Meagan Jennett Interview

Hailing from Crozet, this debut author gives a twist to the crime novel.

(Headshot by Mike Kropf)

You Know Her by Meagan Jennett. MCD. pp. 368. $28

Konstantin Rega: What made you want to be a writer?

Meagan Jennett: I’ve been writing stories since I could hold a pencil. I’ve always been an artistic person. And then I met Rita Mae Brown when I was in sixth grade. My mom used to own a tack shop for horses, and she came in one day. So I was lucky enough to get to know her better through horseback riding. I don’t think I said more than 10 words to her the entire three years that I was in her orbit. But she was such a big inspiration to me; she was a woman writing and making a living off of it. And I’ve just kept that in my heart since I was about 12.

When did that turn into a more concentrated effort?

I guess when I was in college. I really wanted to be a photojournalist, because I also loved photography. The year I graduated, though, was right around that time the bigger publications were cutting staff and going more to freelance photographers. And I didn’t want to have to compete every day for work. 

So I moved back to Charlottesville, and I started doing wedding photography. But I was still writing. And then, when I was 23, I actually had a stroke and my brain really flipped itself upside down and forgot a lot of things, a lot of words. So, I just started using poetry as a way of getting myself back together. 

In my 20s, I’d been working in restaurants for a while, and I didn’t want to do that forever. But I didn’t really know what else I could do or wanted to do other than write. So when I was 25, I moved up to New York City and just decided, “I’m gonna try to make this work, I don’t care.” So I really embedded myself into the poetry community up there and got to know other writers and other artists, and really started taking myself seriously. 

So that’s when I did my first open mike at the Cornelia Street Cafe in New York. And it kind of snowballed from there. I moved back home after a while and just kept writing and had this book idea that I knew I needed to work on. 

In 2019, I applied to the University of Glasgow, for their MFA program, which is a master of letters. I’d never taken a creative writing class and just wanted to be in a classroom and to have somebody who could help me. And so that’s how I ended up in Glasgow. And that’s where I finished the draft of the novel that sorta looks like the book that’s out now. I was about 30 then.

So what inspired You Know Her and why did you want to write it?

In New York, after our poetry meetups, we’d all go to a nearby bar. And I was talking to one of my very good friends, and he just told me a story. For a while, I keep it to myself, because it was my friend’s private story. But it just was so compelling. And this character, Sophie, just appeared from that, and she wouldn’t shut up.

And I took a lot of things that I’ve dealt with being a woman in the hospitality industry. Then about a month after I started writing the book, one of my friends was actually murdered by her husband. So I took all of these stories that I had grown up with and put them all together in this book.

But it’s been interesting to read reviews because people keep saying how angry it is, and how much rage that there is in it. And, I think, there’s definitely rage, but for me, it was really just an exercise in grief and how to kind of let go of a lot of the things that I’d grown up with and holding on to and so it’s not a very fun story at times.

They say suffering makes great art.

Writing it from the bartender’s perspective, I think I just had such a rich vein for me to tap into my own experiences. Then I just got interested in: What would create a woman who’s killing people? And then the answer that came was that it wouldn’t really be that hard. 

I have a friend who’s a chef, and we were at the bar one night after work. And he would say to me, “You know what, Meghan, women don’t understand how scared men are of you. We are terrified of you all the time.” 

And that really got me thinking like, “Okay, maybe at least for him, that’s true. And what would happen if women started putting their foot down and saying, I’m not taking this anymore.” So I took that and I wove into it a serial killer. And I got Sophie.

I grew up in a family of nurses. So I’ve always been really interested in the anatomy of the human body and the way that it all works. And so, I wanted to pull that into the book as well. I love the Southern Gothic tradition, so I wanted to use that as a touchstone while I was writing this.

I think it was Kipling who said that the female is more deadly than the male of the species.

Yeah, I believe that. And, oddly, I also love Ernest Hemingway. He’s one of my favorite writers, and I think he gets a bad rap. If you read his writing, he’s so respectful and kind of afraid of the women in his stories, as they always seem like really powerful people. Even if they’re not the nicest people, it’s very clear that they are in charge. So I think there’s absolutely a kernel of truth to the fact that at least some men are terrified.

And what do you want readers to get out of your book?

I think one thing is that I just wanted people to understand what it’s like to work in a restaurant. People don’t understand how much you put up with all day long. And, also, how clever you have to be, and really street smart too. And I think that, being able to showcase that, giving people a glimpse into what it’s like to be in that space, what the dynamics are, was really fun for me. 

And when I brought chapters to a writing group, it was really funny to me to see who got it. Because the women all got it right away. They’re like: Yep, I totally understand why she has murdered this man. And the men would be like: Wait a minute, she just went from zero to 60 really fast. So it was interesting to me that men were so clueless. Of course, they’re not experiencing the things that women experience all the time. So to them, it just seemed really strange that Sophie was so angry all the time. And would just react as strongly. 

So I wanted men to understand what it’s like. And to get a glimpse into the experience of being a woman and a woman in that culture of hospitality. They don’t have to get it. They don’t have to understand it. They don’t have to like it. But it feels like the men who have listened, it has touched them in a way that I didn’t expect.

I wanted Sophie to be able to explain exactly why she’s doing what she’s doing whether or not you agree with her. I don’t agree with her all the time either, of course. But it was important to me that she was able to explain herself. And I feel like we don’t know we’re always asked to empathize with terrible men. Like, I was just tired of that story. Why does Ted Bundy need another TV series? I mean, I think it’s fascinating. And it’s important to know who he was and to kind of educate yourself about that, but I’m tired of being asked to understand and psychoanalyze horrible men.

So what are you working on now?

Well, I’m doing a Doctorate of Fine Arts at the University of Glasgow. I’m researching the Scots/Irish diaspora into the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia, particularly the Augusta County area. And so and I think even with this book, and kind of my next, I’ve got two ideas that are sort of floating around, competing for which one comes out first. 

For me, what I’m interested in writing about is whose life’s given value in our culture. And how does that work? Who’s important enough to be allowed to live a good life and who gets punished for things that they really had nothing to do with? I mean, I think, in a lot of ways, when Sophia and Nora are talking about how all men are the same. No, all people are the same. But obviously, that doesn’t play out in the narratives that we tell ourselves in society. So how does that work? That’s one thing I found while researching this group of people. It’s been really interesting to see the stereotypes and the historical patterns that followed them from Scotland into Northern Ireland and then into Appalachia. So there’s the question of identity and how other people view you and, then, how that affects your place and in the world, which is really interesting to me. 

Find a copy at The Bookshop.

Konstantin Rega
A graduate of East Anglia’s renowned Creative Writing MA, Konstantin’s been published by the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Poetry Salzburg Review,, the Republic of Consciousness Prize (etc.). He contributes to Publisher Weekly and Treblezine.
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