Clifford Garstang received an MFA in Creative Writing
from Queens University of Charlotte in 2003. His work appeared in the Virginia Quarterly Review, Shenandoah, The Ledge, The
Baltimore Review, North Dakota Quarterly, Potomac Review
and elsewhere. He won the 2006 Confluence Fiction Prize and the 2007
GSU Review Fiction Prize and is a Fellow of the Virginia Center for the
with Clifford Garstang
How long did it take you to write all the stories in your collection?
of the stories were written in about a two-year period just after I
finished my MFA in 2003. I began them as a way to "recover" from the
writing of my novel, which was also my thesis, and which now - at least
for the time being - resides in a drawer. But the last story in the
book was written a couple of years later when I realized that I wanted
the book feel more complete.
have a collection in mind when you were writing them?
at first. There was an incident I needed to write about, something that
had been very disturbing, and so I worked it into a story. That process
made me realize how fertile the landscape around me was, which inspired
another story, and those characters suggested another, and they just
kept piling up. The characters kept reoccurring, playing cameo roles in
the new stories, and that's when I realized I was working on a
you choose which stories to include and in what order?
stories in the book are all set in an around the same small town, and
so I gathered all of the stories I'd written about the town. There are
actually a few others I've written or started that could have fit, but
I just don't feel that those stories were ready - I haven't even
submitted those to magazines, yet, for example. So the choice to leave
them out wasn't that hard. The order, on the other hand, was tricky. As
I mentioned, the stories are linked - by overlapping characters, place,
and theme - and while I wouldn't call the book a novel in stories,
there is a trajectory that is evident, to me at any rate. Also, there
are three stories that form a triptych involving three generations of a
single family, and to a certain extent they form the backbone of the
book. So I placed them at the beginning, the middle, and the end. The
rest seemed to fall into place around that structure.
does the word "story"
mean to you?
is a big concept and I have an expansive definition - it's a narrative
about something that happened over time. With one major exception, the
stories in this collection are somewhat traditional in their form and
in the arc that they follow: characters in conflict, something happens,
people change. In some stories the time frame is quite short, but in
others - I'm thinking of one story in particular - it covers many
years. But apart from this book, I also write flash fiction, and the
main element I'm looking for in a very short piece so that it still
qualifies as "story" is movement over time.
Do you have a reader in mind when you write stories?
and no. I mean, I do imagine that someone is going to be reading the
stories, otherwise there doesn't seem much point in telling them. And
as for who that reader is, I'd say it's someone very much like me, I
think. I write the kind of stories that I like to read. I'm blown away
by some "post-modern" writers, but I don't always enjoy reading their
work. Since I'm more traditional in my reading, I tend to be more
traditional in my writing, as well. Beyond my own sensibilities,
though, I'm not thinking of any other reader. I do like to think of an
implied auditor within the context of the story, though - the person to
whom the narrator is telling the story - but that's very different.
anything you'd like to ask someone who has read your collection,
anything at all?
CG: May I ask two? First, have you joined the sun cult yet? And, second, did you decipher the code?
it feel knowing that people are buying your book?
People are buying the book? Seriously, it seems kind of unreal. What
really knocks me out, of course, is that people are reading it. When
people make a comment about one of the stories or the characters, I'm
pretty much stunned.
What are you working on now?
I have a completed novel in stories that my agent is shopping to
publishers. I'm really very fond of that book and am optimistic for it,
although it's not likely to appeal to the big trade publishers. It's
about a Chinese American family and their condo neighbors in Washington
DC, but it also includes stories set partially in China and France.
But currently I'm working on a novel set in Virginia involving a young American and his Korean wife.
the three most recent short story collections you've read?