And so it begins, the last day of this year's National Short Story Month. We will have a few things to post today. A couple of mini-interviews and a guest post essay. This first mini-interview is of Erin Stalcup, author of the collection, And Yet it Moves, from one of my favorite fiction publishing University Presses, Break Away Books (edited by Michael Martone) via Indiana University Press.
EWN: Your short story collection, And Yet It Moves, was published in 2016. What story within the collection had the earliest publication history outside of being in the collection, and what was that history?
Erin Stalcup: The first story in the collection, “Gravity,” was published in the Kenyon Review Online in 2009, so seven years earlier https://www.kenyonreview.org/kr-online-issue/2009-summer/selections/gravity/ . In 2012 the print Kenyon Review published the second story, “In the Heart of the Heart of the Empire,” and shortly after KRO wanted to feature “Gravity” as a Weekend Reads. I was corresponding with Tyler Meier and updating my bio, and at the time the title of my collection-in-progress was Gravity and Other Stories, so Tyler told me to be in touch when the collection got published, since they’d featured the title story. In the years in after that, though, to emphasize the collection’s interest in gravity and science, I wrote four stories about four physicists: Isaac Newton discovers gravity while performing a circus act https://pankmagazine.com/piece/why-things-fall/ , Albert Einstein writes letters to the daughter he abandoned https://www.hobartpulp.com/web_features/why-things-fall-einstein , Nikola Tesla states some unbelievable but true facts, and the fictitious female physicist Elizabeth Rabinowitz meets Stephen Hawking in a bar https://www.massreview.org/sites/default/files/08_56.3Stalcup.pdf ; in that last story, she’s been reading Galileo Galelei’s (fictitious) diaries, and learns that the legend is true: after recanting his belief that the earth moved round the sun, after telling The Inquisition that yes, of course, the earth is still because the Bible says so, as Galileo stepped off the stage he said, “And yet it moves.” My husband thought I should go with that weirder title, and I did. But because Tyler Meier is a champion of writers and an all around mensch, he asked me to read from the collection at The Poetry Center, even though I’m not a poet!
EWN: How did the publication of this particular collection come about? Were you solicited by the publisher, win a contest, agent submission, etc.?
ES: I hope this story will encourage people who have faced a whole lot of rejection!
When I thought I had a complete story collection, I told my mentor at the time, Miroslav Penkov, that I wasn’t going to bother trying to get an agent, that I was just going to send the manuscript out myself because I knew agents typically weren’t interested in story manuscripts. Miro, who’s Bulgarian, responded, “What? You only want to play for the Bulgarian soccer team? You don’t even want to try out for the Italian team?” So I tried out for the Italian soccer team, and didn’t make the cut. When I had fifty pages of a novel, I tried agents again, and again didn’t get one. So I tried out for the Bulgarian soccer team, and I made the cut there—my collection is published by a small, well respected, and wonderful university press, Indiana UP.
How I ended up with Indiana UP merits telling. The story collection was a finalist in the Fiction Collective 2 contest. The only way to get published with FC2 is to win their contest, or be sponsored by one of their authors. So, I revised the collection and made it better, and I asked one of their authors, Michael Martone, my friend and mentor, if he would read the book and consider bringing the revision back to the collective. Because I absolutely love the books they publish. He agreed. A year passed. The collective is super badass and innovative, but also a bit slow. So Michael asked if I’d consider showing my book to Break Away Books, the series he edits at Indiana University Press. I did, the other editors liked it, they sent it out for review and Valerie Sayers was very supportive of the manuscript, and that’s how I have a book.
So—don’t give up if you have a book you believe in, and advocate for yourself without taking advantage of anyone’s kindness, those are the lessons I learned. And, so many thanks to Michael for also believing in my much-rejected book.
EWN: Where do short stories fit within your life as an author? Primary form to work with, or something you write when an idea hits, or …?
