shining the spotlight on short story collections
author of Betty Superman, reviewed by Sara Baume
How long did it take you to write all the stories in your collection?
The first story was written almost twelve years ago. I thought of it as a prose poem. I didn’t write fiction then. I think I was trying to get something sparked, thinking about the mother as a character, and wrote it as a character sketch. The others were written as flashes, some from word prompts, over a period of a year or so. In the end, I put them in what I saw as chronological order for the overall story, although I wrote them in a different order, sparked by a prompt or a line of dialogue.
Did you have a collection in mind when you were writing them?
I didn’t have a collection in mind when I wrote them. I was just trying to capture different incidents. It’s no secret that the stories are based on true events. So, when my mother told me she had her “pee hole” stretched I wrote about it, etc. We spent a lot of time together just before and after my stroke and then in the two years before her death. We had never spent that kind of time together, and, after all we had been through together, the woman who had annoyed, embarrassed and simply been difficult for me to deal with, became an interesting character. I just took notes. I didn’t realize I had a collection until I noticed how many of my stories had “Mom” in the word titles I used. (I don’t use actual titles until I feel a piece is polished and truly finished. Until then, I file it by words used, subject, etc.)
How did you choose which stories to include and in what order?
I did have to leave some stories out because they were more than one thousand words. They are in chronological order.
What does the word “story” mean to you?
“Story”–that’s a hard one. A story is a conversation on the phone, an argument, a dream. The first story in the collection is really a character sketch, but it reveals action and conflict, and I think that is what makes it a story. I think a story starts when a match is lit, then someone puts it out, lets it burn down to her fingers, calls 9-1-1 but something has changed: the match is burnt, the girl is burnt, the house burns down, the fire trucks come. Something happens and the characters are different for it, and this difference can be so small, as small as two characters who can’t stand each other at the beginning, laughing together at the end.
Do you have a “reader” in mind when you write stories?
Sometimes I have a reader in mind, but I usually don’t. I just write to see what happens. On the occasions I have a reader, it could be my writing group, a particular publication for which the piece seems perfect (in my mind), but mostly I write for myself.
Is there anything you’d like to ask someone who has read your collection, anything at all?
Yes! I’d love to know if people who have read this collection would like to read more about these characters. I have over a hundred pages of other stories about these two. There’s a big gap from Dragon Lady and First Husband to some of the other stories, and truly that middle part is the overall climax. I guess Betty Superman is a collection of snapshots. Would anyone like to watch the movie?
How does it feel knowing that people are buying your books?
It feels fabulous and affirming to know that people are buying my books. After my stroke, I was concerned I would have trouble writing. All but one of these stories were written after the stroke. The fact that people buy the book make me feel like a real writer and a complete human being (not simply disabled, broken) –something I wasn’t sure I could be again.
What are you working on now?
I’ve been working on the same short story for a year. It’s probably a novel, but I plan to pare it down and then expand it and then send it out into the world in both forms so it can find its place. Also, I’m always writing flashes and poems here and there, just to feel whole.
What are the last three short story collections you read?
The last three short stories collections I read were Darlin Neal‘s Elegant Punk, The Best New American Voices 2011 (I try to read that every year) and Eric Bosse’s Magnificent Mistakes.