Carmen Maria Machado, Author

Photo Credit: Art Streiber

Carmen Maria Machado has a way of finding the familiar in the strange and the strange in the familiar. Her writing is an act of resistance. She normalizes queerness and queers heteronormative narratives.

I keep Machado’s works close to me whenever I need a reminder of how to be brave in my writing. Among many literary prizes, Machado’s debut short story collection, Her Body and Other Parties, has won the Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Fiction and was a finalist for the National Book Award. She holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and has been granted multiple fellowships and residencies, including one from the Guggenheim Foundation. Currently, she is the Writer in Residence at the University of Pennsylvania and lives in Philadelphia with her wife.

Through her portrayal of complex female characters and exposure of her own complexities, Machado provides guidance to overcome oppressive patriarchal standards and work through trauma. She exemplifies how women can use writing as a way to normalize feminist, multicultural, and queer ideology.

When discussing her upcoming memoir, In the Dream House, Machado is strikingly honest about the struggles of writing a memoir and addresses some of the essential questions that all creative nonfiction writers constantly confront—the messiness of truth and the ambiguity of genre. She candidly discusses how hard and painful it is to write about traumatic experiences.

In the Dream House is a gift to those within the LGBTQ+ community who have experienced abuse, and to all others who have been affected by abuse or are seeking to understand it. Machado tackles the difficult job of writing about queer domestic violence, a subject that has not been extensively addressed in creative nonfiction. By providing her younger self with the advice and language she needed, her memoir gives those silenced a platform to speak their truth. As a result, she turns pain into power.

Carmen Maria Machado is a badass feminist, whose fiction, essays, and criticism have appeared in the New Yorker, the New York Times, GrantaHarper’s Bazaar, Tin House, Best American Science Fiction & Fantasy, Best American Nonrequired Reading, and elsewhere. She continues to shake up the literary world with her intelligent, witty, yet definitively defiant work. I am grateful I had the opportunity to chat with her and look forward to following her lead.

I spoke with Carmen Maria Machado over the phone in May 2019. The following is our conversation, which has been edited for clarity.

Kate Carmody: Thank you so much for agreeing to do this interview. I know that you are incredibly busy, so I really appreciate it.

Carmen Maria Machado: Thank you.

KC: Yeah, and congrats on your Guggenheim. That is amazing.

CMM: Thank you.

KC: My grandpa is from Cuba like your grandfather. When I think about my grandpa, I like to think about some of the funny things he used to say, and one thing he used to say is, “No Latin ever killed himself over a skinny woman.”

CMM: [Laughs]

KC: Whenever we’d get all self-conscious he would always say that. Is there anything your grandpa would say that would make you smile or laugh?

CMM: God, yeah, he said all kinds of things that made me smile and laugh. He used to always say this phrase, which I’ve heard other people say occasionally, but it seems really weird. He always used to say, “Let’s not Mickey Mouse around.”

KC: [Laughs]

CMM: Have you ever heard that before?

KC: I think I have. I feel like my mom says that, too.

CMM: It’s like really old-fashioned. He’d be like “Don’t Mickey Mouse around. Let’s get down to business.”

KC: I love that.

CMM: He was really funny. But, of course, he’d say it in his very happy accent.

KC: Right. I love that. When you were at AWP, you mentioned going to Cuba and I feel like I had a similar experience with something you were saying. Didn’t you say you don’t speak Spanish? Am I right about that or just a little bit?

CMM: I speak it a little bit. I mean, I guess enough to get around but not much more than that.

KC: I thought I was going to go to Cuba to connect with people. Because I couldn’t speak the language, there was a weird disconnect, which made me really sad.

CMM: Yeah, I mean it’s strange because it’s also about the loss of the language. The reason why I don’t speak Spanish is because my grandfather didn’t teach my father to speak Spanish. My brother only speaks it because he did the Peace Corps in South America, so he relearned it.

But, for me, it just never took in the way languages do. There was this real sense of loss. And I was sad I couldn’t communicate, and I told myself that when I went back to Cuba, it would be with the language under my belt.

