1. Who are the short fiction authors you admire (Australian or otherwise, alive or dead)?
Some of my favourite short fiction writers are; Banana Yoshimoto, Haruki Murakami, Alice Munro, Ernest Hemingway, Tobias Wolff, Richard Ford, Ilse Aichinger, Gene Wolfe, David Vann, Patrick Cullen, Ryan O’Neill and A.S. Patric.
2. What is the most memorable short story you have read? And why does it stand out for you?
The most memorable story for me is ‘Bullet in the Brain’ by Tobias Wolff. I first read it in the back of someone’s car and I remember my ears burning with excitement as I read the last words. I felt utterly transported in a really brief space of time. This story has such an intense poetic focus. I love the way it shifts several times in tone and style – the way it combines humour and drama and lyricism – and the sheer scope of what is a relatively short piece. Another story that I love is ‘Story in a Mirror,’ By Ilse Aichinger. This story was written more than fifty years ago and has been copied or echoed in many interesting ways. It’s a story told in reverse. Like the movie, Memento, or parts of both Slaughterhouse-Five and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. It uses a simple shift in vantage point to expose the story in this really beautiful way.
3. What do you like about the short story form?
When I read a good story, it affects me rapidly and powerfully. It’s a glimpse of something beautiful and I can carry the feeling of it around for the rest of the day. The other day I picked up this ipad on display in a department store because I was waiting for someone, and started browsing the web, and found a story by Alice Munro – Gravel – in the New Yorker. I was surrounded by people and stupid music and fluorescent light and reading on this somewhat glary screen, but I was completely inside the story and totally somewhere else, as if I’d stepped into a wormhole or something. That’s what a good story should do. It should create living space in your head. In terms of writing them, I love the way short stories let me play and experiment with ideas and approaches. I like the relatively unthreatening possibility of failure in this form. I like making little things and the fun of figuring out how to imply a whole world of relationships and events that exist beyond a few pages of words.
4. How would you describe your own writing?
Curious might be a good word. Fairly simple use of language, character-driven, chronologically challenging, a bit dark, and not funny enough.
5. Which of your stories are you most fond of right at this moment and why?
This is a hard question, because I find it hard to be that satisfied with any of my own stories. I probably like ‘Old World Charm’ the best because I enjoyed writing it the most. And it takes some risks with form and genre that I’d like to explore more.
6. Where do the ideas for your stories come from? (Take us through an example)
Often my stories come from real life. I write like I make my way through a supermarket: in a perplexing and erratic way. When I wrote The Hind I’d been reading all of these newspaper articles about dog attacks. Getting attacked by a dog seems to me probably one of the more visceral close-to-nature experiences the average urbanised human being might have, and it happens surprisingly often. I think people always like the idea of being close to nature, to that level of engagement with themselves and the world, but the reality also scares us, because it’s so difficult to control. It’s safer being a couch potato and watching reality television or crime shows, yet nature can still intrude into and disrupt even the most seemingly safe or well-managed lives for better or for worse. I like the way that dogs can symbolise that potential. I read one news story in particular about an attack by this pack of hunting dogs on a jogger. I started imagining this person that was obsessed with being in control of their life and super fit and all that and that had it all turned upside down in a split second. Then I wondered about why this character had issues with control and started imagining the details of her life. Then I remembered how I had accidentally killed a baby turtle when I was a kid and I felt that there was a relationship between this and the rest of the story that I wanted to play with. This situation with the dogs also made me think about Greek mythology and the first version of the story actually had a long passage about a Greek myth in which a hunter comes upon the goddess Artemis, who happens to be bathing naked in a forest, and she turns him into stag so that his own dogs eat him. I love that story, but my readers told me to get rid of it from my own piece, so I did. And a lot of the time in my writing process, I create this framework of ideas that I later remove in just this way.
7. What is your writing process – from idea to publication? (Do you go it alone or are others involved?)
My process is different for each story. I generally rely on a few friends to provide a reading and any editorial suggestions, but for the most part my process relies on me just having an idea, sitting down and writing to see what happens.
8. Do you feel the short story form is valued in Australia? What makes you say this?
The short story form tends to be valued in an underground sort of way in Australia. I don’t think that the average person sees it as a reading priority. The short story form is like literary writing in general in that it requires a bit of work on the part of the reader, while most of our popular media discourse doesn’t – or doesn’t seem to. There is a vibrant short fiction community out there though, heaps of competitions, and there are lots of great literary magazines out there too, from established ones like Meanjin and The Griffith Review, to new and exciting ones like Etchings, Kill Your Darlings and Harvest. Literary agents tend to recoil in horror when you mention the short story word, which makes it a great way to end an awkward conversation. Really though, the short story environment is a shifting landscape and can lead into many interesting places and a fantastic book like Things
We Didn’t See Coming shows that readers care more about what a book does than what it is, whether it is composed of chapters or stories.
9. How do you feel about your work being published in non-print forms such as digital and audio?
I think it’s great to get work out there in whatever form. I like e-books and old hard backs as well. I think the more people read your work the better and technology has dramatically changed not only the consumption but the production of all creative work in really exciting ways.
10. What advice would you like to offer Spineless Wonders?
Surprise yourself on a regular basis. An exciting failure is always better than a mediocre success.