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Niki Aguirre

Website: NikiAguirre.com

Niki Aguirre is a London based fiction writer, born in the United States to Ecuadorian parents. She studied English Literature at the University of Illinois and holds an MA in Creative Writing from the University of London. She is currently working on her first novel.

Short story collections

29 Ways to Drown (Lubin & Kleyner, Nov 2007) 

Reviewed by Sarah Salway

Interview with Niki Aguirre

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

Niki Aguirre: With edits and rewrites it took about two and a half years. A good half of the stories began as exercises for my writing workshops -- little more than outlines and ideas really. They started off in one direction and a few drafts later ended up as something different, in some cases totally unrecognisable. I like what Stephen King said about stories being Ďfound objectsí and how you have to chisel away at it carefully, instead of using a sledgehammer. Well, he was referring to plot, but I think the same goes for short fiction. You may know what you want to say, but it takes time and patience to figure out the best way to tell it.

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

NA: No. I think it is important to enjoy experimenting with different voices and narratives without thinking about where it could end up. Iíd received a lot of advice to forget shorts and concentrate on a novel, which I did, with absolutely no idea how to go about it. I have always been a short story lover, and even though I knew the market wasnít very good, I still secretly worked on them in the background. Writing short stories felt instinctive and immediate; each one a tiny puzzle I had to figure out. And I could be as grounded or as daring as I wanted in the telling; the possibilities were limitless. The novel with its labyrinthine and linear structure and plot on the other hand, made me want to tear my hair out. In 2006 I was approached by lubin & kleyner and asked if I would consider doing a collection. You would not believe how happy that made me, especially after all the admonishments about short stories not selling in Britain. I felt incredibly fortunate to have met a publisher so supportive of the form. Of course halfway into the collection I secretly went back to working on the novel. Iím a fickle writer. I guess my answer is to do what you love doing regardless of what anyone says. Had I not had a collection published, Iíd still have written the stories.

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

NA: For 29 Ways to Drown, I chose stories that dealt with unhappy relationships Ė of being in that place where everything feels bleak and hopeless. It became clear that my earlier efforts seemed to be populated by characters who felt as if they were drowning, both figuratively and in a few cases literally. I decided these Ďproblem childrení were the ones I wanted to address. I wanted to unravel their complicated lives, find out why they felt so trapped, and help them find solutions. I inserted lifelines here and there, little shots of espresso-sized optimism. It didnít always work. Sometimes they perished despite my best efforts. As usual, it is all about the struggle. The order was a lot easier to determine. I started with despair and worked my way up to hope. I wanted to be true to my charactersí problems, but also include the possibility of an escape route. I believe choices are so important. Nothing is ever set in stone until the last moment. Even then, you might still have a fighting chance.

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

NA:   So many things, but due to my upbringing, I prefer those that are rich in the oral storytelling tradition. The best ones are the ones you get lost in: multilayered, babbling and chaotic, not necessary neat and linear. If you think about it, when you are sitting in a cafť or a pub telling a story, it seldom goes from point to point: the little asides are the best parts. Stories are often desperate things, dying to be voiced and heard -- nothing calm and organised about that. Although I admire people who can write succinctly and in an orderly fashion while still maintaining a good level of excitement. Thatís something to strive for.

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

NA: Not specifically, no. I do however carry around a negative critic in my head. He keeps me on my toes and says all the biting things no one else dares. I let him too, but sometimes he gets carried away and wonít stop yapping. Then I have to threaten his chocolate intake. Oh, I can be cruel. I tend to think more about how an audience reacts to a story rather than an all-purpose reader.

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

NA: Iíd feel apprehensive about asking my reader anything outright. I think it puts them edge and they may not be totally honest to spare my poor fragile feelings. Plus I know what Iím like and Iíd never be happy limiting myself to a single question. However, Iím not opposed to the idea of wearing a disguise and approaching them incognito. Safely ensconced in a wig, trench coat and sunglasses, thereíd be no end to my questions. What was your favourite story and why? Who was your favourite character? Did the story within a story device amuse or distract you? See what I mean. It can go on and on.

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

NA: Fantastic! Wonderful and heart-warming, yet scary at the same time. I worry that I may disappoint my readers somehow, as if I should have stuck a label on the cover warning them that these stories may contain a bit of darkness: Caution, do not read at the beach or while relaxed and happy.

TSR: What are you working on now?

NA: Iím finishing up the aforementioned hair-pulling first novel. Iíve very excited about it. It is a complete departure in theme and style from the short collection -- much more experimental and non-linear. It deals with virtual spaces, which is a challenge, as many of my stories are set in a specific space and time.

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

NA: Julia Orringer, How to Breathe Underwater: a beautiful collection, such gorgeous prose and effortless style. Annie Proulx, Close Range: Wyoming Stories: stark, sparse and succinct. Proulx has the ability to nail in just a few lines the whole essence of a character. That takes some talent. Lorrie Moore, Birds of America: wonderfully deep and disconnected stories. Emotive writing with humour and sharp insight.