KC: Yeah, that’s what I said too. My grandpa didn’t teach my mom Spanish. He was very much like in the 50s, Americanize, you know?

CMM: Right, exactly. I think it’s fairly common actually. With the language barrier broken, it’s hard to get people to be able to speak Spanish. And it becomes a weird policing of it. So, it’s very stressful.

KC: I teach high school, and I always tell my students, don’t lose your language. You gotta keep it.  

Recently, I read “The Trash Heap Has Spoken,” which I think is an important essay and can’t wait to use in my high school classroom. In the essay, you call out our fat-shaming culture and call for a paradigm shift. Towards the end of the essay, you say, “Unapologetic fat women embrace the philosophy of displacement. They manifest the audacity of space-taking. They cleave the very air. This is not just fatness of the body, it is fatness of the mind. If you have a fat body, you take up room by default. If you have a fat mind, you choose to take up room.” I just love that; it’s amazing. What role does your body play in how you consume the works of other writers and how you write?

I’m interested in the ways in which various forms, and the tropes that accompany them, can tell us what our instincts will tell us, what we’re told and what we expect without thinking about it, and then relating that to things like how we perceive domestic violence and how we make space for how we imagine the narratives to play out.

CMM: My body is the center of my experiences. And I think that’s true for most people. But, for me, it’s more of writing from the body. Thinking of the body—my body has given me pleasure and my body has failed me and it’s this locus of thinking: the place it comes from. That’s what’s super interesting to me. It always has been.

I think I read that way too. I mean this is true for my mind as well. When I read things, they’re familiar in all kinds of ways. There’s the familiarity of the mind but also the familiarity of the body. So, it’s super important to me.

KC: I love how you talk about the way body image is portrayed and how damaging that is. And in order to have a healthy mindset, we need to shift gears and be more focused on being healthy and consuming and not being ashamed of it.

CMM: Yeah and I think the thing about being healthy is your body is your body. I think we talk a lot about bodies in the diet cycle right now. Instead of saying, “diet culture,” we say, “it’s health; it’s wellness.” But I actually think that language can disguise a lot of disordered thinking, disordered eating, and disordered ways of enacting in the world. Your body is no one’s business but yours. I think that people get very focused on other people’s bodies, and the way other people’s bodies look. It becomes this sickness that’s not productive or helpful for anyone and it leads to shaming. I really hate that.

KC: Yeah. Me too. It’s exciting that your book Her Body and Other Parties is going to be a show. Do you know when that’s coming out?

CMM: No, I just know it’s in the works.

KC: Given Hollywood’s obsession with only showing super fit, skinny, pretty people all the time, are you worried about how they’re going to portray your characters?

CMM: I mean, it’s something I’ve spoken to each of the writers of my show about many times, which is the only thing I care about with this project. Certainly, it’s a risk I’m taking because Hollywood is Hollywood, but also, I hope that’s not what happens because I’ve been very focused on that not being the case.

KC: I want to shift gears a little bit and chat about your memoir. I’m curious about your title. I read at one point it was House in Indiana and now it’s In the Dream House. What was the evolution of the title? Is it a clue to readers that it’s speculative?

CMM: Oh, I don’t know if the title is supposed to be a clue or not. House in Indiana, that was a working title. The chapters all have these sort of introductions and I just kept it. Once I announced it, people would come up to me and say, Are you from Indiana? I’m from Indiana. Let’s talk about Indiana. The book takes place in Indiana, but it wasn’t about that. It was a place where somebody I was dating was living, and I was spending time between my home and her home in Indiana. I just didn’t feel like answering and got sick of saying, I have no feelings about Indiana in the way that you think I do.

KC: Right and not the most positive ones, too.

CMM: Yeah, so I said, Okay, the title is not doing the book any favors, and spent a lot of time trying to come up with a title that worked for the book in the same way the titles of the chapters do. Now, they are In the Dream House as like, dream houses. I was just trying to think of a way of speaking about the haunted house idea as a state. It’s funny because it turns out “In the Dream House” is also the name of a Barbie game of some kind. Then, I remembered, Oh right, Barbie’s Dream House. So, it has all these levels. It’s meant to be this dreaminess that accompanied this situation in my life. It took me a while. Usually, I get titles quickly and they usually stay, but that was one that had to evolve.

