Monica Roe on ‘The Unhealthy Breakfast Club’ and Why Your Stories Have Value

© Salima Alikhan 2020

Rural Voices is an upcoming anthology by 15 authors of varied backgrounds coming together to challenge assumptions about small-town America. Client Monica Roe contributes her story, "The Unhealthy Breakfast Club," to a collection of other narratives, poems, essays, and graphic short stories. Today Monica's agent, Jacqui Lipton, takes a moment to discuss the project in advance of its upcoming publication date this October.

Jacqui Lipton (JL): How did you come to be connected with the Rural Voices anthology?

Monica Roe (MR): While pursuing my MFA at Vermont College of Fine Arts, I dove deeply into representations of rural culture—especially working-class rural culture—as the focus of both my critical thesis and graduate lecture. All too frequently, rural people and places are reduced to cultural punchlines in books and other media—often via unfair, out-of-context, or incomplete portrayals. I wanted to shine some light on how writers can be complicit in perpetuating rural stereotypes—and how we can help make literature more accurate and inclusive for rural kids and teens.  

A few years after I graduated from the program, I was contacted by Nora Shalaway Carpenter, a fellow VCFA graduate and rural writer, who had read my thesis and was planning an anthology of rural stories. She invited me to submit a piece which, happily, ended up becoming part of the final collection.

JL: What gave you the idea for your story, The Unhealthy Breakfast Club?

MR: Issues of class, rurality, and belonging have always been close to my heart and I knew I wanted to explore at least some of my own experiences in this story. The general scenario—four rural, lower-income kids trying to navigate a wealthy, private-school landscape—came pretty directly from my own experience as a first-generation, scholarship student at a small, wealthy, private college. It was a wonderful opportunity for which I’ll forever be grateful. But so many times, I felt like I’d been tossed onto an alien planet—one where I didn’t know the cues, didn’t quite speak the language, didn’t have a handle on the customs.

 I hope readers come away with a new understanding of the vast diversity of rural America—and its beauty, struggles, nuance, and intrinsic value.

I used to carpool back and forth for holidays (in a very old car) with a couple other scholarship students, and the three-hour rides always became a space where we could freely talk about some of the things that were harder to articulate when we were on campus.

I’d originally envisioned the run-down McDonalds as simply a carpool meetup spot. But then I started thinking about how many kids in this country have little or no reliable internet access. Broadband coverage remains a huge challenge for much of rural America—and a continued barrier to educational equality. This has only been exacerbated by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, as many rural schools struggle to make online learning work effectively for all their students.

Where the magic happens - Monica works on "The Unhealthy Breakfast Club" during her bush plane commute to rural Alaskan villages.

JL: The story title is terrific. Was it your first choice or did you have other ideas?

MR: I was too young to catch the original 80s movie The Breakfast Club, when it first came out, though I did see it later as an adult. While certain elements of the movie have not aged well, I’ve always liked the idea of a group of very different people being tossed together in a way that forces them to re-examine some of their preconceived notions about one another and themselves.

Once I had the general idea for the story pinned down, this title pretty much wrote itself for me.

JL: Why is it important for young people to read this book? What do you hope they’ll take away from the book, and from your story?

MR: First and foremost, I hope young rural readers will see themselves reflected in some of these stories—in ways that show their homes and experiences as valuable and worthy.

For non-rural readers, I hope this collection offers a starting point to consider—or reconsider—some of what they’ve been told or shown about rural people and places. I hope readers come away with a new understanding of the vast diversity of rural America—and its beauty, struggles, nuance, and intrinsic value.

Some autumn rural beauty: Monica picking berries on the tundra outside Nome, AK

JL: What’s the most important piece of writing advice you ever received? What advice would you give to other writers today?

MR: Growing up in a rural, poorer farming town, writing books never felt like something real people actually did—or could dare aspire to. Neither of my parents were university graduates and their well-meaning advice was always, “just make sure you study something practical.”

The first time I remember feeling truly encouraged was in my 11th-grade English class. We’d been assigned to write a short story and I had turned in some very dramatic tale about a malevolent world beneath the surface of a frozen pond. All quite grim and overwrought, no doubt. When I got the story back (with an A!), my teacher had written beside the grade, “I would encourage you to write and write!”

To anyone just starting out—whether you’re ten years old or 100—my best advice would be to allow yourself to believe that writing is absolutely for ‘someone like you.’

To this day, I wish I had told Ms. Herrick how much those words meant to me.

To anyone just starting out—whether you’re ten years old or 100—my best advice would be to allow yourself to believe that writing is absolutely for “someone like you.”

No matter who you are or where you’re from, please don’t ever doubt that your words and your stories have value.

No matter who you are or where you’re from, please don’t ever doubt that your words and your stories have value.

Rural Voices comes out on October 13th, 2020.

Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn