Lisberger holds a PhD in English from Boston University as
well as an M.F.A. in Writing from Vermont College. She is a faculty
member at the University of Rhode Island and teaches in the Women’s
Studies Progroam. As well, she holds a faculty position at the brief
residency M.F.A. in Writing Program at Spalding Universtiy in Louisvile
Kentucky. Her stories have been published in a variety of places,
Quarterly Review, Fugue, Confrontation, Thema, the Louisville Review
with Jody Lisberger
How long did it take you to write all the stories in your collection?
Jody Lisberger: Eight
years or so, for several reasons. The primary reason is that a
prominent agent saw one story after it had been published, asked to see
the whole collection, then recommended I link the stories since they
might be more attractive to a publisher these days as a linked
collection. So I spent the next two or three years rewriting the
stories and linking them all to the main characters, Sheila and Julia,
Then I sent the collection back to the agent and he didn't want it, at
which point I realized I felt my collection had been domesticated by my
converting them into linked stories. Linked and domesticated wasn't the
way I'd envisioned them at all. So I spent another two or three years
unlinking them. As much as I hate having taken so long, all the changes
and good things happening in my life enriched the stories considerably,
so in the end they were much better stories. I have some secondary
reasons for taking such a long time, too: like for most of us, life got
in the way, too. I sold a house, moved to another state, built a house
(and worked around my partner's having his leg crushed by plywood,
which held up things for a year or so), found a new job, and so on.
TSR: Did you
have a collection in mind when you were writing them?
JL: Yes, I had Joyce's Dubliners in mind,
which is why I have three stories about younger people, three or four
about older people, and three stories about yet older people.
TSR: How did
you choose which stories to include and in what order?
JL: At first I
thought the collection would be called In the Mercy of Water,
so it seemed logical to include stories that in some way or other
involved water. I also knew, based on Dubliners, that the
stories would move from younger to older people, so that helped. But it
was also necessary to cast out stories that didn't have the same
intensity or concern about love that these stories have. Order can be a
tricky thing even if chronology seems to work. I worried a little
Beating so early in the collection would scare people away
with its intensity, but my editor (Sena Jeter Naslund) thought it was
perfect where it was. In the order, I also found a logic in varying
edgy and less edgy pieces, and in shifting the voice from third to
first person. I also wanted the collection to begin with the curtain
opening, as if on a play, and to end with an elderly couple looking out
toward House Island, across the sea.
does the word "story"
mean to you?
JL: When I
think of story, I think of something that has the idiosyncrasy of
character in it, and so something that is crooked, particular,
sometimes conniving, and and always complex. I see "story" as
wandering, full of possible digressions and deliberate tellings and not
tellings. There's entertainment and deviance in "story." There's also
play between what is seen and what is unseen. The clash between these
two facets is the source of tension and a reader's desire to read on.
have a "reader" in mind when you write stories?
Not really. Or if I do have a reader in mind, it's myself. Sometimes
when I'm writing, I say to myself, as I also advise my fiction
students, ask yourself what you think needs to come next to make the
story wickedly good, and go there. I do have in mind dramatic tension
and how to keep the reader engaged in the depth and struggles of a
character, but I'd have to say I have writing more than reading in mind
when I write. Sentence by sentence. Even more, I have the need to be
true to the character, which involves losing my control, listening to
what a character would say or do, and just letting the story go there.
TSR: Is there
anything you'd like to ask someone who has read your collection,
anything at all?
JL: I suppose, if
pressed, I might ask them if they enjoyed the stories, or if the
stories made them think deeply about things in life. Did the stories
give them courage? Inspire them to speak out, or not to settle for
anything less than love? But at the same time, I don't really have any
questions for my readers. Once you let a work go, it's sort of on its
own, beyond probing. Maybe this idea of letting go has grown with me
over time, but I think once a writer lets a work out, a writer needs to
have confidence in the work and just let it be without question or
worry, and instead move on to the next work.
TSR: How does it feel knowing that people are buying your book?
Really fabulous. I do think my characters have a contagious and daring
energy, so I hope readers carry some of that with them. I'm also very
flattered and honored to know people are reading my stories and being
moved by them.
TSR: What are
you working on now?
I'm working on a novel about keeping secrets. It’s about Verna Roy, a
wedding cake decorator turned glass blower, who struggles literally and
metaphorically to free herself from her house and become strong enough
to go solo. Verna is the mother of two sons (aged 21 and 19), a
divorced woman, and a twin whose twin sister Erdine died several years
earlier. Essential to Verna’s struggle is not only her guilt and
sadness that she was unable to save her twin from childhood hurt and
later death, but that her “other half” was gay. In the novel, Erdine’s
death haunts Verna, partly because she has yet to face or realize how
difficult it is to go solo when one’s twin has died, and partly because
her own son’s being gay gets tangled in her struggle to accept her own
and Erdine’s ways of life.
TSR: What are
the three most recent short story collections you've read?
JL: Edwidge Danticat's The Dew Breaker;
Mary Waters' The Laws of Evening;
Jaimee Wriston Colbert's Dream Lives of Butterflies