How long did it take you to write all the stories in your collection?
Caspers:Oh, stories can percolate in my imagination for a
long time, I don’t even know when some of them started
— and then they percolate some more draft by draft. TIME does
some of the re-writing for me — time allows retrospect and
insight, my subconscious tooling around behind my back. Some of the
stories began with snippets, images, a paragraph — Country Girls, for
example. I wrote the first paragraph, and then didn’t know
what happened and was afraid to inhabit the world for a long time,
several years. I worked on other stories and projects and then one day
pulled that paragraph out and followed Nora’s voice and
discovered more about Nora’s country world and her obsession
with Cynthia … then in my notebook a few months later I
wrote the chicken scene—I didn’t know it belonged
to Nora while writing it but one day that became clear. You see the
crooked path—I’m not much of a linear
thinker—I experience time more physically in layers. The
stories, most of them, came out in layers. Mr. Hellerman
and The Fifth
Season may be exceptions--I wrote them from beginning to
end during a summer break from teaching a year before the book won the
Grace Paley Prize.
TSR: Did you
have a collection in mind when you were writing them?
I had nothing in mind at first, except to
write the story at hand. Then the collection built itself over time, as
I discovered other stories that fit into that geography and tone
— each project seems to have a distinct color. When I wrote
something that seemed inside that color I added it to the manuscript. I
wrote lots of other stories that didn’t fit the color of what
turned out to be the book — some of them are published and
some of them thankfully just sit in a drawer. I read a lot of story
collections, I love them, the intensity of the form, the way stories
suggest more than they reveal, how in a collection we move from world
to world. I love how stories use MA space, MA being a Japanese word for
the space between things that seems empty but is actually full and
creates harmony. The space between the individual stories also allows
for that feeling of MA.
TSR: How did
you choose which stories to include and in what order?
The final book order came from a brilliant
friend of mine, Maria Healey. She’s also a writer. I
didn’t know how to order the final stories once the book had
been accepted for publication, and she read the manuscript and said
— here, try this. I think order is partly intuitive and
partly world building and juxtaposition of texture and tone.
About how I chose what to include, I put
things in, I took things out. I got feedback from a writing friend and
poet Barbara Tomash (Flying
in Water a great book by the way)—and I could
feel when I was in that color, that world, usually while working on the
story. I had a few short shorts that I took out because they threw the
world off. A few stories were pulled out because they weren’t
strong enough. The stories that remained were all stories I cared about
very much, and they seemed to be in conversation with each other. A
conversation between rural and urban perspectives, between longing and
Mother and The Fifth Season,
for example, are set in San Francisco, but the protagonists migrated
from rural Minnesota--the rural world bumps up against the urban world
and creates tension. Urban people often sweep the whole Midwest and
especially rural people into stereotype, and vice verse--and yet rural
cultures are so complex. I felt a great loss when I left my rural
blue-collar heritage for college and some other world I knew nothing
about--and knew I could not return. It’s a similar loss to
any immigrant, I think. People who grew up in the working class talk
about this class shifting.
I loved it when the SF Chronicle said the writing was
“unstinting about the decency and clear-headedness of farm
women.” And I loved it that the Editors’ of New
York Times Book Review included it in their Editor’s Choice,
Book of Particular Interest list.
TSR: Do you
have a "reader" in mind when you write stories?
Oh, I don’t think so. Unless it’s god. My best
writing comes out of love or grief. I have a terrible time with loss
and death, I just can’t settle into the idea that we have to
die or that people have to leave. I think death is a very bad idea.
TSR: Is there
anything you'd like to ask someone who has read your
anything at all?
I’m afraid to ask readers anything—I’m
hiding in my apartment most of the time—though I’m
so happy to hear positive things! I love those characters and inhabited
their worlds as deeply as I could. I think maybe I’ll just
let readers have their private experiences of them, their own
TSR: How does it feel knowing that people are buying your book?
Oh, I want the stories to be read--I’m grateful—I
feel very lucky to be able to sit around in my lovely apartment and
write, and to teach creative writing at San Francisco State
University—and to have the book in the world. My father
worked as a Minnesota cow breeder driving from farm to farm
inseminating Holsteins almost every day of his life for 45 years! My
mother was pulled out of school in the eighth grade to help run the
family farm. I have worked as a tree planter, a nurse’s aid,
a waitress, a childcare worker. I have lathed tobacco for five bucks an
hour and spent part of a summer in a factory crashing defective
Planter’s Peanuts jars. Now I get to do something I love,
teach, and to play with language and my imagination. I am very very
TSR: What are
you working on now?
just finished A
Little Book of Days which will come out with Spuyten
Duyvil Press, NY, sometime in 2008. The book is a novella in moments.
The narrator tracks moments in her days after a break-up, quoting
snippets she hears on the public radio and spying on her neighbors. It
was built from my own days when I lived in the Mission several years
ago. It’s funny and lively and poetic and strange, or so
people tell me.