Story March 21, 2016

This story is written in such a distinctive way—the stream of consciousness, the sparse punctuation. Is this a style you find yourself writing often, or is it something this specific piece demanded of you (or asked, if you happen to have particularly considerate inspirations)?

I started writing some stories in this style about a year ago, so I have a handful of them at this point. And even the stories I’m working on that aren’t in this exact style have taken some cues from it. I’ve gained more confidence as a writer in the past couple of years, and because of that I feel more comfortable taking risks with language and form. This style has worked particularly well for me when I want a story to have a sense of immediacy.

Was this story sparked by some real-life occurrence, or is it more so a conjuring of your imagination?

I used to work as a freelance writer, and one of my jobs was writing articles about pet health and behavior for a pet supply website. After writing each article, I also had to find an appropriate stock photo to go along with it. In one instance I was scrolling through pages of dog photos, and I came upon a row of photos of dogs with guns to their heads. I thought, “This is insane. Why do these photos exist? What could these possibly be intended for?” That was about three-and-a-half years ago, but the images popped into my head one evening when I sat down to write, and the story came with them.

This piece is a whirlwind of dialogue, internal and external. For how effortlessly it carries the reader through, one might surmise that you wrote it quickly, like a lightning strike, and perhaps in one fell swoop. Is this the case in any way, or would you consider “one” ironically hasty with the thought?

I write first drafts very quickly, yes. I try not to be precious with them. When I’ve reached what feels like the end of a first draft, I don’t let myself look at the writing again for several days. When I do go back and look at it, I often have a lot to say about it. I’ll make some edits, and then not look at it again for another several days. I’ll do this again and again until I look at it and it feels done. There can be many rounds of this, even for a very short piece. In some cases it comes together a lot quicker and I’ll maybe only make some minor edits, but that’s not the norm. It’s usually not a “one fell swoop” situation.

Where are you most comfortable writing? Where do you get your best work done?

I really need total silence, which sucks. I’d love to be able to write in a coffee shop or listen to the news while I write, or whatever, but I can’t. I’ve found that even music without words distracts me. So I get my best work done at my house, in terrible silence, usually on the couch or on my bed with my computer on my lap.

Who are you reading right now?

I recently finished The Age of Wire and String by Ben Marcus and White Girls by Hilton Als. The Ben Marcus collection is wild, really experimental stuff, but I found a lot of complex emotion in the stories—a lot of surreal genius. And White Girls is just extraordinary, necessary. Now I’m reading Brian Evenson’s new collection, A Collapse of Horses. He writes these dark, psychological stories that are really brilliant. I’m liking it a lot. Next on my list are F250 by Bud Smith and You Too Can Have A Body Like Mine by Alexandra Kleeman.

About the Author:

Meredith Alling is a writer and nonprofit project manager living in Los Angeles. Her website is HERE.

About the Interviewer:

Brenna Womer is an MFA candidate at Northern Michigan University, where she teaches writing and literature and serves as an associate editor of Passages North. She is the author of the cross-genre chapbook Atypical Cells of Undetermined Significance (C&R Press 2018), and her work has appeared in Indiana Review, The Normal School, DIAGRAM, and elsewhere.

About the Artist:

Alexander C. Kafka is a journalist, photographer, and composer in Bethesda, Maryland. He created the cover image for Lost Addresses: New and Selected Poems by Diann Blakely (Salmon Poetry, 2017). His work has also been published at All Things Fashion DC, BuzzFeed, Fast Company, Juked, Vice, The Washington Post, The Writing Disorder, and many other periodicals. He has been on the documentation team for the Washington Folk Festival at Glen Echo and is a contributing concert photographer for DMNDR. Kafka studied fine-art figure photography with Missy Loewe at the Washington School of Photography and portrait photography with Sora DeVore at Glen Echo Photoworks.