Interview: Allie Marini Batts

You could call Allie Marini Batts Wonder Woman, but you’d be wrong—she more like Wonder Woman’s busier, more colorfully coiffed sister. Dig this—in 2014 alone, Marini Batts has graduated from the MFA program at Antioch College, moved from Florida to the San Francisco Bay Area, worked for NonBinary Review and Zoetic Press, while continuing to publish her own short fiction, and work on a novel. And all of this without an invisible jet.

As she settles into Bay Area life and begins a new job, Allie took time to speak with Matthew Guerruckey about mansplaining, her hetero life partnership with Lise Quintana, and Plippy Plod Plumpeeno.


Drunk Monkeys: Where were you born?

Allie Marini Batts: Everyone thinks I’m fucking with them when I say this, but Bangor, Maine. Really.

DM: Any run-ins with the man himself? Was the King house the creepy old place at the end of the road, like the Radley house in Mockingbird?

AMB: Funny story, actually. My parents went to University of Maine at Orono with Stephen King, but he took a leave of absence, so he actually graduated a year behind them. Myself, no, I’ve only gone and stood in front of his house, which has got some pretty awesome wrought iron gates with bats and other creepy stuff on them. My family left Bangor when I was a kid, and when we went back to Maine every year in the summers, we were staying in the family homestead on the coast in Stockton Springs. But every house in Maine looks like it has ghosts living there.

DM: When did you first discover you had a gift for writing?

AMB: When I was three years old, I broke my leg and my mother was heavily pregnant, and I was still myself just three, so *mightily annoying*. To spare herself some misery and keep me occupied, my mother taught me to read. When I ran out of books I started writing my own. My mom still has them somewhere, so if this writing for grown-ups thing doesn’t pan out, I can always see about publishing those babies.

DM: What sort of things are you writing about at three-years-old?

AMB: I read a lot of weird books, like encyclopedias, and so I created a character named Plippy Plod Plumpeeno, who was a Pamphibian from Upper Volta. He was a farmer, he raised these animals called Hoota Poppas, which looked like hot dogs with lots of feet and wings (I illustrated the books, too.) He also had three friends who were bandits named El Magnifico, Tita Pepita (his daughter, because even then I was into gender equality) and Bigote. HE also had a pirate friend named Spotted Dick. They had lots of adventures.

DM: What drew you to encyclopedias at such a young age?

AMB: My parents are both teachers, and when Iwas a kid, they were serious about limiting my TV. And I always wanted to know stuff, and so I guess I figured reading encyclopedias would help me to do that. And the encyclopedia has a lot of fun-sounding words in it, like “Ouagadougou.”

DM:  What in the fuck is an “Ouagadougou”?

AMB: It’s the capital of Burkina Fassa, (formerly Upper Volta), which is where Pamphibians are found.

DM:  Have you ever thought of revisiting those characters?

AMB: Basically every time someone I love has a kid. I figure when my sister has a kid I’ll probably get serious about it.

DM: What was the moment that you realized that you could make a career of writing?

AMB: Wait, I can do that? Just kidding. I mean, I think everyone that writes wants to make a career of it, but most of us are also realistic enough to know that not everyone who loves music is going to be a rock star, so we better have a back-up plan, or be okay with working behind the scenes. Luckily, I love behind the scenes work, and my work ethic ended up getting me a job in my field with writing. That was one part fate, one part sheer dumb luck, and probably three and a quarter parts tenacity and willingness to be disappointed. Before both my occupation and my career were as a writer/editor, I wrote web copy and did social media for a company that supports real estate agents, I was a cook at a hospital, and I did a 10-year stint as a hairdresser in Florida. I’ve had a colorful past at a lot of shit jobs on my way to being a career writer/editor.

DM: What was the worst job amongst the shit jobs?

AMB: Cliche, but any of the string of waitressing jobs I held from ‘96-’99.

DM: What has been the hardest thing you’ve had to deal with since becoming a writer, and what kept you going through it?

AMB: Honestly, and I hate to say this, but men in the industry–editors and other writers alike. As a female writer/editor, I get “mansplained” a lot, I’ve been told everything from that I’m a repressed lesbian that hates men to having to shut down my author website because I was getting trolled and called a whore. I’ve been called ugly and fat and anorexic, and received lewd comments on the like, three YouTube videos where I’m reading my work. In my MFA program, I’ve dealt with being told I wasn’t writing women “authentically” and have had to defend my work when it was judged by MY personally unconventional appearance–there have been times where when I’ve been asked to send a headshot and I don’t want to, because it’s a double-edged sword for women in the industry—if you’re even moderately attractive, you either got published because you fucked someone or someone wants to fuck you, and your work is taken less seriously. Or you’re unfuckable, so if your work deals with any uncomfortable subject matter, it’s because you’re abitter bitch.

