Posts Tagged ‘interview’

Author Interview – “County Maps” by Joe Worthen

The third volume of The Masters Review, with stories selected by Lev Grossman, is available now and garnering excellent reviews. To celebrate, we’re conducting interviews with the ten wonderful authors our anthology features. In Joe Worthen’s story “County Maps,” a girl attempts to discover and make sense of herself by mapping the county. In this piece, writer Joe Worthen examines his characters by pairing them with a very clear sense of place. It is a quiet and direct piece, filled with nuance and texture. We’re thrilled to be publishing it.

Young woman walking in a wheat field

“They find an old motorboat flipped between two cypress trees, covered in algae. Jack walks out on it and smokes a cigarette. Suzanne looks at the shape of him and chews the edge of her pencil.”

“County Maps” is a story about a young woman who is attempting to map her county, including a small island. Where did you get the idea for this piece? Are you interested in cartography? The outdoors?

I’m not really interested in either of these topics directly. This story started with the image of younger children watching Suzanne wade across a shallow river next to an overpass. From there I added her motivation to map the island but I can’t remember why. I think it stuck because I liked the idea of a teenage girl with GPS technology documenting a gross, used-up place. Her mission sort of ramps up the faux post-apocalyptic vibe that strip mall Appalachia naturally produces.

In “County Maps” the story’s two characters, Jack and Suzanne, are trying to reconcile their feelings toward one another as they walk the island. Why did you choose to explore a relationship within this context?

There’s a sense of place in the south that people really internalize. Even though everything in Suzanne’s county is sort of busted and weird, polluted, Styrofoam cups and old cell phones, that’s her place and who she is (and who Jack is). So the characters and their histories are part of the landscape (not just the mountains and islands but the Chili’s and Texas Roadhouses and vape huts) in the same way the landscape is part of the characters. Suzanne thinks that knowing the county will allow her to know herself and her family. But she winds up getting to know Jack using the same proxy, which she sort of encourages/lets happen. It’s a more positive outcome for her probably, because it’s hopeful. I guess the mapping of the island also provides a pretty direct metaphor for navigating the day after a one-night stand.

Is “County Maps” similar to your other writing? What are you working on now?

I tend to write language intensive stories that are either very regional (like “County Maps” that deal with youth in SC) or totally magical where language and imagery drive the narrative to places that it would never go in a realistic story. So, sort of, I guess. It’s on the more realistic end of the spectrum of things that I write.

Which writers or stories do you turn to for inspiration? Where there any in particular that served as the inspiration for this piece?

“County Maps” definitely draws from Mary Miller’s Big World collection as well as Barry Hannah’s Airships. They write the sort of short stories I feel the most connected to. Where really raw, colloquial language meets up with extremely deliberate syntax and rhythm to the end of creating a poetic gloss over the prose and allowing for a sense of heightened meaning/emotionality even if the narrative itself is simple and the drama muted. (more…)

Interview: Award-Winning Editor, Ellen Datlow

An enormous thanks to Ellen Datlow for agreeing to discuss horror with us this month. Ellen has been editing science fiction, fantasy, and horror short fiction for over thirty years. She was fiction editor of OMNI Magazine and SCIFICTION and currently acquires and edits stories for She has edited more than sixty anthologies, including the annual The Best Horror of the Year, Lovecraft’s Monsters, Fearful Symmetries, Nightmare Carnival, and The Cutting Room. Forthcoming are The Doll Collection and The Monstrous.

She’s won multiple awards for her editing. She was named recipient of the 2007 Karl Edward Wagner Award, given at the British Fantasy Convention for “outstanding contribution to the genre”; has been honored with the Life Achievement Award given by the Horror Writers Association, in acknowledgment of superior achievement over an entire career, and the World Fantasy Life Achievement Award for 2014, which is presented annually to individuals who have demonstrated outstanding service to the fantasy field.

ellen datlow

This month The Masters Review is focusing all of our content on horror and scary stories, of which I consider you the authority. Can you talk about your specific preferences in the horror genre? How they’ve changed, grown, or even simplified? What must a story evoke to be considered horror?

I’m afraid I’ve got to disappoint you—I have no specific preferences in horror. I love stories that stick with me because there’s more going on in them than just a one-note “scare.”  For me, great horror fiction has the same elements as any great fiction: A unique voice, characters that keep me interested, and a believable plot that forces me to continue reading. With the addition of an underlying sense of dread.

You’ve edited more than sixty anthologies, have over thirty years of experience editing science fiction, fantasy, and horror, and have numerous awards to your name. What have you learned about the genre in this time?

One thing I’ve learned is that the borders are fluid. Many of the most interesting stories combine science fiction and horror, or drift uneasily between dark fantasy and horror. There is science fiction that feels like fantasy and fantasy that feels like science fiction.

