Local Folk: Reading with Elizabeth Crane

24 May

One of our favorite local writers, Elizabeth Crane, is about to break new ground. With her distinctive experimental style and quirky, charming voice, Crane has authored three remarkable collections of short stories—When the Messenger is Hot, All This Heavenly Glory, and You Must Be This Happy to Enter. Now, she’s excited to publish her first novel We Only Know So Much (Harper Perennial) and kick off her national book tour next month. We can’t wait to see what Crane does in long form, but she says the transition wasn’t intentional. “At first I didn’t know I was writing a novel,” she told us. “It started as a short story that just sort of grew.” We Only Know So Much follows the dysfunctional Copeland family and is replete with eccentric characters and Crane’s off-beat humor. Unfortunately, we all have to wait until June to get our hands on it, so we asked Crane to recommend a good book to tide us over in the meantime.

ASF: Tell us about a favorite book or short story.

Elizabeth: I’m a big fan of Steven Millhauser. Dangerous Laughter knocked my socks off. Or maybe I should say Dangerous Laughter knocked me out and then my dog pulled my socks off. He likes to do that.

The first story “Cat ‘n’ Mouse” is definitely a favorite. It’s written as a narrative version of a cat and mouse cartoon—but what amazes me about this story is not its humor or mere cleverness in the way he captures every last detail of that type of cartoon, but in the way it ultimately transcends that genre and becomes a really beautiful, kind of haunted story about, well, an existential sort of loneliness. “The Dome” was another standout for me, and if you can find it online (I couldn’t), Alec Baldwin read it on Selected Shorts, which I highly recommend giving a listen to.

ASF: What do you look for when you read a piece of fiction? What makes something resonate and stick with you?

Elizabeth:  Hm, good question. I really like work that takes risks, whatever that might mean. Sometimes it’s a stylistic risk, or other times it’s maybe emotionally risky. And of course, if a piece of well-written, smart fiction is also funny and heartbreaking, then I’m always going to be excited. And I think I always want to read something that feels really true, even if it’s surreal in some way. Those are the things that inspire me most as a writer, the books that make me feel like they’ve captured some truth about who people are and put it there in a way that makes it feel fresh.

ASF: Where is your favorite spot in Austin to delve into a great work of fiction?

Elizabeth:  You know, my favorite reading spot is the same anywhere I live—my bed!  But I can occasionally be found reading in the hammock in the backyard too.

ASF: We heard a rumor you might be leaving us and moving to New York.

Elizabeth:  This rumor is true. I am very sad to be leaving the good friends I’ve made here. Austin has been very kind to me; as you know, the literary community is very supportive here. I’ll miss BookPeople for sure. And I’ll miss a few favorite restaurants: Counter Cafe and Eastside Cafe, and I was going to miss the Alamo Drafthouse but apparently they’re opening one in NY! My dog will miss Redbud and his neighbor dog friends.

Lit Scene Austin for May 17-24

16 May

So, a lot of literary awesomeness is about to occur, and we’re pretty darn giddy about it.  Let us break it down for y’all.

First of all, if you still haven’t heard (maybe, say, via CultureMap, or Facebook?), we’re hosting the brilliant Kevin Wilson for a reading and signing of his debut novel The Family Fang this Tuesday, May 22, at BookPeople.  The novel is bizarre, beautiful, and utterly compelling, and judging from his conversation with ASF’s Outreach Coordinator Liz Wyckoff, Wilson himself is just as compelling as his stories.

Tomorrow, Thursday, May 17, at 7 pm, the lovely and local Elizabeth Crane , who writes rockin’ short stories and whose debut novel We Only Know So Much is out this July, will be at Domy for Make in TEXAS, an evening of readings and presentations.  Katie Geha, Taco, and others are joining Crane, and you probably should too.

Pulitzer Prize-winning Robert Caro  will be in town at the Bullock Texas History Museum next Tuesday, May 22, at 7 pm for a signing and conversation with Texas Monthly’s Brian Sweany on the The Passage of Power, Caro’s fourth installment in his series The Years of Lyndon Johnson, a work that everyone, including Bill Clinton, can’t stop talking about.

