Al Riske was born in Shelton, Washington, and earned a degree in communications from Linfield College in Oregon. He has worked as a newspaper reporter, magazine editor, copywriter, and ghostwriter. His short stories have appeared in Beloit Fiction Journal, Hobart, Pindelyboz, Switchback, Word Riot, and Blue Mesa Review, where his story Pray for Rain won the review's 2008 fiction prize. He now lives in California with his wife, Joanne, and their dog, Bodie. He is currently working on a novel.

Short Story Collections

Precarious: Stories of Love, Sex, and Misunderstanding
(Luminis Books, 2010)

reviewed by A.J. Kirby

Interview with Al Riske

The Short Review: How long did it take you to write all the stories in your collection?

Al Riske: Only about 30 years or so. Precarious is essentially a retrospective of my work—stuff I kept and revised again and again because I was never satisfied with it, until now.

TSR: Did you have a collection in mind when you were writing them?

AR: Not really. The stories came to me one by one, sometimes inspired by a photograph or a place I was visiting or a conversation I happened to overhear. I didn't have a master plan. But as it turned out, all the stories were about women and men and the conflicts that inevitably arise when they get together. So, without realizing it, I had a theme—or maybe it's an obsession.

TSR: How did you choose which stories to include and in what order?

AR: I left out one of my best stories, The Possibility of Snow, because it didn't seem to fit in with the others. It was tough decision, but the right one, I think. As for the order, I wanted it to be fairly random, but I did save some of the more startling pieces for the end. 

TSR: What does the word "story" mean to you?

AR:  Hmmm, interesting question. I guess a story is what we tell ourselves to make sense of our lives. The stories may not be factual but they are as true as we can make them … or as true as we can stand to make them. 

TSR: Do you have a reader in mind when you write stories?

AR:  Sometimes. That is, I sometimes think about what my wife or someone else might think, but I try not to let that influence me too much. Mostly I write for myself. I write the kind of stories I would like to read.

TSR: Is there anything you'd like to ask someone who has read your collection, anything at all?

AR: I'm always interested in what readers think, but I try to keep my questions very general and open ended because I don't to influence what they tell me. Whatever is top of mind for them is most interesting to me.

TSR: How does it feel knowing that people are buying your book?

AR: It feels amazing, almost unbelievable, after labouring in obscurity for so long. Well, I'm still pretty obscure, but it's not just my friends and family who are buying the book now, so I'm totally jazzed.

TSR: What are you working on now?

AR: I’ve been working on a short novel with a long title: The Boy Who Broke Sabrina’s Window. The boy is 17 and he accidentally breaks the window of a woman nearly twice his age, Sabrina. They become friends, share confidences, intercede in each other’s romances, go on a date that scandalizes the town … There are a bunch of other colorful characters as well, but events unfold through the eyes of Sabrina and the boy. 

TSR: What are the three most recent short story collections you've read?

ARMoon Deluxe by Frederick Barthelme. Raymond Carver: Collected Stories (the new Library of America edition) by Raymond Carver and Our Story Begins by Tobias Wolff.
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