ES: Definitely primary form to work with. Short stories are my favorite genre of written art. I read a fair amount of poetry and novels and essays and journalism, but stories are the most radical, beautiful, precarious of all those, for me. In Writing in General and the Short Story in Particular, Rust Hills writes, “The successful contemporary short story will demonstrate a more harmonious relationship of all its aspects than will any other literary art form, excepting perhaps lyric poetry.” That’s why I love short stories. It’s so hard to achieve a harmonious relationship of character, plot, conflict, language, atmosphere, and significance, and I love trying. And failing and sometimes succeeding. I have a novel forthcoming next year (Every Living Species, through Gold Wake Press), and it’s told in fourteen different points of view, which is basically a short story writer’s way of writing a novel. Which I don’t think is a bad thing. My favorite kinds of stories are mosaics (one story in the collection is a tribute to William H. Gass’s “In the Heart of the Heart of the Country”) and I’m trying to duplicate the leaps and friction and intensity of mosaic stories in my novel.
Steven Millhauser has this beautiful essay, “The Ambition of the Short Story,” https://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/05/books/review/Millhauser-t.html and while all of it is immensely quotable, this is my favorite section:
Of course there are virtues associated with smallness. Even the novel will grant as much. Large things tend to be unwieldy, clumsy, crude; smallness is the realm of elegance and grace. It’s also the realm of perfection. The novel is exhaustive by nature; but the world is inexhaustible; therefore the novel, that Faustian striver, can never attain its desire. The short story by contrast is inherently selective. By excluding almost everything, it can give perfect shape to what remains. And the short story can even lay claim to a kind of completeness that eludes the novel—after the initial act of radical exclusion, it can include all of the little that’s left.
I enjoy trying to accomplish exactly this. And I don’t think I have yet, so I will keep writing stories.
EWN: Where do short stories fit within your life as a reader?
ES: Absolutely what I most love to read. I edit prose for Waxwing, and I teach three or four fiction writing classes a semester at Northern Arizona University, so I read thousands of pages of short stories a year. The risk and daring and magic they can pull of is astounding.
Edgar Allan Poe is often misquoted as saying a short story should have a single effect, but really what he said was that stories should have a “unity of effect.” He also said a story is meant to be read in one sitting. I crave that intensity of experience as a reader.
EWN: How will you be celebrating National Short Story Month this May?
ES: Being grateful for all the work you do to promote short stories! Being grateful to all my students, and the people who submit to Waxwing, and the writers of the collections I love and the collections I’m looking forward to reading: Robin Black and Courtney Craggett and Erika Wurth and Zach VandeZande and Raymond Carver and William H. Gass and Aimee Bender and Amy Hempel and Ann Cummins and Jane Armstrong and James Badwin and John Cheever and Junot Díaz and Stuart Dybek and Tiphanie Yanique and Bernard Malamud and Flannery O’Connor and Tim Horvath and Denis Johnson and Claire Vaye Watkins and Kevin McIlvoy and David James Poissant and Tracy Winn and James Joyce and Samuel Beckett and Michael Martone and Angela Carter. And of course reading story collections published in 2016! I’m reading Kelly Magee’s The Neighborhood (Gold Wake Press) right now, and I loved Matt Bell’s A Tree a Person or a Wall (SoHo Press) and Melissa Yancy’s Dog Years (Pitt Press). There are so many good stories and collections being published these days, and I appreciate the ways that the Emerging Writers Network and Short Story Month seek to draw attention to all this excellent art.
EWN: Thank you very much for your time!
ES: Thank you for all the ways you champion short stories and authors, and all the ways you seek to build community. You have my immense gratitude and respect.
Erin Stalcup https://www.erinstalcup.com is the author of the story collection And Yet It Moves (Indiana University Press 2016) and the novel Every Living Species (forthcoming Gold Wake Press 2017). Erin holds an MFA from Warren Wilson College’s MFA Program for Writers, and served as the Joan Beebe Teaching Fellow. After teaching in community colleges, universities, and prisons in New York, North Carolina, and Texas, Erin now teaches creative writing at her alma mater, Northern Arizona University, in her hometown of Flagstaff. She is at work on a memoir about her teaching experiences, and the opening chapter was listed as a Notable Essay in Best American Essays 2016. Her fiction has appeared in The Kenyon Review, Kenyon Review Online, The Sun, Monkeybicycle, H_NGM_N, and elsewhere. Erin cofounded and coedits Waxwing https://waxwingmag.org .