Another Austinite author has reason to celebrate: Owen Egerton’s novel The Book of Harold is out in paperback from Soft Skull, and he’ll be celebrating with a reading at BookPeople.  Help kick off his book tour next Thursday, May 24, at 7 pm with local beer and cheap box wine.


Submit Your Flash Fiction Now!

15 May

Our deadline is looming, folks. Submit your stories of 1,000 words or fewer to the American Short(er) Fiction Prize by midnight Pacific tonight, May 15. Here’s how:


We look forward to reading your work.

Local Folk: Reading with Kester Smith

2 May

Craving a great spring read, but don’t have anything specific in mind? Can’t stop thinking about that book you read last year, but don’t remember the title? You shamefully SparkNoted your way through your high school reading curriculum, and now you deeply regret it? For all these problems and more, Kester Smith is your guy.

Kester is a devoted book reader and bookseller at Austin’s beloved independent literary hub, BookPeople. “I love books, and I love people,” says Kester. “I am clearly working in the right place.” Kester hosts the New & Noteworthy book club, where people who love to talk about the latest fiction get together and do just that. He also hosts The Required Reading Revisited book club, where folks can reread the books they begrudgingly skimmed for homework. Both clubs meet once a month at BookPeople. We applaud Kester’s dedication to Austin’s book-loving community, and asked him to divulge some of his personal favorites.

ASF: Tell us about a favorite book or short story.

Kester: You begin with one of the hardest questions posed to an avid reader and bookseller. It’s impossible to answer. Some of my favorite books that I’ve discovered while working at BookPeople include Colson Whitehead’s The Intuitionist and Michael Crummey’s Galore. Some of my favorites read in book club include Colum McCann’s Let The Great World Spin and John Jeremiah Sullivan’s Pulphead. And my top five works of fiction of all-time are The Brothers KaramazovThe Brothers KGileadInfinite Jest, and The Complete Short Stories of Flannery O’Connor.

ASF: What do you look for when you read a piece of fiction? What makes something resonate and stick with you?

Kester: When I read a piece of fiction, I’m looking for a story that helps get to the heart of things. What’s happening? What’s the point? Who are we and why are we here? What are we about? I like the big questions and I look for stories that ask them; though a good story is only required to ask, not to answer. I want characters that are themselves and not well placed plot drivers. I want dialogue that doesn’t feel scripted. I want a story that helps me understand my own story and the stories of those around me, that helps me understand the world I’m living in and the people in it. I’m looking for timely and timeless, engaging and engaged.

It’s a tall order, I know. Each of those top five have all the qualities that I look for in a story. When I’m looking for something to read, I’m looking for what I found at the heart of each of them.

Café and reading area at BookPeople on North Lamar

ASF: Where is your favorite spot in Austin to delve into a great work of fiction?

Kester: I can read a book just about anywhere and often do. I don’t go anywhere without taking a book along. I’ll read standing in line at the DMV. Ideally though, I’m looking for a comfortable chair (I have back problems) near a nice breeze and a cold beer. I’m tempted to say that I prefer reading spots where I won’t be interrupted, except that those interruptions are often about the book I’m reading, and I like talking books just about as much as I like reading them. If you know a place with comfortable seating, cheap drinks, and folks that like to talk books, send me an address.

May Web Exclusive Author Salvatore Pane on why fiction is like basketball, and more

1 May

Just in time for NBA playoff season, our May web-exclusive story, “John Starks” by Salvatore Pane, is here. And what a story it is. “John Starks” is a basketball story. It’s a tale of competition, regret, forgiveness. Folks, this is a story about NBA Jam and dunking in the face of life’s adversities. In other words, this is one you don’t want to miss. Read “John Starks” here, and check out our interview with the author below.

Bonus feature: Not familiar with John Starks and the 1993 Knicks v. Bulls NBA playoffs? Here’s a video to get you up to speed.

