shining the spotlight on short story collections
There are thirty stories in Goodnight Nobody. Most written over the past three or four years, while early drafts for some stories, for example Major Drill and Someplace Better, go as far back as ten years ago.
Did you have a collection in mind when you were writing them?
No, I did not. The challenge and the reward of putting a collection of stories together is compiling them in such a way that the stories seem as though they were always intended to go together and, ideally, become a whole greater than the sum of its individual parts.
How did you choose which stories to include and in what order?
I selected the stories based on a mixture of factors: Those I felt were my strongest work; those I felt readers would most connect with; those that together became something more than they were individually, and also, terrifyingly, those I felt readers would have mixed, strong, or ambivalent reactions to, for examples stories like Baby where the protagonist doesn’t act or change; Sweet Pea which is a zany mix of gritty realism and magic realism; and the title story Goodnight Nobody which risks sentimentality. I felt compelled to include these latter stories alongside work I felt much more confident about because they touched me and they meet my measurement of a story worth telling: They reflect life’s messiness, absurdities, monotonies, and also what the characters – and ultimately what I – feel, think, care about, and believe to be true about the world.
What does the word “story” mean to you?
Story is beginning, middle, and end. It’s people. It’s showing and seeing our gory, amazing insides. It’s meaning. Truth. Risk. Vulnerability. Entertainment. Story is connection.
Do you have a “reader” in mind when you write stories?
No, I do not. That’s all I’ve got. This is, however, a timely question. Last night, in a maudlin mood, I thought again about my dead parents. They both passed away in recent months. I thought how they had never read any of my work. How they never will. I thought what if everything I write from now on is with the idea that it’s for them, work so good they couldn’t look away. Let’s see what happens.
Is there anything you’d like to ask someone who has read your collection, anything at all?
Which characters did you connect with? How? Why? What rang true for you? Held meaning? How did the collection leave you feeling?
How does it feel knowing that people are buying your books?
That’s a beautiful, frightening thing.
You moved from Dublin to San Francisco — a huge cultural and geographic shift. Has this move affected your writing in any way?
The move affected me in a profound way and that colors everything in my writing. Immigration gave me escape and a new beginning. I’ve lived two very different lives: the one in Ireland and the one in San Francisco. I am deeply grateful for both lives, although the first was filled with pain. Moving to San Francisco saved me in many ways. I would not be the person or writer I am today had I not left Ireland. As much as I love Ireland and am fierce about my connection to the country, my family, and its people, I believe I am a better person and a better writer because I left. If I’d stayed in Ireland, my relationships there would have swallowed me.
What are you working on now?
A novel set in Ireland in 2010. I finally let go of two novel manuscripts I’ve worked on over the past decade which weren’t coming together, and threw myself into a third novel manuscript. The novel began as a short story, Seconds, which was longlisted for the 2009 Davy Byrnes Short Story Award judged by Richard Ford. I’ve never felt about a character like I do about the male protagonist of this novel. He’s taken me to heights and depths and has become almost real to me. If he gets me an agent and publisher, I’m going to have an affair with him.
Do you have a favourite author/authors whose work you return to again and again? I tend to go through obsessive stints with authors.
My current obsession is with Jo Ann Beard, author of Boys of My Youth and In Zanesville. Her work and honesty make me hold my breath. Make me want to be an ever better writer. I also went through a major obsession with Anthony Doerr and think I’ve read everything he’s ever written. Did my stint, too, with Edna O’Brien. I’ve reread several times story collections from Irish contemporary authors Kevin Barry and Mary Costello. Read more than once, too, story collections from Robin Black, Lori Ostlund, Laura van den Berg, and Joyce’s Dubliners. I’m also reading my way through every short ebook SHEBOOKS is publishing. I eat books. Raymond Carver and Flannery O’Connor are touchstones.
What are the last three short story collections you read?
Don’t Kiss Me by Lindsay Hunter. Three Scenarios in Which Hana Sakaki Grew a Tail by Kelly Luce. Young Skins by Colin Barrett. I highly recommend all three collections. They are very different to each other and all are intriguing and excellent reads.
About the author: Ethel Rohan was born and raised in Dublin and now lives in San Francisco. Her first story collection Cut Through The Bone was longlisted for the 2010 Story Prize. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, World Literature Today, Tin House Online, Sou’wester, Post Road Magazine and The Rumpus, among many others.