hails from Lake Charles, Louisiana. Though she showed promise as a
writer while an undergraduate, she made her living in New Orleans as a
house painter and then a carpenter for twenty years before beginning an
MFA program a year before Katrina hit. She has won awards from Glimmer
Train and Washington Square, as well as a grant from the A Room of Her
with Barb Johnson
How long did it take you to write all the stories in your collection?
It took me about four years. I was learning to write short stories as I
went along, so there was a lot of back-tracking and revising before I
got to the editing stage.
have a collection in mind when you were writing them?
had no idea I was writing a collection. One thing just kind of led to
another; one person appeared and then reappeared, bringing along a
friend. The fact that the stories are interlinked is, in part, an
accident of the learning process. It’s hard to build a character from
scratch. Once I had one I liked, I’d stick her in other stories doing
other things. The recurring characters are also a measure of my love
for episodic tales, of seeing one person I know well through another
person’s eyes, of hearing the same events described differently because
we don’t all experience an event the same way.
you choose which stories to include and in what order?
had a certain number of stories about four different characters: Delia,
her brother, Dooley, their friend, Pudge, and Pudge’s son, Luis. They
are mostly stories that take place in New Orleans, specifically in a
neighborhood called Mid-City. I eliminated any stories that weren’t
about these people. I thought it might be nice to have a look at each
of the characters as young people and then as adults. Because all the
characters' lives intersect and because they all refer to common events
in the past, I thought it made the most sense to show the characters as
young people first and to add stories sort of chronologically. The
final story is about Luis, a twelve-year-old boy whose life, by the end
of the story, is on the verge of taking a drastic and unpleasant turn.
He is the only character who doesn’t have an adult story yet. I thought
this was a good way to end my examination of the question of how
childhood experiences influence the sorts of adults we become.
does the word "story"
mean to you?
Story means, "Who was there?" and, "What did she say?" and, "What did
he say back?" and, "How did that baby die?" and, "How could anyone make
such a mistake?" and, "Does that make him a bad person?" and, "Why in
the world would he break into a neighbor’s house?" and, "Does that make
him a bad person?" For me, story has a lot to do with questions.
Because we’re all asking essentially the same questions, we are all
telling the same stories, just in different ways. My favorite stories
are the ones that don’t answer the questions directly but merely
suggest an outcome and perhaps encourage the reader to imagine several
different outcomes for any character.
Do you have a reader in mind when you write stories?
don’t. When I’m writing, I am not thinking about someone reading what
I’m writing. I’m too busy trying to make sense of the yammering in my
anything you'd like to ask someone who has read your collection, anything at all?
like to ask readers what sorts of children they were and whether they
can see that same child in themselves and how large a role they believe
personality plays in what we make of the gifts and challenges we’re
faced with in life.
TSR: How does
it feel knowing that people are buying your book?
It’s completely bizarre to me. Though I’m an avid reader and have often
read books by first-time authors, it just blows my mind to think that
all the stuff I sat around making up is now available for public
consumption. In my life as a carpenter, it was easy to see why people
would pay for my work: it was tangible, useful. But a book of lies?
What are you working on now?
I recently received a two-year grant from A Room of Her Own Foundation.
The grant is meant to give a writer the time to write a novel, and that
is exactly what I’ll be doing for the next two years.
the three most recent short story collections you've read?
Jill McCorkle’s Going Away Shoes, Elizabeth Strout’s,Olive
Kitteridge, and Lydia Peelle’s Reasons for and Advantages of Breathing.