Bissell is a New York-based writer and former teacher of English in
Uzbekistan. As well as contributing to various journals and magazines,
he is author of Chasing the Sea: Lost Among the Ghosts of Empire in
Central Asia, Speak, Commentary (with Jeff Alexander) and The Father of
All Things: A Marine, His Son, and the Legacy of Vietnam.
with Tom Bissell
How long did it take you to write all the stories in your collection?
Tom Bissell: I
wrote them between the years 1997 and 2002. So, around five years.
Notice they weren't published until 2005, however. They were rejected
many times in many forms during all those years.
TSR: Did you
have a collection in mind when you were writing them?
TB: Yes and no. Yes in
the sense I would have loved to have a story collection to show to
someone, no in the sense that I never set out to write a Central
Asia-themed collection. That kind of just happened on its own. I have
other, non-Central Asia stories that are not collected, and might never
be (though I hope they are), that were part of another, aborted
collection in which some of the God
Lives stories were once planted.
TSR: How did
you choose which stories to include and in what order?
TB: One hundred
percent, unhesitating gut instinct.
TSR: What does the word "story"
mean to you?
really, other than serving as a placeholder term for a certain kind of
literary experience, which is itself as essentially variable as a
TSR: Do you
have a "reader" in mind when you write stories?
may sound narcissistic, and may well be narcissistic, but I've realized
as I've grown older that the only reason to write--at least, the only
reason for me to write--is to provide myself with the sort of thing the
non-writer me would want to read. It's really that simple. I write the
kinds of things I personally like to read.
TSR: Is there
anything you'd like to ask someone who has read your
anything at all?
TB: Jesus. I've
never been asked that before. No, probably, nothing to ask. I'm very
antsy around people I don't know well who I know have read the book,
and like to leave that strangely crackling energy as unmolested and
unacknowledged as possible.
TSR: How does it feel knowing that people are buying your book?
TB: Wonderful, of
course. I just wish more of them were!
TSR: What are
you working on now?
TB: A nonfiction
book about the tombs of the Twelve Apostles, magazine journalism of
various kinds, and a short story now and again that I inevitably give
up on, return to months later, and decide I like well enough to finish.
TSR: What are
the three most recent short story collections you've read?
TB: Like You'd Understand, Anyway by Jim Shepherd;
Who Can Save Us Now, an anthology edited by Owen King and John McNally;
If the Sky Falls by Nicholas Montemarano, all of which were excellent.