On the release of Kat’s new work, Dear DeeDee, we were delighted to have a virtual sit down with her to discuss her writing process.
Who has supported you/your writing along the way?
I’ve been lucky. Over the years, I’ve had boosts and buck-ups from many folks. I’m especially grateful for a phenomenal group of women who, in the early going, helped me enormously in terms of support, inspiration and craft. We connected through UNCG’s MFA program and got together outside of class in each other’s houses for evenings of wine, food and rigorous, in-depth critiquing sessions. We called ourselves “Ladies Lit” for multiple reasons, one being, within our group, we treated what others dismissed as “women stories”—meaning stories that prioritized women characters and sensibilities—as serious, worthy fiction. In that group, I was very fortunate to learn from, among others, Lynne Barrett, Candy Flynt and Lee Zacharias. Still learning from their work today—but, alas, we’re too spread about the country to continue those great get-togethers on a regular basis.
How do you research your work?
For historical fiction, I start by reading: history, cultural studies, biographies and autobiographies connected to the period and specific events. After that, I try mightily to visit the terrain. For my novel For You, Madam Lenin (Livingston Press/University of West Alabama) I managed to get to Russia. Despite the vast number of years between when I gazed upon the Neva River and my character Nadya Krupskaya did likewise, it was important to my process to experience St. Petersburg, her city—its air and light and atmosphere. My approach is similar when writing nonfiction. Although I’d finished the background research for an Estelle Faulkner essay published in “Full Stop,” before writing the piece, I badly wanted to lay eyes on Estelle’s Rowan Oak bedroom. And despite its “cleaned up” appearance and the thousands of visitors who’d traipsed through the Faulkners’ one-time home before me, that bedroom viewing was definitely worth the trip. Place—actual landscapes and physical structures—are a key component for me in any genre.
How do you develop your characters?
One of the reasons I was intrigued to try the epistolary form in Dear DeeDee directly relates to that question. How to exclusively address one specific recipient, reveal my own narrator self, and simultaneously have that “private” communication be universal enough in reach and content to interest an unrelated third party? That was the challenge. Eventually I settled on the “huh?” test. Whenever I wigged off on something too insular—a family tidbit that required knowing the entire backstory of all involved to appreciate its significance—that passage failed the huh? test and got nixed. For fiction, typically, I start with a visual of the character, then fast forward to the question: What’s troubling this character? That one-two usually dumps me into a narrative thicket fairly quickly. In Dear DeeDee, what’s troubling Aunt K is a bundle of stuff: time passing, where (now) to call home, were the life choices she’s made right or wrong or just inevitable—those kinds of probes. Fundamentally, it’s a book about identity, questions of identity.
What are the nuances differentiating memoir and autobiography?
I’m partial to Gore Vidal’s interpretation of those terms: autobiography requires fact checking; memoir is how one remembers one’s life. And “memoir,” Vidal went on to say, “is apt to get right what matters most.” It’s been my experience that I often discover “what matters most” during the writing process. You’d think I’d know beforehand—and sometimes do—but very often I find it’s the writing out that clarifies and confirms what’s what for me.
Where/when do you get your best writing ideas?
Cleaning house. I have no idea why—but there it is. Dust a lamp, sprint back to the desk, scribble notes; vacuum half a room, sprint back, scribble notes, etc. Needless to say, it takes me longer than it should to clean my house. Even so: side benefits.
Kat Meads is the award-winning author of 20 books and chapbooks of prose and poetry, including: 2:12 a.m.; Not Waving; For You, Madam Lenin; Little Pockets of Alarm; The Invented Life of Kitty Duncan; Sleep; and a mystery novel written under the pseudonym Z.K. Burrus, set on the Outer Banks. Dear DeeDee, released by Regal House Publishing, is in stores December 4, 2020.