Over at BuzzFeed Books, I write about 11 modern librarians in contemporary literature that break away from the tropes normally associated with the term “librarian.” The list includes characters by Haruki Murakami, Rebecca Makkai, Jennine Capo Crucet, Laura van den Berg, Dan Chaon, and others.
Recently, I talked with Stacey D’Erasmo about her superb new book, Wonderland, for Publishers Weekly. The transcript is now up on the PW website (though you need to be a subscriber to read the piece). I believe the interview will also appear in an upcoming print edition. (UPDATE: It is in the 3/17/14 issue)
D’Erasmo’s book, about a rock musician attempting a comeback, is full of fantastic, lyrical prose, and in our chat, we discussed just how she captured that “on the road” life. Turns out she actually went on tour with Scissor Sisters.
We talked long enough for multiple interviews, and I ended up cutting out more than I wanted. But the end piece represents the general flavor of our chat.
Here’s a link to the interview. I’m sure it’ll eventually pop up for free.
You may be here thanks to a link from the wonderful Natalia Sarkissian, my partner in crime over at Numéro Cinq Magazine, who invited me to participate in this dervish known as the My Writing Process Blog Tour. If so, let me welcome you to my small little sliver of the web. If not, well, I’ll still welcome you. I’m a welcoming guy.
The #MyWritingProcess tour is intended to connect writers from all over the world. The way it works is pretty simple: I’m going to answer 4 basic questions below. Then, I’ll introduce a couple of my writing pals, who will keep the tour rolling with a similar post one week from today (March 17).
Let’s dig in.
1. What are you working on?
At the moment, I have several plates spinning. If you’ve glanced at my site already, you’ll see that I write book reviews in addition to fiction. And right now I have a small stack of books I’m in the middle of reviewing. I probably shouldn’t mention titles here (for ethical reasons), but I can say that I’ve got pieces to write for Rain Taxi, Necessary Fiction, Publisher’s Weekly, and Numéro Cinq. These will all probably arrive online or in print within the next 3-5 months. If you want to read a recent review of mine, check out my thoughts on Lydia Davis’s new collection, Can’t and Won’t.
I also have a few author interviews in the pipeline. One is with Stacey D’Erasmo, which should pop up any time now in PW. Her new novel, Wonderland, is amazingly good. Certainly check it out. Another is with Lydia Davis, a follow-up of my review for NC, which is slated for June. A third project that I’m pretty excited about is a Skype roundtable I’m hosting for the West Hartford (Connecticut) Library, where I’ll be connecting with Laura van den Berg, Ethan Rutherford, and Jessica Hollander to discuss the art of short fiction for a local audience. The event will be recorded and hosted online. I’ll be sure to post a link when it happens.
Creatively, I’m working on a series of short stories. I’d like to say I’m focusing on a manuscript, but my brain doesn’t seem to work that way. Instead, I just write one story after another. Most are extremely short (under 500 words), though some top out around 2500 words. I’m not interested in writing long narratives, for some reason. Anyway, I have a couple of stories floating out in the Submittable void right now, and I’m polishing a couple others to start sending out soon.
Oh, and did I mention that I help edit a literary journal? It’s called Atlas and Alice. You should take a look.
2. How does your work differ from others of its genre?
Not sure how to answer such a question. I mean, I truly believe there’s no such thing as originality in art. If anything, we all work with variations of established forms, don’t we?
I suppose one thing I can say is that I have very little interest in stretching a narrative for length. To me, a perfect story can last as little as a hundred words. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy a long yarn. I just don’t think I could ever find the patience to write one. I find comfort in short, often ironic, darkly humorous, slightly unsettling literary fiction.
3. Why do you write what you do?
I write fiction because I love the art of storytelling. Story, regardless of length and genre, allows audience transportation. As a storyteller, I feel like a magician. That’s fantastic.
As for literary criticism, I find it incredibly important to spread the word about great books. I do my best to treat every title equally. I understand the amount of work that goes into writing, and I just don’t see the point in dragging an author through the mud. As such, all of my reviews attempt to weigh the positives and negatives in every book. A completely negative review is pointlessly cruel.
4. What is your writing process?
Most of my ideas come while I run. Though I used to run 20-30 miles a week, I’ve cut back some over the past year or so. But running really allows me to focus on narratives. Kernels percolate and I jot them down here and there in an idea notebook. Sometimes, I’ll spin a story in my head for weeks (or months) before I start to write. Occasionally, though, I’ll have to immediately get to work.
The writing itself comes in spurts. I steal away moments when I can: sitting on the couch at night, sitting at my desk in the morning before work, hanging around my classroom (I adjunct part time at a couple of local colleges) before students arrive. I juggle a few different jobs, so my schedule can be fairly sporadic. But I do try to surround myself with inspiration when I write. My desk is cluttered with books, with craft essays, and with quotes and toys. My guitar is always nearby. Sometimes I strum while thinking.
Does the strumming help? Sometimes.
Now let me introduce you to two great writers I’m proud to call friends: Sarah Seltzer and Brendan Todt. You can check their sites next Monday to hear what they have to say about writing.
Sarah Seltzer is a journalist and writer living in New York City. Her recent fiction has appeared in Joyland and Lilith Magazine. Her journalistic work has been published pretty much everywhere: The New York Times, Ms. Magazine, Jezebel, Rolling Stone, and about a million others. She’s the real deal, folks. UPDATE: Here’s the link to her entry.
Brendan Todt is a poet and fiction writer living in Iowa. He’s the Editor-in-Chief at Atlas and Alice, and his work has been published in Ninth Letter, Tin House (online), Roanoke Review, PANK, Nano Fiction, and others. Oh, and his poem “At the Particle Accelerator at Krasnoyarsk” was anthologized in the 2013 Best American Non-Required Reading. Yup, he’s pretty damn talented. UPDATE: Here’s the link to his entry.