1. Tell us about the genesis of “John Starks.” Where did the idea for the story come from?

At AWP this year, I was leaving a bar and I ran into Ben Tanzer—a writer I very much admire—and we got to talking about the New York Knicks. I don’t meet many NBA fans, and I pretty much never run into any Knicks fans, so I talked his ear off about my feelings on Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire and the squads I really loved back in the ’90s. Afterwards, I just kept thinking about our conversation, and I thought it might be cool to work on a project where each story is named after one of the Knicks and involves them in some substantial way. “John Starks” is the second one I wrote. I knew from the beginning that I wanted a story where Michael Jordan returns to torture the Knicks via a glitch in NBA Jam, and I’ve always felt that out of all the Knicks, Starks and Ewing hated him the most. Starks is more volatile, a kind of lovable lunatic. He’s the perfect fit for a story about obsession.

2. Was this a typical story for you, process-wise? Does your process change from story to story, or do you have certain strategies or rituals that come into play no matter what you’re writing?

My process stays mostly the same from project to project. I try to get up early and write every day until lunch time. I don’t write every single day, but I try to, and I usually feel bad about myself when I don’t. It’s easier to do when I’m in a novel, because there’s not a lull between projects where you have to come up with new characters and situations. From day to day, you know at least a little bit of what’s coming. Usually, I like to spend about five days a week generating new material, and two days on revision, but that depends where I am in a given project. Because “John Starks” is on the shorter side, I was able to knock out a draft in two days. But I easily spent triple that revising. I’m a big reviser. I never trust my first drafts.

3. The move the story makes at the very end—the sudden intrusion of tenderness—is unexpected, really wonderfully so. Did you know when you began writing that this was where the story was headed, or did the ending surprise you, too?

I was completely surprised. I don’t like to go into fiction knowing how it all ends. I think it robs the characters and the narrative of a choice that feels so vital in powerful fiction. All I knew when I started was that I wanted John Starks playing NBA Jam, and I wanted him to have found a way to make Jordan appear. I didn’t realize he was going to be an old man when I started, and I had no clue he was going to physically confront Jordan. The end was one of those really nice surprises you’re lucky enough to have once in a while as a writer. Starks confronts Jordan with this somewhat murderous intent, but I knew as soon as I arrived at that moment that he wasn’t going to go through with it. It didn’t feel right. The character of John Starks surprised me by opting for tenderness and nostalgia. I know that sounds weird, but I really believe you have to let the fiction and the characters lead you; it can’t be the other way around. Otherwise the fiction feels lifeless.

4. Imagine that you were commissioned to design a video game in which writers competed against one another in basketball, NBA Jam style. It’d be called AWP Jam. . . or something. Who would you want on your team? You can choose writers who are no longer living, if you like.

Wow. The first person I would not want is me. My dad coached my team growing up and we lost every single game for four years and I scored five total points. Total. If I had to pick I’d go with Ben Tanzer, Brian Oliu—he knows his basketball, and his chapbook Level End proves he’s got Nintendo skills—and Geoff Peck first. Peck has a bunch of really good publications, edits the lit journal Floodwall, and played basketball on the D1 level for Vanderbilt. Junot Diaz would probably make a good enforcer because he’s always cursing during readings, and then you’d need an unpredictable wildcard. How about Alice Munro?

5. True or false: writing is a lot like basketball.

True. With basketball, the people who make it are the ones who totally dedicate their lives to it and practically live in the gym taking a thousand free throws a day. Writing’s the same. I’ve seen so many really talented friends and students just stop over the years because they can’t put in the time. If you do something long enough, you’re eventually going to get better. Also, with basketball, it’s so much a confidence game. You can see it in games when players get on hot streaks. They just really believe they’re the best player on the court and that every time they shoot the ball it’s going in. I’m thinking of somebody like Kobe or ‘Melo. You need a bit of that swagger as a writer. One of my first fiction teachers told me writers are all egomaniacs because they’re the type of people who look at all the amazing books that have been written over the years and think, “No. That’s not good enough. I have something unique to add.” Now what he didn’t say is you also have to learn from criticism and be humble, but to an extent, I think he’s right.

6. Can you tell us a little bit about the photo you sent to accompany your story? 

For my birthday one year, my parents took me on a bus trip from Scranton to go see the Knicks play the now defunct Supersonics in Madison Square Garden. I’d been obsessed with the Knicks for a few years, but I’d never actually seen an NBA game live before. It was pretty stunning. I was in Knicks gear head to toe. There’s even a Patrick Ewing jersey under the Starter jacket. At one point, the video screen above the court said “Happy Birthday, Sal!” and that was probably my all-time favorite birthday moment ever. Like I said, I don’t know many people at all who really enjoy the NBA, but that moment solidified my status as a lifelong fan.

