“I’m sort of cynical by nature” Meaghan Garvey on Her Debut Short Story Collection ‘Nowhere Fast’

Meaghan Garvey asks me if it’s cool if she smokes a “square” when I call her on FaceTime for our social distant interview. The music journalist, illustrator, poet, short story writer, and more wants to stand on her back porch and gaze out on the beauty of Lake Michigan while we discuss her recent debut collection of short stories called “Nowhere Fast”. Consistent with her throwback lingo, Meaghan is an old soul. Despite having a strong Twitter following and multiple published pieces on MTV News, the once essential television channel that changed pop music forever, Meaghan gives off the vibe of a gothic pin-up girl looking for a free Malort shot who just wants to listen to bluegrass in the suburbs while her peers congregate in cities to be closer to “culture”. 

I’ve been following Meaghan on Twitter for years. She’s a FUTUREHIVE enthusiast and, despite his definite fall-off, no one has captured the energy, aesthetic, and persona of Future quite like Meaghan has over the years. Her masterpiece essay “Future’s Reign” remains must-read journalism on the Promethazine Prince, detailing what makes him so controversial yet cool, loved and simply meme-able. Meaghan, however, can do more than keep tabs on the man who believes himself the second coming of Hendrix. Over her career she has written reviews for Pitchfork for some of the best albums in the last few years including Freddie Gibbs’ Freddie and Charli XCX’s Pop 2. Still, her dedication to the past is persistent. In 2018, she wrote a retrospective review for the debut album of the greatest pop songwriter of our generation, Terius Nash aka The-Dream. 

Meaghan’s debut short story collection lives up to the storytelling hype she has been perfecting over the years through her journalism. Featuring 6 short stories and 3 poems, the breezy and intoxicating project can be read within an hour, but will linger in your mind for much longer and ultimately demands to be picked up again. Opening up with the story “The Archaeologist” Meaghan sets the stage for stories about broken or, depending on your preference for labels, damaged characters who like to drink and tell stories. In fact, many of her stories involve people who like to tell stories within the stories. The trippy nature of her work requires the reader to focus on the subtext, context, and literal text, which may still not be enough to figure out the point of “it”. And that’s okay. Like any good story, different audience members will interact and understand it differently. For me, Meaghan’s stories always point to a life mantra I hold especially true: everything is absurd. 

As characters fuck, fight, drink, cry, bleed, and embarrass themselves throughout the stories, you have to wonder what Meaghan has been going through during the COVID-19 pandemic. Several stories are set in Florida, a place Meaghan believes gets a “bad rap”, begging the question of what makes this millennial want to spend her time in a place where Northeast boomers go to die? Along with her old school tattoos like a sailor, Meaghan’s obsession with past relics, no offense to her friends, is apparent in poems as well. In “Untitled Quar Poem 01”, she notes, “I will impress myself by watching a / critically acclaimed anime film / from 1973 / without looking up from my phone”. An almost anti-internet person, her stories won’t entrench the reader with first world problems of modernity and technology. Instead, her reliance on pop culture references such as Colonel Sanders, Evlis, Indiana Jones, jukeboxes, Earth, Wind, & Fire, Prince, and other fading legends of antiquity give her writing an almost timeless feel. Even a Gen-Z Tik-Toker could find comfort in these stories of toxicity, failed relationships, and hurt people. Stand out story “Joshua Tree”, famously named after Josh Ramos, will leave the reader so hurt you won’t know who to believe is telling the truth. 

Maybe that’s the point. The cycle of absurdity and trauma are what keep a lot of people going, especially in these harsh times of racial strife, civil unrest, and a global pandemic that is tearing the fabric of humanity apart day by day. For Meaghan Garvey, however, “Nowhere Fast” is exactly like that: a slow burn and mediation on the fact that we have to sit with ourselves and our lives. There is no real escape, but the end. And even then, it may not be the end. Just ask Seaweed Charlie, a topic that Meaghan covers, who’s been bouncing around Evanston’s Calvary Cemetery for almost 70 years. 

Check out our interview below where we discuss Meaghan’s DIY sensibilities, her love of Lana Del Rey, what makes a good bar, and a quick game of ‘Fuck, Marry, Kill’. 

GSC: Who are you and how do you identify?

MG: My name is Meaghan Garvey and I identify as a sort of Midwestern beachside townie and occasional writer. Dirtbag jack of some trades.

GSC: “Nowhere Fast” is your first short story collection. You’re an accomplished writer with a solid following. Why did you decide to go the full DIY route for this release?

MG: That’s sort of how I started like a decade ago or longer. Before I considered being a writer in any professional capacity, I was doing my stupid, I had this art Etsy site. It’s different now, I was on Etsy then as whimsical white girls loved to be at that time. That was where I started off doing my little zines and screenprints and stuff like that before anyone ever hired me for anything. I’m not like a team player or like a joiner. I would rather do everything myself and put my own money into it and have it be a hassle, you know buy ink cartridges for my printer. I would rather do that than deal with the bureaucracy of things. Plus no one wants to publish my book.

