Please introduce yourself.
My name is Melissa Grunow, and I am the author of Realizing River City, a memoir that was published by Tumbleweed Books in February.
My writing has appeared in Creative Nonfiction, River Teeth, New Plains Review, Blue Lyra Review, Temenos, and Yemassee, among many others.
I have a Bachelor of Science in English-creative writing and journalism from Central Michigan University, a Master of Arts in English from New Mexico State University, and a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing with distinction from National University.
I live and write in Detroit, Michigan. Realizing River City is my first book.
When did you start writing?
I’ve always enjoyed stories. There are pictures of me reading books to my little brother when I was around four or five years-old. I remember watching an episode of The Muppet Babies when I was in elementary school where they created a newspaper, and I was so fascinated by the idea that I tried to create my own. I discovered very quickly that it would be difficult for the first grade me to generate the amount of text needed to fill one page, let alone an entire newspaper.
As a teenager, I wrote a lot of clichéd, overly emotional poems would very obvious rhyme schemes. My friends and I read a lot of R.L. Stine books in those days, too, so we attempted to write our own teen murder mystery short stories where the protagonist always turns out to be a deranged serial killer. In high school, I wrote more than a hundred pages of a very bad novel during my summer break before my junior year.
As I got older, I knew I wanted to do something with writing, so I studied literature and journalism in college and continued writing in graduate school. I wrote short stories then, but I was always compelled to base them on something in my life: an experience, a character, an old apartment. There’s something true in all of my fiction.
After college, I took a ten-year break from writing. It wasn’t planned or intentional. I just didn’t have the compulsion to craft anything new. In 2012, I started to feel pulled by writing again, but this time, I was moved toward personal essays. I was out of practice, and so I took an online course from Creative Nonfiction magazine in writing different kinds of personal essays, which also exposed me to contemporary writers that I’ve since come to adore. I’ve been writing and publishing pretty consistently ever since.
What motivates you to write?
I believe I have a bad memory. All of us are fallible in what we remember, but sometimes I am amazed by the events that I have forgotten. As you can imagine, this is a problem for someone who writes about personal experiences. However, the more I write, the more I remember other events, and so writing keeps my mind sharp.
I also write because I love language. I love controlling the cadence of a sentence with syntax and diction. I adore imagery and am fascinated by the way writers can play on denotative and connotative meanings of words to add new meaning to a descriptive paragraph.
What genre do you write in and what made you chose this particular genre?
I write creative nonfiction (personal essays, memoir) almost exclusively these days. I chose this genre because it’s the most natural for me. I like to joke that I’m not a very creative person, in that I struggle with the imaginative energy required to generate fiction and poetry. With creative nonfiction, the material is already there for me to choose from, and then I get to decide what I’m going to do with it.
What is your goal in writing? Do you have dreams where your writing should take you?
Above anything else, I want to keep writing. I want to experiment with form and genre and break new ground in my field. I want people to connect with my work and feel moved by what I write. I want my writing to start a revolution.
I would also love to learn how to be a funny writer. I adore the memoirs by Augusten Burroughs, who was named one of the top twenty-five people in America two years running. He writes about intense topics using humor, and it works. I can’t do that. I would like to, though.
Do you ever suffer from writer’s block and if yes, how do you deal with it?
Yes. But it’s not because I don’t have anything to say. It’s because I’m afraid that my writing is garbage. Now that I have a book out, I put even more pressure on myself to write amazing sentences, paragraphs, essays, every time I sit in the chair. I have notes and notes of ideas, but I often struggle with making sense of them. Sometimes my writer’s block is because of fatigue (I’m teaching ten college-level classes right now at three different institutions) and general disinterest.
When I can’t make the words come, I walk away. I used to force myself to stay in the chair until something magical happened. But that’s punitive, and there was no reason that I should punish myself. I’ve learned over time to be more forgiving when I get stuck and do the thing that turned me on to writing in the first place: I read.
What advice would you like to give new, hopeful authors?
Read a lot. Read good literature both in your genre and elsewhere. Come to appreciate the importance of revision. Join a critique group or take an online course. The more you learn to give feedback to others, the more you will start to see the areas needing improvement in your own work. Edit out the clichés. Don’t let dialogue carry the narrative. Build your work around memorable characters, not flashy plot twists. Set goals and work toward them, but don’t be so rigid that you overlook unexpected ideas and opportunities.
Please, tell us about your work.
Amina Cain, author of I Go to Some Hollow, described my work best when she said, “A deeply rich meditation on what it means to be a woman in a sometimes uncertain and complicated world, in relationship to men, but ultimately, and more importantly, to oneself. Melissa Grunow’s Realizing River City raises just as many questions as it answers, circling back always, in beautiful prose and a clear, honest voice, to what it means to be alive, to love, and to be present for all of it.”
Furthermore, memoir mimics the ebbs and flows of a river in its structure and pacing to explore the facets of desire, loss, and, ultimately, survival. Rivers and the notion “River City” as a imaginative place have a shape-shifting metaphorical role in the book. It’s written with a poetic, flowing prose (I hope!) and is committed to unrelenting honesty, no matter what the experience. It’s less about this happened, then this happened, then this happened, and more about how do we make sense of it all?
Relationships are a central theme in a lot of my writing and that includes Realizing River City. I also write about personal loss, failure, travel, anxiety and depression, and family, all of which are represented in a small way in the book as well. If you like carefully crafted prose, you’ll like this book. It’s been met with positive reviews so far! I have nearly forty publications in literary journals as well, many of which are available online. All of my publications are listed at http://www.melissagrunow.com, so I encourage you to check it out.
Thank you for being my guest. It was such a pleasure to have you here!!
Thank you for having me! It was an honor.
Author website: http://www.melissagrunow.com
Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/MelissaGrunowAuthor
Tumbleweed Books (an imprint of DAOwen Publications): https://daowenpublications.ca/product/realizing-river-city-print/