KC: On the Graywolf site, Alex Marzano-Lesnevich says, “Carmen Maria Machado has re-imagined the memoir genre, creating a work of art both breathtakingly inventive and urgently true.” How have you re-invented the memoir?

CMM: [Laughs] Oh no, that is so mean. You take a blurb and make me discuss it—

KC: [Laughs] No, I’m a huge fan of bending genre. I predominately write essays, and the reason I like writing essays is because you can do whatever you want and mix things around.

CMM: I don’t think I invent any way of writing nonfiction that’s wholesale brand new. I’ve built on the work of a lot of other essayists and memoirists who use speculative elements to various effects. An example that I’ve been giving people when I’m talking about the book is Kevin Brockmeier. He has this really beautiful memoir called, A Few Seconds of Radiant Filmstrip. It’s this really lovely memoir about his seventh-grade year. Right in the middle of the book, time freezes, and his adult self has this conversation with his young self. It was so beautiful, and I was startled by it because I’d just never seen anything like that.

I have since located a lot of other writers of nonfiction doing really interesting things. Brian Blanchfield is another great example with his book Proxies. There are lots of writers who have done it. So, I’m definitely not the first person to have done that by far. But I think I combine a lot of those techniques with my own interest in genre and my own prose style. Also, I’m writing about a topic—queer domestic violence—that doesn’t get written about a lot. It’s just not a subject that’s found a lot of space in creative nonfiction. So, it was a combination of those things: what I’m writing about and how I’m writing about it.

When people say, Don’t air dirty laundry, what they’re saying is don’t talk about what happens to you, and I think that’s never a useful thing to say. So, even if it makes things more complex, it’s never useful or helpful to anyone.

KC: Bending Genre: Essays on Creative Nonfiction edited by Margot Singer and Nicole Walker is one of my favorite craft books, especially when it comes to reading and writing innovative texts. Singer and Walker point out how tropes in creative nonfiction are when creative nonfiction acts like fiction. The narrative may feel life-like, but it’s really just story-like.

How do you play with tropes in your creative nonfiction and in what ways does your memoir challenge the nature of storytelling?

CMM: Well, my book is really interested in tropes as they exist in various genres and various types of narratives, and then uses these questions to think about what works for something like domestic violence. I play around a lot with recounting stories in various ways. I use certain forms. For example, I headed a chapter as a “Choose Your Adventure” structure. The thing about “Choose Your Adventure” is it’s a structure that sort of creates an illusion of choice. That’s what makes it so eerie. With the form, you can feel like you’re making a choice more so than with other narratives, but you, really, in fact, have no choice at all.

I’m interested in the ways in which various forms, and the tropes that accompany them, can tell us what our instincts will tell us, what we’re told and what we expect without thinking about it, and then relating that to things like how we perceive domestic violence and how we make space for how we imagine the narratives to play out.

KC: You mentioned that you address a same sex abusive relationship and that you haven’t really seen that before. Given the current hostility towards people in the LGBTQ+ community, it’s understandable that people within the queer community don’t want to paint their community in a negative light. At the same time, the model minority narrative erases the narratives outside of that portrayal. Exploring your experience with a same-sex abusive relationship is an opportunity to reflect lived experiences, but also a risk. What are your feelings about that risk in telling this story? How did you find your way through it? How much of the real experiences do you need to reflect?

CMM: It is scary and I talk about that in the book. I talk about how when I was first beginning to understand what happened to me, it was happening when Obama decided he supported gay marriage. That was subconsciously playing in the background the whole time I was experiencing it. There was this sense of: this is the model minority couple. The kind of minority you were talking about forces that minority to perform virtue in various ways which makes it hard to talk openly about your experiences. When you do, you get accused upright of airing dirty laundry.

My hope is that I won’t see too much of that. I imagine I’ll see some of it just because I think that it’s inevitable. I’ve also had a lot of people come up and speak to me when I talk about the memoir and say, I’ve never heard anyone talk about this. I had such similar experiences.

