shining the spotlight on short story collections
Peter Tieryas Liu is the author of Bald New World and Watering Heaven. His work has been published in places like Electric Literature, Indiana Review, McNeese Review, and ZYZZYVA. He is one of the editors at Entropy and blogs at tieryas.wordpress.com.
I wrote many of them in 2009-2010 while waiting in a cafe in Beijing so I’d say some time during a period of two years. On a deeper level, I’ve been writing these stories forever, moulding, sculpting, chipping away, devouring, vomiting, and sometimes cruising to the rhythms that permeate my every day. These stories, flaws and all, are me.
Did you have a collection in mind when you were writing them?
I never thought it could become a collection. In fact, it was another author who I greatly admire, Leza Lowitz, who suggested it to me. I’m very grateful to her for her faith and confidence in me!
How did you choose which stories to include and in what order?
I tried to throw in everything I could. My editor, Marshall Moore, wiser and more experienced than me, advised me to cut a few and try to have more diversity in terms of themes. I wanted to stick with one of the central themes, love, and cut out stories that didn’t really fit into that mould. I probably should have listened to my editor, ha ha, but I was wildly in love when I wrote those stories and I wanted this to be my testament to that period. While I’ve been fortunate in that the reviews have been overall positive, that’s been the one ding- that the structure, however creative, gets repetitive. Guy is lost, guy falls in love, weird stuff happens,and oddly twisted climax. That was an intentional choice, one my editor respected, and one that I still stand by. An older me probably would have listened to my editor.
What does the word “story” mean to you?
Life, death, love, hate, passion, apathy, peace, war, and everything in between. Everyone has a different story. Even a dog barking in the middle of the night, howling his woes to neighbouring dogs that howl back. I sometimes wonder if roaches report on their meanderings back at their home bases, clustered together with thousands of other roaches. Do they discuss the horrors of the big towering creatures that try to stamp out their existence? Do those treks form a sort of trial, an initiation into adulthood? I survived ten excursions. What about you?
Do you have a “reader” in mind when you write stories?
I wish I could telepathically experience my stories the way other people do. I’m always asking them for the honest truth, though only a rare number do as most are too polite to tell me if they hate it, ha ha. If I’m asking you to invest a little bit of your precious time, I want you to feel like it was worth it. I also wanted to dispel some of the misguided notions people had about China as it was unlike anything I’d ever experienced before. Honestly, people told me to expect a third-world country where everything was repressed. I was shocked, then, to find a futuristic city full of energy, people openly talking about almost anything. I fell in love with Beijing. The recent sheath of pollution has given me second thoughts on my passion, but I’d like to stay faithful. I also love Los Angeles and think it doesn’t get enough credit as a cradle of culture and creativity.
Is there anything you’d like to ask someone who has read your collection, anything at all?
Everything- what they thought about every word, every sentence. Who did you feel intrigued by? Who did you despise? As I can’t do that, I’m left with, what did you think? Did you like it at all? You can be honest with me, even without ten shots of vodka. Well, some reviewers are pretty honest. I love you all.
How does it feel knowing that people are buying your books?
Grateful, humbled, excited, wanting to deliver something bigger, better, more introspective, more provocative, more interesting.
What are you working on now?
My first novel, Bald New World, was released at the end of May. I’ve been stunned and honored that it has gotten some great press; Publishers Weekly gave it a starred review and named it one of the Best Books of Summer 2014; Buzzfeed featured it as one of the 15 Highly Anticipated Books of the year; and Yahoo! just did a profile of the book. It asks a simple question: What if everyone in the world lost their hair? I was especially touched by a fan who read an ARC and told me he loved the story because it helped him to deal with the humiliation/pain of his own hair loss. That made every painstaking word worth it.
What are the last three short story collections you read?
Dark Sunshine by Len Kuntz, Meg Tuite’s Her Skin is a Costume, and Kill Marguerite by Megan Milks. You should read all three.