GSC: Well you never know until you try. Which has been more satisfying, doing journalism or short stories? 

MG: At this point I would rather write fiction than do journalism. I mean I love profile writing. I love writing essays. Music reviews I’m not so much into anymore. But that’s more of a structural problem than me not wanting to do it. I barely know who to write for nowadays, and most places can’t afford me because they can’t afford anyone. It’s all crumbling, and fast. I’m sort of cynical by nature, but the whole journalism thing kind of feels like a dead end unfortunately. I have a few friends who are trying to do their own thing and that seems to be the only way to maintain any semblance of sanity and self respect. 

GSC: The characters and circumstances feel so real. Are any of these stories based on true stories? 

MG: There’s a lot of truth to them. I wouldn’t say any of them are totally, factually accurate but there’s quite a bit of truth. I would say most things have happened. Maybe they didn’t happen to me, maybe they were stories I overheard at a bar or shit I’m kind of stealing from other people’s conversations. But I would say most of it’s true.

GSC: There are a lot of pop culture references like Tim Tebow, Chipotle, Jeopardy, etc. What do you find so inspiring about mainstream culture?

MG: I don’t find much inspiring about mainstream culture but I’m sort of a hoarder of these kinds of details. Actually I guess I am inspired by sort of American trash. I like Americana, I don’t like America but I love Americana. I’m not comparing myself to these peoples, but the same way a David Lynch or a Dennis Johnson or Lana del Rey hooks onto these American totems, I feel a magnetism toward these things. But also maybe I’m just used to affording this arcane pop culture bullshit that doesn’t matter but it rattling around in my head.

GSC: I guess it matters once you start using it in your art. It’s more relevant. You’re Chicago based but a lot of these stories take place in Florida. Why is that?

MG: I’ve been into Florida this year, I don’t know what it is. A lot of people in my neighborhood are from Florida and a lot of people that I’ve met are from there and a lot of people that I hang out with around here. And there’s a guy who loosely inspired the story of the archaeologist who’s from Tampa. I just don’t know. Florida gets a bad rap.

GSC: Florida does have a bad rap.

MG: Yeah but Florida’s cool in a trashy fucking bath salts way.

GSC: Yeah exactly, like I love Miami. I went to Miami three times last year and there are definitely parts that are kind of trashy. Like it’s cool to be there and get fucked up for a few days and then you want to get out.

MG: I’ve only been to Miami once. I was dating this DJ, not a very successful DJ, but he had a show there so we went there. And we were staying at a hotel in Miami beach like a block away from the beach. And we were there for four days and I didn’t leave the hotel room. We just ate room service lobsters and did drugs. 

GSC: Sometimes that’s just as good as the beach. I love the poetry sprinkled in between the stories. Which do you prefer writing: stories or poems? Why?

MG: I prefer stories, the poems were just something I was doing in the beginning of lockdown. I was like okay, I’ll write one a night in my notes app just because otherwise I’ll just spiral. So I was just looking for something to do with those. I don’t think that’s something I’m gonna put a lot of time into because it’s just not my forte. But it’s fun from time to time.

GSC: What do you personally like about bars so much and what makes them one of your go to choices for settings in your writing?

MG:  I just spend a lot of time in them. But I was living in Brooklyn from 2013 to some point in 2016 and I was really entrenched in the world of media and people who are extremely online. And that’s what they talk about and are interested in. That was never totally me, so when I got out of that and settled into my life in Chicago, and I live on the outskirts of Chicago in this almost towney neighborhood. I feel like I hear more interesting stories in bars than I could read on the internet or I could read in popular novels these days. That’s where I hear all the cool shit. But I also feel like you could drop a pin anywhere on the map and I have something inside me, like this compass in my soul, that will find the weirdest bar there and I’ll meet some people that make my life temporarily very interesting. It’s a cool way of learning about places I guess.

GSC: What makes a good bar a good bar? Or what makes a shit bar a shit bar?

MG: Well I like dive bars. It really helps if there’s some sort of nautical decor on the wall. Like some oars and a ship wheel. It helps if the clientele is in their 60s and upwards. 

GSC: Your Instagram is private, but your Twitter is not. What differentiates the two platforms for you?

MG: I would love to make my Twitter private. I would love to be on Twitter but not participate in it myself, for that to sort of work. I’ve become more like that, but I still occasionally have to pimp myself out. Like “Here, read what I wrote,” and I don’t know any other way of doing it. Whereas Instagram, I used to put myself out there way more as a human being and not a professional, barely professional, person. I used to do that way more on all social media platforms and I sort of regret it. Well I don’t regret it but I wouldn’t carry myself like that anymore. There’s been creepy stuff and I have to have some things for myself. 

GSC: Who has been your favorite artist to write about and why? What artists are you paying attention to these days?

