A 12-year-old anorexic girl, a young man who stalks his older girlfriend, and a retired widower struggling to reach his problem daughter are featured in stories by award-winning writer Rebecca Meacham.
"I'm interested in characters right after a moment of crisis in their lives," says Ms. Meacham, 34, a 1988 Ottawa Hills High School graduate. "Or imminence, right before something irrevocable is about to happen."
Her Midwesterners of varied backgrounds, usually well-intentioned but often inept at negotiating calamity, fill nine engrossing tales of the 181-page Let's Do (University of North Texas Press, 2004).
As a writer, happy facades don't appeal to her. "I'm interested in the secret undercurrents" - people haunted by absences, and tensions that imbue households, says Ms. Meacham, an assistant professor of English and Women's Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. "I'm very attuned to that sense of loss or potential loss." A cheerful collection it's not, she adds.
The stories were drawn from the doctoral dissertation she wrote at the University of Cincinnati.
"I'm kind of lazy and terrified of the publishing process. I thought, 'We'll go the contest route and see if this happens.' "
She entered about 15 short-story contests that offered publication. She knew it was a strong package: seven of the stories had been accepted for publication in journals and two had won awards. In December, 2003, she received the Katherine Anne Porter Prize - $1,000 and 1,000 soft-cover copies of Let's Do.
Saturday in West Toledo, she signed books at Barnes & Nobles Booksellers, where she is included in this spring's Discover Great New Writers program that promotes debuting and underappreciated writers. As a result, several thousand additional copies were printed.
The daughter of Ruth Meacham, a Toledo attorney, and David Meacham, a retired comptroller at Owens Corning, she was born in Newark, Ohio, but spent most of her life in the Toledo area.
In 1992, she completed a bachelor's degree at Miami University. She earned a master's degree in fine arts from Bowling Green State University, where she remained for another three years, teaching and editing the Mid-American Review, a literary journal. In 1997, she embarked on her five-year doctoral program.
Her favorite writers include Ohio's Dan Chaon, Lorrie Moore, Alice Munro, and Toni Morrison. And she loves teaching the complex, exuberant White Teeth by the young British writer Zadie Smith, about two ethnically different families assimilating in North London.
She's working on her second collection of stories, which will include outtakes from the first collection. "It feels a lot lighter. It feels frothy," she says. And she's mulling a couple of plots for novels, based on her family.
With her husband, Chuck Rybak, a poet and assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin-Washington County, she lives in Green Bay.
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