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 Laura Chester 


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Website: LauraChester.com

Laura Chester has published many volumes of poetry, prose and non-fiction, including a selection of prose-poems, Sparks, and novels The Story of the Lake, and Kingdom Come. She has edited four literary anthologies, including Deep Down and The Unmade Bed. Having grown up in Wisconsin, lived in Albuquerque, Paris, and Berkeley, she now travels between Patagonia, Arizona and Massachusetts.

Short Story Collections

Rancho Weirdo
Bootstrap Press, 2008

Reviewed by Annie Clarkson

Bitches Ride Alone
Black Sparrow Press, 1991

 Interview with Laura Chester

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

Laura Chester: I wrote the rough drafts of the majority of these stories in a short season~maybe 4-5 months, but completed them over a two year period. They came very fast, one after another~as the theme of prejudice connected in my mind to various situations. Survival of the Violet Girls was written earlier, and Sulphur Art & Money was written from a different perspective, and after the others, but the main body of the book came very quickly.

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

LC: I believe I wrote La Tortuga first, and it was initially titled Rancho Weirdo, but then I did not want to draw so much attention to that one story, and so retitled it. The first stories I wrote were about the border situation and prejudice against the Hispanic community which is actually a very complicated problem where I live, twenty minutes from the border. We see drug runners passing in front of our house as mule trains of eight of so, on a regular basis, after they have dropped off (for the most part~ bales of grass/marijuana). While horseback riding alone, I found 300 pounds = 6 large burlap wrapped bales of grass and reported it to the Border Patrol, trying to discourage the drug runners from going down out small dirt road, Harshaw Creek. But it should be noted that my house was built by legal Hispanic workers who were a dream team, and we were all very close by the end of the project, even though most of the men could not speak English. I threw all of the workers and their families a big feast at the end of the job, and we remain in touch. There is also prejudice coming from American Hispanics against Mexican workers, even if they are there legally - I took the crew out to lunch one day at a Mexican restaurant in Patagonia, Santos, and we sat there for over an hour before they would serve us. The men felt humiliated. Part of what I wanted to explore was also the innate prejudice of the politically correct, who think they are open minded, when deep down, they are not. These stories make fun of almost everyone, including the Anglos.

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

LC: I deleted a couple of stories because I thought they might be hurtful, or they just were not up to par, but for the most part, I think the stories that flowed through me, were of a pretty even quality. I also indluded a couple of older stories from a collections titled Bitches Ride Alone, because I thought they were great stories, and they fit in with the others. I decided to include Survival and Sulphur even though they were different from the majority of the stories because I thought they added something to the collection. Survival is really an anti-war anti-prejudice fantasy story as well, though more of a prose-poem.

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

LC:  Most of my stories are about 8-12 pages long. They are like sprints, as opposed to long-distance running (a novella, or novel). A story is usually quite tight, and it unfolds on its own and completes itself in a short space of time, but will have a feeling of fullness. I was a 50 yard dash girl - the fastest runner in my school - And my stories reflect that. That doesn't mean that other writers can't write longer stories -such as in Eudora Welty's wonderful work. (Note that she and I had the same birthday April 13th. When I turned 40, She turned 80, and I sent her a bunch of roses.)

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

LC:  I don't really have anyone in mind when I write other than connecting with my own inner voice, (that voice can be somewhat varied~just as an actress can take on different roles) though I would hope my readers are smart, and GET what I am up to. I can imagine some readers being put-off by some of my humor because it seems offensive, while the ideal reader would think...Hilarious!

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

LC: ~Did you get it? Did you enjoy it? Which was your favorite?

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

LC: TERRIFIC!

TSR: What are you working on now?

LC: I am currently working on a non-fiction book called SCRAPS: a memoir of a charmed yet secret life, about my bisexual father, and the problems created in our family life, especially between my mother & I, as she took her frustration and jealousy out on me without ever really facing the key problem in her marriage. Though my father was a terrific personality, bigger than life, and well loved - the memoir comes to terms with both parents and is ultimately compassionate towards them both, and healing for myself.

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

LC: David Sedaris, (I'm zipping through all of his work and feel a real connection to his dark humor) Christine Schutt, Nightwork, and her other fiction, which is dense and great, Eudora Welty (Collected Stories)