Friday, March 16, 2012
Author Stacy Bierlein
Heaven for the reader of this refreshing collection of short stories by debut author Stacy Bierlein. For the two friends who land on such an island, maybe the answer lies somewhere in the discovery that both words begin with “He,” and there aren’t any signposts beyond the women’s hearts, desires, and dreams. Of course, a little feminine guile never hurts either.
Each story within “A Vacation on the Island of Ex-boyfriends” is itself an introspective look through the keyhole of a woman’s intelligence, strengths, and the weaknesses that both mold and damage her. Yet, through Stacy’s wit and heartwarming storytelling ability, the reader will gladly follow these characters as they travel their individual journeys in search of that elusive happy ending we all believe we deserve and yearn for. Is the grass greener on the other side? Was what we wanted always within reach, but too close to see? Would we really risk our life for love? Does destiny exist and find us no matter how far we run?
Stacy isn’t new to the literary scene. A southern Californian, she edited the award-winning anthology, “A Stranger Among Us: Stories of Cross Cultural Collision and Connection,” and coedited “Men Undressed: Female Writers and the Male Sexual Experience.” She is a founding editor of the independent press Other Voices Books, and co-creator of the Morgan Street International Novel Series. Her articles about writing, publishing and the arts appear on various websites.
In this collection of delightful short stories, Stacy serves up the ever present reminder that love is never guaranteed, there is danger in surrendering our hearts, and sometimes the leap of faith is off a cliff. But Stacy also reminds us that sometimes that leap can land us where we were meant to be all along, and the trip can be well worth the fall.
Q) Why debut with a short story collection and not a novel?
A) I have always preferred short fiction, as both a reader and a writer. I like the challenge of the short story—the quest to achieve the emotional range of a novel but in less than 10,000 words. I like the precision and control a writer needs in shorter works. It makes perfect sense to me that many of our finest contemporary poets write stunning short fiction, an vice versa. One needs to slow down, to fine tune. Novel writing requires a certain bravery and momentum that I’m not sure I have ever been able to sustain, although certainly I would like to try. Novel writing is a longer journey into the unknown.
Q) There are highs (rave reviews and sales) and lows (poor reviews and no sales) to having your name on a book. For an author, “published” can be a blindfolded roller coaster ride. Coming from the “unseen” side of publishing – editing - is being a published author what you expected?
A) I really like this question because the blindfolded roller coaster ride description is right-on. Being a published writer is what I expected, actually, because I knew what I was getting myself into. Publishing is a difficult business from all sides and I suspect it is easier for writers to keep realistic expectations when they have previously experienced this in some way. We have all seen truly brilliant books receive very little attention—for any number of reasons sometimes beyond the writer’s control, like neglected publicity efforts or poor distribution—and basically disappear. At the same time we see books that are rushed to print without proper editorial support, books that aren’t quite there yet, hitting bookstore shelves and managing to do notably well in spite of their failings. In my case, I feel proud of my work and my publisher’s enthusiasm for it and that’s really the very basic formula one hopes to have. From there anything can happen. On a blindfolded roller coaster ride you cannot be sure if your car is slowing to come to a stop or to shoot into some kind of crazy upside-down whirl.
A) For years it seemed that my closest friends were embarking on definitive journeys—both literal and emotional ones. I wanted to get both the beauty and uncertainty of those moments onto the page. I also wanted to describe accurately the intensity of female friendships. I am surprised by how seldom I encounter deep female friendships in literary fiction. As a culture, we tend to leave this arena to genre fiction and television writing. When I described my need to get onto the page the language female friends use when alone with one another, a friend told me “Oh honey, ‘Sex and the City’ has already done that.” I thought “Sex and the City” was daring and often lovely but I didn’t think it was showing us the true way women speak to each other. I thought it was how a team of extremely clever television writers wanted New York women to speak to one another. My women had some essential things in common with them but didn’t sound like them exactly.
Q) Much has been said by reviewers (almost all praise worthy) about your characters and their choices where love is concerned. What was your purpose in creating such a kaleidoscope of characters and international locations?
A) I think I possess more than my fair share of wanderlust. I have always been a traveler and deeply interested in who people are when they are away from home. Likewise I question whether home is really a place at all. Maybe we get that wrong and home is actually another person—at the risk of sounding too precious—a person who really understands your heart.
I was thinking about wanderlust as it relates to reading habits. Most of the literature I loved when I was a child involved children embarking on some kind of extraordinary or dangerous journey. I remember a book I treasured in grade school called King of the Dollhouse, where the king was a homebody who raised eleven princes and princesses while the queen went on adventures all over the world. I loved both the king’s devotion to his babies and the queen’s relentless curiosity. I wanted to be both of them. When I was a teenager I failed to love reading the way I once had. The stories I was to read suddenly lacked that kind of adventure—everything became more serious and realistic. This isn’t true for teenage readers today of course. Today’s young adult fiction is far more impressive in range and diversity. But most of my writing peers admit to this—a time in their late teens and early twenties when their reading often failed to capture their imagination. They wondered how they could become writers when they were less than enchanted by reading. Luckily in college we discovered Kafka and Gogol and Woolf as well as contemporary writers like Donald Barthleme and Robert Coover and Richard Brautigan. Reading became magical again. Today we have brilliant writers like Lydia Millet, Miranda July, and Aimee Bender writing important adult stories that remind us why we so loved reading as children. I think I often set my stories in distant places because I want the act of writing them to recall in some way the feeling and wonder I had for characters from my childhood reading, for those very devoted kings and wonderfully restless queens.
Q) What can we expect next from you?
A) I am working on a few things now. I’m writing an essay for TheNervousBreakdown.com on demolition and architecture, a discussion of what we destroy and what we preserve. I’m preparing to interview one of my favorite authors, Josip Novakovich, about his forthcoming essay collection, Shopping for a Better Country, for The Rumpus. I’m also tinkering with a novella that is a modern-day Sleeping Beauty story. Sleeping Beauty wakes up after 100 years of sleep and is seriously pissed off that the first thing she is expected to do is to marry. She is an insomniac now. Of course this is where her real trouble begins ….
Q) Any parting comments for those readers yet to pick up a copy of “A Vacation on the Island of Ex-boyfriends?”
A) I want to say how excited I am that my book has released in spring 2012—a very strong season for fiction with some notable titles by women I admire. Pam Houston’s new novel, "Contents May Have Shifted," is extraordinary. Two memoirs of note, Claire Bidwell Smith’s "The Rules of Inheritance" and Cheryl Strayed’s "Wild," discuss overcoming loneliness and so much more. Both are full of moments that made me stop and say, “Oh yes, I’ve known this feeling, I’ve just never had the words for it before.” And I’m looking forward to the release of Elizabeth Crane’s novel, "We Only Know So Much." So I hope you will read "A Vacation on the Island of Ex-Boyfriends" of course, but please do not stop there. This is an exciting year of innovative and inviting fiction.
DA Kentner is an author and journalist. http://www.kevad.net/