One of my favorite stories in the collection is “Next in Line,” which is told by a mother who believes her baby died because she came into contact with the Grim Reaper at CVS. How did that story come about?

That is the very first story I wrote after my daughter was born. It took me awhile to get back to writing after she was born. I was having a hard time merging the mother and the writer and figuring out how I was going to balance both of those things. It was as if I had to imagine the worst thing that could happen as I tried to bring these two selves together. I have heard other writers talk about this superstition that if you imagine the worst thing then it won’t happen to you. I suppose it was born out of some sense of that.

Who is your favorite author you wish more people knew about?

Can I do a couple?


The novel I read most recently that I just fell in love with is Christopher Beha’s What Happened to Sophie Wilder. It’s so fantastic. I thought it would be on all the shortlists, and it hasn’t been. But many people I know thought it was a fantastic novel, and I thought it was overlooked and it shouldn’t have been.

And then there’s the writer Michael Downing. Sentence by sentence he is the most wonderful writer. His most recent book is a beautiful memoir called Life With Sudden Death. His father and brother both died suddenly of heart failure. So he makes the decision to have genetic testing to find out if he’s predisposed to having the same thing happen to him. Ultimately, he decides to have surgery to have a defibrillator implanted in his chest, and it just sends him down this horrible road of medical disaster.

I keep hearing authors say that now is the most difficult time in years to be publishing literary fiction. From your experience, do you feel that’s true?

It is very difficult if you have in mind a very traditional path of publishing. The traditional path is changing by the week, it seems. It’s a business in so much transition. The big houses are having a harder time publishing literary fiction. But there are so many smaller houses that are doing such amazing work. If I were starting out of college right now I would be confused about the path to follow and what to do. It seemed like maybe it was simpler 20 years ago when I had graduated. But from my perspective now, I look at places like Tin House or Coffeehouse Press or Graywolf Press, and I just think these smaller presses are publishing such amazing writers—and it’s all literary fiction. They don’t have a business model that allows them to publish a cookbook or a celebrity memoir or something that’s going to make a lot of money to support the other books. So, if you look around, in one way it feels like there are more opportunities for literary fiction to be published.

When your first collection came out in 2002, the Kindle didn’t exist. Do you see e-readers as a good thing for the short story?

I’m really fascinated by this. The U.K. publisher [Portobello Books] that is bringing out This Close felt the short-story scene with e-readers was really changing and very dynamic, and so they wanted to try something brand-new. So I’m sort of their guinea pig. This Close is the first book they’re releasing as an Amazon Single individually week by week until the collection is done and available as a whole at the end. They’ve designed different covers for each story. There will also be a paper edition distributed in the U.K., but it will actually be the U.S. edition. So my U.K. publisher is only going to publish these stories as Amazon Singles.

How do you feel about being the guinea pig?

At first I thought, really? I love books. I want something I can hold. But when they agreed to allow the U.S. edition to be distributed there that made me very happy because then people who don’t use e-readers can still get the book. But it does seem like there are all these new opportunities and Portobello has thought really hard about this and they are very creative and are trying to keep up with the times and even be ahead of the times. And I think they may be onto something. I love the idea of the covers being different. So, we’ll see!

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