KE: How did you end up living in Denton, TX?
MT: We lived in Denton the summer I was seven, so my mother could finish her graduate degree in library science at the University of North Texas. My dad bought us two mall gerbils who were both supposed to be female but produced a litter of transparent peanuts a few weeks later. The male had eaten half of them by the time we discovered the reproduction.
I lived in Denton again the summer after my freshman year of high school, to attend a geometry camp, during which I may have been molested by three different counselors. I returned to Denton for what would have been my junior and senior years of high school—I enrolled in a magnet school called the Texas Academy of Math and Science. Through TAMS I lived in a dorm on campus at UNT and attended regular college classes, and may have been raped by my first boyfriend. If my references to sexual trauma seem flippant or sensationalist, it’s only because I don’t know what to make of them. Whatever the experiences were, they were formative and I associate them with Denton.
When I graduated from TAMS I left Denton to finish my bachelor’s degree, but two years later I ended up back there with my first husband. I was 19, unexpectedly pregnant and unexpectedly married, already in possession of a bachelor’s degree at an age when most kids haven’t decided on a major. But that didn’t mean I knew how to get a job, or what to do with myself, or how to be a mother or a wife. We couldn’t afford for my husband to finish his college degree at the private university where we met, and our families were both in the D/FW metroplex so he transferred to UNT.
We divorced after four years, and I moved to Dallas. He stayed in Denton, and because I worked nights the kids lived with him during the week and went to school in Denton. I lived in Dallas for five years and then moved to Iowa to attend the Writers’ Work shop. For most of the time I lived in Dallas, I had my kids every weekend, which meant a lot of driving, meeting their dad halfway at gas stations.
He is also a great storyteller, and I think my approach to short stories thus far comes straight from his style: start with the atmosphere, what it’s like there, wherever there is in this story, building the road; then move backward, setting out cones of relevant backstory; then shift gears and drive the story forward through the established course, revealing why you built the road like that and why you put the cones where you put them. I do it without thinking, because that’s how I heard stories told.