January 26, 2016 by RJ
SHELDON LEE COMPTON: So what’s Misty Skaggs been up to lately?
MISTY MARIE RAE SKAGGS: well, mostly, keepin’ the wood stove burning. waging war on field mice that have decided to make themselves at home in my kitchen and eat my cereal. and writing. i’m always writing. i’ve been working on rounding up all the short stories i’ve left lyin’ around all limp and pitiful and doing a bit of editing and turning them into a comprehensive collection. i’ve also been dabbling in playwriting. that’s fun. a totally new outlet for me.
SLC: Playwriting? That sounds interesting. I’ve wondered how that would go. What do you think so far? What’s the play you’re working on?
MMRS: i’ve always enjoyed reading plays, ever since i stumbled across Tennessee Williams on the “adult” shelf at the middle school library. and i single-handedly re-started the long-dead Drama Club at my little, rural, high school in a typical, teenage, overachiever fashion. and when i was a student at Morehead State, i was handed an amazing opportunity by Dr. Ritta Abell to help her in transforming some of Crystal Wilkinson’s short stories into a theatrical performance piece. i really got into it, since i wanted to do Crystal’s amazing work serious justice. i love that lady and her writing and everything she’s done for me as a budding author. sadly, i left school before i ever got to see the production, but several of my dramatic translations were included. i hadn’t really thought much about ever trying to write a play of my own, until i connected with a new writer pal with theater experience via tumblr who insisted that he could just see my stories coming to life on stage. i was really flattered to think that my words could paint pictures so clearly for someone. so i figured, y’know, what the hell? maybe i’ll give it a try! and my aforementioned pal, Tommy Anderson, has been helpin’ me with some suggestions and edits along the way. it’s really just an idea of a play so far.
it is interesting! i’ve found that playwriting requires a big shift in perspective and style for me. so many times in my short stories, there isn’t even a stitch of dialogue. all of a sudden, i have to figure out how to make all the unsaid things become clear through conversation. it’s strange and challenging. but that’s why i’ve been diggin’ it, i think.
so far, it’s a play about a couple about ready to come apart at the seams. it’s a play about a woman and her nozy neighbors, about a cozy kitchen and a sterile hospital. and the plague of havin’ “bad nerves”.
SLC: Interpreting prose to plays seems like it would be challenging, but fun, too. I notice that most of the time you seem to write poetry. But that poetry reads much like short fiction. Do you consider yourself a poet first? If so, what is the primary reason?
MMRS: well, i write about as much short fiction as i do poetry. but the poetry seems to be what people want to publish. i think that the line between poetry and prose doesn’t have to be quite so strict as we make it. a good poem can tell a story just as powerful as a two hundred page novel. and that’s a tricky question for me, do i consider myself a poet first. why do i have to be one or the other? i mean, honestly, it took a long time before i even considered myself a “writer”. to me, writing was som’m i’d just always done. as long as i can remember. i suppose really i consider myself a compulsive scribbler and an active observer. i don’t like labels and i’ve found i don’t fit into many of ’em anyways.
SLC: I actually agree with you about labels, in that respect. As long as you’re working creatively, that’s all that really matters. It’s been my experience that labels inevitably lead to cliques. And cliques are revolting.
I’ve also had the pleasure of publishing some of your artwork here at Revolution John. Both you and your mother are wonderful artists. Creative people often have difficulty fitting into society, I’ve found, since you mentioned most labels not fitting you anyways. Because of this I’ve had so many different jobs. Have you had a similar experience in the work force?
MMRS: mmmhmm. i think i knew in elementary school that i didn’t fit in anywhere. my teachers used to confiscate my books on the way out to recess and try to force me into some socializing. you know how those creative weirdo types are.
shoo, Lordy. yeah, me and the work force don’t get along.ha! i’ve given up on the nine-to-five bullshit, for the most part. i live broke and i love it. even if it is a little stressful sometimes. you’d be amazed at all the things you think you gotta’ have but you can live without. i kinda’ like depriving myself. it’s like a challenge. make do or fuckin’ forget about it, Misty! sheesh!
but yeah, i have worked a plethora of weird and various jobs over the years. i’ve been a waitress. i’ve been a nanny. i’ve cleaned hotel rooms. i’ve worked the night shift at a truck stop in the middle of the midwest. i’ve produced and hosted a television show for college campus teevee. i even worked at a forensic mental hospital very briefly. right now, my job is writing and making art and takin’ care of my adorable little Mamaw and our home out in the middle of nowhere. i couldn’t be happier.
SLC: That’s great. I took care of my grandmother, who I call Mother, until her children (with the exception of my dead father) put her in a nursing home. It was a great couple of years. You mention teachers persuading you away from books to interact at school. What were those books? Do you remember? What, if any, impact did they have on you?
