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Tom Bissell

Website: myspace.com/tombissell & Wikipedia

Tom Bissell is a New York-based writer and former teacher of English in Uzbekistan. As well as contributing to various journals and magazines, he is author of Chasing the Sea: Lost Among the Ghosts of Empire in Central Asia, Speak, Commentary (with Jeff Alexander) and The Father of All Things: A Marine, His Son, and the Legacy of Vietnam.

Short story collections

God Lives in St Petersburg (Faber, 2005) 

Reviewed by Elizabeth Rutherford-Johnson

Interview with Tom Bissell

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

Tom Bissell: I wrote them between the years 1997 and 2002. So, around five years. Notice they weren't published until 2005, however. They were rejected many times in many forms during all those years.

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

TB: Yes and no. Yes in the sense I would have loved to have a story collection to show to someone, no in the sense that I never set out to write a Central Asia-themed collection. That kind of just happened on its own. I have other, non-Central Asia stories that are not collected, and might never be (though I hope they are), that were part of another, aborted collection in which some of the God Lives stories were once planted.

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

TB: One hundred percent, unhesitating gut instinct.

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

TB:  Nothing, really, other than serving as a placeholder term for a certain kind of literary experience, which is itself as essentially variable as a medieval bestiary.

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

TB: This may sound narcissistic, and may well be narcissistic, but I've realized as I've grown older that the only reason to write--at least, the only reason for me to write--is to provide myself with the sort of thing the non-writer me would want to read. It's really that simple. I write the kinds of things I personally like to read.

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

TB: Jesus. I've never been asked that before. No, probably, nothing to ask. I'm very antsy around people I don't know well who I know have read the book, and like to leave that strangely crackling energy as unmolested and unacknowledged as possible.

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

TB: Wonderful, of course. I just wish more of them were!

TSR: What are you working on now?

TB: A nonfiction book about the tombs of the Twelve Apostles, magazine journalism of various kinds, and a short story now and again that I inevitably give up on, return to months later, and decide I like well enough to finish.

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

TB: Like You'd Understand, Anyway by Jim Shepherd; Who Can Save Us Now, an anthology edited by Owen King and John McNally; If the Sky Falls by Nicholas Montemarano, all of which were excellent.