Born in Chicago, Illinois,
Allison Amend attended Stanford University and graduated with an MFA
from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Her work has appeared in
One Story, Black Warrior Review, StoryQuarterly, Bellevue Literary
Review, the Atlantic Monthly, Prairie Schooner, and Other Voices.
Things That Pass for Love is her first published book and has been
named one of the ten best collections of short fiction for 2008 by the
Kansas City Star!
with Allison Amend
How long did it take you to write all the stories in your collection?
Allison Amend: The
earliest story was written in 1997; the last was written expressly for
the collection in 2008. But in between I wrote two novels, worked full
time, and became an adult, so it’s not like that’s all I was doing.
TSR: Did you
have a collection in mind when you were writing them?
AA: I didn’t.
Conventional wisdom is of course that short stories don’t sell. I
started writing stories because at age 20, a novel seems too daunting.
Then I was in an MFA program, where stories are easier to workshop.
Plus, I didn’t know what wanted to be writing about. Stories allow you
to try on different hats as an author without committing to an entire
outfit. That’s why they make ideal places for authors to begin.
I started sending the collection out to contests when the stories began
appearing in magazines. But the “collection” was really just all the
stories I’d written. It didn’t have coherence as a book. I think that
might be part of the reason that I had trouble finding a publisher for
TSR: How did
you choose which stories to include and in what order?
AA: My editors,
Gina Frangello and Stacy Bierlein, were really instrumental in this
point. Gina told me to send her “everything you’ve ever written.” So I
did. And she wrote me back, “I meant everything you’ve written since
college.” She should have been more specific. By then, I didn’t feel
that I had a good perspective on the collection. There were stories I
disliked because I was sick of them, or they reminded me of a younger,
less-evolved self. Some were overtly experimental and didn’t fit with
the collection. One favorite was the first chapter of my novel (due out
from LSU’s Yellow Shoe Series in 2009). But it’s historical fiction,
and it stuck out like buckteeth on a beauty queen, to coin a phrase. So
we left it out of the collection.
So I really gave Gina leeway. I feel she’s a fantastic editor and
really knows what’s best and is unflinchingly honest. I accepted her
decisions without argument. There were some practical considerations:
start strong and middle strong and end strong. Don’t put all the really
short ones next to each other. Separate the “golf stories.” And then
Gina organized them to her own particular logic. I didn’t even ask her
for an explanation.
does the word "story"
mean to you?
question is no softball. Stumped, I just did what I used to do when I
was stumped in college, which is look up the word in the Oxford English
Dictionary. It was no help, so I’m on my own. To me, a story is the
relation of a brief, epiphanal (or at least very important and pivotal)
moment in a character’s life. And the stuff you need around that to
understand why the moment is so important. That’s in the literature
sense. In a more general sense, a story is a narrative told for a
specific reason (that reason can be to entertain, to impart a moral, to
make the teller seem smart, to humiliate someone else, to teach, to
ingratiate the teller to the tellee, etc.).
have a "reader" in mind when you write stories?
No, that smacks a bit of pandering. Or, rather, yes, myself. I am my
own ideal reader. Is that weird?
TSR: Is there
anything you'd like to ask someone who has read your collection,
anything at all?
AA: I am fascinated
to hear which stories people like best. They are often not my favorite
stories, and everyone seems to have a different favorite.
TSR: How does it feel knowing that people are buying your book?
AA: I’m still a tad
unbelieving, and disbelieving (they’re two separate words). Are people
really buying the book? I feel so incredibly lucky. Isn’t that every
author’s dream, to see her book in the bookstore? I saw mine in the
public library the other day (it looked unread). I thought about taking
it down and signing it, a la “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”. But there was a
hawk-like librarian hovering, and I thought better of it.
TSR: What are
you working on now?
AA: I’m editing my
novel for publication Stations
West, LSU's Yellow Shoe Fiction Series, fall 2009) and am
in the middle of a novel about art forgery and cloning that I’ve been
working on off and on for about 4 years.
TSR: What are
the three most recent short story collections you've read?
Elizabeth Strout’s Olive
Kitteridge, which I absolutely loved.
Richard Lange’s Dead
Boys, which is masterful.
Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum’s Ms.
Hempel Chronicles. My classmate at Iowa; she really
captures the awkwardness of life.