It’s going to be a mix, I think. It’s what I’m hoping for. I hope it’s not a lot of How dare you air your dirty laundry. That would make me very sad, but I also am anticipating it. It’s sort of part of it and part of my mental process and preparation.

KC: You are reflecting the complexities of life and real lived experiences.

CMM: Right. When people say, Don’t air dirty laundry, what they’re saying is don’t talk about what happens to you. I think that’s never a useful thing to say. Even if it makes things more complex, it’s never useful or helpful to anyone.

KC: For me, writing about trauma can be emotionally draining even if it occurred years ago because you have to put yourself back in it. When I was writing about an abusive relationship with my ex, I remember my fiancé playfully teased me about something unrelated and I burst into tears. I realized I need to take a step back. Then, I think I wrote an essay on farts or something dumb just to regroup. So, I was wondering what did you do? Did you have a hard time being back in it and writing about the trauma? And what are some ways that you were able to self-care and push through to write?

CMM: Honestly, I didn’t write this book in the healthiest way I could have. I feel like I’ve set a good example of how not to do it. I usually write at residencies. I had this summer-long residency, but I actually took the summer off. Then, I had this other residency in the fall because I usually do two residencies in a row. I thought, Great, I’ll get all this stuff done. I thought that I’d be done with the memoir by the end of the summer; I’d have the fall to do other projects, and then I could just do whatever I wanted. But the memoir took much longer than I thought it would, which was part of the problem. The other part of the problem was that I was away from my partner. I was alone. I was really far from home. I was feeling miserable and really lonely and sad.

There was a lot of stuff going on that was giving me a lot of doubt and pain. It was really difficult, and, honestly, I’m so amazed that I finished because I was a real mess by the end. I still can’t believe I even did it. When I look back at the book, like the last half—I’m doing my proof reading right now—I’ll think, I don’t remember writing that.

KC: Did you feel like a weight off your shoulders a little bit once you wrote that story?

CMM: No, I don’t think that’s a good way of describing it. I don’t think it was like a weight. I’ve been talking about my experience for a really long time. I’ve tried to write about it in other ways. I haven’t really done so in any meaningful and interesting way. I wrote this one tiny little piece years ago, and I’ve mentioned it in various other essays and various other places.

KC: Well, and in your fiction.

CMM: Right. I’ve also written about it twice very explicitly in the short story form. I’ve found other places to write about it, but I don’t think this book lifts a burden because what happened still happened.

I’m more or less psychologically where—well, it’s hard to say, actually. Yeah, probably writing it made things a little worse because I had to go back and revisit emails and revisit all this stuff where I didn’t want to remember what it felt like it, and that’s very painful and very stressful. So, I don’t think I did it in the right way. I think if I were giving somebody advice, I would say, Don’t write a book like this far from your people or far from home. You should have a plan to go to therapy every week. There’s just a lot of things I should have been doing that I wasn’t because this wasn’t a normal book.

For my collection, I went to a ton of residencies and everything was great. But this was different and I don’t think I treated it differently. That was a mistake.

KC: When I went through old emails and stuff from my past relationship, I thought, Why did I put up with that? Or How did I do that? Did you have to get past any disappointment in yourself like I did, or was it more so just reminders of what it was like?

CMM: It’s both. Yeah, there’s a sense of sadness for a past version of myself. I’m a teacher, and I’ve had students come to me, and they’ll talk about stuff going on in their lives. I always feel this deep compassion and think, Oh yeah, I was twenty-two once and it really fucking sucks. I feel this sense of empathy because I remember being that age. Reading through all those emails and the things I’d written—I wasn’t twenty-two, but I was twenty-four or maybe twenty-five—I feel the same way. It’s like I’m talking to, not even myself but this really young person, who went through this horrible, horrible thing. At the time, she didn’t know what was happening to her and didn’t know that anything that was coming, was coming. She was just completely lost in the drift and didn’t have the language to really begin to have those conversations.

