Ask The Author: Meghan Lamb

Meghan Lamb’s work, “Mosquitoes”, appears in the October issue. Meghan discusses here how editing affects her writing and where the story came from.

1. How can nipples look like a rubber ducky?

It’s an association thing. I do this a lot in my writing and I think it’s the kind of thing that people either get right away or just sounds crazy no matter how I defend it. Basically, rubber baby bottle nipples > rubber duckies > water/swimming > “rubber” actual real live nipples. I guess I was going for the kind of repulsiveness that I always felt noticing sexual or possibly sexual things as a pre-adolescent. All your primary thoughts are still tied to this childhood world of toys and games and rubber ducks and shit, but threads of those thoughts get wrapped up in the terror of new emerging bodies.

Nipples are the weirdest. On my tenth birthday, I noticed this weird feeling in my nipples, like there were bits of metal like quarters or something lodged up underneath them. I was going to go to a pool party later that day, and I was afraid that my nipples would somehow affect my ability to swim. I told my mom and she freaked out and called the doctor thinking I had breast cancer. Before I even had breasts. Right.

Have you seen those videos of babies learning to swim by themselves? You should check them out on Youtube; they’re amazing. Mothers just throw their screaming crying babies into open pools with no one in them and the babies swim across the pools, all alone. It’s clear that the babies don’t want to swim and are maybe afraid to be swimming, but instinct kicks in and their fat little bodies just do it. It’s kind of a perfect visual allegory for growing up, I think.

So anyway, yeah. Water. Nipples. Body horror and puberty. Does that make sense? I don’t think I can make it make sense.

2. What color cap do you wear to indicate how well you can swim?

I think I kind of explain this in the story, but there was this system at camp. Green was for beginners, yellow was for intermediate swimmers, and red was for advanced. Or was it the other way around? I don’t remember, whatever. Anyway, there was a swimming pond that was divided into different depths by ropes, and the beginning level swimmers were not allowed to swim beyond a little 3-foot deep area that was only about 5-feet wide. The intermediate area was even more awkward because it was just barely too deep for your feet to touch down, so you just had to tread water in this narrow little 5-foot wide area between two other groups of girls. I remember I started off the summer as a beginner and took this test to swim in the intermediate area. The test was treading water for half an hour because that’s basically what you had to do to swim there. I was all excited until I realized that it sucked even worse than the beginner area. The advanced swimmers had full reign of the rest of the pond. Bitches.

3. How does editing a magazine affect the way you write?

I’m not sure how it changes the way I write, but it definitely affects how I view my writing as part of a “peer group” or broader stylistic trend. When I read good stories that remind me of my own stories, it increases my confidence. Not so much in a patting myself on the back way, but in a way that makes me think “oh, there is an audience for this kind of writing.” You know…whatever “this kind of writing” is.

That’s a boring answer. Let me elaborate; editing a magazine doesn’t affect how I write as much as it affects the way I submit. I am acutely aware of every possible thing that could be annoying (like the word “acutely,” right there, for example.) Most cover letters are just so incredibly goddamn annoying. Before I edited a magazine, I imagined the “annoying” cover letters would be long inflated lists of achievements, publications, Pushcart nominations and so forth, but the really really annoying letters are the ones that try to be cute. The most annoying are the ones that try to be cute and say something “personal” about our magazine and how they wrote their story especially with our magazine in mind. People will send letters telling us how they wrote something “blank and blank” just for us, and I’m like “oh, how thoughtful” (I’m being sarcastic.) They’ll say, “oh, I have a story that’s “dark and quirky”” or “experimental and wacky” or “irreverent and romantic” or whatever. I see what people are trying to do there, but it doesn’t do much to win me over. I want to tell them, “it’s my job to decide what I want my magazine to look like, not yours!” So, I try to keep that in mind when I’m submitting. I try to keep an open mind and not tailor my writing to the point where I’m doing the editor’s job.

4. Where did “Mosquitoes” come from?

I know where it came from in the sense that it’s semi but barely autobiographical like everything I write, but that’s boring to talk about because that’s how everyone writes, to a point. I think I wrote this story because I’m at another weird crossing over point in my life right now that feels like the adult version of pre-adolescence. I feel like I’m hovering between a “job” and a “career,” between some notion of myself as an individual and a married person (I got married a little over a year ago,) and between different words to define whatever my sexual identity happens to be/seem/or feel like at the moment (marriage changes that in both expected and unexpected ways.) So much of my identity is in theory and not in practice, if that makes any sense (and yeah, yeah, I know what you’re thinking: What’s the difference? I don’t know. That’s why I wrote this, I suppose.) 

5. How much of your life bleeds into your fiction?

Everything bleeds into everything and fiction is just this funny desperate little attempt to staunch the bleeding.

6. How could you make kidnapping funny?

How do you make anything funny? Kidnapping is scary, especially to women, so it’s a relief to laugh about it, especially if you’re a woman. Personally (as a woman) I feel this unease between the way I was taught to be paranoid about “strangers” and “rapists” and the kind of selfish egotism that fear encourages you to cultivate. When I was about 11-years-old, my mom tried to tell me that there were seriously rapists hiding in the bushes beyond our backyard and that that was why I shouldn’t ride my bike there. I always thought the better question was, why would someone be hiding in a bush waiting to pounce on my specific 11 year-old-self in the first place? Was I just that madly desirable with my crooked teeth and my knobby knees and my little quarter tits? That sounds like victim blaming. That’s not how I mean for it to sound. All jokes just kind of ultimately sound bad.