Tuesday, April 15, 2014

#atozchallenge: Morgana Malone and The Mysteries of Matt Potter's Masterpiece(s)

2014: A Year In Stories
A twelve-volume anthology published by Pure Slush Books

Today you're in for a special treat. Susan Tepper, who's not just one of the 31 2014ers but has also published five books of poetry and fiction, including The Merrill Diaries (Pure Slush Books, 2013) and the Pulitzer-nominated What May Have Been (Cervena Barva Press, 2010), is interviewing Matt Potter--editor extraordinaire, brilliant author, mastermind of ground-breaking projects, the reason all of us 2014ers are here to begin with--about his story cycle in 2014: A Year In Stories.

Susan Tepper
Susan Tepper: Your January 2014 story, Morgana Malone and the Case of the Mysterious Flood (has a Nancy Drew ring to it, doesn't it?) introduces the theme of water. In general, do you enjoy partaking in the rituals of water: the bath, oceans, lakes, the 8 oz bottle?
Matt Potter: I deliberately chose a title like that... I would never read stories like that (never did as a kid either: I thought they were silly, even then!) but I did want a Trixie Belden / Hardy Boys / Nancy Drew-sounding title for Morgana Malone...
ST: Sort of every girl’s dream. I wanted to be Nancy Drew, and I sort of still do.

[GUILIE: Me too!]
MP: Actually, there was a series of books published from 1941 to 1947 by the Whitman Publishing Company, and this is a quote from Wikipedia so I don’t know what the original source is, so I assume the publisher itself, but the books feature plots where “the heroine has the same name and appearance as the famous actress but has no connection ... it is as though the famous actress has stepped into an alternate reality in which she is an ordinary person.”
I always thought this was hilarious and all their titles were similar: Ann Rutherford and the Key to Nightmare Hall (1942), Betty Grable and the House with the Iron Shutters (1943), Judy Garland and the Hoodoo Costume (1945), etc etc. 
All my stories in 2014 have (or will have) titles like that: Morgana Malone and the Miracle of St. Francis Xavier, Morgana Malone and the Mystery of the Manna from Heaven, Morgana Malone and the Mystery of the Family Trust. All are humorous references to the action in their stories.
ST: My, but you can digress.. the water???
MP: Ah, yes. Well, I always have a shower and never a bath, and it has to be quite hot (not just warm) for me to go swimming. But it’s the ocean or sea for me (I loathe swimming in lakes and rivers) and there must be sand at the bottom: no mud or stones or moss or squelch. Yuk! We are spoiled with beaches in Australia. Sand sand sand and nothing else! My favourite drinks are sauvignon blanc, beer on a really hot day, and most often water, plain water.
Matt Potter
Author, Editor, All-Around Great Human
ST: Your answer, "We are spoiled with beaches in Australia..." was the defining moment in your psyche, I believe, for what opens the Morgan stories saga: water... ever present... and water is biblical. You have created Morgana as a TRIPLE THREAT: brains, beauty and inquisitive nature. BUT!!!— you added vulnerability. I'm quite interested to see more of why her ex-husband has 'his hold' over her still. He was her psychiatrist, which adds an extra layer of psychological intrigue to the saga of Morgana Malone.
MP: I would say rather than biblical, water is natal. In a geographic context, Australia is a country and a continent and an island, we are surrounded by water and if we have to go anywhere outside Australia we have to go over the water. For Australians international is overseas. (As it is with most of the 7 countries where English is the main European language. But here more so.) 
The beach was part of my childhood – summer holidays at the beach, one or two weeks just before the school year started, and for us kids it was quite idyllic, though I am unsure if I thought quite the same at the time – and we had older relatives (now dead) who lived one street from the beach and we would visit them often – but it’s not really part of my life now … though we do holiday on the coast towards the end of summer, beginning of autumn, for one week every year. (And there’s some incredible statistic about 90% of Australians living within 100km of the beach or something like that. See, all that Outback nonsense is just that, mostly a myth.)
ST: OK, natal. It is your story.
MP: Actually, what opens the first story and thus the saga is art. But both water and art are emotional, no? Art features much more in my life on a conscious level. (The look of things is very important to me. BUT, something looking good is not enough, there MUST be meaning beyond the surface, otherwise there is no point, then it’s just marketing and Life according to Barbie™.) 
Bad psychiatrists and bad therapists feature quite often in my stories. I had a counsellor once who was wonderful and helped me a lot – the only time I ever sought such help – but I’ve always been a talker and a thinker and an analyser and people who are blind to their own faults and issues are (1) very funny for me but also, in real life (2) damned annoying. Perhaps it is no coincidence in my day job I am surrounded by counsellors, their offices are all around mine. (I actually quite like that environment, though the political correctness can be frustrating.) But counselling is about getting to the emotional truth and learning and discovering ways to cope with life and relationships and feelings. Most of the characters I write about are heavily flawed so of course, some kind of help is needed!
ST: So why does Morgana put up with her ex?
MP: Grigor? Well, clearly she doesn’t want to, but he is very persistent and plays on her weak spot, her passivity. She lets things happen. But Grigor is, basically, a shit, and very unethical. Morgana meets other people through the course of 2014 who are not great for her either. The trick for her is: how can I recognize these patterns and change them?
ST: Never easy.
MP: I think she recognizes the patterns but she hasn’t moved to the next step to changing her behavior. 
I don’t see Morgana as beautiful – she would not think of herself that way at all – or even brainy, but what she does is survive. She has street smarts in a lower middle class way. I am about to write a story with Morgana and her mother and it could be interesting, how her mother sees her. Grigor was Morgana’s psychiatrist because he used her as a guinea pig PLUS he needed the money. He was probably still her psychiatrist after their divorce too. See, he really is a shit. 
OK, you can stop me now …
Susan Tepper

~ * ~

Thank you, Susan and Matt, for the insight--and the chuckles. You make me laugh without even trying. And Matt, Morgana is a centerpiece creation.

Thank you all for visiting, and happy A-to-Z-ing!


  1. Fun , funny, and enlightening! Thanks!

  2. Water and art are emotional. Yes yes yes. Love this interview. Good stuff, all three of you!!


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