KC: Right. That’s a really good point. There’s no rule book on how to deal with it.

CMM: Yeah, so, looking back on it—there’s a lot of anger, there’s also a lot of other emotions—but, mostly, I just want to take the young version of myself and say, Oh honey, I’m so sorry. You know?

KC: Yeah. Be compassionate to yourself.

CMM: You’re going to figure out the language to put to this, but it’s going to take a really long time. There’s a sense of loss there. She lost a lot of time—which is just awful.

KC: You’ve talked little about your process for writing In the Dream House. How did your writing process for your memoir differ from your process for writing Her Body and Other Parties and how was it the same?

CMM: It’s pretty different for me. When I was writing this memoir, I was doing a lot of research and a lot of historical research, which was very much outside of my wheelhouse. It’s not something I would normally do as a writer. So, there was a lot of trying to translate academic information into readable prose and trying to synthesize ideas in a way that felt like it was in my voice, which was really difficult. I was kind of teaching myself how to do it. You could tell when I would switch from writing about my own experience to writing some historical stuff because the prose would combat on the page. And I kept noticing it and I kept going back and massaging it and playing with it.

With creative nonfiction, you’re also trying to resurrect the past. You’re bringing the past back to life. You’re trying to make sense of it and recreate it because unless you’ve recorded the things that happened, you wouldn’t know certain dialogues.

I had to make this entire calendar for myself. I used an old calendar and old emails to get the order of things correct and see where these things fit into this elaborate timeline. So, that was hard.

Also, with creating nonfiction, you’re trying to figure out what you think, which is not an easy thing to do. Answering the questions: What am I thinking? is actually, a really tall order. This is why I’m very suspicious of people who write think pieces because there’s no way you can know things instantaneously about everything but the most obvious. For me, I think about it for ages.

KC: Yeah, and it depends on where you are in your thinking. Your thoughts about things evolve.

CMM: Yeah, I don’t know. I think it’s more laborious. It’s more trying to figure out where the narrative exists in the existing pieces. I think that is the process. With fiction, I can just be like, Cool, I can just make stuff up [Laughs]. I remember with this memoir, there were parts of the book where there was just minor stuff that I left out because it was too complicated to explain. If it was fiction, I could morph it into something simpler to explain. But it wasn’t, so I had to figure out what to do with these situations that were airy and truly complicated in tiny little ways. So, you’re trying to figure out how to make it work and have a limited amount of tools in your toolbox because it is nonfiction.

KC: In the Bending Genre essay, “Genre-Queer: Notes Against Generic Binaries,” Kazim Ali says, “We transition through gendered spaces, but when we accept that texts like bodies can be genre-queer then the possibilities for both interpretation and artistic creation are boundless.” Which is lovely. Eula Biss in that collection also says that gender and genre are both lies. What are your thoughts on those ideas?

CMM: I think that’s a really beautiful way of thinking about it. It’s funny because literally just today on Twitter, I zoomed past some writers saying some very distinctive things about nonfiction. I’m not going to call anyone out, but I thought, That’s interesting that they were super confident about that one thing. I think the idea that there’s a base for something is really boring and sad.

In response to thinking about what it means to mix genres, I don’t even mix genres. Coming from writing fiction, when people talk about genre mixing they mean: science fiction, horror. But the kind of genre mixing we’re talking about are poetry and nonfiction, fiction and memoir. All these various forms getting mashed together and pulled apart and reexamined in the same way, to me, is the only way to write because nothing is clear. Everything sort of moves laterally. Nothing is black and white in that way.

KC: Yeah. It’s more fluid.

CMM: Exactly.

KC: That’s why I think a lot of nonfiction writers think, Can you just not put me in a box and call me a nonfiction writer? Can I just be a writer and I just use a bunch of different tools, whatever I see fit?

CMM: Yeah, I’ve been calling this book a memoir because I think that’s probably the closest roughly to what it actually is. But of course, it’s not lost on me that memoir is also a really gendered term. The way a writer’s work gets sold and marketed and labeled depends on a lot of things. I could call it a million different things. It does work in lot of different modes. That’s what I like about it. That’s what I’m proud of. That’s what I think is the best thing about it.

