A novel requires a certain kind of world-building and also a certain kind of closure, ultimately. Whereas with a short story you have this sense that there are hinges that the reader doesn’t see.
Fiction is a particular kind of rhetoric, a way of thinking that I think can be useful in your life. It asks you to image the world through someone else’s eyes, and it allows you to try to empathize with situations that you haven’t actually experienced.
For the last few years I’ve tried to force myself to write at least one page every day, which doesn’t sound like much but it’s actually pretty hard to manage. Because I’m not allowed to do a make-up day. I can’t do two pages the next day. The punishment for not completing my page is that I have to eat a vegetarian meal the next day.
I guess I’m curious about how people process grief and how they process loss. And I’m also interested in the ways in which an event can have long-reaching consequences and a life over the course of years.
I have to admit that ‘Psychology Today’ was one of the first magazines I started reading, back when I was 13 or 14, because I was the kind of kid that was curious about the mysterious human mind – I hoped to learn about telekenisis, multiple personalities, psychosis, and various other cool and terrible things that happened inside people’s heads.
I usually have more than one thing I’m working on at once – I’ve been working on three different novels. When I get stuck on one, I hop back and forth.
I would say that all short stories have mystery naturally built into them.
I’m certainly very influenced by what you would call ‘contemporary headline horror,’ stuff that is true crime or for one reason or another catches our attention in the media, those strange cases that we end up obsessing about. I’m always influenced by weird anecdotes and news.
I’ve had a lot of different lives. I was adopted, I grew up in Nebraska, and then I went to Northwestern… Then I had this really extraordinary, different life than my parents.
Imaginative empathy is one of the great gifts that humans have, and it means that we can live more than one life. We can picture what it would be like from another perspective.
Our sense of self is a kind of construct. It is in some ways like a novel, and it’s like a fabric of fictions that we patch together from memory.
People write fiction in their minds all the time – every time we read a ‘human interest’ news story, or a true crime tale, we find ourselves fascinated because we’re trying to understand why people behave the way they do, why they make the choices they do, how we become who we become.
The happiest I have ever been is in the life that I led with my wife and kids.
The thing that grounds you, and the thing that really gives you a sense of wholeness, is your family, friends and your community. Those are the things that can mirror back to you what you’re experiencing, and can affirm to you that the stories you are telling are true.