MMRS: i moved in here to help Mamaw take care of my Great Mamaw. i was with her right up until the end, ’till she passed away here in our living room. i don’t regret it even for a minute. i’m so glad she could spend her last days where she wanted to be. she was still making quilts on her old treadle Singer a week before she passed.
in regards to teachers and their persuasion, that’s putting it euphemistically. i used to like to read at recess. i’d climb way up into the highest piece of playground equipment and have this little fortress where i’d read and people watch. hahah! my sixth grade teacher would catch me heading out to the playground with a book in hand and there was no persuasion to it, she’d straight up take it from me and tell me to “go be a normal kid and have some fun!” she just couldn’t believe that for me, a book and a half hour to myself WAS fun. the most fun. i got in trouble in third grade ’cause whenever i would finish my work before the other kids, they’d let me go to the library and get a book to read. well….the librarian decided that there was no way i could be reading four to five books a day, so i proceeded to get all little kid offended and summarize ’em all for her. she told me i needed to start reading longer books and leave her alone. hahaha! that’s how i discovered Louisa May Alcott and Judy Blume and other early favorites. then in middle school/high school i had to bring a permission slip from home before the librarian would let me read books off the “adult shelf”. those books meant the world to me. that’s where i discovered writers like Flannery O’Connor and Toni Morrison. after that snooty librarian turned me away from her desk after i tried to check out The Bluest Eye, i made it my mission to read through that whole shelf before i graduated. out of curiousity and spite. ha! i did it, too. i read that damned library dry.
SLC: That’s a cool origin story. I’m sure all writers probably have one, but that’s a nice rebellious one. I like that. So, as for reading, what are your reading habits these days? I try to read more than I write lately. Do you have any reading goals?
MMRS: hmm…i reckon my primary reading goal is to always be reading. it’s kind of a compulsion for me. if i’m not in the middle of a book, i feel a little lost. i can’t really afford to be picky about my reading material, either. i think that being broke has actually helped broaden my tastes. i rarely ever buy books brand new. but i’m constantly adding to my second hand library via junk stores and flea markets and yard sales. you never know what you’ll find if you take the time to dig around! i read anything that looks interesting. fiction, nonfiction, poetry. there’s always a book or two in my life.
and in my purse. really though, i have a “purse book” at all times. it’s what i read when i’m waiting in line or at the doctor’s office or whatever. right now it’s The Sisters of Hardscrabble Bay by Beverly Jensen. it’s been pretty decent so far, that’s my purse book. i’m usually all caught up in least two books at a time. today i also started reading Alice Munro’s short story collection The Love of a Good Woman. and the last book i finished was The Inventor and the Tycoon by Edward Ball. that one was nonfiction about Edward Muybridge, the father of the moving picture. who also happened to be a murderer. i’m all over the place with my tastes.
SLC: You mention that finding reading material is kind of hit and miss for you. I can relate. Due to limited library volumes and money, I often have to wait until Christmas and birthdays to buy books. I end up doing as you said, sort of reading a mix of things. We know reading is directly linked with better writing. How important is reading various kinds of books to your writing? For example, at one point the only library books I can check out for my Kindle were Japanese authors. This led to me becoming obsessed with Japanese short fiction and then writing a lot of stories with that inspiration sort of leading me. Do you have this experience?
MMRS: i feel you on the birthdays and xmess schtuff, that’s usually when i get new books too. i’m also really lucky to have tons of smart, literate friends and we all kind of swap around what we’re reading and share. i love that. getting a good recommendation and a hand-me-down read someone’s excited to share.
i feel like reading various kinds of books is pretty vital for any writer who wants to grow. i’ve found that plenty of people i meet in the literary world have tastes that are intensely specific. that gets on my last nerve. these types, they like a few authors or they like literature that comes from certain regions/lifestyles and that’s ALL they read. i can’t imagine. that’s crazy limiting. i think once or twice a year you ought to force yourself to pick up a book you’d “never” read and then read it. it’s good for you. life ain’t always about getting what you want or your personal preferences. and there are as many different perspectives as there are people on this god-forsaken planet. me personally, i want to hear as many of those points of view as possible. variety is important to my life, not just my writing. i’m kind of a bumpkin, really. born and raised out here in Elliott County. i’ve never even seen the ocean. as a matter of fact, i’m so country i call all seven of ’em “the ocean”, collective like. and i may not be the least bit well-traveled, but i’m sure the hell well read. it’s been my way of seeing the world so far. and i think by reading a wide variety of subjects and styles and genres, i make myself a better writer AND a better person.
SLC: What are you working on now? What’s on the shelves that we can buy from you lately? What are some things you’re writing now. Any projects, or are you still drawing up a floor plan for one or two?
MMRS: no book deals for me, i’m afraid. i’ve been working on putting together a short story collection to send out for consideration. as well as some poems i’d love to see in chapbook form. but i do some self-publishing, ’cause i was a teenage zinester and i think it’s lots of fun. i have a poetry chapbook available, all about prescription drug abuse in Eastern Kentucky. i’m also publishing in journals and whatnot as often as possible. i just got a piece accepted by Still, which i’m pretty damned proud of. and one of my poems made it into Quarried, the thirty year anthology for Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel. that’s really exciting to me, seein’ my name in print with so many amazing Appalachian writers. you can pick that up through Dos Madres Press. and i recommend you do pick it up, it’s fantastic. plus, i’m painting and writing flash fiction pieces that go with each individual painting. i don’t typically write those down anywhere else, i like for ’em to be truly one of a kind. i try to stay busy. oh! and you can always keep up with me at the blog – http://lipstickhick.tumblr.com