KC: In other interviews you mentioned that you play around with memory and you’re interested in looking at how memory decays over time. Could you talk a little bit more about that? What techniques did you use to indicate to the readers that memories are faulty and how trauma can affect memory?

With creative nonfiction, you’re also trying to resurrect the past. You’re bringing the past back to life. You’re trying to make sense of it and recreate it because unless you’ve recorded the things that happened, you wouldn’t know certain dialogues.

CMM: Well, I think it’s implied that whenever you read a piece of writing that’s coming from memories, the indication is that the writer is creating as best as possible from the memory they have. That’s just inherent. Unless you’re a journalist writing for journalism, you have references and notes and all this stuff that accompanies it, but that’s not how life is and that’s not how a memoir works necessarily. You can have notes at various times and you can have little bits and pieces, but memories are essentially strange and nebulous.

And the way things come back is weird. When I went back and looked at emails that I had sent, there was stuff I forgot happened. And I thought, Oh shit. I completely blocked that part of it out. I didn’t remember it and now I do. It took me reading about it in an email I sent ages ago to remember. And that’s really strange. It’s weird to write a book and think, Oh wow, that’s so weird because I had already let go of that thing. I had dropped it out of my memory. And I pulled it back from the abyss. My brain had decided to get rid of it, and I pulled it back. It’s really interesting and also really scary, right? Because there’s this sense of how much of it could I prove if I had to? What if I brought this up? There’s a lot of anxiety that comes with that.

KC: And with being a woman too. People don’t always want to trust us and sometimes think we’re just being hysterical or whatever. So, does that factor into it? I know you want to point out how memories aren’t reliable but if you’re not a writer, sometimes it’s hard to know that.

CMM: Right, And I think that it’s part of it certainly, the idea that you are unreliable. And also, the fact that I’m writing about views. And in these views, there is this person telling me, Your thoughts and memories aren’t reliable.

KC: Yes, the gaslighting.

CMM: That’s part of it, too. There’s weird layers, and I make connections with the best of my ability and the best of my craft. But it’s still really intense.

KC: What are some things that you’re excited about in terms of In the Dream House coming out in the fall and what are some things you’re nervous about?

CMM: I’m excited about getting to talk to people about the process of writing the book. I’m excited to have the book out there as a resource for people.

I am nervous about—I’m sure the conversation around the book is going to be complicated like we talked a little about before. I also think it’s going to be very painful because I think a lot of people, like my own experience, sometimes don’t name a thing, or a thing doesn’t have a name, or you don’t have a name for it. All of the sudden, when you have a name for the thing, it’s sort of a new kind of trauma. For me, the process of realizing that what happened wasn’t just a “bad relationship” but an abusive relationship was really traumatizing in its own way. I imagine that it’s possible that when I talk about the book, share the book with people, read from the book, and when people read the book on their own, they’re going to be reevaluating things from their own past. Things that are very painful, and that’s going to be really intense. It’s going to be a lot, but I want that for people.

When I was coming out of my experience, I looked for books like this, and I couldn’t find it. I looked for creative nonfiction about the topic, and it did not exist. And I thought, This can’t be. How is that possible? So, I am nervous and I’m excited about the book coming out. I think it’s going to be kind of a rollercoaster.

KC: I’m sure you’re doing interviews and a book tour like you did with Her Body and Other Parties. So, having some support is probably important too.

CMM: Yeah, with Her Body it was my first tour, and I had no idea how big the book was going to be, so I just kept saying yes to things. And I think this tour is going to be a lot different because with Her Body I basically toured non-stop for about a year—which is bananas! So, I think for this book, I’m not going to do that. I just don’t have it in me.

KC: Barrie Jean Borich in her essay, “Autogeographies,” said, “When writers reckon with the harmonies and disharmonies of their physical, emotional, and theoretical locations they often find new ways to render their life stories.” What role does location or place play in your memoir and other writing?

