1. How did you get interested in writing a story collection themed around the general idea of “love stories”?
You must have composed these questions to please the heart of a writer. How I became interested in love stories! Surely everyone is interested in this subject, in its glory and squalor. In my daily life I’m thinking about the world and the awful headlines and political struggle, but I find myself writing about love. I like what Auden wrote in his “Last Will and Testament”:
We leave our age the quite considerable spark
Of private love and goodness which never leave
An age, however awful, in the utter dark.
2. What are you reading right now?
This will sound made up but my publisher himself can vouch for it: I’m reading Moby-Dick. I’m bothering him and everyone else with e-mails. I’m looking up something in every chapter. Today’s was Garneray, painter of whales (called Garnery in the book). As a short story writer I often resist novels, especially long ones, but on my third reading of this book I’m hypnotized by it. My husband read it last year, and the cook’s sermon to the sharks possessed him to the point that he quoted it to people at work and on the bus. Something about being the age we are lets this book take hold of us. But then too a young friend who teaches literature to the post-millennials is planning to base his Seder on it.
3. What’s the one book that you recommend to people, over and over?
Book I recommend to people: Life A User’s Manual by Georges Perec. Astounding book about everything in life.
But I’m a shameless recommender so please allow me a list: Metropole by Ferenc Karinthy (or more properly Karinthy Ferenc), Cronicas by Clarice Lispector, all the work of David Markson, The Wife of Martin Guerre by Janet Lewis, the stories of Frank O’Connor, The Car Thief by Theodore Weesner, the journals of Jules Renard, Bob Son of Battle by Alfred Ollivant (the original version)
4. Who are some of your writer mentors? Do you find that’s changed over time as you evolve as a writer or do they remain the same?
Mentors: Mentors train or coax our minds and whatever the actual definition of the word, I don’t think have to be people who deliberately helped. Some are those who helped us without meaning to, or from the grave.
In school, John Berryman and John Hawkes.
Jack Shoemaker, lifetime hero in publishing who to my dismay turned out to be younger than I am.
Do my mentors remain the same? Yes. Sameness is an oasis for me. I look for it, I recognize it from afar, I head for it.
5. What is your most prized book possession? A first edition? A gift? Please describe.
My most prized book is Homage to Mistress Bradstreet, given me by John Berryman for a story written in his class. My other favorite is a tiny leather Keats from my beloved correspondent, my mother’s English cousin James Thirsk, a London librarian still writing about books at the age of 102.