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Xujun Eberlein

Website: XujunEberlein.com

Xujun Eberlein grew up in Chongqing, China, and moved to the United States in the summer of 1988. After receiving a Ph.D. from MIT in the spring of 1995, she began writing, publishing stories and essays in AGNI, StoryQuarterly, and Stand. 

Short story collections

Apologies Forthcoming (Livingston Press, May 2008) 

Winner, 2007 Tartt Fiction Award

Reviewed by John Matthew Fox

Interview with Xujun Eberlein

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

Xujun Eberlein: From 2002 to 2006 - so that's about five years. Quality is more important to me than speed.

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

XE: At first I didn't. I wrote the stories when inspiration came. But at some point, when several stories were published, I began to think about a collection.

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

XE: The included stories are, with one exception, set in China in the 1960s -1980s. And for that one exception the past is in China and effectively dominates the theme. In this sense the stories all work together very well and seem a natural collection. Order has been more problematic. I tried several ways: ordering them loosely chronological; alternating short and long stories, or first-person and third-person, or male and female protagonist; ordering them thematically and even alphabetically. In the end I tried to pick something that kept up variety from story to story but, to be honest, it is still a bit arbitrary. The opening story, for example, was chosen because I wanted to honor the artist who created the inset, Dandelion, an artwork that is alluded to in the story.

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

XE:  Any narrative that entertains the reader and at the same time provides food for thought.

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

XE: I do. I constantly worry about boring the reader. I think this psychology helps me developing a more captivating plot and pace. Sometimes I also worry about a reader, especially a reviewer, not understanding the story or getting it wrong, but I usually resolve to trust my reader. I guess those are pretty general concerns involving a pretty broad audience. Needless to say, there isn't a clear image or concept of what a particular reader is like.

TSR: Is there anything you'd like to ask someone who has read your

collection, anything at all?

XE: Did you like it? What was your favorite story and why? Did you learn anything? Has your view of China/Chinese changed a bit? Are you recommending it to a friend? Any comments? I am full of questions and love to hear from readers.

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

XE: It's comforting to know my book has "real" readers. I just heard this from a writer friend yesterday: the weekend after she bought my book, her mom (who I don't know) came for a visit and started reading my collection. She got so into it that she took it home with her on the plane and finished it the next day. Then she said to her daughter, "It is fascinating. The writing is beguiling." Nothing is more gratifying than hearing an anecdote like this.

TSR: What are you working on now?

XE: A memoir set in 1930s-1980s China, which interweaves stories and anecdotes and worldviews, often in peculiar contrast, among three generations of my Chinese family. I am also working on a novel set during a mystifying, exhilarating, and ultimately tragic time of my home city, Chongqing. 

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

XE: The Knife Thrower by Steven Millhauser The Dead Fish Museum by Charles D'Ambrosio Things Kept, Things Left Behind by Jim Tomlinson (And I constantly read short stories in magazines and anthologies)