Interview with Meagan Cass

Double feature today readers. Check out Jake’s feature on Meagan Cass, author of “Interview with the Ghost of Jaws’ First Victim” from mojo 5.


Be Honest

by Jake Russell

Meagan Cass wants her stories to be complex and to resonate emotionally with others, a feat she strives to accomplish by using sensory images.

For example, in her story recently accepted into Mojo, Interview with the Ghost of Jaws’ First Victim, she drew from her obsession with ’80s horror movies.

After watching Jaws for the first time in about a decade, Cass was struck by how the movie opens with the death of a teenage girl named Chrissie Watkins and then becomes a story about men trapping the shark while the women wait in the background for the men to come home. She decided she wanted to examine Watkins and give her more of a voice.

“I think the worst thing is to oversimplify a character’s motives or emotions,” she said. “I want to create a voice that is moving, rhythmic and powerful.”

Building an exercise out of a pop culture reference helps her to get outside of what she already knows, she said.

In her early work — as a student pursuing a Master of Fine Arts degree at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York, and to some extent her PhD work at the University of Louisiana Lafayette — Cass thought of stories in terms of ideas. Unfortunately, many of the pieces became contrived, she said. Before her dissertation, she decided to consider what was really moving her: she began journaling characters and images that felt urgent and powerful.

“I went back to sensory images,” Cass said. “If I find myself working too much with a ‘female athlete grappling with the patriarchal family dynamic,’ I move to ‘How does she drink her Coke?’ and ‘What does her Dad order for dinner?’ and ‘How does he look at her when she orders her dinner?’ I think it’s that process of discovery and letting my characters surprise me. That’s what brings me back to wanting to edit the pieces 15, 20 times.”

A daily writing routine also helps her to take risks in the work; that’s why her goal is to write two hours each day.

“When I started my MFA and thought about my writing process, it was very much ‘I have to be in this special room, and it can only be after 10 o’clock, and I have to have chamomile tea,’ but after a while, I realized that that was preventing me from getting my writing done,” Cass said.

Cass’ advice to writers who want to get published — be honest with yourself about whether or not you feel excited about a story and whether or not it needs to be out in the world, and remember that editors are human beings, so don’t beat yourself up too much if you send out a work and realize two days later it contains a major copy error, she said.

“I would say that one thing that’s been really important to me — and this is sort of a stock answer — read the journals and figure out where you’d like to see your work,” Cass said. “But there are a lot of those journals, so one thing that’s helped me discover journals is to look at where the writers I love are publishing. If you can — if you write enough — be able to say, ‘This story feels honest, powerful and ready, and this one doesn’t feel quite right.’ That said, sometimes you need to get your shit rejected a lot before you can figure that out.”


A big thanks to Jake Russell for putting this feature together. Here’s a link to Meagan’s work below:

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