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Chatting with Carmen Maria Machado

event screenshotMotherhood, genre, and form took center stage during the first session of Summer Tales when we examined the story “Eight Bites” by Carmen Maria Machado.

Machado is the author of Her Body and Other Parties, in which the SummerTales story selection “Eight Bites” is published; and In the Dream House, a memoir on her experience in an abusive queer relationship. She is the recipient of numerous awards and is known for her signature magical realism and exploration of sexuality, gender, and trauma.

The month-long discussion culminated  in an event with over 80 attendees and Machado herself laughing along with Summer Tales host and Ph.D. candidate Nick Allred.

“Eight Bites,” according to Machado, started as a retelling of The Little Mermaid. Machado often works with folk stories and fairytales and crafts with themes of horror. Machado pointed out that the original story of The Little Mermaid was dark and gory. She wanted to play with the theme of body transformation.

The story of “Eight Bites” is about a woman who eventually undergoes gastric bypass surgery. Machado proclaimed that she is a plus-sized woman who comes from a plus-sized family and who knows plenty of people who’ve undergone this surgery and experienced the side effects.

In the story, the woman’s daughter, Cal, serves almost as the main character’s foil. Cal vehemently opposes her mother’s decision to undergo surgery. During our Summer Tales discussions, many of us were unsure of what to do with Cal’s character. She’s often blunt and angry with her mother. Sometimes she seems to lack empathy.

Machado admitted that she related to Cal, the staunch queer, feminist daughter. Writing the main character was more difficult. In some ways, she was frustrated with the main character and her decisions, but she also loved and empathized with her.

“Eight Bites” evolved past being a new take on The Little Mermaid. Machado confessed that many of her stories start off being about a vague idea and then evolve into something else altogether.
When asked about what tips she would give to other writers, she admitted that she could only write when inspiration grabbed her. She also suggested finding the sort of spot that helps you write; hers is often in nature or writer’s retreats.

Our next session is all about poetry. We will be kicking off on Wednesday, June 30, and will end with an author’s event on July 14, interviewing the poet Natalie Diaz. Don’t forget to register for our second session.