7. What are you working on now? What’s up next for you?

I’m really busy. I’m finishing edits on my novel Last Call in the City of Bridges and my chapbook #KanyeWestSavedFromDrowning, which are both forthcoming this fall. But I’m spending most of my time writing my second novel which is about a fallen superhero love triangle set in the summer of 2001. In my spare moments I write a web comic you can check out at www.montyx.com. Oh, and I’m getting ready to move to Indianapolis in August. So if you live there and want to listen to me explain why Reggie Miller’s the worst player in the history of the NBA, hit me up.

Local Folk: Reading with Barbara Galletly

25 Apr

Barbara Galletly is new to the Austin literary scene. Coming to us from Los Angeles and New York, where she worked for a nonprofit bookstore and a literary agency respectively, Barbara is now pursuing her master’s degree at the University of Texas. When she stumbled into Domy Books on East Cesar Chavez, she was impressed by the communal vibe and the unique selection of books, zines, and art. So she decided to get involved. “I love book clubs and bookstores, but I’d never done a book club at a bookstore,” Barbara told us. To combine two of her greatest loves, she teamed up with Domy curator and manager Russell Etchen to organize the Book Lover’s Reading Club. The next meeting will discuss Amelia Gray’s novel Threats, and the author herself will be in attendance. Be sure to check it out tomorrow, April 26, 7 pm at Domy Books!

ASF: Tell us about a favorite book or short story.

Barbara: One of the best readings I’ve attended was Rachel B. Glaser’s. She started with “The Magic Umbrella” from her collection Pee on Water (Publishing Genius Press, 2010). I still think about it, even though this was a couple of years ago. This was at Word Books in Brooklyn, one of my absolute favorite readings venues. I should add that Rachel followed Blake Butler, and that was a tough act to follow. She began and I just thought, this woman is incredibly nuts and I don’t understand what is happening, and by the end she totally had me. She’s awesome, and she designed the cover of the book.

For something new, I have to tell you about one of my absolute favorite publishers of fiction, Archipelago Books. They publish literature in translation, both contemporary and classic, and have a book coming out in May that I highly recommend.  My Struggle, Book One by Karl Ove Knausgaard was translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett—it’s a masterful novel. To sell it, here’s just the first line: “For the heart, life is simple: it beats for as long as it can.” I simply can’t wait for Book Two.

ASF: What do you look for when you read a piece of fiction? What makes something resonate and stick with you?

Barbara: I tend to trust certain publishers, particularly ones that I’ve had the pleasure of working with. Archipelago, Dalkey Archive Press, Open Letter Press, New York Review of Books, Feminist Press, Farrar Straus & Giroux. I’m leaving tons out, which I’m sorry about.

And then, I’m sort of a weirdo.

I love books that are difficult. I am a big over-thinker when it comes to fiction, and I find perspective to be the key to a good novel, and to a good story. An interesting or challenging narrator goes a long way. For something immediate, I’m thinking about the opening scene in Forrest Gander’s As A Friend.
I really like fiction that makes me lose track of any sense of reality, that blurs the meaning of what’s true or untrue, right and wrong. A story can change the way I think, or teach me something new. To me, the best at this is W.G. Sebald. Maybe this is also why I think that translations into English are so exciting. You really do need to think about what you’re reading on multiple levels.

ASF: Where is your favorite spot in Austin to delve into a great work of fiction?

Barbara: I love to read just about anywhere, but I think my bedroom is probably the most comfortable spot. No heavy bags required.

ASF Presents: Jess Stoner, Justin Sirois, War, Memory, Fiction

17 Apr

We’re super stoked about what’s happening tomorrow, April 18, at 7 p.m. at Domy, y’all—Jess Stoner and Justin Sirois are reading from their new books, neither of which we could put down. Jess’s I Have Blinded Myself Writing This is a striking work of fiction that explores memory, telling the story of a woman who loses part of her past each time her body needs to heal a wound in the present.  Justin’s Falcons on the Floor is a war story that “rehumanizes everyone involved,”says Dahr Jamail. The novel follows Salim and Khalil on the eve of the first siege of Fallujah—and we see why their decision to flee up the Euphrates river may not have been the best one.

