“Two Benches” is a beautiful, dreamlike story. What inspired you to write it? Do most of your stories begin with an idea, an image—or do you just flail about until something arrives?
I get a lot of ideas for stuff by reading books in public places. What I find happens, for some reason, is that whatever I’m reading ends up getting transposed in some way to my surroundings. Does this make sense? “Two Benches”, for example, came out of me reading An American Childhood, by Annie Dillard, on a bench in a park — the tone of the opening few pages got stuck in my head, and when I got home and started writing, this is what came out.
This story is very close to poetry—do you read much poetry? What are the joys and frustrations of writing prose poems?
This is horrible, but I don’t think I’ve ever bought a poetry book in my life. I like poetry, though. I’m still pretty new to this whole writing thing, so right now I’m just trying different stuff out. I like prose poems and short shorts as exercises in seeing what you can cram into a small space. Also, I have a very limited attention span, so the chance of me actually finishing something really short is a lot more likely than, say, a novel. (A novel! Can you even imagine?)
What moves you the most in a story, language, characters, or imagery?
Oh, it totally depends. I read Dylan Thomas’s short stories almost entirely for the language. And then I love Peter Carey’s stuff for their invention and imagination. I’m not very well read, but I do think I have wide-ranging tastes. My book shelf (although small) is almost embarrassingly random.
Please name one or more of your favorite writers, and what have they taught you?
Roald Dahl is probably my favourite writer, in that I’ve never read anything he’s written I haven’t liked. I guess he was probably the first writer I latched onto as a kid, at least as far as reading books only for who’d written them. So he’s probably responsible for me even considering ‘writing’ as something I’d like to do with my free time — he made me realize that books are written by people, and that it would be fun to be one of those people.
How do you edit your work? How do you know what to cut and when to add?
I am hopelessly indebted to other people when it comes to editing. I often write stuff and when I’m done I have no idea what it’s about or where it should go — maybe because writing is still a fairly new process for me. I find an outside eye really helpful to point out horrible blunders or possible direction. Also, I’m finicky when it come to first drafts; whether the story is there or not, I’m pretty particular that at the very least the language is as tight as it can be.
What is your favorite, and least favorite, part of the whole writing process?
Favourite: typing really fast.
Least favourite: hitting the wrong keys.