Brown teaches at Saint Joseph's University. His work has
appeared in Cream City
Review, Quick Fiction, Concho River Review, Connecticut Review, The
Saint Ann's Review, and others. His stories have been
nominated for Pushcart and O.Henry awards.
Randall Brown's guest post on the Short Review Blog: Giving Thanks
with Randall Brown
How long did it take you to write all the stories in your collection?
Randall Brown: It
took about 3 ½ years. A lot of the revision focused on trying to get
the endings to work. I recently attended a talk by Billy Collins, and
he likened the structure of his poems to that of an eye chart. Each
poem begins (metaphorically of course) with that large E that most
everyone can read and then moves toward the mystery of that final line.
Getting those final lines to be both accessible and murky proved to the
TSR: Did you
have a collection in mind when you were writing them?
RB: I didn’t think that
I did, but recently I came across some bios from stories published in
2004 and there it is at the bio’s end: He is currently working on a
collection tentatively titled Mad
to Live, a title I got from a Kerouac quote. I think it
was sophomore year of college that I read On the Road—and I
still have this line about what I wrote then in a paper: “His books
smell like Fall, like the rain and autumn breeze dripping off the
leaves.” So, not only does this line explain why I couldn’t get a date
in college, but it also connects Kerouac to the Fall, and there’s
something in each story (perhaps) about the attempt to recover
something unrecoverable, something like innocence.
TSR: How did
you choose which stories to include and in what order?
process. I did a lot of the writing during my two life-changing years
at Vermont College’s MFA program. Post-MFA, I worked with Ellen Lesser
on figuring out the strongest stories and the ones that felt as if they
worked together to tell another story when juxtaposed and collected.
The final section—the one that is metafiction (fiction about
fiction)—originated in my love of Robert Frost and his poem “The Oven
There is a singer everyone has heard,
Loud, a mid-summer and a mid-wood bird,
Who makes the solid tree trunks sound again.
He says that leaves are old and that for flowers
Mid-summer is to spring as one to ten.
He says the early petal-fall is past
When pear and cherry bloom went down in showers
On sunny days a moment overcast;
And comes that other fall we name the fall.
He says the highway dust is over all.
The bird would cease and be as other birds
But that he knows in singing not to sing.
The question that he frames in all but words
Is what to make of a diminished thing.
And here there’s that “other fall we name the fall” that Kerouac’s work
evokes for me and the “mystery” of that final question. The answer, for
Frost, of what to make of a diminished thing, is to write a poem. I
wrote a collection of stories.
does the word "story"
mean to you?
a lot of things, but I think the best stories end with haunting, either
because of their profundity or their emotional resonance. The desire
for these things—for meaning and feeling—maybe drives narratives into
existence, a desire shared by the character(s), readers, and the
author. That coming together of these entities around wanting
something, desperately and urgently, gives reading and writing (for me)
its charged intensity. The writer Douglas Glover says this of the short
story, "Literature is a way of thinking in which you think by pushing
your characters through a set of actions (testing that character in a
series of scenes which involve the same conflict)." I think Aristotle
said something profound about a story having a beginning, middle, and
end. Joseph Campbell discovered in his reading the ONE way to tell a
story, the Monomyth, which Kurt Vonnegut summarized as "The hero gets
into trouble. The hero gets out of trouble."
"Separation—initiation—return," writes Campbell, "might be named the
nuclear unit of the monomyth.” In describing the narrative pattern of
journeys, such as Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey,
Clift and Clift argue that stories work to "help one make sense of the
boredom before and the terror during each journey." Out of these ideas,
a very simple, workable definition of plot and narrative structure
emerges: As the result of some inciting incident, desire (the beginning
of a story) creates actions (the story's middle) leading to an outcome
have a "reader" in mind when you write stories?
I entered college never having kissed, never having dated. And I
really, really liked the young woman who lived on the 3rd floor of the
dorm. I pretended I didn’t know how to type, and I sent her assignments
(that of course had never really been assigned) to type and hopefully
read. So, the Reader is someone like that, someone who doesn’t know me
and I’ve no clue how to reach except through making things up that are
somehow more (and less) me than I am in person. Or something like that.
TSR: Is there
anything you'd like to ask someone who has read your collection,
anything at all?
RB: The desire is
to ask, “So did you like it? I mean really like it?” But there seems to
be no satisfactory answer to that since I have trouble believing that I
wrote a book that someone might read and like. So maybe the question is
“And what would you like me to read of yours?”
TSR: How does it feel knowing that people are buying your book?
RB: Surreal. I kind
of feel as if it—the book—has happened to someone else, that part of
self immersed in story-world.
TSR: What are
you working on now?
RB: I put together
another collection that is in the process of being read by some very
smart, helpful folks whom I know will help me make it better than it
is. I spent a post-MFA semester at Vermont College working on the
picture book with recent Newberry Honor Award winner Kathi Appelt (for
the amazing, incredible The
Underneath). I wrote a whopping 24 picture books during
those 6-months. And I still would like to write a novella/novel length
work. Any ideas?
TSR: What are
the three most recent short story collections you've read?
an amazing collection by a writer I’m not sure you’ve heard of. But Tania
White Road and other Stories
is pretty remarkable. I read
Rose Metal Press’s award-wining collection, Geoffrey Forsyth’s In the Land of the Free
And now I know how much better I have to get to enter this year’s Rose
Metal Press competition. And I’m almost finished with Stefanie Freele’s
upcoming collection, Feeding
. Look for it. She’s brilliant.