We talked to both authors about their readings so far, and the experience doing the indie lit book tour, which has included overwhelming generosity, tearing pages from books, and a Pez factory. Read all about it below, and see you on Wednesday?!

 Jess, on the intersection of text and image and how she tries to convey that during her readings:

 ASF: You have said that one of the (many) things that inspired I Have Blinded Myself Writing This was a fascination with the tension between text and image. In what ways is I Have Blinded Myself Writing This a result of exploring that tension?

Jess: I think memory was my way into that tension. Our memories are so dependent on our senses; we translate the images we’ve burned onto our various cortexes into manageable, understandable, chunks. That process seems very much connected to how we read text, how we make sense in general. But still, the primer is the visual. The image will always big-daddy—will always demand more attention than text. But I’m hypnotized by the way an image can be encouraged to cast a shadow. How it might, pages later, linger–on top of, through, underneath–text. Instead of trying to make image and text compete, I wanted the images in the book to warp, to infect, to influence how a reader understands the text.

 ASF: Are there ways in which it is hard to translate or convey the visual aspects of the book through a reading?

Jess: Definitely.  I have to bring my trusty, ancient overhead projector to each reading, because I think that a performance of the book without certain visuals does a kind of disservice to the experience of the book. It’s not just the images that I think need to be projected though; I use transparencies of pages in the book that only feature text during readings as well, because I want the audience to have that disrupted experience: of “looking” at something, while they’re processing something else (the words I’m reading). In some ways, I guess I also want the audience, even if they don’t buy the book, well, I want to change how they remember it. It matters very much to me, the idea that the narrator wrote this book. I don’t want the audience’s memory of the reading to be me. I want what they see and hear to leave an impression, like the engram, the shadow the memory leaves in your brain. I want that to be an amalgam of what they’ve heard and what they’ve seen and to imprint their memory.

ASF: Along the same vein, you recently wrote a blog post about selectively buying certain books on your Kindle versus in print, and vice versa. Do you think there are certain books, like I Have Blinded Myself Writing This, which need to be read in print form to be fully appreciated?

Jess: I love my Kindle, like I want to french kiss it. I mean, I no longer have to stop reading while I’m changing a tampon.  But I also hoard book-books. I don’t love the books less that I’ve only read on the Kindle. The difference is, as I read book-books, I write all over them; I’m marginalia obsessed. I want to remember what it was like the first time I read them. So when I go back to them, I can see who I was when I read them. My earnest hope is that readers of my book rip the pages; and if they go back to the book afterwards, they can’t read the book the same way again. That’s what’s meant to happen. That’s what happens when memories are lost.

I feel sad in some ways that this book can’t be for the Kindle—the potential energy, knowing you’re instructed to rip pages, couldn’t exist in the e-version. A version of that might be if the book was an editable PDF; like you could delete that page. I would love that. But the problem with that is, where’s the record? But that’s as close as it gets to losing your memory, I suppose.

ASF: What kind of reception have you received at your readings/elsewhere for your work, what have been the most surprising and exciting moments of your book tour so far?

Jess: My favorite reaction so far has been when I ask people to rip pages in the book. I find their hesitancy beautiful and wondrous and it breaks my heart and uplifts it simultaneously as they do what I ask them, publicly, to do: destroy the book.

 Justin, on his favorite book tour moments, reading without his collaborator, and if Texans see Falcons on the Floor differently than Marylanders:

ASF: Falcons on the Floor was a collaborative effort with Iraqi refugee Haneen Alshujairy. Since she is unable to participate directly in the experience of readings and promoting the novel, in what ways do you try to include her presence or show her contribution at your readings?

Justin: Haneen really can’t participate in the readings, but we do have a page named “ask Haneen” where we’ve asked writers to ask her a question of their own. Authors from Michael Kimball to Lily Hoang to Paula Bomer have participated. We’re going to run the Q&A throughout the month of April and into May.

