Polly Frost is an author, journalist and playwright. Her humour has appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic and The New York Times, among others, and has been anthologized in two of The New Yorker’s “best of” collections. She co-wrote the play The Last Artist in New York City, with her husband Ray Sawhill, which was selected for Best American Short Plays 2008-2009.

Short Story Collections

With One Eye Open
(Rapture House, 2010)

reviewed by Elizabeth Rutherford-Johnson

Deep Inside (2007)

Interview with Polly Frost

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

Polly Frost: I‘d first like to take this opportunity to say what a thrill it is to be talking with The Short Review! As someone who’s been a lifelong fan of short fiction, I love the range of stories you review and the respect you give the form.
   As for your question: With One Eye Open collects stories and pieces that I wrote over the course of 25 years. But it isn’t as though I did nothing but work on these particular stories during those 25 years! I’ve written plays, loads of journalism, including recent pieces for Opera News. I’m also an erotica writer and my collection of satirical erotic horror stories, Deep Inside, was published by Tor in 2007. I wrote lots of other short stories, created and produced a 10-hour audiobook, co-wrote and co-produced a webseries, and even ghostwrote a novel for the Vivid porn company star, Tawny Roberts.
   Most of the stories and pieces in With One Eye Open were written between 2007 and 2010. I also included older pieces. Three of the stories in With One Eye Open were selected for The New Yorker humor anthologies Fierce Pajamas and Disquiet, Please!
   I like to write as inspiration strikes me -- I think humor particularly thrives on whim and flights of fancy. Or maybe that’s just my humor. Anyway, I think that the longest amount of time I actually worked on one of the pieces in With One Eye Open was three weeks. A couple of them took me only a day each. Of course I’d been thinking about them for months or even years beforehand, as any short story writer knows.

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

PF: I work in a completely higgly-piggly way, going from one project to the next -- whether long or short -- without any kind of grand plan. I find that grand plans kill my sense of spontaneity and anarchy, and a humor writer without a well-maintained sense of mischief … Who’d want that? I’m so glad that the "collection" book form exists, because it gives writers like me a chance to pull together some of the work we create in a slightly more coherent seeming way

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

PF:  I’d like to say I was systematic about what I included in With One Eye Open, but the truth is it was a purely intuitive process. I just kept putting different combinations of stories together in different ways. Finally the 25 that are in it just seemed right together. I think it’s a nice mixture of shorter and longer (OK, not “long” exactly, but up to 3000 words), as well as a fun melange of laugh-out-loud funny stories and some that are more in the mordant or smile-wryly-in-recognition mode.

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

PF: I’m a narrative-and-characters junkie. I have all the respect in the world for people who can work in more conceptual or literary ways. But for myself, I just crave 3-act plots, as well as convincing and engaging characters whose adventures you want to follow. And I love to do that in 500 words if possible! Can I say something here? I don’t understand why it’s an achievement to take 80,000 words to write a story when it could be done in 500 words.
   Recently I’ve been writing very short humorous fiction for Grin & Tonic, the online humor magazine on the Barnes and Noble nook, edited by the brilliant Daniel Menaker. It’s been a lot of fun getting plots and characters up on their feet in the tiniest of word counts. I also recently wrote a satirical horror story, The Accomplice, that measures in at 136 words. It was published in the March/April issue of the brand new glossy British horror magazine, Haunted.

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

PF: You bet! I know there are many writers who write purely for the joy of writing and self-expression. I’m not one of them. I write almost entirely to connect with audiences. So, yes, I’m always thinking of readers as I create my stories. I’m always thinking, "Is my reader going to find this funny? Is my reader going to be surprised and tickled by this plot twist?" That kind of thing is always going through my mind. In fact, my imagination only kicks into gear when I start to think about how to entertain people.
   As for who this reader I carry around in my head is … Well, he’s tall, dark, and a hottie, and he owns a really nice house in the country that he’s going to invite me to for the weekend. And he mixes a really tasty margarita.

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

PF: Of course! Which was your favorite story? Which one made you laugh the most? Did my drawings strike you as cute? But most importantly: Do you love me? Do you really love me? (Doing my best Sally Field imitation here, of course.)

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

PF: I am such an audience whore I can’t begin to tell you. So knowing that people are buying my work -- as well as, I hope, enjoying it -- gives me deep pleasure of a kind I can barely describe. If it sounds sexual, well ...

TSR: What are you working on now?

PF: I don’t want to give the topic away because it’s such a juicy one. But I can say that I’m working on a humor book that I’m very excited about. This one’s going to have illustrations by the fab illustrator Leela Corman, who’s also a good friend. Leela and I had lunch with my agent, JL Stermer of the Donald Maass Agency in NYC, just a few weeks ago. All three of us got giddy as we riffed on the book’s idea. I can’t imagine two more fun women to work with than Leela and JL. It’s going to be the wickedest thing I’ve ever done!

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

PF: I’m not polishing apples here, but I recently read and loved The White Road and Other Stories [by Short Review editor Tania Hershman]. I’ve also been re-reading Woody Allen’s Without Feathers. Those humor pieces inspired me early on to try to write some myself. I so wish Woody would return to the wonderfully dizzy, autodidact humor of his early films and his Dostoyevsky/Tolstoy/Nietzsche humor parodies. That was some of the best humor ever written or filmed. His pieces in Without Feathers stand up proudly with the best of that era’s short fiction. I’m also having a great time reading Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio. Everyone should read it. He was a short story genius.
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