Thaddeus Rutkowski grew up in central Pennsylvania and is a graduate of Cornell University and The Johns Hopkins University. Nominated five times for a Pushcart Prize, he is the author of the novels Tetched (Behler Publications) and Roughhouse (Kaya Press). Both books were finalists for an Asian American Members' Choice Literary Award.

Short Story Collections

(Starcherone Books, 2010)

reviewed by Michelle Tandoc-Pichereau

Tetched (2005)

Roughouse (1999)

Interview with Thaddeus Rutkowski

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

Thaddeus Rutkowski: The brief answer is about five years. My collection isn’t the result of constant, steady work. There’s stopping and starting--writing in the mornings and on weekends. I have a day job and teach part-time, plus I do things with my family.
   I’m not a slow writer, but I’m a perfectionist. I revise each of my stories a few times; I fill in gaps and rearrange sections for more coherence. Sometimes, I’ll let a story sit for a while (weeks, months) and come back to it with what I hope is a fresh eye.
   There are 49 "flash fictions" in my new "novel," Haywire. I began writing these pieces in 2005 at the Ragdale colony, after my previous novel was finished. Haywire was published at the end of 2010.

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

TR: Yes, I always have a longer work in mind when I write short stories. I use basically the same approach in all of the stories—the same voice, tone, point of view, regardless of the subject matter—so that the collection will be unified. Still, each story is complete in itself and can be read separately.

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

TR: When I have a number of completed stories, I arrange them in rough chronological order. That’s not the order in which they were written, but the order in which the action takes place. My book Haywire covers a whole lifetime, from childhood, through college years, through life as a single guy in the city, to life as a parent.
   In putting together this book, I found there were some stories that just didn’t belong, so, with some reluctance, I left them out. I had a few readers who helped me make the choices. I still don’t know if all the choices were right. I think the book might have been tighter without a few of the existing "chapters."

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

TR: I respect the elements of traditional stories: a plot that shows cause and effect, characters who develop and become enlightened by the end, realistic scenes and situations. But my own stories tend to be more experimental, perhaps because of my writing process. I usually begin with a strong image (I was a painting major as an undergrad) or a remembered incident. I build on that image with related scenes. I string these pieces together until I have a sequence that makes sense, that shows development and resolution. However, the cause-and-effect may not be as apparent as in a conventional story.

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

TR:  You know, I spent many years doing open readings and poetry slams in downtown New York. I got used to reading to audiences that had to be reached immediately, with strong statements. That’s why my prose tends to exist on a sort of peak note. When I was in a peer group with Kate Christensen, she commented that my work is always on a plateau. I don’t spend much time in the valleys.
   I may still have those bar and café audiences in mind when I write. I try to determine how the prose would sound when read aloud. If it would sound good aloud, maybe it’s worth keeping.

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

TR: I’d ask if any of the material struck a chord or rang true. I’d like to know if the situations I describe affect readers the same way they affect me, or my narrator. If there is any overlap, I know I’ve succeeded to some degree.

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

TR: Are people buying my books? I hope they are. I try to let people know about my writing by giving readings, traveling around, and updating my web site. And I know my publisher, Starcherone, and its partner, Dzanc Books, do a lot to publicize their titles. In any case, the best thing—the most fun thing—for me is getting out in public and reading to people, talking to people, or giving workshops. All of it is related to my books.

TSR: What are you working on now?

TR: I’m working on some new short fictions. These are in the same vein as my published material, but they contain new incidents. Eventually, I’ll have enough of them to shape into a longer work.

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

TR:  I’m not sure if these are the most recent, but these stick in my mind: The Bridegroom, by Ha Jin. These stories say a lot about the China of the recent past. I haven’t been to China proper, where my mother grew up. So I’m curious about the place and its people. Also, I admire Ha Jin’s clear, loaded writing.
   Close Range: Wyoming Stories, by Annie Proulx. This collection has the story Brokeback Mountain in it. There is also at least one flash fiction, which shows the author’s versatility.
   In Watermelon Sugar, by Richard Brautigan. This isn’t really a collection of stories; it’s a book of flash fictions or prose poems. I reread it recently, after having read it in high school, and the book seemed entirely new and fresh to me.
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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 >>>