Hair must be on fire somewhere--two posts before 8 a.m. again! It's always exciting for we in the EWN headquarters to be discussing short stories, but to be chatting with a Michigan author as well? Outstanding. Adam Schuitema's second collection is his third book publication and we have Switchgrass Books to thank for it.
EWN: Your short story collection, The Things We Do That Make No Sense, was published in 2017. What story within the collection had the earliest publication history outside of being in the collection, and what was that history?
ADAM: A couple of the flash pieces—in somewhat different forms—go way back. There’s one called “Peering through Blinds” that was one of my first publications as a grad student, appearing in Crazyhorse in 2003. I’d originally planned on it appearing in my first collection, Freshwater Boys. But that book’s initial manuscript was too long, so my editor and I cut some of the stories, like “Peering through Blinds,” that weren’t as directly tied to landscape. I loved the story, though, and hated the idea of it never seeing the light of day in book form, especially since it continues the narrative of a family who appear in several of my stories over the course of my two collections. The Things We Do alternates between long and short pieces, so the story nicely found a home as one of those transitional fictions.
EWN: How did the publication of this particular collection come about? Were you solicited by the publisher, win a contest, agent submission, etc.?
ADAM: I was extremely fortunate in this regard, and I feel like maybe it’s good karma after my past experiences, which were such struggles. My previous two books went through years of rejections and then, when accepted, went through very long processes before publication. By contrast, The Things We Do That Make No Sense was relatively easy. The publisher, Switchgrass Books (an imprint of Northern Illinois University Press specializing in Midwestern fiction) also published my novel, Haymaker. They had the option of publishing my follow-up book, and fortunately they were interested in this one. It went through NIU Press’s normal process of two outside readers in the field and then approval from the board, and fortunately that all went well.
The one small issue—and I knew this when I offered them the manuscript—was that, for an imprint specializing in Midwestern fiction, some of the stories in the collection (including some of the longest stories and the ones I felt most passionate about) didn’t have direct ties to the region. I didn’t want to cut them, but I talked with the editor at the time and I made some small but pivotal revisions that did create some organic tie-ins to the Midwest. In the end, I like the versions more this way.
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 …?
ADAM: Even as I work again on a novel, my instincts are to drift toward stories because of the way they represent moments. Impressions. Shorter narratives feel more like things I can frame and hang on a wall and look at. Or show to others. Individual images and gestures full of color and texture.
A lot of the flash pieces in this latest collection came as a result of feeling buried beneath the burden of working for years on my previous novel. I had a manuscript that had ballooned to an untenable 660 pages, and I didn’t know how to fix it. I took a year off from it and just wrote stories that were a couple of pages in length. The sense of accomplishment—seeing little pieces to a conclusion!—was so great. And I eventually figured out that novel. But I think it took the short bursts of narrative energy from a year of returning to flash fiction to make that happen.
EWN: Where do short stories fit within your life as a reader?
ADAM: When it comes to that precious reading that’s not affiliated with my teaching but is truly for my own inspiration and pleasure, I’m always trying to rotate between old stuff, new stuff, and stuff I’ve read before but want to experience again. Lately, I’ve been reading a lot of old Sherlock Holmes stories. I’ve also been loving the historical fiction that The Southern Review has been publishing lately. And then I’m constantly reading short pieces from online journals that friends and other fellow writers are sharing on social media.
EWN: How will you be celebrating National Short Story Month this May?
ADAM: I’d mentioned reading stories that get shared on social media. This works really well with microfiction, of course, and it’s an area where poets are able to really thrive. Poems are perfect for online reading and sharing. But for writers who tend to go long with their works—and many of my stories are in that twenty-plus page range—it’s a challenge to harness the power of social media. But I’m sure there are writers and publishers out there who are doing it well, so I want to spend the month seeking those resources out and learning more about how we fictionists can better share this art form we care so deeply about.
EWN: Thank you very much for your time!
ADAM: Thank you for supporting short stories and short-story writers!
Adam Schuitema is the author of the short-story collections The Things We Do That Make No Sense (2017) and Freshwater Boys (2010) and the novel Haymaker (2015). His works have twice been named Michigan Notable Books by the Library of Michigan.
Adam's stories have appeared in numerous magazines, including Glimmer Train, North American Review, Indiana Review, TriQuarterly, and The Southern Review. He earned his MFA and Ph.D. from Western Michigan University and is Professor of English at Kendall College of Art and Design. Adam lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan with his wife and daughter.