Thinking about talking to writers

I just returned from the first Barrelhouse/Hobart Writer Camp, and after spending a few days talking with other writers about writing in the Pennsylvania wilderness, I’ve been inspired to revisit all of the author interviews I’ve conducted over the years.

In case any of you want to check these out, too, I’ve made a convenient list below. Just click on the author’s name to find the interview:

Lydia Davis

Stacey D’Erasmo

Noy Holland

Jessica Hollander

Benjamin Johncock

Alexander MacLeod

Courtney Maum


Ethan Rutherford

Plus there’s this piece, which contains small responses from some of the above, but also Charles Baxter, Vanessa Blakeslee, Jennine Capó Crucet, Julia Elliott, Roxane Gay, Amelia Gray, Lindsay Hunter, Bret Anthony Johnston, Stephen Graham Jones, Maya Lang, Rebecca Makkai, Jess Row, Ted Thompson, Laura van den Berg, and Kevin Wilson.

Book Review Interview Random

Recent News: Interviewing Lydia Davis, a book review, and a Skype talk

The past two weeks have been a whirlwind. Thankfully, the semester is almost over. I can almost breathe again.

Davis:Theo Cote

Over at Numéro Cinq, I have a brief but lovely interview with the amazing Lydia Davis.


And the latest online edition of Rain Taxi contains my take on the short novel Sleeping with Gypsies.

Lastly, I hosted a short story Skype roundtable on Monday, featuring Laura van den Berg, Ethan Rutherford, and Jessica Hollander. You can watch video from the event below:

Book Review Random

Top 12 Short Story Collections of 2013

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.


My God, what have I done?


A month or so back, I began exchanging emails with Ethan Rutherford, author of the great, great new story collection The Peripatetic Coffin, and elements of our correspondence are now up on Numero Cinq. Ethan’s a fantastic person, and in the interview, we talk books, the sea, nostalgia (Spokey Dokes, Garbage Pail Kids) music (Talking Heads, David Bowie), inspiration (Charles Baxter), and craft:

BW: Several small narrative elements in “Summer, Boys”—the Boz poster, Spokey Dokes, Garbage Pail Kids, Bambi vs. Godzilla—firmly and genuinely plant the story in the late 1980s. I’m guessing you were a kid during this time. Do you have fond memories of these knickknacks, and, if so, is it difficult to inject real elements of your childhood into a fictional story?

ER: I was a kid during the 80’s, though the references invoked in that story are a combination of the things I loved and what I understood Older Kids to love (i.e. the things I knew I should love too, but my parents either wouldn’t get for me, or wouldn’t let me watch). And it was a pleasure to allow myself to go back in time like that, remembering this or that cherished and fetishized, and now forgotten, object of childhood. Just a pleasure. All of it came right back. When you’re a kid, you love stuff. The few things that are yours are extremely important to you, emotionally and imaginatively; they link you to the world. Who am I? I’m a kid who lives for a new pack of Garbage Pail Kids. There’s always a concern out there—someone always brings it up—that if you include pop-culture touchstones in a story you are unnecessarily dating a piece of writing, ensuring that it won’t have resonance outside of the few people who cherished the exact same things you did, and therefore Won’t Become Literature. I get where that idea is coming from, but with respect, that theory of literature can go sink itself. It’s the most reductive way to think about fiction, that there are certain things you can and should be writing about. And for “Summer, Boys” in particular—a story that is about a fleeting moment in childhood, when meaning is attached to, and in many ways originates from, very specific pop-cultural flotsam—how could you not include the names? They’re not toy robots. They’re Transformers. That these things ascend as treasured objects, and then are promptly forgotten, or replaced—that’s the point of the story. And as far as that emotional sentiment also characterizes the friendship between the two boys, is where its sadness comes from.

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