Next Big Thing Interview Q&A

Joanna Luloff, author of the excellent story collection, The Beach at Galle Road, tagged me in this interview thread. Her interview, about her forthcoming novel, can be found here: My Q&A follows below:

What is the title of your book?

The Empty House, Stories

What is the one-line synopsis of your book?

In stories set around the world, the characters in this book struggle with their understanding of themselves and their responsibilities to others, from family members to distant strangers.

Where did the idea for the book come from?

A number of the stories in the book, such as “The Empty House,” “The Highline Highway,” and “Looking for Service,” arose out of stories my father told me. He’s traveled widely and has met many interesting people. For example, at the moment he’s living in Accra, Ghana, helping to open a university there. Other stories, such as “Running Rapids,” “Nearby, the Edge of Europe,” “The Yellow House,” and “Hidden in the Trees,” were drawn from my own experiences, including travel to Ireland and Guatemala, as well as things I saw on the New Jersey Transit as I commuted to the university where I teach. A few stories came out of images I couldn’t shake, such as the lonely man sitting in the blue light of the television in the nearly empty suburban house, which was the spark for “Famous for Crabs.”

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the book?

The first story in this collection was written in 2003, the last written in 2012, so, apparently, it took me nine years. Over this disconcertingly long span I wrote these stories and many others that didn’t make it into the book, along with several failed attempts at novels, and a novel that I hope to finish soon.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

My parents, whom I mention above, have always supported me. Their love of books and writing was a big part of the reason I wanted to become a writer. But for these stories in particular, the inspiration was my wife, the writer Amy Day Wilkinson.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

The book won the 2012 Spokane Prize, and will be published by Willow Springs Editions in Fall 2013.

What other works would you compare this book to within your genre?

While I wouldn’t dare compare myself to the writers I’m going to list, I think of them as impossibly high-water marks toward which I aspire: Deborah Eisenberg, my favorite living writer, whose books I have reread more than any over the years; Robert Stone, whose clear-eyed, poetic ruthlessness is terrifying and exhilarating; William Trevor, especially his stories like “Beyond the Pale,” which perfectly meld the personal and political; Joyce Carol Oates (no relation), particularly her early stories; Paul Bowles, whose stories of Americans abroad challenged me to resist my persistent desire to protect my characters from harm; and Flannery O’Connor, because she is, to my mind, perhaps the greatest short story writer in American literature and the writer who made me want to write literary fiction.

What actors would you choose to play the characters in your book?

“Looking for Service” is perhaps the most obviously cinematic, and I think Robert Duvall would make a perfect main character – a surly, late-middle aged auditor of third world energy companies – and a dirty-haired Jennifer Lawrence would play the young American traveler who leads him into danger.

What else about your book might pique a reader’s interest?

Two of the stories in the collection were selected for inclusion in The Best American Mystery Stories annual anthology, in 2008 and 2012. I never thought of my stories as mysteries, but the criteria set by the series editor, Otto Penzler, is any story that involves a crime, which is something that can be said for most these stories.