ASF: Do you feel as if the questions and reactions your novel has inspired have been different based on where you are in the country—for example, Texas versus Maryland?

Justin: Not really. Falcons on the Floor doesn’t take sides, or at least, in writing the novel, I tried my hardest not to pass judgment on the conflict. I do expect to get some negative reactions sooner or later; Khalil, one of the two main characters, helps members of the uprising bury IEDs. Although he is just doing this for the money, it is a profoundly criminal act in the eyes of the Coalition. I can imagine someone might be offended by that. Understandably so.

ASF: What kind of reception have you received at your readings/elsewhere for your work, what have been the most surprising and exciting moments of your book tour so far?

Justin: The tour has been great, really. One of the best things about the indie lit world is you can travel to pretty much any major city and have a network of support. So I guess I’ve been surprised by the generosity of everyone—how much they are willing to help with setting up readings and places for me to sleep. Oh, there was this Pez factory and museum that my pal and I stumbled upon driving back from Northampton. That was a great surprise.

Summer Internships

5 Apr

It’s that time again!

We’re are open for applications for our summer internship slots! Love reading? Love literary magazines? Love writing? Love planning awesome Austin readings? You’re the person for us.

Our editorial interns do things like evaluate submissions, correspond with authors, copyedit and proofread stories, help plan our launch events, and research for future issues and various ASF projects. Our internships are unpaid, but we’ll give you as much real-world lit mag experience as you can handle. We recommend that applicants have a strong background in English or American literature, or a related field. Interns usually work 10 or 15 hours a week for a period of three months–for the summer 2012 position, that’ll run from June to August. The internship is in-office, so you’ll have to be in Austin for those months.

To apply for summer, email your resume and a cover letter to info [at] americanshortfiction.org (with the subject line “summer internship”). Make sure your cover letter talks about a story, an author, or a journal that you love, and why you love the work. Our internships are pretty competitive, so make sure you pick work that has meant something to you and talk about it well.

You’ll need to get your materials to us by April 13 to be considered for an internship. If you’ve already sent along a cover letter and resume, no worries–we have it under consideration.

We’re excited to hear from you!

Web Exclusive Interview with David Schuman

2 Apr

What can I say about our April web exclusive, “Squirrel” by David Schuman? I might say that it’s that rare sort of story that conveys with equal grace the featherlight details of daily life and the ponderous mysteries of this crazy planet. I might say that it’s beautifully written, with sentences that’ll cut right you right open. But maybe I should just let the author speak for himself: “there are other stories besides ours, and of course in the end these other stories are part of our story, the big one, which will end someday.” Oh, yes. It’s a good one, y’all. Read more about “Squirrel” in our interview with the author below. You can read the story on the ASF website.

1. Tell us about the genesis of “Squirrel.” Where did the idea for the story come from and what kind of evolution did it go through to get to us?

I was walking around one day and there was this squirrel in the grass, just like the one in the story. I got up really close to it and it didn’t budge. The squirrels on campus are really tame, which is why this one didn’t run away, but it did start to freak me out a bit, and I changed course to veer away from it. I’d been bested by a squirrel, which for some reason put me in a story-writing state of mind. On the drive home, I wrote the first couple paragraphs in my head, which I like to do since repeating the lines over and over again to commit them to memory establishes a rhythm that often carries me through a story. Once I had Dolly, the story just kept going. I had intended to end the story back on the beach, inside the narrator’s point of view, but then I became interested in making the point of view sort of elastic, and then I wanted to see how far I could stretch it.

2. When I first read “Squirrel,” I had just finished Paula Fox’s novel Desperate Characters, and I found some really lovely echoes of Fox in your story. Both begin, for example, with an animal bite. In our initial email exchange, you mentioned that one of the ways in which you see “Squirrel” diverging from Fox’s novel is that your main concern was to tell a story that was as much about animals as humans. Can you expand on that a bit for us? Certainly, the turn the story takes at the end gestures in a really provocative way at the wildness of the animal world. 

