Alice Zorn is a Canadian writer whose short fiction has been published in magazines, including The New Quarterly, Room of One's Own, and Grain, and placing first in Prairie Fire's 2006 Fiction Contest.  Ruins and Relics, her first collection of short fiction, was shortlisted for the Quebec Writers' Federation's McAuslan First Book Prize.

Short Story Collections

Ruins and Relics
(NeWest Press, 2009)

Shortlisted, McAuslan First Book Prize

reviewed by Annie Clarkson

Interview with Alice Zorn

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

Alice Zorn: Two or three stories have earlier versions written almost twenty years ago. One was added after the manuscript was already accepted by the publisher.

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

AZ: Not at all. I write a story because I'm interested in a character, context, or dilemma that I don't foresee using in a novel. For me, the attraction of writing stories is that they don't belong to a larger construct.

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

AZ: When I wrote the story Ruins and Relics, I realized I had a good umbrella theme for several stories I'd written. Those were the stories I included in the collection, even though that meant omitting stories I'd had published in magazines. In terms of order, I wanted variety in mood and voice and setting. My editor suggested opening with the title story. I wanted to end with it. We had a few back and forth emails.

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

AZ: As a rule, I would say that a story needs a character and a dilemma, which in my case would be emotional or ethical. The story explores how the character deals with the dilemma.

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

AZ:  While I'm writing, I try to satisfy myself and what I want from a story. Why else would I do this? I already have a job where I have to answer to others. My writing is for me. That being said, once I feel a story has developed to the point where I can weigh criticism, I ask a few close friends for comments. And of course, once a story is published, I hope readers enjoy it.

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

AZ: Which story stands out for you? Can you tell me why?

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

AZ: Gratifying. Weird. Wonderful. Surprising.

TSR: What are you working on now?

AZ: Last spring—in 2009—I finished a novel I've been writing and editing since 2005. I badly wanted a change of pace, and began working on short fiction again. With a novel, my sense of the characters, the chronology and what is happening, who connects where and how, has to stretch across pages and pages. With short stories the focus is more concise. More intense. That requires a whole different set of writing muscles. Writing a short story that's twenty pages long takes far more time than writing the same number of pages in a novel. I had a good summer and fall: two new long, short stories. A month ago I started working on a new novel.

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

AZ: I went to a reading a few weeks ago where I bought a book by Amy Jones called What Boys Like. The stories match the title precisely. The characters are obsessed by that question. This is their world aptly captured. As well, I reread two favourite books: Rachel Seiffert's Field Study and Amy Bloom's A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You. I admire how Seiffert gets close to her characters while maintaining stringent narrative restraint. Amy Bloom's collection is accomplished and masterful. I would love to write stories like this—with several threads and layers in a single story.
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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 >>>

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