What's It Like In Someone Else's Head? Asks Author Monica McFawn

Sep 8, 2014

Credit courtesy of Monica McFawn

Grand Rapids author, poet, and playwright Monica McFawn’s book Bright Shards of Someplace Else recently won the Flannery O’Connor award for short fiction. It’s a collection of 11 short stories based on that little assumption that we know exactly what someone else is thinking.

McFawn will be reading from her work Thursday night at 6 p.m. at Michigan News Agency in Kalamazoo.

Where's the Dialogue?

Though McFawn is a playwright and has written a few screenplays, you won't find much dialogue in her latest book. McFawn says she's interested in the contrast between people's thoughts and what they actually say. Most of the time we only say a fraction of what we're thinking and sometimes we don't express those thoughts very well or even hide them. 

"I think the majority of conversations I have are in my head," says McFawn. "And that's not because I'm an anti-social person, but because you spend so much time imagining what you would say or thinking about other people's reactions or analyzing what's been said."

"Horse Ballet" and Writing

McFawn participates in dressage, which is an equestrian sport where the horses do movements that look like a dance. She says it takes about 10 years or more to train a horse in dressage, so dressage enthusiasts are always trying to improve. McFawn says she takes this idea of constant self-improvement into her writing as well.

Instead of writing a bestselling novel, McFawn says she focuses on how writing a certain novel can help develop her skills as a writer. There's a good example of this in Bright Shards of Someplace Else where there's a story involving a mathematician. McFawn says, since she hates math, she wanted to challenge herself in this way. She says in writing, as well as dressage, you can't be afraid to get back to basics.

We're Not Mind Readers

McFawn says many of our actions are based on how we have misread people - how we assume we know what they're thinking and what their motives are. McFawn says when we're in love with a person or simply just fascinated by them, we tend to develop this mythology around them. 

"Sometimes you think you know their inner thoughts. You sort of feel like, 'Well I know what it would be like to be that person. They have this certain sensibility. I have that sensibility too. We're too sort of people split off from the rest of the world,'" says McFawn. "In reality, you don't know what their mind is like."

McFawn says instead of knowing a person, we create a kind of character of them that we interact with inside our minds.

An Upcoming Novel

McFawn says one of the many themes in her work is obsessions - including her own with dressage. McFawn's boyfriend subscribes to a wooden boat magazine. She says people with wooden boats are very obsessive about the purity of what they're doing, like sailing without engines. McFawn says she plans to write a novel about a couple that sails around the world in a wooden boat, gets into marital trouble and has to bring a mediator on board to help out.