Beth Mayer is the author of the new story collection We Will Tell You Otherwise. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including The Threepenny Review and The Sun Magazine. She teaches English at Century College in Minnesota.
Q: Over how long a period did you write the stories in We Will Tell You Otherwise?
A: Early drafts of some of the stories in my collection began when I was in graduate school. The most recent stories were written during my time as a fiction fellow in the Mentor Series at the Loft Literary Center, which was not long before the book won the Hudson Prize with Black Lawrence. This math all adds up to over 10 years.
Q: How was the collection's title chosen, and what does it signify for you?
A: The title "We Will Tell You Otherwise" comes from a line in one of my favorite stories in the collection: "You may hear that it came to no good when Cha Cha McGee came to town, but I will tell you otherwise."
As I worked on the collection, I realized that this notion of “telling otherwise” is essential in all of these stories. I had another organizing theme in mind initially, but this realization brought everything together like magic.
In this collection, each narrator—sometimes those who would be silenced or marginalized—finds the courage to speak and asks to be heard. When I imagine them all together, the urgency of their collective voices is unified to me.
Q: How did you decide on the order in which the stories would appear?
A: The process of ordering these stories took time, thought, care, and more time. Two friends, both fellow writers, provided their insight. But (of course!) they had different ideas—which had equal merit—but neither felt right.
That discovery was instructive for me. When I was able to imagine how the reader might feel and what they might think upon reading each story, that helped me work through how to order the stories to create a shape that captured the arc I wanted for the book as a whole.
Q: What themes do you see running through the book?
A: In this collection, we meet characters who take ownership of their lives in quiet and dramatic ways; characters who fight addictions and mental illness, and characters who succumb to them; characters who speak truth to power despite the cost; characters who find beauty in surprising places and peace in the midst of chaos.
Even though they are quite different from one another—a young woman who talks to dead saints; an insecure boy; a chemist; a father with a terminal kid; a ghost---they all want us to listen when they set the record straight, to be heard when they tell us otherwise.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I am reading a lot with an eye on structure and am working on a novel that’s still inventing itself. During my upcoming winter break from teaching at my college, I am going to show my novel the love and attention it deserves.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: A heartfelt thank you, Deborah, for interviewing me and for your interest in my debut collection!
I am happy to connect with folks to discuss my book and chat about ways we might work together, including author talks, library visits, book clubs, and other events. If folks want to learn more or keep in touch, they can find me several places: Twitter, Facebook, my website.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb