Steven Amsterdam was born and raised in New York, and now lives in Melbourne where he works as a psychiatric and palliative nurse.  Following the success of Things We Didn’t See Coming, he has since published a novel in Australia entitled What the Family Needed, which will soon be available in the UK.

Short Story Collections

Things We Didnt See Coming
(Vintage, 2011)

reviewed by Sara Baume

Interview with Steven Amsterdam

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

Steven Amsterdam: Two and half years altogether.

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

SA: The Theft the Got Me Here was the first story I wrote for Things We Didn't See Coming. When I wrote the last line of it, I realized that I was really just beginning with this narrator. So then I wrote Best Medicine, setting it when he's older and the world has changed again. This is when I saw that I was writing about this one narrator at different times in his life and across different speculative landscapes. The first story was printed in the Sleepers Almanac while I wrote the second. By the time the second story was printed, I had written almost all of the nine stories/chapters.

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

SA: Because the story shifts so much, with gaps in time and big changes in the world between each chapter, I had to construct a clear timeline for myself that made sense for how the world and the character would evolve.

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

SA: Something happens and life is altered, irrevocably.

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

SA: Not when I'm writing, but definitely when I'm revising. That's when the smoothing happens and when I try to figure out how much the reader needs to know and how much they need to imagine. I can't say that I always picture some solitary New Yorker subscriber sitting in a quiet well-lighted room with a single-malt and listening to Mahler. More often, I envision a friend, whose interest I'm trying to maintain through their commute.

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

SA: Does he die at the end? (I think the answer is more about the reader than about me.)

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

SA: Lovely. It's been such a ridiculous surprise, especially in Australia, where the book has been put on the year twelve curriculum. I know some students are being tortured by it, but most seem to get into it. And reading the study guide for your first book is amazing and bizarre and incredibly useful.

TSR: What are you working on now?

SA: My second book (also linked stories, but this time about one family with special powers) just came out in Australia in 2011 and will be coming out elsewhere in the UK and US and Italy and Israel over the next year. Right now, I'm writing some stories and trying to conjure up the next book.

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

SA: Memory Wall by Anthony Doerr, which has that all-encompassing and perfect title story, Maile Meloy's terrific Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It, and The Lottery and Other Stories by Shirley Jackson, who really is so very very good (and I don't use the word "very" that often).
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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 >>>