Susan Millar DuMars was born in Philadelphia. She has been short-listed for the Cúirt New Writing Prize and the START chapbook prize. Her fiction was awarded a bursary from the Arts Council of Ireland in 2005 and was showcased in a mini-collection, American Girls (Lapwing Publications) in 2007. Susan has also published two volumes of poems with Salmon Poetry.

Short Story Collections

Lights in the Distance
(Doire Press, 2010)

reviewed by Arja Salafranca

Interview with Susan Millar DuMars

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

Susan Millar DuMars: The oldest story in the collection was written in ’94, the most recent in 2010. I wasn’t working on the stories for all that time; other projects came and went, as will happen.

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

SMD: No. There are a few subsets of stories within the book that were written to go together. These concern the same characters, or the same setting, or maybe they explore similar themes. But the whole thing, no. I think most first collections have a slightly grab bag quality. In mine, you can see me trying different lengths and styles and refining my voice, if that’s not too precious a phrase.

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

SMD: I had two good editors, Lisa Frank and John Walsh from Doire Press. From our first meeting I felt we had similar taste and I trusted their judgement. There were a few stories dropped because their tone was too different from the rest, or frankly because they weren’t good enough. Finding the order was tough; we monkeyed around with it quite a bit. I wanted the stories to lead into each other smoothly - for the next to pick up, thematically, where the last left off. With patience we got there.

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

SMD: You don’t ask easy questions, do you? Okay. In a story, something changes. Or, at least, has the potential to change. It can be a very small thing. But if nothing moves what you have is not a story but a vignette or possibly a poem. The word "journey" is overused in this context but that’s because it applies. I’m thinking now of John, in my story The Man Without a Team. John spends the whole story deciding whether to go into the hospital room of his dying uncle. If he goes in, that’s one story; if he doesn’t, that’s a different story. It’s such a small thing. But our lives are built out of these little journeys – away from the door or in the door.

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

SMD:  Sometimes. Sometimes the reader is me and sometimes it’s someone else, most often my friend Kim who is an extremely discerning reader and who I’ve known for, God, almost twenty years now. Other times, the "reader" is the main character – I hope that if they could read the story they’d say yes, that’s just how it was.

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

SMD: I suppose I’d ask which characters, which stories, stayed with them longest.

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

SMD: I’ve published two poetry collections so I thought I knew how it’d feel to hold Lights In The Distance for the first time. But it was different from the poetry; when I flipped the pages I saw names of characters that I’d been living with for a long time. All my old friends, and they finally had a good home. So I felt very happy in a weirdly selfless way. I like thinking about people sitting down with the book and encountering Grace and John and Peg and Tom and all the rest. I don’t know the word for that feeling but it makes me smile in a goofy way.

TSR: What are you working on now?

SMD:  I’m supposed to have a third poetry collection written by early 2012 so I’m working on that. It’s going unpredictably but well. Meanwhile I can feel the idea for a novel slowly forming…which scares me.

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

SMD:  The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis. Walk the Blue Fields by Claire Keegan. The Secret Self: Short Stories by Women selected by Hermione Lee
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Find out what other authors, from Aimee Bender to Sana Krasikov, said about their collections, what the word "story" means to them, and how it feels to know that people are buying your books! More interviews >>>