Growing up an only child in Salina, Kansas, Kate McIntyre started writing in grade school, where there was “a wonderful fifth grade teacher who gave us an hour every Friday to write fiction.” As a student at Harvard, a gothic literature class helped her find a framework to play with as she began writing short stories set in her home state. “I think that there is something incredibly gothic about a ranch house out in the country, that you’re living in with only your family,” McIntyre said. “There’s nobody within shouting distance.”
McIntyre’s debut story collection, “Mad Prairie,” which was chosen by Roxane Gay for the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction, features characters in such situations: isolated, in danger, mostly in Kansas. “I think a lot of what I’m up to is retelling those stories, reinvigorating these themes from the gothic that still strike me as highly relevant,” McIntyre said. “They’re also stories that make your skin crawl.”
In these stories, the unpredictability of male anger is ever present, as is “the way it can also mix with love,” McIntyre said. “I wanted them to be angry but not only angry. I wanted them to be funny. Laughing at a character is a way of stealing some of their power.”
Several characters appear in one another’s stories, even though McIntyre admits she doesn’t always loved linked collections. Still, she added, when writing about small-town life it can’t always be avoided: “There just aren’t that many folks around.”
Lest anyone back home think McIntyre, who now teaches at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, is simply bashing her native state, she hastens to correct that impression. “I love Kansans so much,” she said, and will never stop missing “the sun on your face, and just the sun in general. I think I’ve been ruined forever because I love that sun so much. The way the landscape unfolds before you and behind you, so you can feel like you can really breathe in that space. The way the sky is so massive and so changeable. I love those things about the place.”
Kate McIntyre will be in conversation with Roxane Gay 7 p.m. Wednesday in a virtual event hosted by Brookline Booksmith.
Kate Tuttle, a freelance writer and critic, can be reached at email@example.com.