Montreal-based Smith works as a translator. He took a writing class to
fill some time and was apparently amazed that everyone thought his
stories were great. “Everyone told me it s hard to just get
stories accepted by magazines. Then everyone said it s impossible to
get an agent or a big publisher for short stories. As for selling a
story collection abroad in the U.S. and the U.K., forget it. But it s
all happened: every step has happened and happened rather easily,
almost embarrassingly so. I guess I m due to be hit by a bus.”
with Neil Smith
How long did it take you to write all the stories in your collection?
Neil Smith: About
five years. At first I was writing very sporadically with no aim to
become a writer. But after a few stories got published in magazines and
nominated for prizes, agents and publishers began asking to see a
manuscript. Then the writing became more serious and more frequent. I
finished the final two stories in Bang
Crunch after signing my contract with Knopf.
TSR: Did you
have a collection in mind when you were writing them?
NS: Only after
writing the first five stories did I see them fitting together within a
book. I decided I wanted an eclectic book with a variety of colors and
tones. I wanted my book to be like a compilation album where a sad song
could follow a fluffier piece. I’d read too many books where
all the stories seemed populated by the same protagonists or spoken by
the same voices. I wanted diversity. In his review of my book in The Guardian,
British writer Michel Faber called Bang
Crunch “magpie-like in its
influences.” I love this idea of a magpie collecting
TSR: How did
you choose which stories to include and in what order?
NS: My goal
was variety, so I excluded any story in which I repeated myself. I made
one exception: two of the stories (Green
Fluorescent Protein and Funny Weird or Funny Ha Ha?)
share the same characters. I kept both stories but allowed this
double-dipping only once in the book. Bang Crunch kicks
off with Isolettes
because I wanted a piece showing both sides of my writing: the humor
and the darkness. As for the order of the other pieces, I avoided
clumping together the serious stories or the fantasy fiction. I also
separated the two linked stories. Finally, the 65-page novella needed
to conclude the collection as a kind of bookend. My editor and I both
drew up separate lists for the order of the stories. Our lists ended up
being almost exactly the same.
TSR: What does the word "story"
mean to you?
NS: To me,
“story” is a way to reveal truth through lies. The
best stories do this. They may be completely fabricated, but they
expose a truth about our world.
TSR: Do you
have a "reader" in mind when you write stories?
may sound narcissistic, but I try to please myself. I’m my
reader. I want to write books I’d enjoy reading. If I love my
book, I expect others might fall in love with the work. But I
don’t need to click with every editor, every reader, every
critic. Some can loathe my book provided some are smitten.
TSR: Is there
anything you'd like to ask someone who has read your
anything at all?
If a reader has really liked my book, I want to know what other books
he’s loved. I figure that he and I might be on the same
wavelength and that I can learn from his bookshelves.
TSR: How does it feel knowing that people are buying your book?
I could never picture people reading my book until I started getting
emails from readers through my website. I’m so touched when
people take time to send me encouragement. I think all writers,
particularly younger writers, need these little pats on the back.
Otherwise you spend your days isolated, making up things in your head,
and you wonder why you don’t have a real job like your
mailman, your barber or your vet.
TSR: What are
you working on now?
A novel about the afterlife called Heaven
Is a Place Where Nothing Ever Happens. Although
I’m an atheist, I’ve always been fascinated by
heaven. My novel centers on a 16-year-old boy killed in a shooting
rampage at his school. He ends up in heaven living in a housing project
reserved for the murdered. I recently published an essay in Esquire online
about my next book. The first chapter is also posted on a site called Five Chapters. You
can link to both through my website.
TSR: What are
the three most recent short story collections you've read?
NS: AI recently reread All the Anxious Girls on Earth
by Zsuzsi Gartner because my French publisher is thinking of
translating the book into English. Zsuzsi Gartner has worked as a
journalist and book reviewer for years. Her writing is everything I
adore: surreal, colorful, zany, touching. She’s working on a
second collection now. Can’t wait.
I read Miranda July’s No One Belongs Here More Than You.
One of the funniest and saddest collections ever. The book is as good
as her movie, Me and You and Everyone We Know, and similar in tone.
The third book—the 20th edition of a Canadian anthology called The Journey Prize Stories—comes
out in October. I’m lucky enough to be among the three writers
choosing the work to go into the book. I’ve just finished reading
the 75 submissions and come across some wonderful stuff.