Author Website: Orchard Writing

Born in 1965, James Buchanan graduated from Westtown Friends School in 1984, which marked the beginnings of years spent taking odd jobs throughout the country. Though his life settled and he is now a journalist and writer, his experiences and the people he met never quite left him. These stories are true to those experiences.

Short Story Collections

Selling Their Childhood
(Publish America, 2007)

reviewed by Sarah hilary

Interview with James Buchanan

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

James Buchanan: The stories were written over a three year period.

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

JB: I had always thought that since I love to write and read short stories that it would be nice to put together a collection of my own. However, when sitting down to write I did not consciously say that this particular story would be part of such a collection. Rather, I just wanted to tell what I thought were interesting stories based on my life’s experiences and see if I could get them published in journals and so on.

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

JB I selected stories that I thought presented individuals in various states of crisis; in places where their lives had reached a critical tipping point forcing them either to make change or fall into a sort of apathetic acceptance of who they are and how their lives are progressing.

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

JB: One of my biggest complaints with many short stories is that they fail to tell an interesting story. So my first command to myself is to always be interesting. This, however, does not mean every story has to have a formal structure of conflict and resolution. Instead, a good story could have those elements, but it also could provide a sketch or insight as to the thoughts, actions, or life of some character in crisis or some form of conflict that could be external or internal of nature. That said, such a story must have some compelling nature to draw the reader in. It is not enough to merely write well as I have read a number of beautifully written stories that left me flat because they failed to arouse my interest.

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

JB:  Sometimes I have a specific reader in mind because it can help motivate the telling of the story. I come from a family that likes good stories and likes to tell good stories, so when I write I try to present the issue at hand in a manner similar to if I were speaking the story to someone.
   Other times I want to make sure that by the end of the story the reader feels as if they have left their immediate surroundings and entered into a very different or new situation or the mind of a person they never would have met in real life. The best example of this is the title story of the collection that looks at two kids who sell themselves to older men and that they have reached a point where they need to redirect their lives. These are two people most of us never would meet in real life.
   Generally, though, I want the reader’s eyes to travel through the story effortlessly; like a hot knife through butter, because then they will lose the sensation of reading and enter the situation or mind of the narrator.

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

JB: I always am looking for input. I suppose my first question would be "Did you find the story interesting?" and then find out why they said yes or no. I would also be interested in knowing the elements of the story and/or writing that helped them forget they were reading as well as those elements that maybe tore them from the story, that acted as a road block in their minds taking them out of the narrative.

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

JB: I wish I had a better sense of that and having an agent or some other form of help to market my stories would be wonderful because this business is too hard to do it on my own. Beyond that, I love talking to people who have read my writing and I love reading to people. I like interacting with readers because I think if they have a sense of who I am, then it may help their enjoyment of what I write. Generally, though, it is great to know that these stories are available to people because I did not just write them for my own enjoyment.

TSR: What are you working on now?

JB: I am working on a memoir of the year I spent being treated for cancer that is based on the idea that our life’s experiences are the tools we bring to such an experience. As such, it examines my life and my experiences and disappointments with relationships, alcoholism and recovery, and the rather peripatetic life I have led. I also am working on more short stories and a novel based on a family whose lives center around movies and older community movie theaters. Sort of Water for Elephants goes to the movies, I suppose.

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

JB: After John Updike died I read a couple of his, which was sort of like going back to the originator for me because as a kid I fell in love with short stories, in part, after reading A&P. I also subscribe to The New Yorker, The Georgia Review, The Paris Review and other sources for short stories so I am always in the middle of reading someone’s short story.
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