CMM: Oh, that’s a very good quote. In many ways, like I said, that’s the reason I changed the title of the book because the location wasn’t that important. It’s in Indiana, but really it could have been in any other state. It just happened to be in the Midwest. Of course, it’s not lost on me that I lived in California when Prop 8 was upheld and there was no marriage equality. I moved to California and thought marriage would be legal there, but it wasn’t. And then, I moved to Iowa where it was legal, which is so strange.

The fact that I lived in many different places has given me a much different perspective on living outside of say, New York or San Francisco or LA. In the book, I write about lots of different places. I write about Cuba; I write about Pennsylvania; I write about Iowa; I write about Indiana.

KC: What about place in general and not a specific location? Do you feel like when you’re writing either fiction or nonfiction that the place has a significant role?

With that, I think it made things a lot clearer once I began to really dig deep. I think that’s why hearing other people’s stories is comforting and reminds you that you’re not alone.

CMM: Well, I think in this book in particular, the use of the house as the conceit is important because I talk about dislocation. There’s this idea in studying domestic violence and domestic abuse, which is that often times the abusers find it easier to abuse when the prequel to their abusing has been dislocated in some way—they’ve moved somewhere where they don’t speak the language or they’ve moved to a new town. What is interesting is that during the time that I write about in this book, I was still living in Iowa but was traveling to Indiana frequently. There were multiple times when I felt really alone and had nowhere to go. I was in Indiana; it was the middle of the night, and I couldn’t get back to Iowa, and my ex-girlfriend was acting in terrifying ways. I literally thought, I have no one to call. Everyone here is also her friend. Everyone here is people she knows. I don’t have anyone’s phone number. I’m just trapped.

KC: Which must have been terrifying.

CMM: So, I didn’t live with her, but there was this way in which space and location were leveraged against me. I write also about the film Gaslight, similarly, in that story where space was leveraged against her.

KC: When you were doing research, did that help you understand things on a different level than when you were going through it or even when you started writing?

CMM: It helped me understand the dynamics that were at play more clearly, which, in a way, is its own level of comfort because, at the time, it all felt very arbitrary. Looking back on it, it in fact is not arbitrary at all. It’s very calculated.

My responses were actually very predictable. The weird thing about domestic abuse is that in many ways it’s very cliché; it’s very predictable. Once you figure out what’s going on, you can actually track these things very clearly. And it’s very frustrating. It’s sort of embarrassing too because it makes me wish I could say that I wasn’t duped by this person and realized they were enacting this pattern, this tried and true classic behavior and their thoughts are very classic. But it isn’t about being smart; it’s about somebody knowing how to work these various dynamics in their favor.

With that, I think it made things a lot clearer once I began to really dig deep. I think that’s why hearing other people’s stories is comforting and reminds you that you’re not alone.

Researching the history, researching the research behind it does give you the sense of an understanding of what was happening. I’m the kind of person who likes information. I find information comforting. So, I prefer to know too much opposed to too little. Then, you can be updated about what’s going on. I think this was the same way because once I understood all the information, I thought, Okay, it’s still horrible, but at least I understand what was going on. And these things had been happening for a long time. And the fact that I didn’t have a language to put to it was not an accident. You know? That conversation about what queer domestic violence could look like had been going on for a really, really long time.

KC: I want to thank you for having the courage to write this because it is clearly difficult. I think In the Dream House is going to have a large impact on any victim of abuse, so, I appreciate you writing about your experience.

Since I’m a high school teacher, I thought we could end with advice to our Youth Initiative submitters. If you could give your high-school self some writing advice, what would you tell yourself?

CMM: Oh, read five times as many books as you’re already reading.

Kate Carmody is a writer, teacher, and activist. While pursuing her MFA in creative nonfiction at Antioch University Los Angeles, she works as a blogger, assistant blog editor, and a member of the community outreach team at Lunch Ticket. Her writing also recently appeared in Stain’d Arts. She was born in St. Louis and lives in Denver, Colorado, with her fiancé and her dog, Corky St. Clair. The three of them are in a band called Datafacer, named after her niece’s childhood doll. You can find her at Twitter @KateCarmody8 and on Instagram at carmo8.