shining the spotlight on short story collections
author of Elegant Punk, reviewed by Carol Reid
Like my last collection, Elegant Punk is a combination of very recent and older stories so the span of time is long, or short, depending.
Did you have a collection in mind when you were writing them?
I did not but after publishing my first collection I was left with these flash pieces I had been writing. They had made me rethink form. At the same time, I went back to some of my longer stories and in revising those pieces and thinking of the flash I began to see patterns that brought this book together. Patterns in the pieces and in the lives of the children and people in the stories, in the places where they found themselves.
How did you choose which stories to include and in what order?
I felt there was a unity to the lives I was writing about, that the culmination of these narrations works in a way that revealed itself as a complete book when I started putting them all together. I think with Misty Blue Waters we see the trouble we are entering into. Once Upon A Time On Bourbon Street, though one of the oldest stories in the collection felt right to me as an ending with the characters, though roughed up from the journey, looking out toward that uncertain future, but still looking.
What does the word “story” mean to you?
I think of my father’s stories, how when he was young (just 22 when I was born) he’d tell stories of escape from danger or justice being brought about as consequence of actions. My brothers and I would sit listening and we’d be riveted. He would often be standing up he was so passionate in the telling. Since my mother died a little over a year ago his stories have turned to a need for certain things to be known, explaining what brought about a particularly difficult time in our lives, say, but mostly demonstrating how much he and my mother loved each other and how they came to be together. The lengths they went to. Stories of my mother’s fearlessness and how it carried him. Stories teach us empathy and there’s nothing more sacred. Stories connect us.
Do you have a “reader” in mind when you write stories?
I don’t really because I find myself so caught up in the characters, the language, the form, the magic of being drawn through the story and watching it become more and more realized. When I hear the stories as I am writing, or reading, I hear them much as I heard the pieces from the times when I first started to love to read fiction. You could say that’s who I write for, that stream of a voice that the young reader first learns to hear, that voice that always remains with us.
I want people to know my characters.
I want them to not be invisible.
Is there anything you’d like to ask someone who has read your collection, anything at all?
It seems like such a private thing between that reader and the book. I certainly enjoy hearing from readers but I can’t sit here and think of a question that doesn’t seem like some kind of invasion.
How does it feel knowing that people are buying your books?
It is a great honor and a delight. I want people to know my characters. I want them to not be invisible.
What are you working on now?
I am polishing a novel which will feel finished with very soon. I have another more experimental work that I will gather together as soon as I feel finished with the first. I expect to have two completed, or close to so, novels by the end of the summer
What are the last three short story collections you read?
Little Raw Souls by Steven Schwartz; Tenth of December by George Saunders; and I recently revisited Kevin McIlvoy’s The Complete History of New Mexico. I recommend them all highly. I’ve got Dear Life by Alice Munro up next. (Book Titles in italics)