TRP Q&A: An Interview with Megan Baxter

Karisma J. Tobin interviews Texas Review Press author Megan Baxter

Megan Baxter is the author of The Coolest Monsters. She holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts in creative nonfiction. Her essays have won numerous awards including The Faulkner Society’s Gold Award and have been published in such journals as The Open Bar at TinhouseTheTishman Review, and Carte Blanche. She currently lives in Greenville, South Carolina with her fiancé and their three beloved dogs.

How are you keeping yourself busy during social distancing?
We are lucky to live on a large old farm with over 90 acres of wheat fields and small wooded lots. I’ve been walking our dogs and trying to stay active. We have a home gym, and I’ve been running along the Erie Canal Way Trail which follows the original canal’s route. I’ve been reading a lot and going through my boxed books to finish titles that I never found time to finish.

What does your typical writing process look like?
My process usually begins with notes jotted down in my journal. Sometimes these are just short lines and other times I freehand a lot of the piece. For my nonfiction and fiction, I usually do a lot of research, so that phase takes place alongside creative notes. Because I have terrible handwriting, I try to write most of my work on my computer, so I keep my notes short. I like to listen to music when I write and will often make a playlist for a piece before I begin.

Did you like to read as a child? Were there any childhood books and authors that were your favorites?
I loved to read as a child, and before I was reading on my own my father read to me out loud. He read all of The Little House on the Prairie books, The Chronicles of Narnia, and The Lord of the Rings trilogy, among many others. I generally devoured all things fantasy and remember being particularly fond of the Redwall books and The Chronicles of Prydain, although I also loved survival stories like Hatchet and My Side of the Mountain.

Do you prefer books that reach you emotionally, or intellectually?
I love a book that can do both. I read a lot of nonfiction, both historical and personal, and I appreciate when I leave a book a bit smarter than when I began. Patrick Madden’s Disparates: Essays, and Into The Silence, by Wade Davis are two books that I learned a lot from recently.

What books are on your nightstand?
We don’t have any nightstands. But my current reading list includes Moby Dick and The Best American Essays of 2019.

When reading for pleasure, what do you read?
I’m not sure if I divide my reading life into categories. Whenever I’m reading, I’m learning something. I try to challenge myself when I read, to read outside of genres or traditions that I’m familiar with. Not there isn’t pleasure involved but I don’t have a type of book that I go to just for that purpose. I enjoy re-reading certain books or pieces, and I think some of that pleasure is derived from the material being known, being familiar.

Do you watch television? What is the last thing you binge watched?
I just watched Never Have I Ever on Netflix. It’s rare to find a show with a cast of fully developed, sympathetic characters. Its ability to balance humor, realism, fantasy, and drama is truly outstanding. I was laughing out loud and crying in nearly every episode!

What book should you wait until the age of 40 to read?

I’m 34, so I’m not sure what I should be waiting to read. When I was a teenager, I binge-read through classics because I felt I needed to read them. I didn’t take the time to understand or digest them, so while I can say that I did “read” those volumes, I can’t recall much of their language or content. I’ve learned to avoid feeling required to read things.

I’ve learned to avoid feeling required to read things.

Where is your favorite place to read? To write?
I have moved around a lot in the last few years, so I’ve learned to become pretty adaptable in my reading and writing life. I read well anywhere, on a plane, on the couch, in a car, on the beach. I like to have a cup of tea nearby. When I write I mostly type, due to my bad handwriting and because I can type much faster than I can write by hand. I have a beloved mechanical keyboard which makes a lot of noise and I love to work on it, although when pressed I can type on my much quieter laptop keyboard. I grew up writing on a loud keyboard and playing the piano, and I find sometimes, when I’m really working well, that my typing develops a kind of musicality and rhythm. My writing desk is on the second story of our house, with a view over the apple orchard into the fields beyond. It faces West where all of our weather comes from, blowing in from the Great Lakes. I like to light a candle when I’m writing because I like the movement of the flame.

What’s your favorite obscure book?
For many years I was obsessed with a graphic novel series called Elfquest.

You are organizing a literary dinner party. Who do you invite?
Honestly, I’d invite the group of writers I worked with over the summer at Interlochen Arts Camp. I’d rather catch up on their lives and new pieces then share the table with big names. I find their presence and their commitment to writing in this moment more inspiriting and personally enriching, and I think I learn more about myself as a writer by interacting with my peers and contemporaries than by studying the lives of famous creatives.

Karisma J. Tobin grew up in the mountains of New Mexico and Alaska. She is an MFA and MA candidate at Sam Houston State University. Her work appears in Plainsongs (forthcoming), THAT Literary Review, Beacon, and Leonardo, and she is currently Assistant to the Managing Editor at Texas Review Press.

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