And some of the best writers dance around the genres gracefully by creating disturbing horror, compelling fantasy, or realist science fiction depending on where their muse leads them.

I often think horror is misinterpreted. What would you say to someone who doesn’t like it? Who would you encourage them to read? What does horror offer readers that is unique (beyond the obvious thrills and chills)?

I’d advise them to ignore most of the movies that refer to themselves as “horror”—they’re not. Most of what’s out there debases the entire genre with its graphic violence against women and its slasher mentality. That type of sensation horror is the lowest form of the genre.

To me horror often overlaps with the weird, in that it’s creepy and gives you a chill. (Although as I mention below, some weird work isn’t dark enough for me to consider it horror.) A movie might keep you on the edge of your seat (which doesn’t mean there should be no violence—John Carpenter’s The Thing is one of the most effective pieces of horror film making I know).

Effective horror explores the truths that humans are loathe to face: death most prominently—the fact that we’re all going to die. The loss of loved ones, losing one’s control, fear of the unknown, pain. These things scare us whether couched in the supernatural or psychological. (more…)

Interview: Laura van den Berg

The amazing Laura van den Berg, whose second collection The Isle of Youth just made the Frank O’Connor shortlist, talks with The Masters Review about paving her own path in the arts, her upcoming novel, and her constantly shifting writers office.

vandenBerg_interviewOne of the reasons I find your career remarkable is that you, so far (and I know you have a novel out soon) have gained success purely as a storywriter in a publishing world that seems skewed toward the novel. You had a chapbook of stories with Origami Zoo Press, then What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us, another story collection [with Dzanc Books] and this past year The Isle of Youth, with FSG. I guess my question is: how did you do it? Did you find it was more difficult to publish a debut collection of stories, in particular? Did you ever feel pressure to write a longer work?

I mean, the most straightforward answer is that I just did it because that was the form that was speaking to me at the time. I think sometimes it can be difficult to engineer a particular path in the arts, as much as we might want to. I love reading novels and I just finished a novel. I started with the first chapter of that novel in 2008. So certainly as I worked on the novel, I’d been writing stories along the way. For me the two forms were kind of bleeding together at a certain point, as opposed to making some sort of holistic gearshift from storywriter to novelist. Everything was a little bit more mixed together than that.

I went to an MFA program and I wrote stories for workshop and my first collection, What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us . . . my MFA thesis was an early version of that book. And then what happened with the second collection, Isle of Youth, was that I started a novel in 2008 and I was working on it, and I had never written a novel before. And so it just took me much, much longer than I ever could’ve anticipated. And meanwhile, you know, I was writing stories and sending them out, etc. At a certain point I felt like the novel still wasn’t quite there, but that the collection was pretty well done, and I showed them both to my agent, and she agreed. We made the decision to send out the second collection in its completion with the first hundred pages of the novel. And certainly we heard from some editors who had difficulty with the idea of doing a second collection and thought that it would be better for me to wait until the novel was done and have a novel be my second book. The idea of doing two back-to-back collections didn’t seem viable to them. They sort of felt like it wasn’t a good strategy for me career-wise. But I don’t really believe in thinking about it that way. I was just sort of like: well, this is the book that’s finished. And I fell in love with fiction by reading short stories. The story is a form that’s very, very close to my heart. And so, I love the idea of getting to build a body of work as a storywriter. And then my editor at FSG just had a completely different take. She thought having a second collection of stories was a great way to build a readership as a storywriter before they publish my novel.

So I think that’s the thing about publishing: it’s a very rare situation where the views are going to be completely uniform. You know, you don’t need everyone to say yes, and you don’t need everyone to think that the path you’ve chosen is the right path. You just need that one person who sees things in a way that you do and I was lucky enough to find that.

I think story collections . . . there’s a lot of bad press for them in terms of salability, and it’s true that there are particular challenges with selling collections. But I think the honest truth is there are particular challenges with selling anything. So a little part of me dies when I hear someone say something like: “Well, I wrote a story collection but I know it’s not salable, so I’m working on a novel instead.” I just think of all of the people I know who have unsold novels or unsold memoirs, which are supposed to be the easiest thing to sell. The reality is that it’s all extremely difficult to sell, and so I’m not really convinced that one form is more difficult than another. (more…)

Interview – Nouvella Books



We are so impressed with the work being done over at Nouvella Books we literally can’t keep our mouths shut about it. We were thrilled when Nouvella editor Deena Drewis agreed to answer a few questions about their project. Please take a moment to learn a little bit more about them and bask in the fabulousness that is Nouvella Books. 

