Sunday, September 19, 2004


Novelist Richard Kunzmann interviewed me, along with a lot of other short story writers, for an article/interview to be published next year in Germany, I believe. Since he didn't object to me posting my response on my blog, here it is...

What's your favourite anthology and/or short fiction magazine, and why?
I tend to read cross-genre anthologies like Polyphony, Trampoline, and Conjunctions, but I also read the O. Henry Awards anthology, Best American Short Stories, etc. Lately, I've been devouring all of the Dedalus anthologies--collections of Spanish, Dutch, German fantasy, and works from the Decadent era. When it comes to short fiction, I try not to stick just to magic realism or surrealism. I love all of it, the entire spectrum. I just can't keep up with it in magazine form, which is why I tend toward the anthologies.

What's your favourite short story, and why?
James Joyce's "The Dead" is one of my favorites for the way it opens up into the universal at the end--one of the most haunting and yet life-affirming endings in literature. I also love Bruce Sterling's "Dori Bangs" for its mix of common humanity and metafiction. "The Leonardo" by Vladimir Nabokov is another favorite for the way it tells you at the beginning that it's a story and yet makes you forget you're reading a story by the end. Gogol's "The Nose" is a lot of fun and yet good satire, too. "Lizzie Borden" by Angela Carter is a wonderful bubble of a story--a bubble rising to the surface of clear water, with the story ending just as the bubble reaches the surface, literally moments before the Borden murders. I love a lot of M. John Harrison's short fiction as well. Another favorite is Carol Bly, a writer from Minnesota whose work is deceptively mundane--she has a knack in a confined space for getting into multiple viewpoints. It shouldn't work, but it does, and at its best creates the same luminous quality I admire in "The Dead".

What are your thoughts on short fiction in general?
Being a recovered poet, I appreciate levels of intricacy. Poetry is the most condensed form, in that every word counts--a word out of place and the poem spirals into a decaying orbit of mediocrity. The precision necessary for a short story is only one step removed from that, and is perhaps a concession to the need to have a plot of some sort. But I think some short stories are, at base, extended poems--of mood, of character. So I enjoy that kind of A to B story with a luminous quality as much as something that tries harder to tell a tale. Oddly enough, it's only as I've begun to focus more on novellas and novels that I've come to appreciate the precision and discipline required for a short story. When you're writing a lot of short stories, you're so in the thick of it that the precision comes so naturally (when things go right) you don't think about it. But now I look back at my short stories and marvel that I was ever able to put so much in so few words. So I've come to see it as much more of a separate art form from other forms of fiction than I had previously been aware of.

Short fiction is often seen as just a proving ground for new writers and thus only of interest to a group of small press editors, and a tiny community of dedicated short fiction fans. Why should readers help preserve and market the format?
I guess an imperfect parallel would be why do we need plays when we have movies? That's perhaps more dramatic than the parallel in fiction--why do we need short stories when we have novels? But it points out the fact that short fiction is a separate skill, with its own unique requirements. And, to be honest, I think there are lots of novelists who are actually better at the short form. For example, David Morrell, a highly successful commercial novelist, is a master of the short form. His novels are somewhat interchangeable with other bestsellers, but his short fiction is often a force unto itself, unique. Peter Straub is an excellent novelist, but, again, his short fiction is even better sometimes. Because short fiction is so much harder than writing a novel or novella, there are fewer examples of it in its most perfect form. This might be why people are willing to dismiss it. But here in the U.S., inside and outside of genre, I see a flourishing of short fiction and attempts to preserve it. There are more year's best anthologies for genre than ever before and literally thousands of independent press magazines publishing mainstream fiction. I think short fiction is thriving, and although short story collections may never be as popular as novels, they still have their place. All in all, I think the future for the short story is bright.


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