10 Questions for Aeriel Merillat
- By Edward Clifford
Greg was gone for nine months before he returned. The same amount of time it takes to grow a child, Jess would often say. What he went through was much more difficult than being pregnant, he would remind her, letting his voice catch on the last vowel. He did this often lately, said things in a different tone or rolled his eyes. A change Jess still hadn't gotten used to.
Don't cause unnecessary conflict, she reminded herself. Over and over in her head she repeated the words that appeared on page six of the twelve-page pamphlet, until she could breathe normally again.
—from "The Return," Volume 61, Issue 4 (Fall 2020)
Tell us about one of the first pieces you wrote.
One of the first stories I wrote was about a teenage girl whose mother ran away and her father accidentally cooked her beloved cat into a souffle. My pieces have been getting stranger ever since.
What writer(s) or works have influenced the way you write now?
John Irving is the reason I fell in love with creating magical worlds where weird and surreal things can happen. It wasn’t until I read his novels that I felt I had the permission to be bizarre and strange in my fiction. I have also been heavily influenced by other writers, including Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Karen Russell, Aimee Bender, and Carmen Maria Machado.
What other professions have you worked in?
I’ve had several odd jobs including mutton bustin at a state fair, working as a secretary, at a call center, a camp counselor, a nanny, a teacher, and most recently as a freelancer.
What did you want to be when you were young?
I know this might sound cliche, but I’ve always wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember. I’m very grateful to have had the privilege to be able to continue on the path of writing from a small age and through both my undergraduate and graduate careers.
What inspired you to write this piece?
My father is a US Army veteran and I grew up my entire life until recently as an Army Brat. The effects war has on the people who are forced to fight in them as well as their loved ones is something that’s been on my mind for years. My interest in exploring PTSD and the caretaking role expected of military spouses came out in the form of “The Return.”
Is there a city or place, real or imagined, that influences your writing?
Definitely. A lot of my writing is influenced by the deep south, and the panhandle of Florida specifically. Both sides of my family are from the south, and I spent a lot of time growing up in Northern Florida where most of my family still lives. My short story collection and novella are both centered around Florida, and grapple with the ways place creates identity, defines family, and constructs meaning.
Who typically gets the first read of your work?
Usually my fiance, who is not a writer, is one of the first people to hear the concepts or ideas of my stories. I talk it through with him and it helps to say aloud what I’m thinking before it hits the page. Other than that, my workshop groups and writer friends are the first people to see a full draft of my pieces.
If you could work in another art form what would it be?
I love to paint, that was actually one of my first passions before writing. Probably because I could draw before I was able to read and write. Studio Art was my second major in college and I still love to paint and do multimedia work. I often find that my visual art inspires my writing and vice versa.
What are you working on currently?
I’m currently working on a short story collection and a novel. The collection is focused on the South, family, and the surreal. My novel is based loosely off of the story “The Return.” In its new form there is a different protagonist, but a similar concept and focus on deployment and military life.
What are you reading right now?
I just started Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore, which I’m very excited about. I only was recently introduced to Murakami’s work, and I’m already in love. I wish I had found his fiction earlier, but I’m glad I get to dive into the imagination of a writer’s mind that is equally if not more strange than my own.
AERIEL MERILLAT (she/her) is a fiction writer and MFA candidate at the University of Pittsburgh. She’s currently working on a collection of short stories that grapple with the weird and the surreal. She graduated from the University of Mary Washington with a BA in Creative Writing. When she’s not writing stories, she's usually listening to a true-crime podcast and drinking tea with her cat, Bagel.