Jimmy Chen is a writer, visual artist, humorist and HTMLGIANT contributor, and his fiction, non-fiction and humor pieces appear widely on internet publications and anthologies by small indie presses.

Short Story Collections

(Magic Helicopter Press, 2009)

reviewed by Elaine Chiew

Interview with Jimmy Chen

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

Jimmy Chen: Some of the pieces were already published online, the rest took about two weeks. Looking back, I probably should have spent more time on the chapbook.

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

JC: Not really, I was simply trying to write companion pieces to the ones already published. If I am to name names, I think The Age of Wire and String by Ben Marcus and Varieties of Disturbance by Lydia Davis were in the back of my mind -- only because the pieces are really short and seem to relish off such constraints, as well as for their unapologetic strange logic.

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

JC: The order was somewhat arbitrary, other than The Typographer and Re: Loading This Typewriter being first and last, respectively, for hopefully intuitive reasons. The alienation of technology sort of culminated with the penultimate A Second Person, so I guess its place was intentional too.

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

JC: It doesn't mean plot or character, an idea at the point of some contention. I will admit my favorite stories -- like any Raymond Carver, Dubliners, or Nine Stories -- are all character based, but for me a "story" is simply a linguistic gesture, a body of words which spawn ideas, even problems about their own artifice. Borges, Perec, and Barthelme are "problematic" writers in this way, which I try to emulate. They saw a story as a riddle, a poem without line breaks, which has been very instructive.

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

JC: Yes, me. I write stories that I would want to read, which I suppose is solipsist, even narcissistic. I'm suspicious of the egalitarian ideal that writing is selfless and for the common reader. Writers, as all artists, are egotistical maniacs who deem their perception worth documenting, and who, in their mire, inadvertently transcend themselves and affect others with their art. People have sex for selfish reasons and babies are made. Well, writers write for selfish reasons and culture is made.

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

JC:Typewriter is rather laced with sarcasm, and I wonder if the omniscient narrator is even likable, and if that's important to the reader.

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

JC:I'm still kind of flattered and surprised that the first print run of 75 has sold out, and that it was received with relative positivity -- mainly because, honestly, the better pieces, I feel, were already available online, and I didn't work that hard on it. I'm not flaunting any casualness, only suggesting that I'm humbled people went out of their way to procure the chapbook. With online publishing, which is mainly what I'm involved in, it's free and at the tip of a button; that others chose to read my work that way seems appropriate. That others have purchased the chapbook is subduing.

TSR: What are you working on now?

JC:I'm painfully editing two more elaborate pieces about a condominium and wikipedia-type entry for a fictional television show. I'm also writing a handful of dense paragraph flash fictions that attempt to recoil inward, in the sense that the story, given the length, is not able to go anywhere.

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

JC: Two are Like Life and Self-Help by Lorrie Moore, and I started poking through David Sedaris's stories again, my wife and I taking turns reading them to each other in bed. I got over my unfair bias against him because he was "too popular," which is not only absurd but really small. At the end of the day, Sedaris is one of the few who can make me laugh out loud, literally. He has a way of delivering a line that I could learn from, and a deep sustaining empathy for the world.
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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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