Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Author Bites - Deborah Willis on the Shorts

It had been a while since since I connected so deeply with a set of short stories.  I'm talking like reading Flannery O'Connor in college "a while" so I got myself a little giddy.  Despite not being a target audience for VANISHING I liked it so much I asked Deborah if she wanted to stop by.  Imagine my surprise when she said yes!  Woohoo!  While I am looking to branch out a bit in what I read I know it's going to take a while and I'm glad Deborah was okay with helping me do that.  Thanks for stopping by Debbie!

As a short story writer do you find it difficult to quarantine your stories to a snapshot in time? Or is this how they form in your head? 

It doesn't feel difficult at all. I wish I had a mind for stories that were longer if only because the market demands them, but I seem to be drawn now to the shorter form. I don't do outlines, which is maybe part of it. I just start writing, with characters and sometimes a situation or an image in mind. I often write a lot more than I end up keeping, so part of why my work is short in length is because I think editing is at least as important as writing. And I also read a lot of short stories, which I'm sure has influenced my imagination. I'm reading more novels now, with an eye to how they're put together, because one day I'd like to try my hand at a longer work. Until then, I'll keep doing what seems to come naturally, which is short stories.

Are there any plans to extend any of these shorts into novel-length books?

There are a couple of stories in the collection I'm still drawn to, but most feel finished to me. I always worry that the integrity of a story will be damaged if it's expanded. That's something I've been thinking about a lot right now, as I'm writing new work. It's always difficult to know the proper scope for an idea––it seems you often have to actually write it out, then put it aside and come back to it to know how much time and space it deserves.

You wrote from a variety of different perspectives. Is there any particular head you found rather difficult to get in to? Which did you find the easiest? (gender or character, really)

One of the pleasures of writing fiction for me is getting into someone else's head. It's an adventure from the comfort of my own desk! I don't remember having terrible difficulty with any of the characters in the collection––usually if I can't get a voice, I give up or put the story aside until it feels more alive and real. As for writing from the perspective of men, I've never given it much thought and this naive attitude helps a lot! I think that as a writer you simply have to go wherever you're drawn to going, especially in terms of character. And you'll know when it works and when it doesn't. I also always believe that people are people––complex and strange and unknowable, whether men or women, rich or poor, young or old.

That said, the easiest characters for me to embody are often the young women. Lise in "This Other Us" and the sisters in "The Separation" all came to me fully formed and I wrote those stories quickly and easily.

Are any of your stories based on your life experiences at all? 

When they are, the experience is so changed it's almost unrecognizable. I really did live in Alberta when a tornado hit, and "The Weather" came out of that experience. But the characters and their situation were entirely fictional. It's mysterious to me where they came from, but I feel oddly attached to them!

What's in store for your next book? 

I'm working on linked stories all about the same family. I'm at the horrible spot where I've written several of these stories but it's unclear to me whether they work together, whether I'll ever deem them publishable. It's an uncomfortable grey zone, but I think it happens to all of us. The trick is to be honest with yourself, or to have people around who will be honest. My fingers are crossed!
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