Your story “Catskin” is a marvelously twisted sort of fairy tale, taking the reader in all sorts of unexpected directions. Will you tell us a little bit about the inspiration behind this story?
Reading Angela Carter and Shelley Jackson, mostly. I wanted to have something new when I went on tour for Stranger Things Happen, (with Shelley Jackson, whose collection, The Melancholy of Anatomy, had just come out), and so I wrote “Catskin” very quickly.
The story touches on themes found in many of your short stories: family, the awkwardness that accompanies adolescence, and unusual relationships. What draws you to themes like these?
Family is great subject matter. So are, for that matter, adolescence and awkwardness. The working title for my next collection is Get in Trouble. Because that’s a type of story (and character) I’m eternally interested in.
You have taught short story writing at Smith College, and have taught at a number of other institutions. What do you enjoy about teaching? What do you find most challenging about teaching writing, specifically with a focus on short stories?
Actually, I’m not teaching anywhere at the moment (someone, anyone, feel free to go make that correction on my Wikipedia entry), but I do love teaching better than almost anything. Why? Because it involves reading fiction, talking about how it works, and how it could work differently.
The most challenging thing about teaching writing is that you can give feedback that would absolutely be useful for yourself, but might be of no use to the person who has written the story. Help isn’t always helpful.
Many of your stories have received great acclaim. What advice would you have to writers who love this genre and hope to find their work as well-received one day as yours?
You can’t aim for awards, or reviews, or sales, or any of that. All you can do is write stories and then take pleasure in figuring out how to make them better. Write the kind of story that you want to read.
Who are some other short story authors whose work you consistently admire? Anyone you look to for inspiration?
Near to home, it would be Holly Black and Cassandra Clare (we often work together at a café). Slightly farther from home: Karen Joy Fowler, Maureen McHugh, Joe Hill, Peter Straub, Margo Lanagan, M. T. Anderson. I’d like to read more stories by Ben Rice (I think there are only two out there).