shining the spotlight on short story collections
How long did it take you to write all the stories in your collection?
These stories span a good fifteen years of writing. I’ve written three novels while writing the stories. Short stories are my most comfortable form, the form I often grab onto if I find myself stuck within that sometimes quicksand quagmire of a novel. I drew a pie chart once for my torture cycle with novel writing—the quicksand usually happens for me at the noon mark (the start), the twenty-minute mark, and lordy, lordy, the fifty minute mark. During those times I like to grab onto my short story branch.
Did you have a collection in mind when you were writing them?
I suppose I had always hoped to bring my stories together one day, but I never consciously crafted them to be thematically similar, although I think they ended up being so all the same. I had created a chapbook of my flash fictions titled, Hello Friends and Neighbors, and it was a finalist or a first runner up in three contests, and that made me take a second look at bringing more of my stories together—my short –shorts and my longer works—into a complete collection, and I was pleased by how the diversity of form worked to become what was later titled, Walk Back From Monkey School.
How did you choose which stories to include and in what order?
This was a joint effort between my editor at Press 53, Kevin Morgan Watson, and me, and it was surprisingly easy. For the most part we had the same idea about the order of the stories—how we wanted the book to begin and on what note we thought it should end, and the spacing of the longer stories to the shorter ones. He asked that I remove two stories that he felt didn’t fit in with the others (I agreed about the one, acquiesced about the other), and at the last minute I added a story I had been working on and it really felt like it completed the collection.
What does the word “story” mean to you?
To me, a story is anything that asks or answers one, or more than one, of the perpetual mysteries of the bumbling along beings of the universe, and it can come in the form of words, or song, or dance, or color, or form, or silence, etc.
Do you have a “reader” in mind when you write stories?
No. Maybe a listener, for if I ever have the opportunity to read the story aloud for an audience. I’m very obsessed with the sound and rhythm of my sentences and how the cadence will hold up so that they’ll be understood when heard just as much as read on paper.
Is there anything you’d like to ask someone who has read your collection, anything at all?
Yes. Which part, if any, made you laugh out loud, and which part, if any, made you cry?
How does it feel knowing that people are buying your books?
It’s pretty great to know that people are buying my book, but to know that people are actually reading my book is bananas-crazy great! It’s also scary, because it sort of feels like I’m running around town in my underwear, which has holes in it that I repaired with safety pins. I’ve received some really intense feedback about some stories that affected people deeply (I’ve heard, knocked to the floor, knifed with a rapier, made me stare at the mirror for an hour), and although I feel proudly of the power of my words, there’s also a true part of me that reacts by thinking, “I didn’t mean to hurt you!” Also, even though I believe I know—(and Amy Hempel stated this perfectly, and I’m going to botch it here, but you’ll get the point)—that I know where life ends and art begins, I do use my experiences and quite often (if not always) the experiences of those around me, whether they are close to me, have been close to me, or I simply pass them on the street; and I have to take a deep breath sometimes and just pray that they feel flattered enough to have made a strong enough of a story on me to maybe be a little (or biggo) recognizable on my page.
What are you working on now?
I’m revving up to finish my third novel, Goodbye, Goodbye, Goodbye (shouldn’t be hurting anyone with that one! Ha!). It’s about a woman who moves to Brooklyn after a divorce and starts to work for a moving company, so it looks into many of the reasons why we come and go to and from places so frequently in our lives.
What are the last three short story collections you read?
I tend to bounce around and not read straight through, so I’ve been reading Curtis Smith’s Bad Monkey (awesome), Meg Pokrass’s Damn Sure Right (totally great), and Three Squares a Day by Julie Innis (fabulous). I’m very excited to start reading Lauren Belski’s Whatever Used To Grow Around Here. I’ve also been rereading, as I always do, Amy Hempel’s Tumble Home, and Grace Paley’s Little Disturbances of Man. I get so happy when I forget a story and get to fall back in love with it again. Sometimes I think I have self-induced short-story dementia, just so I can have that wowzer zing again! Thanks so much for these questions!
Kate Hill Cantrill’s writing has appeared in literary publications including Story Quarterly, Salt Hill, The Believer, Blackbird,QuickFiction, Mississippi Review, Smokelong Quarterly, Swink, and others. She has been awarded fellowships from the Corporation of Yaddo, the Jentel Artists Residency, the Virginia Center for Creative Arts, and the James A. Michener Fund. She has taught fiction writing at The University of the Arts, The University of Texas, and the Sackett Street Workshop. She lives in Brooklyn where she curates the Rabbit Tales Reading and Performance Series and is completing a novel.