Storyglossia Issue 38, February 2010.

An Interview with Myra Sherman


Myra Sherman's "The Carnivore Restaurant" appears in Storyglossia 38. Here, Myra discusses the voice and rhythm, the rarity of prison life in fiction, incarceration as theme, and what she's currently working on.


Anne Valente: It seems so rare that prison management and mental healthcare appear in fiction, which is refreshing to see in "The Carnivore Restaurant." How did the premise of this story come to you?


Myra Sherman: In a former life I was the mental health program manager of a San Francisco Bay area county jail. I've since written a linked collection loosely based upon my experience. Jails have been largely ignored in fiction and are an unknown world for most people. I hope the reader will find the stories interesting and meaningful. Although Mcheko appears throughout my short story collection, it wasn't until I had finished and was revising that I realized she deserved her own story. Perhaps because it was last I focused on Mcheko's conflicted feelings about the jail and dreams of a different life.


AV: The voice and rhythm here feel just right for the narrative. How did you fully inhabit the world of the story as you wrote?


MS: When writing I imagined myself in Mcheko's place, fitting her thoughts and actions to the setting, picturing her coping and adapting. I envision the jail as a unique world with its own rhythm, conventions and assumptions. Events happen quickly and people (both staff and inmates) have little control. Behavior is often reactive. In conversation as much is left unsaid as is spoken. This results in a specific speech pattern, both clipped and expressive. There is a lot of talk but little true communication.


AV: There is a strong tension between captivity and freedom throughout this piece. What parallels can be drawn between Mchecko's patients and her own life?


MS: Being trapped is a central theme. Mcheko cares about her patients but feels stuck. Her work days are filled with tension, frustration, and anger. A large part of her identity concerns being a jail therapist. Her work has become the focal part of her life. Her patients can't escape their incarceration and most will return to lives without positive choices or much hope. But, unlike her patients, change and breaking free are possible for Mcheko.


AV: How did Kenya become a symbol of freedom in the story? Those memories provide such beautiful, stark contrast to Mcheko's experiences at work.


MS: Kenya was not a part of early drafts. Several years ago I attended a Summer Literary Seminar in Nairobi. The weeks I spent there made a strong impression. The images came to mind as I was writing and seemed a good fit for Mcheko's story, a symbol of independence and new life.


AV: What are you currently working on? Any stories forthcoming that we can point readers to?


MS: I'm currently working on a novel tentatively titled "The End of Mother Mary," about an older homeless woman. I have stories forthcoming in a horror anthology from Another Sky Press and Children, Churches and Daddies.


Myra Sherman is a clinical social worker who is now writing fulltime in Northern California. Her fiction and essays have appeared in numerous literary journals including Ars Medica, 580 Split, Fifth Wednesday Journal, Thuglit, Mobius, Zygote In My Coffee and JMWW.