Chavisa Woods writes poetry and short
stories. This is her first published collection of fiction.
with Chavisa Woods
How long did it take you to write all the stories in your collection?
Chavisa Woods: Three
TSR: Did you
have a collection in mind when you were writing them?
CW: Not the first year
and a half or so. I was just writing stories that where connected to
each other in and were written in different styles. But I didn't start
thinking of it as a collection until I was told to make it a
collection. Then I took what I had to work with and added more to it,
and wrote with that in mind.
TSR: How did
you choose which stories to include and in what order?
CW: That was a hard
process. The first draft of the book actually had three other stories
that were finally taken out. The order of the stories was changed
several times. It was a decision I made with the help of two editors.
I'm honestly still not sure if it is apparent to all of the readers,
although I know some readers have noticed- these stories can be read as
individual short stories, or read as one large, non-linear novel. There
is a draft of the book where I simply placed the stories in a
chronological linear order. But I didn't like the feel of that. So I
broke up the larger stories with the smaller flash fiction type pieces,
and kept a sort of poetic formation and flow. If you look at the book
you will see that the first story is numbered three (III). A little
later another story is numbered one (I). The last story in the book is
numbered two (II). If you put these stories together, you will see that
it is a chronological description of one day in the life of one of the
two main characters. And this story broken up worked as sort of the
bones of the book. Explaining it now sounds a little complicated, maybe
even a little crazy, (even to me). But what can I say? I love David
Lynch. I love Anne Carson. I've never been a huge fan of
straightforward linear narration, at least not all the time.
TSR: What does the word "story"
mean to you?
A story is a telling of something. For short stories I think the first
rule is to ask yourself, who is this character, and what is this
character going to go through? One of the things I've held most to is
that the story should be about a change,a transformation, however
small. The story needs to work upon the character, change or alter the
character. That's the simplest blue print. That is all that the Bell Tower is
about- transformation. But then again, you read someone like Borges,
and sometimes it is difficult to even pick out the character. The
Character is not necessarily a person. It can be a theory, which
changes or shows itself more and more within an abstract setting. You
pick up some of Virginia Woolf's, or even a contemporary writer like
Jeanette Winterson's work, and there is very little actual plot. It's
just a character sitting in a chair or on a park bench for hours,
contemplating, experiencing nothingness, breathing, thinking, walking. The Waves is a
great example of this. Wolf could do it. She could make nothing
something. Or maybe she could show us the something in what we
generally perceive as nothingness.
So I would go back to my first statement. The story is the telling of
something. Simply .
TSR: Do you
have a "reader" in mind when you write stories?
writer I know, Norman Douglas, said one of the most beautiful things
I've ever heard on this subject. And I hope I quote it correctly. He
said, "If a sentence is written with pleasure, it will be read with
pleasure." This is a hard question and one I go back and forth on.
There is so much masturbatory writing, on the other hand there is so
much hackneyed commercial writing out there, and my thought is that
these two styles emerge from thinking too much about "the reader."
I am an avid reader, constantly starting a book and almost always make
it cover to cover if I make it past the first chapter. When I'm reading
I think about how and why the book works and how and why certain parts
of it might not be working. When I wrote this book, I was thinking more
about the stories and how they worked and flowed than the reader. I am
working on a more linear and straightforward piece right now, and at
this point I am beginning to think more about the reader, and how the
narrative engages them. But I never like to think of the reader as one
definite type of person or one particular type of audience that I have
to sell something to, whether it's selling an image of myself as an
individual worthy of praise or sympathy, which I think can only produce
masturbatory writing; neither do I think of trying to sell a certain
type of audience a certain or easy experience, which I think probably
produces the hackneyed, commercial and genre fiction.
TSR: Is there
anything you'd like to ask someone who has read your
anything at all?
CW: I guess I always
want to know if they enjoyed reading it. If it took them into another
reality for a moment, and what they got from it. A simple question I
find interesting is, 'What was your favorite and least favorite story?'
With my book a lot of people fell head over heels for it so far. And a
few people have absolutely seemed to not go for it at all. They have
been turned of by the prosy style of some of the stories or many of
them thought it was too.... hard, harsh, brutal, that I put the
characters through too much. And with those people, I always like to
know what writing they enjoy.
TSR: How does it feel knowing that people are buying your book?
CW:It's scary, and
intimidating on one hand. I am a young writer. This is my first book.
Parts of it are very, what some would call, experimental, what I call
meta-fiction or poetic prose. I know I was trying for something hard,
and that I didn't get everything exactly right. But then again, I am
also very proud of this book and wouldn't change a thing if I had the
choice. This book is exactly what I wanted it to be. It's done. It's a
perfect finished object. Time to write the next flawed but perfect
It feels good knowing people are reading the book. I've gotten a lot of
really amazing feedback. Some people are completely enamored with it
which is amazing, feeling like I gave something a worthy experience and
knowing that reading is one of the things I value most, that I was able
to give that to someone feels great.
TSR: What are
you working on now?
CW: Right now I'm
working on some new writing projects, but it's too soon to talk about
them. I'm also working with a contemporary artist who works with video
and animation, creating abstract animations that go along with these
stories. I do multimedia readings of the book in New York City and
sometimes take it on small tours around different parts of the country.
TSR: What are
the three most recent short story collections you've read?
CW: Short story collections: ???? Hmm. I read Invisible cities by Italo Calvino
a few months ago. I loved it. One of the most beautiful collections I
have ever read. It feels like you are holding something heavy clear and
shining in your hands when you are reading it. I read Miranda July's
collection, No One Belongs Here More Than You,
which was a lot of fun.
I've been sailing through many novels as of lately, so, even though it
these weren't recent, I will say the (I know I'm not answering the
question) four most influential short story collections for me have
Shatterday by Harlan Ellison
Saints and Strangers by Angela Carter
Everything that Rises Must Converge by Flannery O'Connor and Fictiones by Borges