As a female author and editor sometimes you feel like you’re Ginger Rogers, Sure it’s super easy, you just have to do everything Fred Astaire does…except backwards & in high heels. How do I deal with it? One day at a time. Sometimes I don’t do too well and I lash out, I sometimes make poorly thought out Vaguebook posts, sometimes I just write down my Hate List and won’t submit to venues where I know men I don’t respect work. And schadenfreude. I’m not above being petty sometimes. But on my good days—which, blessedly, there are more of than my shitty days—I promote the work of writers (all genders!) who I respect & admire, and I try to fight the good fight by being a good literary citizen and paying stuff forward.

DM: This mansplaining thing blows my mind—in what way were your women characters supposedly inauthentic?

AMB: Mainly because in a lot of my more recent stories, I haven’t felt compelled to include male characters in order to characterize my female characters. In my earlier stories, I felt compelled to write male characters, because in workshops, you’re sort of taught between the lines that the hetero-white-male voice is the default voice, and any other voice needs to be written to relate to that default.

Once I became aware of myself doing that in my writing I thought, “Well, that’s fucked up. I’m a female writer, a female reader, and it really makes me uncomfortable that I’m writing the characters that I most identify with as mirrors to a voice that’s not mine.” Once I realized that, Icouldn’t un-see it. So I started to write women who are either divorced (drawing upon my own experiences as a divorced woman) or simply don’t write conflicts that depend upon the actions of the male characters to be compelling.

And because the stories I write now have more of an emphasis on relationships between women (sisters, primarily, or women lashing out and being transgressive towards patriarchal structures like marriage, religion, and identity), that tends to make a lot of male writers uncomfortable, because they don’t see themselves in these stories. But to that I say, welcome to the rest of the world, where if you’re not a cis-gendered hetero white male, you don’t always see yourself in THEIR stories, either. Mainly, the conflict I’ve gotten is about the transgressive nature of a lot of my female characters. They don’t bend; they lash out. And that is counter to a lot of people’s opinions about what “real” women are like. If my characters want something that doesn’t have to do with love, marriage or babies, I’m often called to account for that and to justify the authenticity of those desires that fall outside the norm. Particularly if what my character wants is revenge. Or to get even. Or to right a wrong (real or perceived.) And then that’s further complicated by the fact that I endeavor not to have them need a man to meet their objective.

Choice quote from one of these situations:

Dudebro Writer: I just don’t feel like that’s an authentic female reaction.

Me: Then let me say I’m sorry that my 30+ years living as an authentic female hasn’t given me any source material to draw from.

DM:  Have you had any push-back from publishers about these kinds of heroines? Have you ever been asked to tone it down?

AMB: Most of these stories haven’t gone out into the world, because I’m not sure I actually want to find out. One (“The Equalizer”) has been rejected over 25 times, and one (“Summer of the Cicada”) won the Psychopomp 2014 Short Fiction contest; go figure. I guess the difference is getting it into the right editor’s hands. The rest I have arranged in a thematically connected collection of short stories that I haven’t sent out yet. I want to; I’m just not sure where it should go. I kind of want it with Curbside Splendor or Burrow Press, but I’m not sure if I’m ready to hear “No” from them just yet.

DM: What work are you proudest of?

AMB: The manuscript I’m trying to publish, American Girl, and the flash CNF collection that came in 2nd (but is still unpublished; hit me up, presses!) in the Eastern Point Press Chapbook collection,Pictures from the Center of the Universe. Both of these are labors of love, written for, to and about two people who made me who I am. Next would be “Summer of the Cicada,” which won the Psychopomp Short Story contest this year, because I have a solid history of being an also-ran/bridesmaid in contests, but this was the first winner, and it’s my weird Southern spin on Kafka & Rilke.

Allie with Lise Quintana.

Allie with Lise Quintana.

DM: How did you meet and begin working with Lise Quintana?
AMB: I met Lise Quintana the first night of my first residency for the Antioch University Los Angeles MFA in creative writing program in December, 2011. Basically for me, it was love at first sight, I saw her, and was like, “We’re going to be friends, stop resisting me, shhhh, it’s okay, don’t fight this.” For Lise, it was probably more like this:

tumblr_mui03fDErD1qdbh3lo1_500.gif

Shortly after we started at Antioch, we started working on the (then-fledgling) Lunch Ticket magazine, and in just a few issues, we took it from a start-up to an upper-tier publication, and we realized, “Hey, we’re good at doing this shit together.”

