Ron MacLean's fiction has appeared in GQ, Greensboro Review, Prism International, Night Train and other quarterlies. He is a recipient of the Frederick Exley Award for Short Fiction and a Pushcart Prize nominee, and author of the novel Blue Winnetka Skies.

Short Story Collections

Why The Long Face?
(Swank Books, 2008)

reviewed by Carol Reid

Interview with Ron MacLean

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

RM: Eleven minutes and twenty-two seconds. Or, about a decade. Depends on how you look at it. They were written at all kinds of times in all kinds of circumstances, but mostly they are creatures of this century. I try to work quickly to be fresh and spontaneous with ideas, and then I tend to work sentences forever.

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

RM: I absolutely didn't. I write one story at a time. I always figured that at some point I'd put a collection together, but it wasn't until I was struggling with a (still) unfinished novel and needed to give myself a gift that I started thinking about collecting some of the published stories, and what such a collection would look like. I mentioned that at a gathering of writer friends a few days later, and within a week had two offers to publish a collection.

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

RM: Choosing which stories to include was relatively easy. I took the published stories that still felt like me, and the best of a batch of new stories. Those two groups became the foundation. Then it was a matter of shaping a book that felt like a coherent whole. Hah! After weeks of well-reasoned approaches to ordering the stories that left both editor Jan Ramjerdi and I unsatisfied, we got in a room together. We started with Aerialist, which we agreed should open the collection, and Symbiosis, which we agreed should close it, and we read aloud to one another, working by feel to choose which story should come next. That process started out of frustration, but Jan and I both loved the result. I'm deeply grateful to have an editor who's as crazy as I am. 

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

RM:  Wow. So much. Story is how I make sense of the world. Always has been. When I was a kid, reading stories saved me by giving me a window into a larger world, and a way to understand myself. Now, writing stories saves me in much the same ways. Story is the gateway to deep mystery, and glimpses of truth. Because of all that, my sense of "story" in a functional sense is intentionally wide open. Story is whatever construction of narrative engages readers and takes them (us) to a particular glimpse of mystery and/or truth about what it is to be human right here, right now.

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

RM:  I don't. When I start, I'm following the thread of an idea, which is usually elusive enough that it takes all my focus just to stay with it. I think more about how to tell a story in order to be true to that idea – to make it as particular as it can be. Each story should be completely itself. Beyond that, I'm always trying to write the story I would most want to read. My experience of hearing from other readers has validated my trust in that.

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

RM: I always want to know people's favourite story, and why. Fascinates me. And the answers are all over the map.

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

RM: Beautiful and fantastic and glorious and better than any drug. It's incredibly gratifying to know that the stories – and the novel – are out in the world, that people are reading them and sometimes being moved by them.

TSR: What are you working on now?

RM: A batch of new short stories. I've had a flurry of ideas and drafts have been pouring out. Of course, that's probably because I've been threatening to go back to a novel that's been in the drawer for a year.

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

RM: Dead Boys by Richard Lange. Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link (re-read). Yes, Yes, Cherries by Mary Otis.
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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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