Welcome, Beth Mayer!

This month we are celebrating the titles that we’ve acquired in the past six months. These manuscripts came to us through our open reading periods and our 2017 Hudson Prize. Today we bring you Beth Mayer, author of the short story collection We Will Tell You Otherwise, which won our 2017 Hudson Prize and will be published in the summer of 2019.
Have a manuscript you think we’d like? During our November Open Reading Period we are looking for poetry (chapbooks and full-length collections), short fiction (again, both chapbooks and full-length collections), novels, novellas, nonfiction (CNF, biography, cultural studies) and translations from German. Also, our Big Moose Prize for the novel is currently open to early bird submissions.

Beth Mayer 2015The Author

Beth Mayer’s fiction has appeared in The Threepenny ReviewThe Sun Magazine, and The Midway Review. Her stories have been anthologized in New Stories from the Midwest (Ohio University/Swallow Press) andAmerican Fiction (New Rivers Press), and have been recognized by Best American Mystery Stories among “Other Distinguished Stories.” Beth’s collection was a finalist for the 2016 Orison Book Prize and the 2015 Many Voices Project. The Missouri Review’s 2016 Jeffrey E. Smith Editors’ Prize in fiction named her a finalist and her work in Jet Fuel Review has been nominated for the 2017 Best of the Net. Bethholds an MFA from Hamline University, was a Loft Mentor Series Winner in Fiction for 2015-16, and coordinates the Creative Writing Certificate at Century College. She lives in Minneapolis/St. Paul with her family and impossibly loyal dog.

On writing We Will Tell You Otherwise

My collection of short stories, my first book, has been many years in the making. It took some time for me to get busy writing. I thought that I was waiting for something, but the truth was I just needed to grant myself permission.
When I was ready, the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis became my first writing home. There I began to learn the craft of fiction. I was just brazen and naïve enough to send my work out to places beyond my reach. With generosity, Wendy Lesser took a chance on an unknown writer and selected one of my stories for The Threepenny Review. A revision of this first published story appears in We Will Tell You Otherwise.
Later, when my two children were young, I completed my MFA at Hamline University. My professors welcomed me, treating my work with the care and seriousness it deserved. I wrote in coffee shops, YMCA lobbies, and at my kitchen table when my children were asleep. Writing and revising one story at a time, year after year as I was, felt possible with a young family. But now I think that it was also essential. Like deliberately entering and solving a troubling dream.
In my fiction, I am drawn to things that poets use: image, precision of language, musicality, understatement, an accumulation of details that point toward surprise. My stories also demand that I go searching. In service to these particular stories, I have researched elevators, smelt fishing, the Love Canal, Catholicism, aging, mental illness, chemistry, William Blake, computer science, yoga, the AAA Motor Club, photography, earwigs, Mary Kay Cosmetics, and medicine. This all takes time. Patience. More time.
After graduate school, I landed a full-time position teaching English at Century College where I established a career in higher education and helped launch a creative writing program. I am proud of this work, but you know the story. My own creative work stalled. Winning the Loft Mentor Series in fiction for 2015-16 gave me time to focus on my writing again. The chance to work with mentors and fellow writers renewed my commitment to my fiction and inspired me to consider new possibilities. During this mentorship year, I revised deeply, wrote new stories, and clarified my vision for my manuscript.
And now, I am grateful to Black Lawrence Press for selecting We Will Tell You Otherwise for the 2017 Hudson Prize and for welcoming my first book home.

Excerpt from “I Will Tell”

