Guernica Magazine

Carmen Maria Machado’s Beautiful Bad Dreams

The author of Her Body and Other Parties talks about queerness, writing good sex scenes, and what scares her the most. The post Carmen Maria Machado’s Beautiful Bad Dreams appeared first on Guernica.
Photo: Tom Storm Photography.

Carmen Maria Machado lives on the first floor of an old Victorian building in West Philadelphia. When I arrive—I live in the same neighborhood full of cracked sidewalks and leafy oaks—Carmen greets me wearing a fuchsia satin turban and shows me into the kitchen. “I’m thinking about drawing,” she says, running her fingers over a notebook of crisp, heavy stock and a package of new drawing pencils. “I think there is something that happens with drawing that I’d like to explore. Some way of mapping a feeling or bringing intensity.” On the table, beside the drawing supplies and her wife’s several tarot decks, lies a copy of Emily Carroll’s graphic novel Through the Woods. “Look,” Carmen says, opening the glossy pages to an image of a girl and an enormously frightening tentacle. “Look how scary! It gives me bad dreams.” I empathize. Everyone we know seems to be having bad dreams right now.

Her apartment is a welcoming vintage chic and her fashion is inspired as ever (part girly, part goth), but to sit and be with Carmen is chiefly to be in relationship with a voice. She is storyteller above all else. Hum goes the tea kettle, clank goes the spoon, and you are propped on your elbow listening, as if around a campfire. “However you charm people in the world, you should do so on the page,” wrote Mary Karr. It turns out that “charm” derives from the Latin “carmen”—a poem or song. And sing, or perhaps vibrate, is a good verb for what Carmen’s stories do. They are unmistakably active and alive. “You’ll need both sides of yourself—the beautiful and the beastly—to hold a reader’s attention,” Karr continued. Carmen Maria Machado’s work offers us both.

In her acclaimed book of short stories  (a finalist for the 2017 National Book Award)—but also in her work as an essayist,

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