Gretchen Shirm was born in 1979, and currently lives in Sydney where she works as a lawyer. In 2009, Gretchen received the D.J. O’Hearn Memorial Fellowship for Emergent Writers. She holds a Master of Creative Writing from the University of Sydney. Her fiction has been published in numerous literary journals.

Short Story Collections

Having Cried Wolf
(Affirm Press, 2010)

reviewed by Annie Clarkson

Interview with Gretchen Shirm

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

Gretchen Shirm: I started Having Cried Wolf in June 2007 and finished writing it in December 2009, although I was also working on my novel intermittently over that period.

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

GS: Yes, it was clear to me when I started writing that I was writing interwoven stories, because the first stories I wrote, Small Indulgences and Moments suggested other stories to me. Actually, I'm in the middle of a novel now, but in the past few months I've had a couple of stories occur to me and I've put the novel aside to work on those. Funnily, the new stories I'm writing also seem to be linked. It must just be the way I'm wired; I see connections between everything.

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

GS: I wrote many many stories that were thrown away, mainly because I think I was in the process of learning to write when I started Having Cried Wolf. But a lot of the stories I threw away became seeds for other stories that ended up in the collection. As to order, the order was very much determined by the stories being connected and the order in which certain details had to be revealed in order for the overarching narrative to work.

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

GS: I think it was Angela Carter who said there is a difference between the short story and the tale - with which I completely agree. The short story does have its own structure and is different to a piece of writing that might be short, but that does not necessarily follow the short story structure. And by "structure" I don't mean that the short story has to be formulaic - stories that try to follow a formula or work towards an epiphany or a twist often often don't work very well. Nonetheless, I do think there has to be some sort of illumination that might be absent from a tale.

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

GS:  I try not to think about anyone reading my work, because I find it quite suffocating to the writing process. I suppose my writing process is about trying to let the piece find its own shape. Shape is more pronounced for me in short story writing than in novel writing. Even if I spend a lot of time re-writing and working on a story, I know when it is finished, because it feels like it's found the right shape.

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

GS: I suppose what I'm sometimes curious about is whether all of the connections work - sometimes I feel I'm asking too much of my reader to make all of the connections between the stories, or that they have to read too carefully to pick the all up!

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

GS: Are they? Apparently no-one buys or reads short story collections. (Exit sarcasm.)

TSR: What are you working on now?

GS:  I'm writing a novel that I was writing at the same time as I was writing Having Cried Wolf. It's written in alternating narratives and I sometimes wonder whether I chose that structure because I started out with the short story. The novel is about, memory, relationships and amnesia.

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

GS:  I've imposed an embargo on reading short stories at the moment until I finish my novel because whenever I read short stories, all I want to do is write them! Having said that, a few have crept in: Yiyun Li - Gold Boy, Emerald Girl - it feels like a quieter collection than A Thousand Years of Good Prayers, but there are some magical moments in some stories that illuminate the whole collection. For example there is a moment in the first story Kindness when the narrator tries to put a newly hatched chick back into its egg, but it doesn't fit. She says, "I have learned, since then, that life is like that, each day ending up like a chick refusing to be returned to the eggshell." Wow!
   Yoko Ogawa - The Diving Pool. Ok, these are technically novellas but I think they are just as aptly described as long short stories. Yoko Ogawa is a recent discovery for me, having first read her in Zoetrope: All Story. I admire her ability not to waste a single word. I love how Ogawa writes without falling into the trap of epiphany, chasing that "aha" moment, that many writers fall into. The change that takes place when you read Ogawa is in the reader and not the character. That is the sort of writing I aspire to.
   Flannery O'Connor - A Good Man is Hard to Find and other stories. I read O'Connor in my twenties, but came back to her because I'm a huge PJ Harvey fan and I read recently that much of Is This Desire? was inspired by A Good Man is Hard to Find. What impresses me in revisiting her, is O'Connor's willingness to inhabit such dark psychological spaces.
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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 >>>