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Samuel Ligon


Website: Samuel Ligon

Samuel Ligon is the author of the novel, Safe in Heaven Dead (HarperCollins). His stories have appeared in The Quarterly, Alaska Quarterly Review, Story-Quarterly, New Orleans Review, Sleepingfish and elsewhere. He teaches at East Washington University's Inland Northwest Center for Writers, and is the editor of Willow Springs.

Short Story Collections

 Drift and Swerve
Autumn House Press, 2009

Winner, 2008 Autumn House Fiction Prize

Reviewed by Annie Clarkson

 Interview with Samuel Ligon

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

Samuel Ligon: The oldest story in Drift and SwerveArson - was almost ten years old when I finished the collection, but most of the stories are much more recent, written in the last few years. And the older stories were significantly revised when the shape of the collection started to become apparent.

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

SL: I did not have a collection in mind until I was working on the four most recent stories in the book, the linked "Nikki" stories: ProvidenceDirty BootsAustin, and Orlando. I wrote Providence first, and when I finished it, I knew I wasn't done with the character. I wrote Orlando next, and at that point I thought I'd have a linked collection of "Nikki" stories. But when I finished the last one, Austin, the movement felt complete somehow. That's when I started looking at other stories I'd written in the last several years, revising them, and trying to see if I had a book. Once I finished the "Nikki" stories, it felt like I had the backbone of the book, and then I started to see how the other stories could work with each other and with and against the "Nikki" stories

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

SL: I knew the four linked stories were going to be spread throughout the book, and I ended up breaking their chronological order, so that the third story, Orlando, actually comes last in the book.  I liked the moment at the end of that story to close the book, when Nikki's okay for a minute, almost resting or at some kind of peace. By that point, the reader already knows - if she's read the book in order - what happens next, so I thought it closed the book well to sort of end with Nikki in this tiny moment of peace, connecting with this weird little kid at the back of a bus. 
    Most of the other stories also involved characters in motion, much like the "Nikki" stories, and, more importantly, all of them feature characters sort of struggling to connect, failing to connect, disconnecting, banging into each other, misreading each other. The order of the four "Nikki" stories felt important to me, and once I knew that order, the weaving of the other stories - once I picked them - felt intuitive. Though I still obsessively ordered and reordered them for months.

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

SL:  Flannery O'Connor wrote that "a story is a complete dramatic movement", which I love because it's so vague and open, and I really don't know what it means. I'm interested in voice and tone and rhythm and language, just like everyone, and the failed connections or small connections between people, but there's almost always a point in working on a story when I think, oh, yeah, something has to happen. So usually something happens. But just as important for me is finding the right time - the right moments—for a story to occur, that when played out reveal something essential about the characters and add up to a "dramatic movement", while also creating a satisfying shape that feels complete. Whatever that means. I think each story is trying to tell you what a story is or can be. I think all stories are trying to communicate something about what it means to be human. Sometimes you succeed and sort of find the story, and sometimes you don't.

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

SL:  Not really. I think I'm the reader. I'm trying to write stories that satisfy me. And if other people like it, that's even better, but first I have to satisfy myself as a reader.

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

SL: How was it? People I know almost always tell me which stories they liked best in the book, and it's almost always surprising which stories they pick. If I had to pick which stories I think someone I know would like best, I'd almost always be wrong.

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

SL: Great. But more than buying it, it feels good when people read it.

TSR: What are you working on now?

SL: When I finished Drift and Swerve, I was still interested in the central character, Nikki, and even though I was done with her in stories, I couldn't get her out of my mind. She very shortly made her way into a novel I've been working on for several years. Actually, she reanimated the novel and completely changed it, making it - I hope - a much stronger, better book. I'm close to done with it. And then I'll have to let Nikki go.

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

SL: I Sailed With Magellan, by Stuart Dybek, Reasons to Live, by Amy Hempel, and In Our Time, by Ernest Hemingway.