This Q&A with M.J. Fievre is part of Badass, Lip Service: True Stories, The Double Album, edited by Andrea Askowitz. Click here to buy the book.
Don’t miss the launch of the story collection on Wednesday, November 19 at 7:00 p.m. on the grounds of the Miami Book Fair International. Corner of NE 3rd Street and 2nd Avenue.
The launch is just one of a series of Book Fair-sponsored Florida-themed events presented at The Swamp, a week-long celebration of everything that’s wonderful and wacky about South Florida. (A note from Nicholas Garnett, contributor: “Denise and I went down to the Fair last night to hear Ira Glass. Super cool. And The Swamp is great. Like a nice lounge, with great sound and lights, and big murals painted by local street artists. They have a mini book store set up outside [selling Badass] and food trucks. They also sell local beer and wine. There were a lot of people just hanging out.”) The Miami Herald called the Swamp the beating heart of the fair.
Badass is a collection of some of the best of Lip Service’s first eight years. Lip Service is a John S. and James L. Knight Foundation award-winning organization and a Miami institution. Lip Service is a night of true stories out loud. But it’s more than a show. Lip Service is an experience of community connecting like nothing else in South Florida. Lip Service typically features eight true stories, but as the title suggests, Badass is a double album, so you get two shows in one book, featuring 16 stories in all.
The stories are funny, poignant, inspiring, and all true.
M.J. is the author of Cycle, included in the anthology. The interview was conducted by Andrea Askowitz.
So, here you go:
How did it feel to tell this story at Lip Service?
At first, the idea was nerve-wracking. I grew up in Haiti, in a society that teaches that it’s absolutely not okay to air one’s dirty laundry. My piece was really personal and, although I’m committed to nonfiction, I prefer to hide behind a computer screen. When I’m nervous, my accent gets very thick and the muscles in my jaw clench and unclench. My hands tremble, and I have to remember not to knot them behind my back. I’m a writer, not a performer. So, I’m glad Andrea and Esther held a rehearsal in a house full of cheery warmth. I was able to get over the stage fright. Somewhat. The night of the show, I did feel the sweat bead on my forehead and slide down my temples. But I also did become a performer—at least for one night—with stylized movements, points, vibrating lines. And yes, it does help to imagine your audience naked.
Describe yourself in three words:
Awkward. Imaginative. Searching.
“When I’m nervous, my accent gets very thick and the muscles in my jaw clench and unclench.”
How would someone else describe you?
I get two extremes from people who have just met me: “nice” and “intimidating.” The latter may be due to my permanent frown lines. My friend Laura says that I often have a disapproving stare. For most people, though, I think I’m simply invisible—I’m not a great conversationalist (people are scary, the thought of a phone conversation makes me sweat) and it’s not like I’m strikingly beautiful, so I probably leave strangers indifferent. My bosses see me as hard-working and knowledgeable—an out-of-the-box thinker. My coworkers say I’m quiet, which makes for a good listener. Close friends seem to think I’m smart, driven, easily distracted, and a tad self-absorbed. Ask my husband and he’ll say that I take pleasure in shocking people (and secretly laughing about it) and that I’m hyperbolic. My grammar school teacher would agree. She once underlined all the adverbs in my essay, ninety-seven. “You need to tone down the drama,” she said. My sisters say I complain too much about everything (I’m a perfectionist and a pessimist) and my mom thinks I’m still a child. My dog thinks I’m a canine.
What’s your day job?
I teach college writing. Makes me feel relevant.
What do you do for fun?
I’m down for whatever. The movies. The club. The pub. Staying home for a Netflix binge is fine too. Losing myself in books. I recently finished Santo Vituperio by my writer-friend Homero Carvalho. I reread Saint Exupéry’s The Little Prince last night and it brought me to tears.
What’s your dream job?
I have it now. I’m teaching writing in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, for one semester. My class meets only twice a week and, because I have six students (instead of the usual thirty), grading isn’t tedious. Outside my office hours, I can write, write, and write… sometimes seven hours at a time. My schedule also allows for cultural activities off campus. I get to meet my writer-friends at cafés for espressos and salteñas. We go to concerts and museums and art exhibits. That’s how I always imagined the “writing life.”
What actors/actresses do you have crushes on?
I don’t have crushes on actors. I become obsessed with the characters they play. I love smart men: Charlie Eppes (David Krumholtz) in the series Numbers, Rancho (Aamir Khan) in the Indian film Three Idiots, Neal Caffrey (Matt Bomer) in White Collar, and Will (Matt Damon) in Good Will Hunting. I am also obsessed with Dr. House (Hugh Laurie). But he is too much of an asshole; my shaky self-esteem would never survive. I don’t want to be with House. I want to be House.
“He is too much of an asshole; my shaky self-esteem would never survive.”
Tell us something your mother doesn’t know.
When I was 12, one of the French channels showed porn every night, from 10:00 to 11:00. Having my own TV set, I was able to watch (and dissect) every episode, all the while feasting on peanut butter sandwiches. I rated all the plots, from one to ten. Now I would probably be an excellent X-rated film critic. (Anyone hiring?) Oh, and Mom? Remember that birthday party at Gaelle’s house, in Pèlerin 5? I’m sure you do, because the road’s curves are quite memorable. Well, Bernard picked me up minutes after you dropped me off and we went to a club instead.
What advice would you give yourself while going through a bipolar cycle?
Whatever you’re thinking right now, it’s your brain playing tricks on you. Don’t believe a single word. Read a book. Write something.
Where do you want to be in ten years?
I want to have published three American bestsellers. Is that too much to ask the Muse and the Universe?