Very, very happy to talk about Can’t and Won’t, the new story collection from Lydia Davis, in this month’s issue of Numéro Cinq. I have nothing but respect for Davis. She’s an amazing writer, and her new book, which comes out in April, is incredibly strong.
As an added bonus, after I finished my review, I contacted Davis about a possible interview. We spoke a bit via email, and she agreed to a short conversation for an upcoming issue of NC (probably to run in the summertime).
For now, you can read my review over at NC.
Over at The Bygone Bureau, I have a short piece talking about two movies: The Wolf of Wall Street and The Third Man. I meditate on the famous ferris wheel scene in Third between Orson Welles and Joseph Cotten, where Harry Lime is forced to talk about his penicillin scam, and how Lime’s thoughts are echoed by Leonardo DiCaprio’s greedy stock broker in Wolf.
My review of Mauricio Segura’s Eucalyptus is over 1000 words long. Five of these words are “hypnotic,” “invasiveness,” “patterns,” “home,” and “existential.”
To see these words in context (and to see the other 995), click on through to Numéro Cinq.
OK, so I don’t buy into journalistic lists, and this time of year, listicles are relentless. Everyone wants to proclaim the ten best movies, books, restaurants, albums, tv shows, colors, lampshades, zombie-themed children’s games, spoons, oak trees, pine trees, artificial trees, crossword puzzles, wigs, and, well, you get the picture.
Yet here I am, writing a list of my own. You can tell this right from the title: Top 12 Short Story Collections of 2013. But why am I writing this, if I proclaim to hate lists? Am I so in love with myself that I feel I’m some sort of authority on something? Is it because I like to hear myself talk? Or type? Am I just filled with so much self-loathing that I feel like I need to create that which I despise?
Um, no, not really.
Here’s the thing: I read a ton of short story collections every year. I mean it: 2,000 pounds of short stories per year. I weigh ‘em.
Seriously, though, I love short stories. It’s pretty much all I read, both on the clock and off. Most of my reviews, those I link to here and the anonymous ones, are for short story collections. And while I dislike yearly “best of” lists, I still check them out, often only to be bummed by the lack of short narrative love. Sure, some collections pop up on book lists, but outside of something as bloated and (dare I say) club-ish as the Best American series, there isn’t a whole lot of space in these articles for the celebrating the short.
All of this rambling is to say that I want to share something with you: twelve short story collections from 2013 that really stuck with me. Are these “the best”? Not necessarily. What is “the best” of anything, anyway? How does one truly qualify something like art in such a fashion? Instead, these are twelve solid books from the past year that I keep thinking about, that linger with me, that both influence my own writing and make me strive to improve my craft.
A note: You’ll notice none of these are ranked. Though I’m making a list, I refuse to place one atop another numerically. Also, some of these may not technically come out until 2014, but since I got them this year, they’re from 2013 to me.
Let’s begin, shall we?
The Peripatetic Coffin and Other Stories by Ethan Rutherford — A solid, funny, clever look at seclusion, often on the high seas.
In These Times the Home Is a Tired Place by Jessica Hollander — Winner of the Katherine Anne Porter Prize, Hollander’s debut is a smart, confident book bursting with tales of pregnant couples, lost souls, and finding a place in the world.
The Fun Parts by Sam Lipsyte — This is Lipsyte hitting on all cylinders: crass yet heartbreaking, silly yet deadly serious, prickly yet honest.
A Guide to Being Born by Ramona Ausubel — A blueprint of life, told through the defeated and the bizarre.
Praying Drunk by Kyle Minor — Genre-bending, linked-yet-not-linked stories, set in the US and Haiti.
The Color Master by Aimee Bender — Bender continues to be a literary beacon in a sea of words, crafting short, strange narratives that still feel incredibly personal.
Misadventure by Nicholas Grider — Often playing with the short story form, these tales dissect what it is to be a man (gay and straight) in modern society.
Savage Love by Douglas Glover — OK, OK, I write for Doug’s magazine, so I may be biased. Still, these stories are stunning: incredible structure, incredible language, incredible imagination.
Leaving the Sea by Ben Marcus — Not for everyone, Marcus’s collection nevertheless challenges the concept of the short, oscillating between straightforward storytelling and experimental fare.
Tenth of December by George Saunders — I don’t need to talk about this. You already know about this.
Love is Power, or Something Like That by A. Igoni Barrett — Barrett’s stories of Nigeria are haunting. You cannot shake these images.
Don’t Kiss Me by Lindsay Hunter — Amazing flash fiction. (You don’t need more. Just read it and thank me later.)
Glossolalia by David Jauss — The 13th book on this list of 12, Jauss’s Glossolalia consists mostly of selected stories from his previous books, so it doesn’t really count as a new collection, right? As such, it hovers here, included while also being disqualified.
So there you have it. Twelve books, plus another. A baker’s dozen of miniature masterpieces (that sounds corny) that continue to inspire me long after placing them up on the bookshelf.
Is this a perfect group? Probably not. Did I miss something? Most likely. While 2,000 pounds of short fiction is quite a bit to consume, it still leaves out hundreds and hundreds of books.
UPDATE MARCH 2014: Oh my, do I have egg on my face. You see, by the end of December, I still hadn’t read Laura van den Berg‘s amazing collection, The Isle of Youth. Now that I have, I must amend my list. Surely, this belongs nestled in with the other titles on my list. These stories are urgent.
So we now have 14(ish) of the best story collections of 2013.