Cris Mazza grew up in southern California and is now a director of the Program for Writers at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She has written over a dozen books including the short story collections Former Virgins (1997) and Is It Sexual Harassment Yet? (1998)

Short Story Collections

Trickle-Down Timeline
(Red Hen Press, 2009)

reviewed by Loree Westron

Former Virgin (1997)

Revalation Countdown (1993)

Is It Sexual Harassment Yet? (1991)

Animal Acts (1989)

Interview with Cris Mazza

The Short Review: How long did it take you to write all the stories in your collection?

Cris Mazza: This question is almost impossible for me to answer, due to the unusual way this book came into being. See the answer to #3!s

TSR: Did you have a collection in mind when you were writing them?

CM: Trickle-Down Timeline was only the 2nd collection I've done where I did know I was writing a collection. (The first was Revelation Countdown, for which I collaborated with a photographer). I believe writers of short fiction have begun to, more and more, compose their collections with complete cognizance that they are doing so, unlike my first 2 collections when I basically looked back at the last 10 to 12 stories I'd written and called them a book. Luckily, something about where I was mentally/ emotionally at the time made those collections have a subtle cohesion I couldn't have planned.

TSR: How did you choose which stories to include and in what order?

CM: About 10 years ago, I had a manuscript of stories- plus-novella that I was trying to place. I found a publisher who wanted to publish the novella by itself. So I had five stories cut loose. I hadn't written a short story in at least a decade, so I decided I would take a hiatus from novel-writing and write five more stories to complete a new collection. But when I looked at the five "original" stories, which had mostly been written as long before as the 80s, I knew I couldn't put them in a "new" book as though they were "new" stories, and I couldn't update them to fit the 21st century (everything from technology to slang had changed). So I decided to date-stamp them and let them be "period pieces" and write five more stories that take place in the 80s. Slightly later, I decided to have each story be assigned a year from the 80s, therefore how to arrange them was obvious.

TSR: What does the word "story" mean to you?

CM: A student asked a related question the other day, which may also answer this question. "You write both novels and stories, what's the difference -- in how you feel about them, and in how much pleasure you get from each?" Writing a novel is like a marriage. You live very closely with it for a long time, sometimes you feel pretty good but sometimes struggle with it, sometimes don't like it or need to get away from it, but you know it intimately, its flaws, characteristics and qualities, and when you're done (and it's gone), you miss it more, your loneliness is more profound, your grief darker. A story is like a lover. The satisfaction and pleasure more immediate and intense, but you don't mind so much moving on to the next.

Actually my view of short fiction is not quite so flip. But stories are a glimpse of life in a way and with an effect that can never be “realistic,” because of how every element in a story should contribute to the total package -- it's a work of art -- not the messy, incoherent way life can be made of true non-sequiturs.

TSR: Do you have a reader in mind when you write stories?

CM: I don't think I imagine a reader. Of course I know I'm writing something that someone will (hopefully) read. But in a way there's another me who is the first reader (while I write) – the reader me – so maybe I let myself stand in for the eventual reading audience the book will have.

TSR: Is there anything you'd like to ask someone who has read your collection, anything at all?

CM: I'd like to ask (or just have a mutual recognition moment): "Isn't it uncanny – and in not a happy way – how the economics and politics and under-represented lives of the 80s are being repeated now in this decade?"

TSR: How does it feel knowing that people are buying your book?

CM: I don't think about this very often. If I do, it's to feel that a part of myself -- the thing I do & think about alone at my keyboard -- has been brought into the lives of other people, whether they buy or borrow.

TSR: What are you working on now?

CM: The "now" of this answer is fall 2010, and I'm between projects. I have a new novel, Various Men Who Knew Us as Girls, being released in 2011, and finished a 2nd nonfiction book last May. Authors participate so heavily in promotion and marketing these days, time between projects is filled with doing things like interviews and scheduling readings.

TSR: What are the three most recent short story collections you've read?

CM: The Plated Heart, Diane Goodman, Little Pockets of Alarm, Kat Meads, Slut Lullabies, Gina Frangello.
find something to read: reviews
find something to read: interviews
find something to read: categories
find something to read: back issues
competitions & giveaways

Find out what other authors, from Aimee Bender to Sana Krasikov, said about their collections, what the word "story" means to them, and how it feels to know that people are buying your books! More interviews >>>