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 Jody Lisberger 


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Jody 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, including Michigan Quarterly Review, Fugue, Confrontation, Thema, the Louisville Review and others.  

Short Story Collections

Remember Love
Fleur-de-Lis, 2008

Reviewed by Michelle Reale

 Interview with Jody Lisberger

The Short Review: 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, in Crucible. 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 that Bush 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.

TSR: What 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.

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

JL:  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?

JL: Fabulous. 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?

JL: 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