Valerie Trueblood lives in Seattle. She is author of the novel Seven Loves and a contributing editor of The American Poetry Review.

Short Story Collections

Marry or Burn
(Counterpoint Press, 2010)

reviewed by Pauline Masurel

Interview with Valerie Trueblood

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

Valerie Trueblood: Years. They were written and rewritten over a long period, and a few individual stories, the longer ones, took about a year. I'm slow. They had half-lives: they would get halfway done, and then I'd think I could see the end but the remaining half would get halfway done, etc.--infinite halves. If I could get hold of them now I'd probably start right in crossing things out and scrawling up & down the margins. I don't think in terms of words-per-day, that's for sure; I don't see how people do, if they're writing short stories. A day isn't a unit of measure, for me.

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

VT: I didn't have a specific collection in mind, other than that phantom Book we all imagine, but I knew I had a lot of stories and I could see they were clumping into groups. I have maybe a dozen stories about rescue, for instance--different ways in which people rescue each other. And any number of my stories, I began to see, could go into a book about marriage, because marriage has a part in so many other things that go on: military ventures and presidencies and economic collapse. It's a big subject, not a small one, even though what women write about it is called domestic. What men write about it is called sociological or millennial.

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

VT: One day the title Marry or Burn came to me. There's no story in the book called that, but I love the title, from Paul's letter to the Corinthians in which he tells them, rather harshly, I think, that if they can't be celibate it's better to marry than to burn. It was my editor's idea to open the book with Amends, in which the marriage ends in the first paragraph, with a murder. More or less the extreme, in marriage. I think she was right.

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

VT: My favorite word. From early childhood I told myself stories, often out loud when I thought I was alone, which caused a lot of mirth in my family. "Story" is our lives. To me our lives resemble a collection of stories more than they ever resemble a novel. If you're fortunate enough to have someone who wants to hear your life story and you start telling it, it probably won't be chronological and it probably won't have a resolution. Probably it will have these little capsules of meaning: stories.

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

VT: Not a real person. Sometimes I have one of the characters in the story in mind. I imagine him or her hearing these things told--private events. I want to get close to what he or she would think is the truth of what went on. It isn't necessarily what I think is the truth. This feeling is a spur to keeping the point of view.

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

VT: It's hard to imagine questioning somebody about this. I'd be hoping, but doubt I could ask, that one or other of the stories gave her/him that exhilaration I feel when I read the stories of certain writers.

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

VT: That's a strange feeling. Wonderful but unsettling. When Seven Loves came out, some readers--as happens with many first books--thought the story was autobiography, which it wasn't. But the thought of people spending their money to have my stories: that warms my heart. I like those people; I'd send them copies.

TSR: What are you working on now?

VT: More stories. A collection of stories about children.

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

VT: I Am Not Jackson Pollock by John Haskell (a re-reading; love this book), The Collected Stories of Mavis Gallant, Gold Boy, Emerald Girl by Yiyun Lee, Love in Infant Monkeys by Lydia Millett, and The Little Comedy and Other Stories, by Arthur Schnitzler. I know that's five but I was reading them all at the same time.
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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 >>>