Nouvella was born out of Flatmancrooked, where you were senior editor and business partner. Flatmancrooked published many forms of writing: novellas, short fiction, poetry, and book-length works. Why did you decide to focus specifically on the novella?

The novella imprint at Flatmancrooked was something I took a special interest in from the get-go. We all came up with the idea together, but I handled most of the editing, and I really became attached to the project and the idea of fostering a more involved relationship between the authors and these early “investors” in their work. When Flatmancrooked was getting ready to close its doors, I really didn’t want to let that idea go, and so: Nouvella.

Nouvella focuses a great deal on new and emerging authors. From your perspective, what is so exciting about the discovery of a new voice? Do you think a novella-length story is more accessible to a new writer? If so, why? 

One thing you learn when working for a literary publication is that the pool of writers is unfathomably large. You are always told it’s a competitive field and that there are a lot of aspiring writers out there, but until you start sifting through a slush pile and start to physically see how many people—promising and less-than-promising—are going after this, it’s hard to give the sheer size of the writing pool any context. So when you see an unknown voice rise up out of that, it feels like some stroke of tremendous fortune. It’s surprising and exciting every time.

As far as novellas being a good form for emerging writers, I do think it’s a good length. A reader’s time is precious, and a writer has to earn (and then keep) his or her reader’s trust, and with a novella, it allows the reader to spend more time with the writer than a short story, but it’s also not some 500 page tome that could leave a bad taste in your mouth after a rough first hundred pages. No one really sits down to write novellas—it ends up that length because there’s no more to cut and nowhere to expand; it’s a display of both stamina and restraint.

You acquire authors by scouting as well as through cold submissions. In general are you publishing more authors that you’ve scouted or from those who have sent you a cold submission?

Our next title, How to Shake the Other Man by Derek Palacio, is the first title we’ve pulled from the slush pile. And Derek found us through Duotrope, so it was pretty much as cold as a cold submission gets.

I really like scouting, though, because it requires so much active engagement in the community. We get to tap into this level of tremendously talented writers just on the verge of breaking, that we might not have been paying attention to otherwise. And we don’t end up publishing everyone we get in touch with, obviously, but they’re on your radar from that point on, and it’s really thrilling to see their careers unfold, even if it’s not with Nouvella. We also get to engage with the literary magazine community and with its editors—ask them if they’ve got anyone in particular they’re really enthusiastic about.

When you approach an author, what is your process? Do you look for novellas that are expansions from a story you’ve read or do you inquire to see if an author is working on a piece that would be a strong fit for your publication?

It’s been a little different with each author so far. But generally speaking, with scouting, we’ll read a story we are particularly taken with and then email the author to see if they have anything sitting around that falls in our word count range. Almost every writer seems to have some gangly 13,000 word story dying a slow death in their desk drawer.

From someone who sees and reads a lot of novella-length fiction, what does the novella accomplish that short stories or novels cannot? What elements are present, missing, or elaborated on? 

For all the panels I’ve gone to and all the interviews I’ve read by authors that have written novellas, I don’t know if I (or anyone) has an adequate answer for this, other than stating the obvious: It’s more expansive than a short story, and less expansive than a novel. I’ve heard some interesting theories, that a novella has an extra plot “motion” over a short story. Recently on a panel, one of our authors, Edan Lepucki, mentioned that she had room for these flashbacks that wouldn’t have fit in a traditional 5,000 word story, and I think the story certainly would have felt less realized without them.

I like novellas because you get to have this expansive experience in a short amount of time. Of course, sometimes you want to immerse yourself in a novel for a long time, but a novel can stretch on towards infinity, and a novella can only go on for so long before it ceases to be a novella.

In traditional publishing novellas seem to have had trouble finding their place. And yet, there are many beloved novellas that are widely read. Have you seen an increase in the popularity of the novella recently? If yes or no, in what way? 

It seems like it’s experiencing a little revival of sorts, doesn’t it? I’d like to hope so. The resistance to the form has always been an issue of economics and the cost of production, with the marketing folk feeling as if readers want more pages for their buck. But I think readers and writers know that we’re missing out on a lot of important work because of this. There’s greater interest surrounding the form than there was a few years ago, certainly, and it’ll be interesting to see if the digitization of books eliminates the former production barriers that novellas have faced in the past.

Do you have any favorite novellas other than the ones you’ve published?

One of my favorite books of all time is We Don’t Live Here Anymore by Andre Dubus. Brokeback Mountain by Annie Proulx. Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote. The Awakening by Kate Chopin. Lucinella by Lore Segal is one of the funniest books I’ve ever read. Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger. Most recently, I read Play it as it Lays by Joan Didion, which they don’t market as a novella, but it’s a novella, and it’s devastating.