Author Ann Elia Stewart blogs about writing
It is my privilege to share with you the following interview of Kyle Minor, conducted by Curtis Smith, an equally outstanding literary short story author.
Kyle Minor is the author of two collections of stories: In the Devil’s Territory (2008) and Praying Drunk (forthcoming, 2014). He is the winner of the 2012 Iowa Review Prize for Short Fiction and the Tara M. Kroger Prize for Short Fiction, one of Random House’s Best New Voices of 2006,and a three-time honoree in the Atlantic Monthly contest. His work has appeared online at Esquire and Tin House, and in print in The Southern Review, The Iowa Review, Best American Mystery Stories 2008, Twentysomething Essays by Twentysomething Writers, Forty Stories: New Voices from Harper Perennial, and Best American Nonrequired Reading 2013. He also writes a biweekly audiobooks column for Salon.
On January 30th he will be giving an open reading at Bowers Writers House on the campus of Elizabethtown College. For details check the Writers House website—http://www.etown.edu/centers/writershouse/events
Kyle Minor interview
Curtis Smith: Tell us about Praying Drunk, your new story collection.
Kyle Minor: The stories are set in Florida, Kentucky, and Haiti, and there is the suggestion that the whole book is written from a literalized Southern Baptist heaven, a post-life in which all the trouble is dissipated, so there are no more stories left to tell, so the tellers keep inventing new versions of the stories that were theirs in the good bad old days, when everyone still had some skin in the game.
CS: You’ve published your collections with Sarabande and Dzanc, two wonderful small presses. How do you view the current market for literary fiction, story collections especially? What are the benefits of working with literary presses? Are there any downsides? How do you view the current publishing landscape for publishers big and small?
KM: I could have published this book with a larger publisher, but Sarabande made an extraordinary commitment of resources. They put everything they had behind this book, and the result is that it is reaching a larger number of readers than collections of short stories usually do. I couldn’t be any more happy with the choice.
CS: A number of the pieces in In the Devil’s Territory gave us characters who believed in God yet harbored deep conflicts. What role does the examination of faith play in your work? What about it calls you?
KM: I was raised in a dark and extreme version of fundamentalist Christianity. My family was relatively more moderate than those around us, but nonetheless, I was immersed in it seven days a week, and it was a terribly difficult thing to shake. It’s still a preoccupation, I suppose.
CS: Other themes I took from that collection were violence and empathy. Do you view these currents as integral to the human condition as the quest for faith?
KM: Violence is all around us. It was a daily touchstone of my childhood, and as I traveled into the broader world, it was everywhere I went, as well. Literature, or the kind I aspire to write, breeds empathy, because it offers readers, again and again, the opportunity to live lives not one’s own. In that way, it destroys solipsism. I don’t know about speaking broadly about the human condition, because there are lots of conditions in which humans find themselves, and our primary commonality, I suppose, is that we’re all trying to stay alive, a battle none of us ultimately will win. So what do we do with our lives in light of that? That’s a question with as many answers as there are answerers.
CS: I admire your writing style—it’s clean yet keenly detailed. Can you tell us about your process at the sentence level? What questions do you ask yourself? Are there authors whose styles have had a lasting influence on your work?
KM: At the beginning of a story I want the reader to know who speaks, when and where we are in space and time, what the trouble might be, and what the ground rules particular to this story might be. From there I’m hoping to use all the tools of clarity to open out onto the mysteries none of us can quite account for, or not entirely. Some writers I admire (an incomplete list) might include: Barry Hannah, Alice Munro, Edward P. Jones, Edwidge Danticat, Cynthia Ozick, James Baldwin, and Philip Roth.
CS: You write essays and poems as well as stories—and I believe you’re working on a novel, correct? Can you talk about the challenges and rewards you’ve encountered in these different expressions? How is the process similar between them? How is it different?
KM: I’ve come to believe that there isn’t as much distance between the forms as we’ve been led to believe. We’re all using the same tools – the sentence, the language, the rhythm, the concrete, most of all the things we want, need, and desire so badly that they drive us and cause us to be generous in all the ways we are generous and also to be terrible in all the ways we are terrible.
CS: Do you think out and plan your stories before you write the first paragraph—or do plunge right in and see where the currents take you?
KM: Sometimes I have an idea of where I’m going, and I often write many, many drafts before I get to where I want the story to be. But when I start, I’m usually groping in the dark. Maybe I have a character, maybe an incident, maybe an image. But it never ends up exactly where I think it will.
CS: Your best advice for a young writer . . .
KM: Read all the really good novels and short stories and poems and essays you can, and be prepared to spend eight or ten years before you make anything that’s worth the reader’s time. And think about what you don’t want to write about, and write about that. That’s where the power is.
CS: What’s next?
KM: A novel, to be titled The Sexual Lives of Missionaries. More stories, more books, maybe some TV, maybe some movies. Telling stories is all I really want to do.
Curtis Smith’s stories and essays have appeared in over eighty literary journals and have been cited by The Best American Short Stories, The Best American Mystery Stories, and The Best American Spiritual Writing. He has published nine books with small literary presses. His most recent books are Beasts and Men (stories, Press 53) and Witness (essays, Sunnyoutside). His next book with be Lovepain (novel, Aqueous Books, 2015).
Kyle Minor is the author of two collections of stories: In the Devil’s Territory (2008) and Praying Drunk (2014). He is the winner of the 2012 Iowa Review Prize for Short Fiction and the Tara M. Kroger Prize for Short Fiction, one of Random House’s Best New Voices of 2006,and a three-time honoree in the Atlantic Monthly contest. His work has appeared online at Esquire, Salon, and Tin House, and in print in The Southern Review, The Iowa Review, Best American Mystery Stories 2008, Twentysomething Essays by Twentysomething Writers, Forty Stories: New Voices from Harper Perennial, and Best American Nonrequired Reading 2013.