“Lonesome” by Tarah Scalzo
Volume #4, Issue #37 • December 18, 2015
Tarah Scalzo received her MFA from UC-Irvine. Her stories can be found in Electric Literature, The Santa Monica Review, Timber, and ROAR Magazine. She lives in Orange County with her husband and their goofy baby named Sam. She is originally from Wisconsin.
Mary Wild is pregnant, age sixteen, and she’s been living her whole life in Burlington, Wisconsin. I’ve only known her a little while. I work at the video store called the Movie Man around Battlefield Way. I’m sixteen, like Mary, and I’m friends with the boy who got her pregnant. My name is Call Greene. I’m a girl named after a fictional Texas Ranger from a book called Lonesome Dove. My pop likes cowboys. He gave me Lonesome Dove before my mom and I moved to Burlington, a town of 10,000, last year and left him in Onalaska, Wisconsin. He asks me if I’ve read it every week since we left, but I tell him no. I always say no to any book that weighs more than two pounds.
Q&A by Patrick Ryan
Where did the idea for this story come from?
This is one of those stories that came together as a product of many failed stories. I had a story about a pregnant teenager, plus a story about a depressed high school baseball player with daddy issues. Neither one was working out on its own. The Movie Man is a video store that’s been cropping up in my stories since I was eighteen years old, and the obsession with old movies is from this failed novel from my first year as an MFA. Plus, I was going through a western phase when I wrote this. I had read Lonesome Dove and True Grit, and then there were all of these other voices in my head at the time, like Linda from the Terrence Malick movie Days of Heaven, and Roberta from Lynda Barry’s amazing animated novel Cruddy. I’d also been reading a lot of Barry Hannah. The product was the crass, slightly crabby voice of Call Greene, and inside that voice, I was able to bring together my sad baseball player and pregnant teenager and wrangle up a story that I actually feel very close to.
Have you read Lonesome Dove? Without giving too much away, because I am going to pick up a copy, what was your favorite part?
See above! Lonesome Dove was a really important book for me. It just cracked my writing wide open. I remember I took a copy out of the library and carried it around with me for weeks. Any spare moment I had, I was reading that book. And, I mean, it’s a huge book! Like almost 900 pages. It weighed a lot. I don’t know about my favorite part. Most of what I remember is the dark stuff. The sad stuff. There was this character named Newt, I remember. Call’s illegitimate son. Newt always made me happy. Any time he showed up on the page. He was just a boy trying to be a man.
Call Greene, Mary Wild, John Tulip—you have a gift for names. Okay, that first one is not entirely your own but I love it as a name for a teenage girl. How did you come up with these great names? Do you have a namesake?
I honestly don’t know! I like playing with words and unexpected juxtapositions. Like, Mary and John are such typical names, old-fashioned I guess. So then my brain, being strange and mismatched, just pairs them up with something completely out of the blue. Like a flower. I’m not entirely sure it’s conscious. Also, I believe my parents named me after their favorite character from the soap opera All My Children. So, I suppose that’s a namesake? I think they just added the ‘h’ at the end for weirdness.
Many of the conflicts in this story are left unresolved at the end: Call has not told her father that she read Lonesome Dove, Mary has not had her baby, and John Tulip remains all John Tulip-y. Do you think you’ll ever pick up with these characters again? Where do you see them in, say, five years?
I don’t think I’ll ever pick up with Call again. I mean, I know she’ll be just fine. But I do have a couple stories about Mary. I come back to her about four years in the future—John Tulip has joined the Army and gone off to war, and Mary leaves Wisconsin on a train for Montana with their four-year-old son. They end up living with a rancher for a while before moving back, and while the story never finds its footing, it was fun to explore the character some more. I have one more story that follows John and Mary’s son into his teenage years—his father now career military and really never home. It’s narrated by a young army wife who lives next door and the two strike a kind of desperate friendship with one another. Things do not really work out for Mary, I don’t think. Not in any traditional sense. But I think she’ll be okay.
What are you working on now?
I’m finishing up a sort of massive, epic fantasy novel right now. The heroine is a sixteen-year-old warrior with a calling.
What is the best bit of advice about writing you have ever received?
Read everything. Read stuff you never thought you’d read in a million years. If you want to be a writer, you have to read, and you have to be able to admit to yourself that you’re not well-read, and that there’s stuff you haven’t read that’s better than anything you could imagine. You have to have an open mind. I showed up to UCI’s MFA program when I was 23, thinking I had read everything. But I hadn’t. The truth is, I hadn’t read anything. And once I started reading everything—everything I could get my hands on—that’s when all the magic happened. I hit some sort of critical mass, and suddenly, I was better.