MG: At one point it was Future, I would say now it would be Lana del Rey. I know I probably come off as a stan for both, but Lana is just interesting even though I think she’s very stupid sometimes. She interests me in ways that very popular artists don’t anymore. As far as whose work interests me right now, I would have to say I’m pretty out of the loop these days. I’m perfectly happy to listen to my little Billie Holiday records every night and just not engage with what’s popping right now. I don’t know if that’s a matter of being old or a matter of the internet not being a very fun place to spend my time so I don’t dig for shit the way I used to. I’m pretty trapped in the 50s and 60s these days, and I’ll just listen to fucking Elvis or whatever and be perfectly happy with that.

GSC: Are you still a card carrying member of FUTUREHIVE? 

MG: You know, yeah. I’ll never cancel I’ll membership to the FUTUREHIVE. But will I say I’m super loving the past three years of his work? Not really honestly. I’m not afraid to say it doesn’t hit me like it used to. But then again it’s like the context I listen to music is so different now. I’m sort of a homebody. Like I said most of my friends are like 65 year old men. Even before COVID, I’m not like in the club. I’m like putting a Patsy Cline song on the jukebox at the bar down the street. 

GSC: Not playing Future with them?

MG: *laughs* No but I have before. This one older guy, he was like “This is Blues music.” And I was like “Right on, Joe. Right on.” 

GSC: I fully agree though, the last three years from him are not great.

MG: Not great! 

GSC: I liked the The WIZRD, but everything after that was like whatever. 

MG: Absolutely.

GSC: The WIZRD is classic, I think it’s so underrated.

MG. I mean he could put out acceptable music I’m sure, but it just doesn’t grab me the way it did in 2016. 

GSC: Fuck, marry, kill: Robert Pattinson, Shia LaBeouf, or FUTURE HNDRXX?

MG: Wow, woah that’s crazy because these are probably like my only celebrity crushes to speak of. I was just talking to my sisters about this the other day and they think I’m such a loser because they always want to know my celebrity crush and I’m like “I don’t think I have one.” But then I told them it was Rob Pattinson, and they know him from Twilight and not from him being a hot weirdo now and they said I was a big dork. I would fuck Future, I would probably marry Shia because I think we would have a really fulfilling life together and Rob, I’m sorry but you gotta go. That’s a tough one though!

GSC: It is a tough one. I would kill Future probably, marry Rob and fuck Shia. I think Future is probably a lazy lover and not a great lay. 

MG: Oh my god, you’re so right I didn’t even think of that.

GSC: Yeah you don’t wanna have kids with him either obviously. And Shia’s a little crazy so he’s probably a great lay. And Rob just seems like a homebody who’s chill and sweet. 

MG: You’re absolutely right, I answered it totally wrong. I think you’ve got it right.

GSC: I’ve thought about it a lot. I gotta know, is there a Meaghan Garvey novel on the way? 

MG: I would love for there to be. But I go through cycles. I’ll work really really hard on my own writing for months and then I gotta hop off the wagon for awhile. But I would love to write a novel. Someday it’ll happen, but I don’t know if anyone will care.

GSC: I’ll fucking care. I’ll be hyped for that.

MG: Cool. Yeah, sure I’ll do it. The short stories are working for me now but I’ve always thought that I needed to get a little older to write a real deal novel. There’s so much shit that comes out from people who are like “I’m 26 and here’s my novel about being young and alive in Brooklyn” and it’s like ughhhh. I never want to be like that. 

GSC: I don’t think I’ve read one novel about being young and alive in Brooklyn that was good. Except for Severance but that was not young and alive. It was like everything falling apart.

MG: Yeah, no. Maybe I’ll wait until I’m in my 40s or 50s and I’ve gotten a little more grizzled and wisened.

GSC: How have you been taking care of your mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic? 

MG: Well for a while I wasn’t at all. I was really going through it. I won’t lie. I would say for the first three or four months I was totally stumbling around my fucking apartment with a goblet of wine in my hand feeling sorry for myself. Watching Twin Peaks for the fucking seventeenth time. But I was also going through some fucking personal shit too, and it all happened and came crashing down at once. But that’s kind of where this story collection started. I was like “Bitch you’ve gotta fucking do something or else you’re just committing to throwing your life in the trash this year. Which I’m not totally opposed to, I’m cool with chalking this up to a lost year. But yeah, it took me until summer to snap out of my fucking depression honestly.

GSC: You started writing these stories in the summer?

MG: Yeah.

GSC: So it came together pretty quickly?

MG: Well some of them I had been working on previously. Some of them I had been working on for years and years unofficially. And some of these are stories that I’ve told people before because it’s the ones that changed my life.

GSC: Do you have a favorite one?

MG: The last one “Seaweed Charlie” was the last one I wrote, so it’s probably the most relevant to my current state. So I would probably say that one.

Meaghan has recently returned to the media world, penning an incredible article for NPR on a TikTok challenge. Subscribe to Meaghan’s newsletter here, follow her on Twitter here, and purchase her absolutely stunning debut short story collection here. It’s a must read and will keep any weekend guest entertained while you sleep in after a late night of boozing at your favorite dive bar.

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