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Caroline Adderson on Pleased to Meet You

These nine razor-sharp stories herald the return of one of Canada”s most accomplished writers to the short story form. Stylistically varied and linguistically confident, here are compulsively readable stories that plumb the complexities of the human heart. A dying Finn, a philandering photographer recovering from an emergency splenectomy, a young woman heavy with an hysterical pregnancy – these are just some of the surprising characters that people these pages.

1. Your first book, Bad Imaginings, was a collection of short stories.  Then you spent a decade writing novels (A History of Forgetting, Sitting Practice).  Why did you return to the short story form?

I afraid I’d forget how to write them.

2. The two collections of stories are quite different.  Why?

I wrote Bad Imaginings very intuitively, without much thought to structure and form.  After working in the novel genre where structure is so important, I came to Pleased to Meet Youwith a much greater awareness of, and interest in, form.  The second collection might rightly be read as a collection of various short fiction forms.  I wanted to experiment.  For example, in “Falling,” in which an insurance underwriter inadvertently writes a poem, I tried to propel the story through language in the repetition of becauses, the way a poem might work.  In “Hauska Tutustua” the story actually ends where the real story begins.  I also wanted to put in as little as possible and still have a story the reader could connect to emotionally.  In “Shh: Three Stories About Silence” I went even further: the cartoonist disabled by anxiety attacks thinks in cartoon panels.

3. How do you write stories?

A story idea usually develops over quite a few years.   I’ll think of something, make some notes.  Later, another image or detail will occur to me.   I’ll note that, not yet realizing that these disparate images and ideas are connected.  Normally, at least three odd things come together to make the story gel.  In “Spleenless” for example, we really did receive a surprise visit from a friend at about 11:30 pm on December 31, 1999.  He was not Manfred in the story, of course, but I did answer the door in my mouth guard and flannels.  The situation was pretty comical.  Over time, the character of Manfred fleshed out in my mind; he’s one of those people that cut a swathe through everybody’s life.  You think that one day he’ll realize the damage he’sdone and experience some remorse, but probably not, because he’s got a gift for always seeing himself in the right.  So there was the real-life situation combined with a writer’s interest in a certain type of character.  Then, just because the name Manfred sounds a bit like Man Ray, I started reading about the artist, who turned out to be remarkably like my character.  Then I had the story.  As usual, after the gestation of the idea, it took about two years and many drafts to get the story right.

4. Two years!  That’s a long time.

Very occasionally, a story comes to me fully formed – “The Chmarnyk” in Bad Imaginings and “Falling” in Pleased to Meet Youare examples — but two years is average.  On the other end of the spectrum, I worked on “The Maternity Suite” in Pleased to Meet You for eight years.

5. Which do you prefer: novels or short stories?

For me the novel and the short story are an entirely different experience.  I like the novel for the way I can really get deeply into something.  I love the larger frame of reference.  But I’m more anxious during the writing because it takes so long before the text is any good.  During the months that I’m trying to find the voice and get the story on the rails I can easily lose faith.  By contrast, I love the short story for the freedom it offers.  You can do anything.  Even if you write it so it has to be held up to a mirror to be read, you are not asking that much of the reader.  Also, with the short story you can squinch right up to perfection.  You can get every word right.  On every page of my published novels I find something I’d like to change.

6. What was the critical response to the collection?

It was a 2006 Globe and Mail Top 100 Book, a National Post Editors’ Pick and a Toronto Star Best Book.

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Posted by Pearl on Aug 3 2010. Filed under Author Interviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.
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