born and raised in Toronto, Canada. He lived in Israel during the mid
1990s, working as a journalist. His first collection of short stories The Ascent of Eli Israel was
published in 2002. His first novel entitled, Who by Fire, Who by Blood was
published in 2007.
In 2010 Papernick came up with his alter-ego persona Papernick the Book
Peddler based on the great Yiddish writer, Mendele the Book Peddler,
and sold his book in farmers' markets with an updated fluorescent
pushcart. Papernick is currently Writer-in Residence at Emerson
College. He lives outside Boston with his wife and sons.
with Jonathan Papernick
How long did it take you to write all the stories in your collection?
Jonathan Papernick: I wrote the stories over a number of years as I was working on a novel.
Some of the stories were written rather quickly, such as the two short
flash fiction pieces that were added to the collection just before the
book went off to press. A couple of the stories took years, with long
breaks in between. I actually started the story A Kiss for Mrs. Fisch,
in 2000 when I was in graduate school and couldn't figure out a way to
fit if thematically into my first collection. I had sort of given up on
it before I revisited the story five or six years later. The Last
Five-Year Plan, also had a long incubation period. I wrote the first
three or four pages back in 2003, and finished it three or four years
have a collection in mind when you were writing them?
JP: I don't think I had a collection in mind until I had a certain number of
stories in the can. After I had three or four, I started to realize
that there was definitely an overarching theme taking shape and that
issues of that elusive "other," whether spiritual or physical in life
was present in all of my stories. In many ways, writing a collection of
short stories is a lot like putting together an album, and a number of
stories or songs end up on the cutting room floor.
you choose which stories to include and in what order?
JP: I did choose what stories to include, and in which order. Initially I
wanted the title story There Is No Other to be the first story in the
collection since I thought it was the strongest and spoke to the themes
that appear throughout the rest of the collection. However, after I
wrote Skin for Skin, just before the book was about to be sent off to
the printer, I felt that I had written a story that a majority of
readers could appreciate and absorb quickly which would move them within
three pages into what I thought was the strongest story in the
collection. I hoped that once a reader had read those two stories, they
would be hooked and would complete the collection. I also tried to
arrange the stories somewhat chronologically with stories of youth
appearing early on and stories of old age and loneliness and redemption
coming at the end of the collection. A couple of the stories were
removed at the suggestion of my editor, and though I think they were
good stories, I don't know if they would have made the collection
necessarily better, so I agreed to take them out. Perhaps I'll do a
collection of "b-sides" one day.
does the word "story"
mean to you?
JP: If by "story" you mean short story, I like to think about a human
experience compressed and crafted down to a manageable size. A story
should change a reader in some subtle way, or else there is no point in
having written it.
Do you have a reader in mind when you write stories?
JP: I don't really have a reader in mind besides myself. I try and write the
kinds of stories that I would like to read, so ultimately I write to
please myself, and I my biggest fan. I grew up watching reruns of the
Twilight Zone and so many of those stories made the reader hang on until
the very last moment, and I hope that my stories force the reader to
hang on until the very last word.
anything you'd like to ask someone who has read your collection,
anything at all?
JP: I keep hearing that people don't really like to read short stories, and I
certainly don't believe that. I think I'd like to ask my readers if
they believe that they're up to the task of changing the perception that
short stories are a thing of the past and speak passionately on behalf
of short fiction the way that many speak of novels. The short story
offers much of the humanness that is found in novels, however compressed
into a manageable size that fits so well into our busy lives. Short
stories are not the ugly stepsister of the novel. Can you do your part
to change that perception?
TSR: How does
it feel knowing that people are buying your book?
I recently had a graduate student from Germany friend me on Facebook who
is doing her doctoral thesis on American Jewish writers and their
perceptions of Israel and she is writing about my work along with that
of my mentor Melvin Bukiet and my all-time literary hero Philip Roth
among others, and it was exhilarating to know that nine years after my
first book was published somebody half a world away is drawing meaning
for my words and stories. Of course, in this age of information
overload, it is easy to look over your shoulder at a colleague who is
selling a lot of books and wonder what they are doing better. That said,
I believe I'm writing lasting fiction that can be read now or ten years
from now and still be appreciated so I'm in it for the long-haul, and
hope that people continue to discover my work and read it and tell their
friends to read as well. It is exciting to know that people are buying
my books when they have so many other choices as to how to spend their
money. I recently walked into a local bookstore, and wondered how can a
writer make his book stand out amongst 100,000 other books. I guess
that's part of the reason that I started selling my books myself via
pushcart at farmers markets. It's much easier for a collection of short
stories to compete with arugula or goat cheese than it is to compete
with bestsellers and Nobel Prize winners, and some days, I have sold
more than a dozen books in just a couple of hours.
What are you working on now?
JP: I am supposed to be working on a novel entitled The Sunday Synagogue Softball League,
however I haven't done much over the past couple of months ever since
my agent read it and said that he loved it. I have about 20,000 words,
and really like what I'm working on, but I'm having issues with the
plot, and unlike short stories is a lot harder to plunge forward into
the darkness and figure things out, so I would like to get a better
sense as to where I'm going before I really get back to work.
the three most recent short story collections you've read?
JP: I've been busy teaching, so I'm a little bit behind with my reading. I'm just finishing 2009 edition of Best American Short Stories
and I'm really liking the majority of the stories. I particularly liked
a short story entitled Rubiaux Rising, by Steve De Jarnatt.
Interestingly, I shared it with my students at Emerson College, and many
of them did not like the story at all, which I think is really
interesting, how little consensus there really is about what is good and
what is not. I also recently read Break It Down by Lydia Davis
and I'm still trying to figure out what she is all about. For years I
had resisted reading her after seeing some of her stories in magazines
and feeling that they were inscrutable. I certainly respect her craft
and many of the stories are still on my mind now. She certainly deserves
rereading, and will probably share work with my students as well and
see how they take to her.I don't want to seem like I'm pandering, but I
also read the White Road by you [Tania Hershman, Short Review editor] and really enjoyed the weirdness of many of your stories.