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Steven Wingate

Website: StevenWingate.com

Steven Wingate’s stories have received awards from Gulf Coast and the Journal and been nominated for the Pushcart prize. He teaches writing at the University of Colorado at Bolder and lives in Lafayette, Colorado.

Short story collections

Wifeshopping(Houghton Mifflin Company, 2008) 

Winner, 2007 Bakeless Prize for Fiction

Reviewed by Mithran Somasundrum

Interview with Steven Wingate

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

Steven Wingate: The earliest ones were first drafted in 1991 and the latest in 1999, though I havenʼt been working on them continuously since then. Iʼm a big fan of letting my fiction ferment. Some stories felt strong from the very first draft, while others had just a tiny little spark that kept me coming back to them again and again over the years. The characters that I couldnʼt figure out were the ones that survived.

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

SW: I had a pile of stories featuring single male protagonists swirling around until about four or five years ago, when I encountered Richard Fordʼs Women with Men and Richard Bauschʼs Wives and Lovers. After that the idea of a collection started to grow on me. Then a friend dropped the phrase “wifeshopping” and I suddenly had a title. If those things hadnʼt happened, I would probably still have a just pile of stories.

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

SW: Once I had the collection in mind I always knew which would be the first story and which the last, but other than that I had a torturous time deciding on the order. I wanted some sense of a larger arc—a movement from characters who get stuck in themselves to characters who could open themselves to others. But even after I had a contract the order changed a dozen times. I didnʼt stop tweaking until the time came to typeset it, which probably drove my editor nuts.

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

SW:  Iʼve become more of a classicist about this over time. I like stories to carry a narrative arc and leave the reader with some sense of how the characters are going to continue living after the author has ended the tale and left them to their own devices. The microfiction movement—in which writers explore a single moment or image or impression as a thing in itself, detached from that arc—is immensely valuable and a great frontier in fiction. I love working in that form myself, but I also think itʼs important to keep a sense of the classical short story as we engage in that exploration.

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

SW:  Someone like the young man I was from sixteen to twenty, when I first discovered literature—although that reader could be any age now (and either gender). Those years were incredibly crucial to me, because I discovered that books could help me understand what it meant to be human and give me an emotional community of people who also sought that understanding. My ideal reader is hungry for it, too.

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

SW: I actually get to ask this question a lot at readings: “Which couple in the book do you think has the best chance or making it and why?” I get a variety of answers, which I find encouraging. It makes me think that Iʼve managed to create at least a few characters who have hope, which is important to me. I may put my characters through the wringer, but I want them to emerge feeling like they have a shot at being happy. Otherwise they would be too bleak to write.

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

SW: Good, though it feels better to know that people are reading it. I get emails from strangers who have read it, and Iʼve struck up a few friendships that way, but Iʼm still waiting to catch somebody reading it in public. On a bus, in a park—then Iʼll truly feel like an author. Itʼs also wonderful for my daily writing practice to have the “first book monkey” off my back. I take chances now that I wouldnʼt have dreamed of a year ago.

TSR: What are you working on now?

SW: A novel about love, grief, and prescription pharmaceuticals. It takes off from Wifeshopping in that the protagonists—a thirty-ish couple—have moved beyond the point where they feel that a relationship is somehow going to define them, and have realized that the “problem of the self” will still be there long after they find their life partner. So itʼs new thematic territory and a new fictional form, which keeps me in a constant state of creative surprise that I enjoy immensely.

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

SW: I just read a bunch of collections for a competition, but I canʼt name them for obvious reasons. Right now Iʼm taking a break from short fiction and have been reading mostly poetry. The last three story collections Iʼve absolutely loved were Ben Fountainʼs Brief Encounters with Che Guevara, Ursula Hegiʼs Floating in My Motherʼs Palm (which calls itself a novel but reads like a collection) and Steve Katzʼs Kissssss. I tend to go on a run reading a particular genre, take a break from it, cycle back—sort of like how I write.