You know those writers you meet at a young age whose work you follow for years? Melanie Unruh is a writer I met in 2005, when we were both undergraduates studying abroad in Granada, Spain. I've always felt a certain kinship with artists that I meet while traveling: When we gravitate beyond what is comfortable, when we take in the world in all its glory and messiness, there's usually room for a great story. Melanie's work is vibrant and raw, real and well-crafted. She completed an MFA in Creative Writing at the University of New Mexico and has a young son. I'm inspired by her work and her clear ability to juggle. Thanks for being game to answer my questions, Melanie! And now, our latest conversation about parents who write:
Name (or pen name): Melanie Unruh
How many children do you have? How old are they? I have one son, who is 2.5 years old.
How many hats do you wear in your household? I.e. how many gigs do you have?
I’m an adjunct writing instructor at a community college; I’m enrolled in school part-time; I’m the primary caregiver for my son; I do a lot of the household duties because my husband works long hours; and a friend and I have been dabbling with starting our own business. In my free time, I try to write and work out and, you know, be a person. Maybe that’s a lot? I think most of us wear numerous hats!
How long have you been a writer?
It’s hard to pin down a date, so let’s say forever? My first real memory of considering myself a writer was after I wrote a short story for a class in 8th grade. My teacher and the student teacher working with her had me convinced I was going to write novels. I’m glad they said this because it motivated me to pursue writing fairly early, but looking back the story was terrible (The main character was a young girl who rode around on a horse named Rocket… in the 1800s…).
Tell me about your relationship to writing before you had children.
I don’t want to say that I took writing for granted before I had my son, but in a way, I did. I had a dedicated home office, and when I wasn’t working, I could pick and choose when to write. Although it’s hard to find as much time now, I do think I appreciate those moments I can dedicate to myself and to my writing more.
How did you expect parenthood to impact your writing? Did it?
I knew things would change; however, it’s easy to idealize in your head, “Oh, I’ll write while the baby sleeps on me” and then you’re so exhausted and one of your arms is pinned down by his head, so you just end up on your phone pinning recipes you’ll never make. Now that my son is older and a good sleeper, finding time (and arms!) is a little easier.
Have you shared your writing with your children? If not, do you plan to someday?
I haven’t yet. I wonder if he’ll have an interest or if he’ll just think it’s weird (especially the sex scenes…). But I’ll be open to sharing anything he wants to read when he's older.
Is there a poem, short story, novel or play that you return to when you are stuck in your writing?
When I get stuck, I often re-read the beginning of Janet Fitch’s novel White Oleander. It’s the perfect marriage of plot and prose. Her writing style is gorgeous and it always compels me to try harder.
How has your approach to the artistic process changed since becoming a parent? (If it has?)
I tend to let things sit longer. Before I would be actively juggling multiple projects, but now I might have one or two pieces I’m working on, while the others stay dormant for months, if not years, at a time.
What piece of culture are you obsessed with right now?
The Handmaid’s Tale has me on the edge of my seat! I finally read the book right before the show came out and I loved it. The show is taking liberties with the source material and expanding upon it, but I’m on board for what they’re doing so far. Movie/TV adaptations of books can be fraught with so many issues, and yet I’m addicted to them (Others I love include Game of Thrones, Gone Girl, The Girl on the Train, and Me Before You). I love seeing the way someone interprets a piece of writing for the screen.
Do you have any projects or publications you’d like to tell me about? Or goals for future projects/publications?
I recently had a short story published in Sixfold.
I have one YA novel that I’m submitting and another that I’m revising. Ideally, in the next year or so I’d like to get the second book to a place where I wouldn’t want to hide under a rock for five years if someone read it.
I’ve also gotten more into nonfiction this year, so I’m working on a couple of essays.