I don't remember where it was, or what event we were at, but I had the pleasure of sitting at a dining table with Cris Mazza, I'd guess my involvement was EWN-related and pre-Dzanc, or really early Dzanc--so a while ago. She was extremely interesting and I knew she'd published some work (I didn't realize how much work) and I picked up some of her titles afterward. But like most events of that nature (whatever it was) I always found myself picking up a LOT of books shortly after and then barely dipping into the works of those new writers I'd just stumbled upon. I've dipped into Cris's writings but nowhere near enough for how good they've been. She probably needs to be one of those writers that I snag all of the works of and read through them during the course of a year. Maybe that will be a 2019 goal. Curbside Splendor was kind enough to put together many of her stories into one volume last year. Cris was kind enough to answer some questions.
DW: Your short story collection, Charlatan: New and Selected Stories 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?
Cris Mazza: Since this book is a “selected stories,” it spans my 20-years of short-story publishing, which was from 1989 (my first book) to 2009 (my last story collection). So the earliest story, “Second Person,” was written in 1979-80. Even though “Second Person” won honorable mention in the Atlantic Monthly writing-program short-fiction contest in 1980, it was not my career’s first published story, and wasn’t accepted by a lit mag until 1987.
DW: How did the publication of this particular collection come about? Were you solicited by the publisher, win a contest, agent submission, etc.?
Cris Mazza: Charlatan was acquired through my circulating to various publishers the idea that the time had come for my “selected stories.” A “selected stories” often is acquired for publication in different ways than other collection manuscripts, in that there was no manuscript and the publisher was offered the opportunity to assist in choosing which stories from my other books would be included to make it a comprehensive career-picture. This is something the author herself is not as able to see objectively.
DW: 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 …?
Cris Mazza: I began my career with short fiction, as most students do, because it suits the “workshop process” better than novels. (Since becoming a professor in a writing program, I teach mostly the novel workshop, and we’ve found ways of dealing with novels effectively.) Both my master’s and MFA theses were novels, so my rhythm of novel-writing began early, and continued. But in between novels, periods of story writing could re-invigorate writing intensity after the long-haul of a novel.
DW: Where do short stories fit within your life as a reader?
Cris Mazza: For reading, I actually prefer long stories, like Alice Munroe, Cheever, etc. I’ve written my share of ultra-short ones, which work great at readings -- and I appreciate the short ones when I attend readings as well, because absorbing a story via listening is more difficult than reading, when I can re-read paragraphs, etc.
DW: How will you be celebrating National Short Story Month this May?
Cris Mazza: May is the beginning of my fishing and gardening seasons, so my celebration of story month is a lot of isolation when I can clear my head of my academic duties. But I’ll take along a few of the lit mags that have arrived in the mail this year and see what’s been coming out.
DW: Thank you very much for your time!
Cris Mazza has authored over a dozen other books, mostly novels and collections of short fiction. Mazza now lives in the Midwest and is a professor in the Program for Writers at the University of Illinois Chicago.