Caitlin Horrocks lives in Michigan. This Is Not Your City is her début collection. Her stories and essays appear in The New Yorker, The Best American Short Stories 2011, The PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories 2009, The Pushcart Prize XXXV, The Paris Review, Tin House, One Story and elsewhere. Her work has won awards including the Plimpton Prize.

Short Story Collections

This is Not Your City
(Sarabande books, 2011 )

Reviewed by Nuala Ní Chonchúir

Interview with Caitlin Horrocks

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

Caitlin Horrocks: The earliest story in the book (Embodied) I wrote in 2005. The last story I finished was probably The Lion Gate, which I was still revising in 2010, but started as a short sketch I wrote sometime way back in 2003. I wrote other stories in that time frame, plus before and after, that didn’t make it into the book. But about five years.

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

CH: Not at all. Even once they were printed out and stacked up with a table of contents, I still worried that they weren’t a proper collection. I think one of the great pleasures of being a story writer is getting to try really different things with each piece. Every story in the book was an experiment for me in some way, and they were all separate experiments—I wrote without thinking about the eventual book. I had to put them all together so I could graduate from my MFA program, but then I kept worrying over whether I had a book, or just a thesis, or just a pile of stories.

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

CH: As I (and then my agent, and then eventually my editor) thought about how to shape the collection, I ended up focusing on female main characters. My agent suggested arranging the stories by order of the age of the protagonist. My editor recommended removing a couple of stories she thought were weaker than the others. In the end, the decisions didn’t feel terribly momentous or game-changing. The stories had more commonalities than I’d realized. The person most worried about whether they fit together was me, not my readers.

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

CH: Something happens, something changes. Except when nothing does. A house with a lit window you stare into from the road, knowing you won’t pass that way again.

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

CH:  I don’t have a singular reader in mind—no actual or imaginary Ideal Reader to guide my decisions. But I do think about the reader’s experience, about what she’ll know, when; or what he would want to know; or what kind of plot turn could be surprising without feeling forced or cheap. I want my plots to be true to my characters, but I also hope they entertain.

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

CH: Piggybacking on questions #2 and #3, I’d be curious to know what readers thought connected the stories in the collection; one of the interesting things about publishing a book of unlinked stories has been seeing what reviewers see as their connective tissue: current theories include cruelty, the bewilderment of being middle class, or the plight of the young unemployed. I think in some ways, for readers, it’s been a Rorschach inkblot of a book.

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

CH: Pretty awesome. Terrifying. I love literary magazines and small press publishing, but it can sometimes feel like a closed system: I’m sure I’ve published individual stories that have been read essentially by the editorial staff of the magazine, my mother, and grad school friends who recognized my name in the list of contributors. Then all of a sudden This Is Not Your City was out in the world and I was getting emails, or just Goodreads reviews, from people who felt no loyalty to me or the short story form, who didn’t know my work from a hole in the ground, but who had picked up my book and taken something from it. It’s the most basic function of publishing, putting a book out and reaching readers (I mean, what did I think was going to happen!?) but it still feels like this strange, wonderful kind of magic.

TSR: What are you working on now?

CH:  A novel inspired by the French composer Erik Satie.

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

CH:  Ayiti by Roxane Gay, Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self by Danielle Evans, and The Necessity of Certain Behaviors by Shannon Cain
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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 >>>