TBR [to be read] is a semi-regular, invitation-only interview series with authors of newly released/forthcoming, interesting books who will tell us about their new work as well as offer tips on writing, stories about the publishing biz, and from time to time, a recipe!
Give us your elevator pitch: what’s your book about in 2-3 sentences?
What do a homicidal houseplant, an enchanted office picnic, sentient fog, and the perfect piece of toast have in common? They’re all part of, a short story collection covering everything from white flight to marriage in the afterlife with a dose of twisted obsession, covert complicity, and peculiar empowerment.
Which character (or story) did you most enjoy creating? Why? And, which character (or story) gave you the most trouble, and why?
It’s hard to say which character or story I most enjoyed writing, because they all had their own challenges, and thus their own sort of gratification. But one character who always makes me smile is Harlan from “Death Sure Changes a Person,” the first story in the collection (link below). He’s just so honest and sweet, and always tries to think the best of his wife Lucille, even when she keeps coming back to visit him from the dead with problematic advice about the new woman he’s interested in.
“You, Commuter” was a bit of a challenge, because it has this disembodied communal narrator that I don’t usually write; a shifting, lurking “we” that envelops the protagonist and projects her anxieties back to her. It was a tricky balance between a narrator with enough physicality to be present in her surroundings, yet flexible enough to inhabit different perspectives—kind of like an existential Cheshire Cat.
Tell us a bit about the highs and lows of your book’s road to publication.
This process was almost like a fable about the importance of patience in the publication process.
I sent the collection out to my first round of presses and then settled in to wait. Months went by, and I decided to start casting the net wider with another round of submissions. More months went by, and just as I was starting to despair, I got some interest from one of my second set of submissions. Once I looked at all the specifics, however, it just didn’t feel like the best fit for the collection, so I had to take the unexpected and surreal step of declining an offer. That’s when I really started to wonder what the heck I was doing with this book.
Then, in an e-mail from the heavens, one of my first-round publishers said yes! Now I’m with Ursula K. Le Guin, N.K. Jemisin, Karen Joy Fowler, Nisi Shawl and so many other award-winning authors my head is spinning!, on the same as
My favorite writing advice is “write until something surprises you.” What surprised you in the writing of this book?
There’s a quote I particularly like from Carrie Fisher that isn’t about writing per se, but still makes a lot of sense for my practice: “Stay afraid, but do it anyway. What’s important is the action. You don’t have to wait to be confident. Just do it and eventually the confidence will follow.”
This basically applies to every aspect of my writing life, from teaching to submitting to networking to embarking on a new story when I have no idea where the hell it’s going. Whenever I start to freak out about something because I haven’t done it before, I just keep telling myself I’ll know how to do it by the time I’m done.
Who is your ideal reader?
My ideal reader is someone who, like me, inhabits the liminal space between science fiction and standard—or “literary”—fiction. I usually call my work speculative fiction, because it does involve alternate versions of reality, but it’s not all about rockets and robots.
I’ve always read between genres, from Asimov to Nabokov, and enjoyed stories that spring from a sense of “what if.” I’m interested in how people would interact if we weren’t constrained by all of the physical and societal norms of the day—how would we really treat each other if we had the power to do X or Y? Sure, the science should be as solid as possible, but it’s secondary to the real human impact of whatever phenomenon the story is about. The kind of literary synthesis Margaret Atwood attains is my dream.
Inquiring foodies and hungry book clubs want to know: Any food/s associated with your book? (Any recipes to share?)
Breakfast a la “Aftermilk”:
· Toast: set out the butter before you hit the plunger, and butter that sucker as soon as it pops up.
· Cereal: stick with your granolas and your clusters.
· Orange juice with pulp is an abomination.
That’s all I got.
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READ A STORY FROM THIS BOOK, “Death Sure Changes a Person”: