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.
with Polly Frost
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.
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.
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!
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.
have a collection in mind when you were writing them?
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
you choose which stories to include and in what order?
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
does the word "story"
mean to you?
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.
Do you have a reader in mind when you write stories?
I’ve been writing very
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.
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.
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.
anything you'd like to ask someone who has read your collection,
anything at all?
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?
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 ...
What are you working on now?
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!
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.