So we basically became like Jay and Silent Bob, hetero life partners.

DM: Describe a typical day in the life of Allie Marini Batts.

AMB: It’s really nowhere as interesting as you think it is. I recently relocated, so it’s a little skewed. Wake up, put on my eyes (if you have ever seen me IRL, you know that my eyeliner is a thing. Only people I love very very much and trust implicitly have ever seen me without my eyes on.) I usually check e-mail & social media then drink coffee. Smoke a cigarette while walking to bus stop; read a book while commuting to work (right now alternating between Mary Miller’s The Last Days of California & Anne Rice’s Prince Lestat.) I get to work and fuck around and bother Lise. Then I read all day long, submissions, emails, source material, literary journals, etc. All the busywork and behind the scenes stuff of getting things published. Smoke cigarettes periodically, get lost running basic errands, write letters, etc. I knit and make crafts a lot when I get home, but basically it’s a lot of reading, writing, e-mailing and being sort of boring. Before I left Florida, that was basically the same thing. Now that I’m in the city though, I’ve gotten to go out more frequently to literary events, which is nice. Though I do just like sitting home watching Buffy and knitting.

DM: How do you like San Francisco? Are you finding it any more inspirational for your work than Florida?

AMB: Honestly, I don’t think I’ve been here long enough yet to really know. I know that my heart is in the South, and the stories I was writing for my final manuscript at Antioch, which I was calling either “Florida fabulism” or “New Southern Gothic” are the stories I’m most proud of. I don’t think that I’ll find that kind of connection here, which is not to say that I won’t find something else—I just haven’t found it yet. Mostly, I’ve spent my time here getting lost and freaking out, because it is culture shock, and I have never lived anywhere quite as big and overwhelming as I’m finding the Bay to be.

DM: how did living in Florida influence what you wrote about?

AMB: Oh, wow. Big question. Though as we’ve already touched on, I was born a dirty carpetbagger, I consider myself a Floridian, through and through. I know, go ahead, make the jokes. It’s okay. I realize that when you come from a state that has its own tag on FARK and a Florida Man Twitter feed for all the admittedly insane headlines that come out of the state, it’s inevitable. But that sort of weird, crazypants stuff—that’s sort of the heart of a lot of what I write. You can go from palm trees and fashion shows to Mickey Mouse to the Bible Belt and never even leave the state—there’s so many different regional identities, I think part of the reason Florida is so nuts is because it doesn’t really know what it is—is it a vacation beach state? A tourist trap? A redneck cracker state that most of the rest of the South won’t even claim as part of its own? Florida’s the redheaded stepchild of the South, and that confusion, that sense of rootlessness and adventure, poverty and money clashing, dichotomy of identity, that’s all part of me as a person and me as a writer. Once I came into that and embraced it, I can truly say that’s when I found my voice.

Allie survives a brush with George RR Martin

Allie survives a brush with George RR Martin

DM: What are you working on next?

AMB: NaNoWriMo starts tomorrow and I have a few ideas percolating. I have a YA novel that’s about a chapter and a half from being done, and a V.C. Andrews type gothic horror novel I’ve been tinkering with (though both of them have surpassed the 50K mark in previous NaNoWriMos.)

I’m actually right now in sort of a lull. I had a few major life events happen in the past few months, and I feel like a few months to just get my bearings might not be a bad thing—after all, I’m still working with writing all day every day, but maybe my new stories might need to sit a while longer before they’re ready to come out.

DM: What do you hope you’re doing in another five years?

AMB: Honestly, if in five years I’m doing what I’m doing right now, I think I’d be in good shape (though hopefully I won’t get lost all the time.) I love what I do, am starting to like where I am, and my work is moderately successful. I’d love to have published at least a novel or a short story collection in five years, because at present, all of my chapbooks and my forthcoming book are poetry collections, which I love and am proud of, but I’d really like for my fiction to get some more traction & readers. I’d also like to think that in five years I’d either be adjuncting somewhere or back in school again myself, because I’ll be the only “Not a PhD” in my immediate family pretty soon.

DM: In one sentence—what is, as best as you can figure, the meaning of life?

AMB: 42, duh, didn’t you read the Hitchhiker’s Guide?