Interview with Alta Ifland, Author of Death-in-A-Box
Interview with Alta Ifland
About two years.
Did you have a collection in mind when you were writing them?
Yes, but it was quite different from the one published. It was twice as big (235 pages), much more eclectic, and because of that, divided into four parts. Eventually, Ninebark Press published half of the stories under the title Elegy for a Fabulous World (the title of one of the stories). The stories they chose were the more realistic, autobiographical ones. Most of the stories left unpublished were shorter, more fable-like, and closer to the so-called “flash fiction” genre (a term I don’t particularly like). These stories became part of Death-in-a-Box.
How did you choose which stories to include and in what order?
I submitted my manuscript to the 2010 Subito Press fiction contest, and their requirement was: “less than a hundred pages.” So, my Death-in-a-Box manuscript was almost perfect—I had to leave out two or three longer stories, but in the end, it was a better collection. The division of my initial 235-page manuscript into two collections made both books better because they have a stronger aesthetic and thematic cohesion.
What does the word “story” mean to you?
This question requires a very long, thoughtful answer, but I will try to make it short. Let me take it from “the other end:” unlike a novel, a short story is less “entertaining” (that is, less distracting) and closer to the origins of literature. As Borges said, at the beginning of literature was myth. The short story is, I think, the closest contemporary equivalent to myth; of course, fairytales, are even closer, but they are considered a different genre (though some of my stories are inspired by Eastern European folktales). Myths have no psychology and they function in a way that reveals something essential about the human being. This is what attracts me to the genre of the short story, though I realize that this is not how most people view stories. For most readers, writers and, especially publishers, a story is necessarily written in the psychological-realist tradition that has developed in the 18th-19th centuries when novels became very popular.
Do you have a “reader” in mind when you write stories?
Yes: Me. I write the kind of stories I like to read. But I always hope that they could also trigger the admiration of the writers I admire.
Is there anything you’d like to ask someone who has read your collection, anything at all?
Maybe: what does a particular story from my collection remind them of? What other writer, or story, or feeling?
How does it feel knowing that people are buying your books?
What are you working on now?
I am working on my third novel (first two are currently being read by agents). It is a novel that takes place in the hills of Santa Barbara, California, in a community once famous for its extravagant, artistic neighborhood. Part of the novel is about the unexpected consequences of a “marriage of convenience” between a Californian man and a Ukrainian woman. It is also about the comedy of love when A loves B, and B loves C, and C loves D. By the way, when I write novels, I find it more “natural” to write in the psychological-realist tradition.
What are the last three short story collections you read?
Suddenly, a Knock on the Door by Etgar Keret (Israeli)
Seven Gothic Tales by Isak Dinesen (Danish/Kenyan)
The Plaster Angel by Dezsö Kosztolányi (Hungarian)