Merritt Tierce spent her mid-twenties waiting tables at a Dallas steakhouse. She was a writer, sure, but she spent most of her days serving the elite and struggling toward 30. That this experience would serve as formative life experience and become fodder for her first novel, Love Me Back surprises no one more than Tierce.
"It wasn't like I would go home and take notes like I thought I would write a book about it someday. I didn't even think of myself as a writer, at least not professionally," Tierce says, sipping an Americano at Oak Lawn Coffee, just "around the corner" from the unnamed inspirational steakhouse. "I see now that your twenties are about floundering and fucking everything up."
Love Me Back hits bookstores September 16, and while it isn't about real life Tierce, the Dallas-based author put a lot of her own story into the protagonist, Marie.
When Tierce first began to write what would become this book, "the words just poured out." First, as a short story called "Suck It," which appeared in a 2007 edition of the Southwest Review. It was a sordid story about a young waitress navigating the unsavory restaurant industry, but it floats in Tierce's elaborate prose.
"For me, writing is foremost about language," she says. "It's about characters and the story, but if you're not going to say it in a way that's beautiful, what's the point of writing it at all?"
That short story's success pushed Tierce to embark on a career in writing. In 2009, she attended the Iowa Writers' Workshop as the Meta Rosenberg Fellow. Then, she would go on to receive a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers' Award in 2011 and be named a 2013 National Book Foundation 5 Under 35 Author. All the while, she continued to write the story of this young waitress.
"The book moves linearly, but I didn't write the book that way," Tierce explains. "I wrote "Suck It" and all the stories in the restaurant first and then later went back to write the stories that take place first."
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To describe Love Me Back as a story about a woman waiting tables would undercut it. In all of her writing, Tierce demonstrates a fierce understanding of how to portray the ugliest aspects of things, shining an unflinching light on life's underbelly but doing so with the reminder that the truth about things can be beautiful.
"I've been criticized for not writing characters who change, with a capital C," Tierce says. "What you see Marie doing in the book is chipping away at herself."
And while Love Me Back may lack the stereotypically American redemption narrative, it's a human story that, I expect, most readers will identify with.
Love Me Back hits Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and most major booksellers Tuesday, September 16. The Wild Detectives will host a reading with Merritt Tierce at 7 p.m. September 25.