Daniel A. Hoyt teaches in the English Department at Baldwin-Wallace College. Then We Saw the Flames won the 2008 Juniper Prize for fiction and was subsequently published by University of Massachusetts Press. Other short stories have appeared in Kenyon Review, Quarterly West, Indiana Review, Cottonwood, Natural Bridge, and other literary journals.

Short Story Collections

And Then We Saw the Flames
(University of Massachusetts Press, 2009)

reviewed by Jason Makansi

Interview with Daniel A. Hoyt

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

Daniel A. Hoyt: The first draft of the earliest story in my collection was written in 2001, and the last one was finished in the summer of 2007. As I look back, it's telling that they were all written during the Bush administration.

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

DH: The prehistoric bones of my collection were my creative dissertation at the University of Kansas. I always thought I was working on a collection, but as I wrote, I made a conscious and committed effort to experiment with style, point of view, and structure. Even though the stories are so different, I believe that they fit together, that they accumulate meaning and resonance by being side by side.

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

DH: I defended my dissertation in 2004, but I worked on the manuscript for at least three more years. An agent thought it was too eclectic to sell, but he felt it could find a home at a university press. He was right, and I am grateful to all of the good folks at the University of Massachusetts Press, especially Noy Holland, the magical force behind the Juniper Prize for Fiction. As I revised and sent the book out to university press contests, I constantly tinkered: cutting stories, adding new ones, revising pieces that hadn't yet been published in literary magazines, even changing the title (At various points, the book was named A Book Full of Typos, The World Requires Coping Mechanisms, A Sort of Family, etc.). The collection was two stories longer when I sent it in to the Juniper Prize competition, but Noy suggested that I trim two historical pieces (one about Charles Dickens, the other about Vincent Van Gogh). Their deletion helped pull the collection together even more; it became a more concentrated reflection of contemporary life. In terms of sequence, I tried to balance point of view and tone. Mainly, I knew that I wanted to start with Last Call of the Passenger Pigeon and end with Big Springs. The rest just fell into place.

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

DH: My first impulse is to get Merriam-Webstery and say that it's a piece of fiction that can be read in a single sitting, but my deeper intellectual and emotional belief is that in a story — which is not just a scene or a riff or a slice of life — something has to happen: the baker needs to call and call and call about Scotty's cake, the girl needs to fall out of the treehouse, the pump repairman needs to get whacked with a wrench. In the stories I read and write, I want meaning and character and conflict, and in the end, I hope everyone — the characters, the reader, and the writer — are left in some new place, in some different mood or mode. A story is also a tribe of words; they all belong, and somehow they initiate us.

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

DH: I don't have a particular reader in mind at all, which probably means I write too often to please myself, but my wife is my first and best reader, and she sees everything when it is nearly done. Sometimes I watch as she reads a draft, and when I see her shudder at something especially gritty, I feel a snappy and peculiar glee.

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

DH: Do you need anything? A glass of water? A hug? A shot of rye?

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

DH: It's remarkably wonderful and humbling at the same time. I'm grateful to anyone who gives time to my book, to any book actually. Some people have loved it, and others have told me frankly — and sometimes exasperatedly — that they didn't understand a damn thing. I consider both reactions a necessary neurochemical result.

TSR: What are you working on now?

DH: Like many (most? all?) short story writers, I have been encouraged to write a novel. I am working on one, maybe two.

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

DH: Well, this semester, I re-read The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien, How to Breathe Underwater by Julie Orringer, and Jesus' Son by Denis Johnson because I taught them in an introductory literature class. Before that, however, I think the last three collections I read were Yiyun Li's A Thousand Years of Good Prayers, David Foster Wallace's Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, and Joshua Furst's Short People. But Danit Brown's Ask for a Convertible might have been one of the last three, or I might have re-read Kelly Link's Magic for Beginners sometime around then, too. They were all books I taught in the spring in an advanced class on the contemporary American short story. I teach it every other year, and I usually teach seven or eight collections, all from the last 10 years. At least half of them are new to me, and I let the students nominate books and then vote on one to read. (They selected DFW, by the way. Smart kids.) I read a lot of individual stories in literary magazines and The New Yorker, of course, and Wells Tower's Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned sat on my writing table and gave me the evil eye for all of November. I eventually had to tuck it out of sight, but I hope to read it over the holidays. As I type this, I feel a shiver of guilt. Wells, I apologize.
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