Where are you from?
I was born in Saginaw and grew up in Oak Park. I’ve lived in New Mexico and Ohio, but I currently reside in Ferndale.
Tell us your latest news?
My first book, Realizing River City: A Memoir was published in February.
Additionally, I’m a live storyteller, and I have been cast in the 2016 Metro Detroit LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHER show on May 1st. Details about the show and ticket information can be found here: http://listentoyourmothershow.com/metrodetroit/
When and why did you begin writing?
I started writing as early as I can remember because I always loved stories. I used to “read” books to my younger brother long before I could actually read. I always knew I wanted to create my own stories someday.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I set the record at my high school for most writing awards won and went on to pursue writing in college and continued to craft short stories throughout graduate school. Throughout all those years, though, I felt like I was aspiring to be a writer, even though I was writing. I finally felt like a true writer when I had my first story accepted for publication in Wilderness House Literary Review in fall 2013.
What inspired you to write your first book?
Writing Realizing River City has a kind of unknown origin. I had the impulse to write about relationships, but it didn’t start out as a memoir. I just kept drafting and drafting and revising and drafting until it finally started to take shape as a book about learning to love one’s self in the aftermath of apparent failure when it comes to loving others.
Do you have a specific writing style?
I was an English major in college and earned an MA in literature from New Mexico State University, so my writing is very literary. I use a lot of figurative language, large-scale metaphors, and symbolic motifs in my work. I want my writing to me more than this happened, then this happened, then this happened. I want it to be something a classroom of students can read, study, and find new meaning in each time they discuss it.
How did you come up with the title?
Rivers serve as an extended metaphor in the book and speak to the overarching theme, so I don’t want to give too much away. There is a scene in the book near the end of the second section that speaks to the notion of what it means to finally realize River City. An hence, the title was born.
Is there a message in your memoir that you want readers to grasp?
Most definitely. This is a book about redemption and survival by learning to love one’s self.
How much of the book is realistic?
All of it. Everything is true.
Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
It’s a memoir, so it’s all a retelling of my experiences for the purpose trying to make sense of them.
What books have most influenced your life most?
I’m a voracious reader, so this list is ever-growing. The most influential works have been The Feast of Love by Charles Baxter, Cherry by Mary Karr, Excavation by Wendy C. Ortiz, Wild by Cheryl Strayed, Running With Scissors and Dry by Augusten Burroughs, and Bastard out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison.
If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
It’s a tie between Mary Karr, Leslie Jamison, and Cheryl Strayed.
What book are you reading now?
Right now I’m reading Lying by Lauren Slater, Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur, and The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr. I’m usually reading many books at once.
Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
She’s not really a new author, but I’m really looking forward to the release of Leigh Stein’s memoir, Land of Enchantment, forthcoming from Plume in August.
What are your current projects?
I’m working on an essay collection right now that is themed around all those moments in our lives when we wonder how differently something would have turned out, a kind of rumination on “what if?”
Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
My MFA program at National University was a major support system for me.
Do you see writing as a career?
I would love to make a career as a writer, though I would probably also always do something else, too. As long as I can remember, I’ve worked more than one job (sometimes more than three jobs), so it would be hard to “just” be a writer.
If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
I think I would change a lot of things, simply because I’ve had some perspective since its publication that I didn’t have when it was going through years of revision and then multiple rounds of editing with the publisher. In ten years, I would probably want to change more, but it would be damaging to the book to do so. That’s why it’s best to just move forward and write the next book.
Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
I was a highly sensitive kid, and that was exacerbated when I became a teenager. Writing was a good way for me to get a handle on my emotions and give myself a chance to reflect on the things happening around me and to me. Writing was a way for me to express myself in a manner that people would listen. So, it probably originated from me wanting and needing some kind of attention and positive reinforcement.
Can you share a little of your current work with us?
This piece, “White Spirit,” is planned for inclusion in my essay collection: http://bluelyrareview.com/melissa-grunow/.
Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
I find writing to be a chronic struggle because I’m such an obsessive perfectionist that I fight with myself over every single word. Sometimes I wonder how I get anything done at all.
Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
Augusten Burroughs is my favorite author. He has a knack for writing about awful life experiences in a funny way, which I sincerely admire because I am not a funny writer.
Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
So far, all of my book events have been in the Detroit area. I would love to travel, though, if it meant I could do a reading or a book signing event.
Who designed the covers?
The publisher, Tumbleweed Books, handled the cover design.
What was the hardest part of writing your book?
Trying to be factually accurate while producing good, literary writing. Memoir is tough because our lives don’t exist in a narrative arc. We have to find those things when we write, but we also can’t just make stuff up.
Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
It’s so compelling when retelling events to always make myself out to be the hero because, after all, it’s my story; I should be the hero, shouldn’t I? But it would be dishonest to spit-shine myself for the page. I have to be authentic, and that means fallible, wrong, and human. I can’t be concerned with what people might think of me because the story needs to be told. It’s bigger than me and bigger than other people’s opinions of me.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
Be humble. Learn to write well. Don’t get distracted by the potential glitz and glamor of it all because writing is not glamorous. It’s a lot of ugly, dirty hard work, and there is no guarantee that the gamble is going to pay off. You have to want it, really want it, for it to be worth it.
Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Thank you for reading! Please remember to post reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. They help authors more than you might realize!
Connect with Melissa:
Facebook with her: www.facebook.com/MelissaGrunowAuthor
Tweet her: https://twitter.com/melgrunow