Epiphany: William Trevor began his adult life as a sculptor and later described his writing as chipping away at a block of marble. Are you a chipper or a builder? In other words do you chip away at a block of writing, or are you more methodical, building up the block brick by brick?
Melissa Ragsly: I’m neither. Or both. I’m more of a “let’s build this foundation so strong, there’s no way it will ever fall down” kind of writer. That usually involves a lot of research, thinking, brewing. I would like to put forth the idea that I’m a tea bag writer. I pack a bag of ideas and sit in the water and whatever comes out, that’s the story.
What was your first publication?
I had a short story, “A Clash” published in the lit mag, The Rag, a few years ago.
Five books you are reading or thinking about now?
Reading: Wonderland, Stacey D’Erasmo
Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist, Sunil Yapa
Private Citizens, Tony Tulathimutte
The Past, Tess Hadley
The Last Party, John Harris
Reading for pleasure but also as the foundation building for the novel I’m working on about a British rock goddess, the rise of Britpop and the end of Thatcher’s rule. D’Erasmo writes about music and artists so well, Yapa brings the recent past and politics so deftly into his fiction, Tulathimutte is so confident in his character’s voices and it’s also about the recent past and Hadley is so dazzling and British and puts you under a spell. The Last Party is non-fiction all in the name of research.
If you had to inhabit a fictional world, what would it be (i.e., the environment of which novel or short story or poem)?
This is the hardest question. There are literally too many options. Any place in the world real or imagined at any point in the past, present, future of humanity or beyond mortality? I need to be more restrained in my choices! Give me a limited menu and I could answer, maybe.
Out of the five books above, I would love to inhabit the world of Anna in Wonderland. She’s 44, past her fame, touring Europe, feeling the loss of people gone but the energy of performance and not having a home for a few months. I’d like to live in her skin for a while.
Most interesting day job you've had (from the perspective of a writer)?
In high school I worked at a fried chicken take out place. We would get a lot of calls from the nearby psychiatric center, mostly requests for dark meat meals. The other people that worked there seemed so uncomfortable; high school dropout stoners who peeled off chicken skin and delivered the food to the committed, girls with big hair, press-on nails, and perpetual looks of disgust towards the world and who would never eat the fatty food they were serving. The owner, who had two heart attacks in the year I worked there, had the most miserable looking children. Their clothes never seemed to fit right. His wife seemed to hide behind these huge thick brown eyeglasses. There was a lot of humanity going on in that little place—no proof of the existence of happiness.
Novels? Short stories? Which do you prefer to write?
Both. I’m still trying to finish a novel. Ask me again in a year or two.
One sentence of advice regarding writing?
Take walks and listen to comedy podcasts.
Your story title: was it your first choice?
Yeah. I don’t put too much thought into titles. It fit and it was short. It checks off the boxes.
In a nutshell, what are you working on now?
See question #3.
What's an interview question you've never been asked that you wish had been?
“Would you like to go get a drink after this?”
Melissa Ragsly has been published in The Rag, Sixfold, and Green Mountains Review, and was a finalist for the David Nathan Meyerson Prize for Fiction. She lives in Croton-on-Hudson, NY.