Desperate Characters is great because it’s a relatively small story concerned with these gigantic things. In some ways I feel like Fox predicted the modern world as she chronicled the erosion of sixties earnestness and innocence in the seventies, the ways in which the ideals of that era were co-opted by the capitalism-loving world of the eighties and beyond. The couple in the novel are like pre-yuppies, and I think the main character is struggling with just what she is, what she can call herself. There are issues of class and race boiling beneath the surface, but in the end it’s just s story of a woman who gets bitten by a cat. I wanted my story to be about the natural world—maybe my own fascination with it and my particular set of fears about things that are happening. There’s something wrong, I know that, birds falling out of the sky, bees disappearing, frogs, everything. I don’t understand why these things are happening. I keep asking myself about them. So I let the natural world enter this story through an animal bite. I was thinking about this as a zombie or lycanthrope story in a way—you get bitten and you’re infected. Other “infected” animals kept appearing—they’re infected by the world in some way, and so are the humans in the story. Fiction is mostly human-centric, but there are other stories besides ours, and of course in the end these other stories are part of our story, the big one, which will end someday. Writers I admire, like Joy Williams and Kathryn Davis, never let you forget this. And hey, Jaws also begins with an animal bite, but you didn’t ask me about that one!

3. Can you talk a little bit about literary influences? You wrote me that, while you had read it, Desperate Characters wasn’t on your mind when you wrote “Squirrel.” It’s interesting, though, to think about the ways in which the authors we read influence our writing, even in oblique or unexpected ways. Where do you see the authors you love showing up in your own work? How do you learn from and absorb great writing while still staying true to your own voice?

I can’t imagine doing anything without all of the stuff that I love and admire and hate and can’t understand informing it. For me it’s exciting to make something that’s a reaction to something else, a tribute or a continuation of some sort. Things bubble up as I’m working. This is what I love about writing, these surprises. I understand that some of this is going to come from the writers I’ve read who have lodged themselves in the crevices, and some of it is going to come from other stuff that’s stuck in there.

4. I absolutely love the way you write the father-daughter relationship in this story. The father approaches Dolly with this love that seems to be equal parts tenderness and curiosity (bewilderment, even) almost as if she were some exotic species of animal herself. Do you have children, and, if so, how does that affect your writing?

I am a father. I’ve got a four-year-old daughter who I approach with tenderness, curiosity, bewilderment and, often, paper towels. She’s got a fresh pink brain it’s great to have access to—the other day she told me, “Sharing is when you take something away from yourself.”

5. What are you working on now?

I’m always working on stories, and right now I’m writing a novel. Dolly from this story has a part in it now. She seemed like a keeper.


Springtime means wildflowers, hilarious punctuation and a honey badger

29 Mar

Get up and get out, y’all! As always, there’s plenty going on the next few weeks in the Austin lit scene.  We put together a quick round up of all the literary beauty, prose, hilarity and hip happenings coming up that you don’t wanna miss.

Hear excerpts and pick up a copy of the book NPR called “one of the bravest, most memorable novels in years” from the renowned novelist, playwright and frequent Michener Center visiting professor himself, Anthony Giardina, at his reading on Thursday, March 29th at 7 PM at BookPeople.

No better way to indulge yourself in spring goodness than with poetry and wildflowers; bask in the lovely words of the Michener Center’s visiting poets  Brigit Pegeen Kelly and Gabrielle Calvocoressi for a reading on the beautiful grounds of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in South Austin on Thursday, April 12th at 7:30 PM.

Then head East to the ND@501 Studios for some sentence-level shenanigans, where local writers will be hilariously dishing on their favorite marks starting promptly at 8:13 PM for the April 12th Encyclopedia Show Austin dedicated to PUNCTUATION!

Speaking of laughs, you know Randall, narrator of the famous YouTube “Crazy Nastyass Honey Badger” video? Bet ya didn’t know that that sweet, sweet voice is also a published author! Yup, that’s right.  Randall will be at BookPeople on April 11th at 7 PM for a reading and signing from his book Honey Badger Don’t Care: Randall’s Guide to Crazy, Nastyass Animals.

And if Randall’s success inspires you to pick up your pen and hone your own craft, then check out Write By Night’s monthly “Craft Consortium”; this month the focus is “Don DeLillo and perspectives on novel writing” and the first of two meet-ups is April 11th at 6:30 at Rio Rita.  Make sure to sign up online.