EWN: Your short story collection, The Subway Stops at Bryant Park, 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?
N. WEST MOSS: The first story published was “Beautiful Mom.” I was in grad school at the time, and that was the first real short story I felt I’d ever written, with round characters and tension and setting, etc. .It all came together in that story for the first time for me, and I was already over 45. I applied for a residency at the MacDowell Colony that same year and “Beautiful Mom” was the story I submitted as my writing sample (which embarrasses me a little bit now, because I am a better writer today, but back then it was my strongest work), and they gave me a residency, based just on that little story. What a thrill.
EWN: How did the publication of this particular collection come about? Were you solicited by the publisher, win a contest, agent submission, etc.?
N. WEST MOSS: I had submitted the collection to a few contests and had also sent it to a publisher in NYC to read, but they passed on it and it didn’t win the contests. One of the stories in the collection was picked up by a journal that was, it turned out, connected to Leapfrog Press, and when they heard that I had a collection, they asked to read it. I had a contract within a few days. Leapfrog Press, by the way, is a pretty terrific press, and I’m lucky that my first book and first publishing experience was with those smart, kind people.
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 …?
N. WEST MOSS: Well, I think short stories are the ideal form for MFA programs and for workshopping. I had attempted two books before getting my MFA and was flummoxed. I just couldn’t pull off the long-form, and when I went back for my MFA, and we were focusing on short stories … well it was the ideal place to learn my craft. I still write short stories from time to time but as I feel stronger as a writer I am experimenting in other genres. I am working now on an essay collection. I have a full-length illness memoir with my (new) agent, and I’m writing a play that is a series of monologs, which are, in essence, short stories,.
EWN: Where do short stories fit within your life as a reader?
N. WEST MOSS: I read widely. I’m in the certificate program right now studying Narrative Medicine at Columbia University, so I’m reading a lot of medical memoir-type stuff. But I also teach and I just assigned, and read for the first time, Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, and I am blown away by it. One short story in there called “How to Tell a True War Story” is like a master class in fiction writing. So, short stories play an essential role in my life as a reader, but also as a teacher. I try to drink from many cups, and so in addition to short stories, I like essays and poetry as well (I have a couple of volumes of Wendell Berry’s poetry and essays on my nightstand now). I always get the annual Best American Short Story anthologies to keep up with what is happening right now, and to see who is publishing the best work. I need a bigger nightstand. I always need a bigger nightstand.
EWN: How will you be celebrating National Short Story Month this May?
N. WEST MOSS: As you mentioned, my short story collection came out last summer. I figured that the fanfare was pretty much over, but it’s been nice to be invited to read and speak and teach all over the place. So I have several readings coming up in May (and had more in April), all of which came to me, rather than me having to seek them out. I’ve been invited to speak at a few book clubs, and that is new for me, and really nice. Book clubs seem to be filled with amazing, sincere, careful readers who are excited to have an author chat with them about the book. In fact, one book club is taking me out to lunch IN Bryant Park this summer, and I can’t wait.
EWN: Thank you very much for your time!
N. WEST MOSS: Thank YOU for supporting writers. There are not a lot of venues dedicated to the short story form, and we short story writers depend on advocates like you.
N. West Moss’ work has been published in The New York Times, The Saturday Evening Post, McSweeney’s, Salon, Brevity, Hospital Drive, Lunch Ticket, The Blotter and elsewhere, including on Radio France International.
She is a fellow at MacDowell, at VCCA in Virginia and at Cill Rialaig in Ireland.