Pit Pinegar, author of MESS: Stories about Women with Messy Lives, began her career as a writer as a teenager. As she says, “I grew up in a small industrial town in New England and wanted to be a dancer but an injury ended that dream and I became a writer by default. A friend of my mother earned her living as a mystery writer. I loved her book-lined study, her mammoth, old, office-model Smith-Corona typewriter (which was probably brand new at the time). Her daughter Liz and I were her consultants: the three of us had lengthy debates about whether a 10-, 12-, or 14-year-old would say or do whatever Mrs. D imagined they would. We were the undisputed authorities on kid characters. It was heady adventure.”
She wrote a weekly column in the local newspaper during her senior year in high school. And during vacations in college, she worked on the major central Connecticut daily newspaper. She discovered poetry, practiced fiction, wrote newspaper articles and feature stories. She searched, in vain for writing careers to pay the bills while she wrote fiction and poetry, but no working life seemed to be compatible with those goals, especially after the-rush-of-the-by-line passed.
Time passed and she married, had three children, and moved to Saudi Arabia in 1982. Flying into Dhahran she still recalls vividly the decent across the desert with the early morning sun rising in the east, the undulated sand, looking like smooth, giant, waves below. And for her the strangest part was that it felt like she was coming home.
As she has written, “Inside that TransAmerica 747, I knew what the air would feel like, what scents would permeate the air, what the sky would look like at night. When I stepped into the April sunshine, oleander and frangipani scented the air lightly, more distinctly when our journey ended at North Camp. In the almost five years that I was there, I never lost the feeling that I’d arrived home, I never longed to be anywhere else.
My children were two, 12 and 13 when we arrived. Each of them has taken away something different. My elder daughter has spent much of her adult life in the Middle East; many of my son’s friends are the kids (now men and women) who were his friends at Dhahran Junior High; my younger daughter had the best possible start in school (it couldn’t be matched back in the States). It was an ideal place for me, as a writer.
Returning from Arabia, she went to work at Miss Porter’s School as the director of public relations, and then as director of the international student program and editor of the school’s Bulletin. She also taught creative writing. She published three books of poems, including, The Physics of Transmigration, which was nominated for a Pulitzer prize in poetry in 2005. For the past 13 years, she’s taught creative writing at the Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts and at the Center for Creative Youth at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut.
The origin of MESS began when she attended a writing class taught by a successful New York literary agent. Her class was entitled something like What You Need To Know To Sell Your Novel. It was an informative class, but when she got to the part about what the female protagonist of a novel written by a woman had to be, she balked. The teacher said that a saleable protagonist had to have large challenges and overcome them; she had to be likeable, preferably loveable; she had to have no serious moral or ethical flaws; and above all, she had to be nice. Pit asked, “But what if she doesn’t overcome all of her challenges, what if she’s not nice, what if she makes a mess of things?”
“Then you won’t sell your book,” said the agent.
Pit went home and imagined a time capsule containing books written using the “rules” the agent had set forth and what people would conclude about American women at the tail end of the 20th century and into the 21st. And what about the fascinating lives of women whose lives didn’t fit the code. Would they go untold?
She wrote the title story, MESS, shortly thereafter. Lots of people have asked her if these characters are real women, closely observed, or fictional women. Her response to that is “They are both. No character is any one person and no characters are entirely imagined. Maybe that’s not quite right: some characters are entirely imagined, but their situations are not. At first, I was simply interested in telling stories that might otherwise not be told, but the more I wrote, the more interested I became in the social order (or disorder) that created the messes these women were in. A culture that demands that women conform to a certain standard of beauty, that insists she is not worthy unless she does, creates women who cannot believe in their own good fortune, women who sometimes destroy what they have in order to have their lives line up with their beliefs about themselves.
MESS was written over a period of about ten years. At no point, until last year, did she see these stories as a collection. The Iron Horse Review, at Texas Tech, was holding a single author competition: 60 pages of fiction; the Review would publish the winner. She pulled 60 pages from another short fiction manuscript she had just finished and as an afterthought, included another manuscript that she had written, and titled it MESS. The Review told me her she was a finalist; it was a month or more before Pit realized that she didn’t know which manuscript had reached the finals. “Both of them were finalists,” wrote the editor. It wasn’t until then that she thought in earnest about MESS as a collection.
MESS: Stories of Women with Messy Lives is available as an ebook in either Kindle or Nook format. The links can be conveniently found at www.SelwaDigital.com.