You may hear that it came to no good when Cha Cha McGee moved to town, but I will tell you otherwise. I still reside in the same narrow place, and though it’s been close to thirty years since I last saw Cha Cha, I still remember the first time she invited me inside. My aunt had sent me over with a blueberry pie. Cha Cha came to the door in bare feet and a yellow baby-doll negligee, two perfect round peaches where I kept my secret raisins. Her family was new, and she was one grade ahead of me in school. I had seen her there a few times, but I had no idea what Cha Cha McGee was made of yet. She just stood there, looking at me through the screen door.
“It’s Janie Jameson,” I told her.
“Hey,” she said.
“My aunt Sarah made this for you,” I held up the pie.
“Who the hell’s that?” Cha Cha asked me.
I wasn’t used to girls swearing. And I wasn’t used to explaining anything about my family. I don’t think I ever had cause to tell anyone the story, not before Cha Cha McGee. Everyone already knew that the day before I turned eleven my parents and brother had driven off the high bridge by mistake. Cha Cha listened, and I ended with the fact that now I had to live with my aunt, Sarah Jameson.
“Oh,” she said, “Well, that makes sense.” It was such a strange response, and she was still just standing there looking at me. I thought maybe she was slow.
“The pie’s a welcoming gift,” I said, “for your family.” I was raised to have good manners, brought up to be kind. For so many years, even later as a woman and a lover, I thought that being kind meant doing things I didn’t want to do so as not to hurt someone else’s feelings. I wanted Cha Cha to take that pie from me so that I could go home, but she had already decided that I should stay.
“Well, Janie Jameson,” she said, except it sounded like an accusation, “are you coming in or not?” I stepped into the McGee’s dark kitchen, stood there until Cha Cha said, “Sit down, why don’t you?”
She placed the pie on top of my Aunt Sarah’s good cotton dishtowel, in the middle of the kitchen table. Cha Cha hadn’t even said anything about the pie yet. Not thank you, or it looks wonderful, or how nice. I wanted a witness. For someone with good sense and authority to see that pie. I wanted to teach Cha Cha something about how we did things. “Are Mr. and Mrs. McGee around?” I asked.
“Momma’s asleep and so are the twin babies. And Mr. McGee?” she laughed at this, “he’s already down at Reuben’s. Can you believe that?” Cha Cha laughed again, I assumed it was about mothers who slept the afternoon away, and fathers drinking hard before supper.
The year before I might have laughed right along with her. I used to laugh like a regular girl. But at that time I was still sad and too young and hadn’t made any sense of losing my family. I could have pretended to laugh. I had learned how to do that. From the start, something about Cha Cha McGee made me want to tell the truth. So I told her that I wasn’t that particular anymore, that even a lazy mother and a drunken father sounded pretty good to me.
For the first time of many, Cha Cha McGee gave me something unexpected and completely necessary. “Listen,” she leaned in, whispering, “he’s not my real daddy, you know. He’s not even married to my momma. And he’s not her first boyfriend like that, either. He only talks to me when he wants something. The twin boys are his own, but not me.”
“Oh,” I said. I was both uncertain and grateful regarding what I would later come to understand as her peculiar brand of kindness. Then she put on some coffee for us, which I didn’t care for yet. But I was beginning to like her company.
“Make mine with milk and sugar,” I told her. And Cha Cha McGee laughed at this. Oh, her laugh was a singular sound.
“Why bother? I always take mine black. Say! Blueberry pie’s always better when it’s fresh, don’t you think?” Cha Cha said. I could feel how clever she was, where this was going. I wasn’t sure I wanted to stay anymore, but I wanted to see what Cha Cha would do next.
“Yes,” I told her.
“We’ll have some of this pie to go with our coffee, then.” She got up to get a knife. I was worried that no one in charge had seen the pie yet, not knowing that most of the time, Cha Cha McGee was the one in charge.
Looking back, I don’t suppose I’ve ever loved anyone as much as I loved Cha Cha McGee. She was my first real friend and together we crossed the perilous bridge that spans being a girl and being a woman. Who can travel this alone? No one should have to. It is the most dangerous terrain. Cha Cha loved anything sweet and so almost every day after school we would walk to the store at the edge of town, just to get Cha Cha some candy. We always got two lollypops for the baby boys, too. Cha Cha said she didn’t care that the twins were half Mr. McGee’s–they couldn’t help that. She would make damn sure that they grew up to be good anyway. On our walks to the Candy Pantry, Cha Cha taught me many things: how to pull the bottom of my shirt up and through my collar, halter-style, so that my soft belly showed; how to swing my hips side-to-side, just enough, as I moved. I pretended to be brave, and for a time I was. Now I know that I was simply lucky. Too many girls never get a chance to try their womanhood on, like a costume. Too few can claim their own season of such recklessness.