I love the punch of a short story, the crystallization, the images and details that convey so much more than is expressed.
Where did you draw the themes and inspiration for Statue from? How did you decide what to include in this collection?
Where do stories come from? It’s a mystery. But not entirely. Stories have been told since the early days of human life. I am drawn to the myths and folktales of past times, and I often pattern my stories on those examples. “The Selkie’s Daughter” is a retelling and reimagining of selkie folktales from the point of view of the daughter of a selkie. “Cleaner” is about hobgoblins, while “Get Thee Behind Me” and “Sunset Flip” feature the devil. Other stories we tell are likely to come from our family backgrounds and from our life experiences. I regularly write about my Greek heritage, as I did in many of the stories in my previous book Eye and in some of the stories in Statue. For example, “The Guardians” is set in the village of my maternal grandparents and “Omega” is a slightly fictionalized account of my grandmother’s life. The story “Get Thee Behind Me” is based on my own childhood – except for the ending!
Of course, it’s obvious that I am fascinated by the supernatural: ghosts and fantasies of any kind. “The Pleaser” uses one of my favourite topics, time travel, but the events in New York City come from my own experiences there in 1965. I also receive inspiration from my dreams. The stories “Statue” and “Oranges” in Statue came from dreams, as did “Unfinished” in Eye. As for other stories — I don’t know. What made me write about a woman wrestler or a man whose wife was dying or a developmentally challenged boy? Stories can even change as you write them. “Bertha” started out as the first of a series about the seven deadly sins and then took a turn into something else.
I didn’t conceive of this as a book of connected pieces, but I collected individual stories later, ones that I thought worked individually and together. The tough part was choosing the stories to include and then organizing them. They differ from each other in many ways, but I suppose you can tell they were created by the same writer. I really appreciate the fact that my publisher (Michael Mirolla and all those at Guernica Editions) respected my system of order. The book may begin with “meanness,” but it ends, I hope, with optimism and the possibility of transcendence.
Of the fifteen stories in Statue, did you have a favourite to write?
I especially liked writing “Statue,” based on my dream, and it came to me very quickly. I also enjoyed writing “Similes,” a very different type of story for me and a lot of fun to create. “The Guardians” is an important story for me. I have lived for short times in similar villages and am saddened by their emptiness as people move away – but it was difficult to write, with its various characters and mixing of fiction and reality, magic and the mundane.
What attracts you to short stories as an art form?
My earlier books were collections of poetry, though I did experiment with different genres. Because I am drawn to myth, to dreams, to visionary works, I am much more likely to write short works. I have tried to write novels, but I never finish them. Maybe I will someday! But I love the punch of a short story, the crystallization, the images and details that convey so much more than is expressed.
What did you learn from the process of writing and publishing your previous collection, Eye, that you applied to your latest book?
Most of the stories in Eye deal with the Greek traditions I grew up with and with the strong women healers who could avert the evil eye, though I emphasized as well the loss of belief in those traditions and the attempts to disempower those women. Though Statue has fewer of those elements, the book, like Eye, includes the folkloric and the magical. However, its supernatural entities suggest the difficulties women of different ages face today, with some stories highlighting the problems of aging and the loss of a loved one. The reception of Eye, its selection on the short lists for both the Governor-General’s Literary Award for Fiction and for the Danuta Gleed Literary Award, gave me confidence to compile and submit another collection of stories that include fantasy and the magical.
What does your creative space look like?
My creative space can be anywhere: while sleeping in my bed, taking a shower, going for a walk, sitting in a comfortable chair, just being inside my own head. As for the actual writing, I have a study on the second floor of my house, with a door that opens to an outdoor patio. Previously, I did all my writing at the computer in that room. However, I now have an iPad and take it everywhere: the deck, the chair, the kitchen table.
What do you hope readers take away from your stories?
I’m happy if anyone reads my stories, and I welcome any feedback. I just hope readers enjoy or feel involved in the reading experience. I’m not trying to convey any message or lesson, but am pleased if readers connect to the stories in some way. I do not wish to edge their interpretations in any direction, nor do they even need to interpret. I am often surprised at people’s reactions. For example, I did not see any of the stories in Eye as scary, but some readers told me they had nightmares! Readers’ responses will vary, based on their own personalities, preferences, and experiences. That’s as it should be!