Born in Montreal, Alix
Ohlin studied at Harvard and later at
the Michener Center. Her fiction has appeared in journals such as Shenandoah and One Story, and has
been included in both the Best
New American Voices and Best American Short Story
anthologies. Her novel The
Missing Person was published in 2005. She lives in Easton,
Pennsylvania, and teaches at Lafayette College.
with Alix Ohlin
How long did it take you to write all the stories in your collection?
Alix Ohlin: I wrote, and revised, them over a period of around ten years.
TSR: Did you
have a collection in mind when you were writing them?
I was writing the earliest stories, before I even went to graduate
school, I wasn’t sure that the stories would ever be published at
all—much less in a collection. The latest stories were written after I
already had a contract. It’s been interesting for me to see how people
make connections among the stories in the collection, since I didn’t
conceive of the book as a whole entity along the way.
TSR: How did
you choose which stories to include and in what order?
written a lot of stories over the years, and I chose the stories I
thought were strongest—17 of them—and sent them to my editor, thinking
he’d do the final culling. Instead he said, “Let’s include all of
them.” He also liked the order in which I sent them, which I hadn’t
really thought through in a conscious way. I think the order just
worked intuitively; there’s a certain variety in the sequence of
characters, and I like the lines that start and end the book.
does the word "story"
mean to you?
hard to answer! One of the things I love about the short story is how
elastic the definition can be, how muscular the form is, how much
variety and experimentation it can sustain. A story by Borges is a
vastly different aesthetic and emotional experience from a story by
Alice Munro. But I always remember something that Mavis Gallant writes
in her introduction to her collected stories, about how you shouldn’t
read stories one after another as if they were chapters of novels. She
says, “Shut the book. Read something else. Come back later. Stories can
wait.” When she says that they can wait, I don’t think she means they
aren’t urgent or important. She means that stories are strong, and
self-contained, and timeless.
have a "reader" in mind when you write stories?
No, I don’t—not because I don’t want readers, but because thinking
about them would make me feel self-conscious, as if someone were there
in the room, watching me writing in my pajamas.
TSR: Is there
anything you'd like to ask someone who has read your collection,
anything at all?
AO: I’d be too shy to ask them anything.
TSR: How does it feel knowing that people are buying your books?
AO: Wonderful, and weird, in about equal proportions.
TSR: What are
you working on now?
AO: I’m working on a new novel, and more stories, and a book of essays about nature and art.
TSR: What are
the three most recent short story collections you've read?
AO: I read Kevin Wilson’s amazing debut, Tunneling to the Center of the Earth, and Michael Parker’s funny, heartbreaking book Don’t Make Me Stop Now, and I’ve also been re-reading The Collected Stories of Jean Stafford, just because she’s so great—especially the story Children Are Bored on Sundays, one of my all-time favorites.