Author Website: Daughters of Catastrophe

S. P Miskowski has won two Swarthout prizes for short fiction and received two National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships for short fiction and drama. Her play about cyberbullying, "my new friends (are so much better than you)" was nominated for the prestigious American Theatre Critics Association/ Steinberg New Play Award in 2009. She is currently writing a horror novel about mother-daughter relationships.

Short Story Collections

Red Poppies: Tales of Envy and Revenge
(YouWriteOn, 2009)

reviewed by Carol Reid

Interview with S. P. Miskowski

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

S. P. Miskowski: The four short stories and one novelette in Red Poppies: Tales of Envy and Revenge were written over a five-year period.

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

SPM: No. During those five years I wrote two plays, a first and second draft of a novel, and maybe a dozen short stories. I was in production with one of the plays and was sending the stories to various magazines. It only occurred to me to put together a collection when a publisher in the UK announced that they were accepting new titles as part of a project sponsored by the London Arts Council. So it seemed like a good time to put out a collection, to see how far it might travel.

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

SPM: When I looked back over the stories I'd written between 2004 and 2009, I realized that several fit together thematically. These embodied a certain class conflict and the bitterness engendered by failure in a highly success-oriented culture. This conflict was especially striking in the city where I lived--Seattle, which boasts the multi-million dollar home of Bill Gates and a 16-foot bronze statue of Vladimir Lenin.
   After posting some of the stories online at authonomy, I took a suggestion from my fellow authors and made the novelette Red Poppies the first story in the book. Red Poppies is about a house cleaner, a woman who has given up on all but the basics of living. By chance she comes into contact with a colorful but unstable trophy wife. The house cleaner begins to need the trophy wife's manic energy. When a newcomer threatens her role as the trophy wife's muse, she will do anything to safeguard what is slipping away--although she once lived adequately without it for years.
   The story was immediately appealing to people who sampled the book at authonomy. So I decided Red Poppies would be the tale to pulls readers into this little world of spite. And I wanted the book to end with Idiot Boy, with a sibling's bitter acceptance in the last scene. Those two tales were the bookends. There's a progression in the book--from relations between mysterious strangers, to the ultimate mystery of one's own family.

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

SPM: Story is about human life. It's what we shape from experience and imagination, and then share so that we can recognize our differences and similarities.

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

SPM: I write for myself and for people who find my stories interesting. I never have one audience in mind, because I never know who will respond to the story I have to tell. Sometimes that's the most interesting thing about having work published and read by strangers. You find common ground in odd places.

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

SPM: Did one story in particular strike a nerve? Which story, and why?

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

SPM: I'm delighted every time someone buys a copy of Red Poppies. Being understood by people who share my sense of humor is especially strange and wonderful.

TSR: What are you working on now?

SPM: The novel I've been working on, a ghost story set in a small town, is almost ready to be hurled at some agents and publishers.

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

SPM: The Imago Sequence and Other Stories by Laird Barron, The Two Sams: Ghost Stories by Glen Hirshberg,  Just After Sunset: Stories by Stephen King
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