Smoking With Michelle Reale

by Tiff Holland Read the Story July 25, 2010

What I’m most interested in with this story is if these characters appear elsewhere. I felt an immediate connection to them.

You may have come across the callous and indifferent mother before. She seems to appear in a lot of my stories.

What made you think up these people?

My stories are full of characters who are what I would call “the walking wounded.” They are damaged. They both do damage to others (and themselves) and/or are often the recipients of neglect of some kind themselves. I see vulnerability everywhere. It comes out in my characters.

How do you come up with ideas?

I keep a lot of notebooks! I jot down words, phrases, conversations. Often I begin a story from a title. I love titles. Sometimes mine just suck. I’ve been working on that, though. Usually, a story has been taking shape in my mind long before it actually shows up on the page. When I finally begin to write it , it has a shape I can easily work with. Then I just take off from there. Characters often go in different directions than I originally intended them too. I used to hate that. I tried to control it. Now, I see how really stupid that is. They go where they need to go, I take them there.

How long have you been writing?

I am literary journalist and a professional book critic, so I have been doing that kind of writing for a long time. I wrote as a kid, diaries, first, then stories about animals, giraffes in particular, I have no idea why. About six years ago, I became tired of interviewing bestselling authors and of reading their books that often did not interest me. As well, I wanted to devote myself to my own work, not someone else’s. Now I work on primarily fiction, but with a huge and growing interest for the prose poem. The first thing I ever had published was a poem, and that was for a national publication while I was in high school. So I find myself, after all these years, wanting to come back to writing poetry. I have a need for distillation more and more and lose my patience with bloated stories that have a lot of dialogue. I am interested in anything the small presses are putting out these days and I purchase as much of it as I possibly can. I urge others to do so, as well.

Has writing changed your life?

Writing saved my life. I can’t be more explicit than that. That statement kind of says it all. Writing has given me, a very shy person, a vehicle for expressing myself. No one can underestimate the importance of that. In turn, I have learned to trust my unique voice on the page, which in turn has helped me to trust my voice in other ways. I see things differently than other people. Where some will see a happy occasion, my minds’ eye will zero in on the cracks in the wallpaper, false smiles, and people looking desperately for approval or escape. I try to make my stories into little miniatures, small, whole worlds where things are askew. I am not a wide, sweeping writer who is trying to encompass everything. I follow a sort of vision and a sort of feeling, knowing very well what I write will not appeal to everyone. So be it. I’ve made my peace with that. An editor once responded to a rather dark story that I wrote which involved (in a very blurred sort of way) a man who beats his wife. There was nothing explicit but he said “Editors don’t want to print these kinds of stories—it’s too dark.” Really? Well then. Life is dark.

If you weren’t writing, what would you be doing?

Every writer says this and I will be just one more, but I can’t imagine not writing. But if you pressed me , I would say, that I might be out of my mind, doing something like raising 30 pug dogs, wearing my bra outside of my body , sitting on a park bench , covered in pigeon poop. I would be the crazy lady. Grand isn’t it? Well, you asked!

What is the last really good small press title you read?

Ah! The Second Elizabeth by Karen Lillis published by Six Gallery Press. Blew me away. I Read it twice. Very poetic and reads like a meditation. I wish I had written it myself.

Whose work do you admire most write now?
The list is ever so long, but for a while now I have been keenly focused on the work of four wonderful writers: Kim Chinquee, Donna Vitucci , Karen Lillis and Stefanie Freele. Their writing resonates with me in very deep and important ways. I owe a lot to them.

What’s next in your writing world?

Well, my second chapbook manuscript, Like Lung Fish Getting Through the Dry Season , has just been accepted and will be published by ThundercIap Press. I am really looking forward to that. Other than that, more of the same: writing every chance I get.

About the Author:

Michelle Reale is an academic librarian on staff at Arcadia University in the suburbs of Philadelphia. Her ficiton has been published in Eyeshot, elimae, Word Riot, Monkeybicycle, Pank, Rumble, Dogzplot and others. Her fiction chapbook, Natural Habitat will be published in by Burning River in the spring of 2010.