Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Elizabeth Baines: The "Dribble" Interview

I am delighted to be hosting the final leg of Elizabeth Baines' "Around the Edges of the World" Virtual Book Tour for her wonderful short story collection, Balancing on the Edge of the World (Salt Publishing, 2007) which is one of those books I had to force myself to put down just so the experience of reading it wouldn't end. I am sad that it did, but looking forward to reading Elizabeth's next book, her novel, Too Many Magpies, forthcoming from Salt later this year.

Much has been said already in praise of Elizabeth's writing, and I urge you to visit the other tour stops where Elizabeth illuminates the writing life and what that means for her, how she writes, what she writes, why she writes what she writes, which is not just short stories, but novels, radio and stage plays and more. She is also the author of two blogs, a personal blog, and Fiction Bitch, which contains Elizabeth sharp and insightful take on the oft-perplexing and frustrating world of books and literature. Of course, I highly recommend buying Balancing on the Edge of the World.

So, a dribble interview, what does that mean? In the world of flash fiction, a "dribble" is a very short story of only 50 words (half a drabble!). Since I know how exhausting Virtual Book Tours can be, requiring an immense amount of thought on the part of the author on many questions, often deeply personal, I decided to give Elizabeth a break and require of her that her answers not exceed 50 words. She was, I believe, relieved!

So, welcome Elizabeth! Let's start the dribbles....

Tania: You have talked a great deal and very candidly and thoughtfully about your writing. Let's talk about reading. What is the experience of reading a short story for you?

Elizabeth: A good short story provides an intense experience, pulls you up, stops you short, engrosses you entirely, alters your perception, and afterwards goes on reverberating in your mind. The best will stay with you for ever, winking like precious jewels.

T. What do short stories do, in your opinion, that no other work, be it longer or shorter, can do, and why?
E: They can provide that intensity of experience which couldn't be sustained in a longer work, yet they also provide the narrative satisfactions that poems rarely achieve.

T: I think one reason short story collections are not as widely read is that they are often shelved together with novels which sets up a flawed "length-ist" comparison on the basis of quantity and not quality, dooming them to fall short - see, that derrogatory word! - before a reader even opens the book. Grace Paley said that she believes a short story should be read like a poem, slowl, paying attention to every word. Were they shelved together with - or near - poetry, short stories would be approached as an entirely different animal. Dicuss!

E:I agree: Grace Paley was right. And so the stories in a collection need to be read individually, like poems, and not necessarily sequentially. Anyone coming to a story collection hoping to be swept along from cover to cover as in a novel will be disappointed.

T: I don't want to get into
the old "why aren't more short story collections getting published?" rant, so let's talk about how you went about getting yours published. How did the process work?

E: My first agent looked at my stories and said 'Fantastic, but no one publishes stories, so please write a novel'. At last, though, Salt arrived. I followed their guidelines, sent a few stories, and a few
weeks later Jen asked to see more. Two weeks later she agreed to publish.

T: A few questions I ask the authors I interview for The Short Review: First, how did you choose what order the stories went in? Were you thinking of a potential reader at this point?

E: Yes, I was. I took especial care with the first and last stories which a casual browser would probably scan. I don't think you need to read a collection sequentially, but in case people did I found an arrangement which provided a journey in terms of subject matter and mood.

T: Second: what is it like knowing people are reading your books?

E: With my first book I felt exposed, yet thrilled when people said it had meant something to them. Later I detached, realized that my books belonged to others now, not me. Nowadays I just cross my fingers and hope they like them.

T: Third, what are the last three short story collections you read?

E: Sarah Salway's Leading the Dance, Haruki Murakami's After the Quake and your very own, Tania, The White Road - all of which I loved!! [T: Thank you Elizabeth, blush, blush]

T: Ok, to wind up our lovely dribble interview, how has this Virtual Tour been for you? A highlight, a low point, and a summing-up please!

E: Highs: a virtual Roman banquet, confessing about snails (!), getting to tell my worst nightmare and being invited by such thoughtful interviewers to talk in such depth about my writing and writing in general. Low point: getting utterly exhausted! Summing up : real hard work, but great fun.

T: And, to wind up on a high note, something I was asked on my Virtual Book Tour and which I loved doing: Write a zinging 50-word ad for your book just in case we haven't persuaded everyone to buy it! Go wild...

Want a bit of a smile? Like a good cry? Want to hear about the girl with magic powers or the nurse who never stops singing? 14 different stories which lift the lid on experiences that often go unheard. Stories to relish, a delicious pick n' mix to buy now!

Thank you, Elizabeth, it was an honour to be the final stop on the Virtual Tour. To read the rest of the blog "stops", visit the tour's Cyclone page. For all those who love wonderful writing, stories that will resonate long after the book has been finished, don't miss Balancing on the Edge of the World.


Nik Perring said...

Intensity, yes. Brilliant interview (not that I'd expect anything less, T and E). Thank you very much.


Unknown said...

The perfect way to end an exhaustive blog-tour like this one. Elizabeth, you were great and I learned so much about your craft. I totally agree with the comment about short-stories being not unlike poetry: every word counts!
Tania, what a great idea in terms of length of answers.

E, I wish your creative juices get the attention they deserve now!

Elizabeth Baines said...

Barbara and Nik, thank you both for following, and Barbara for your good wishes, and also for hosting me yourself and providing that legendary Roman meal!!

And many thanks, Tania: I in turn am honoured to conduct my finale here!

Tania Hershman said...

Nik, thank you for stopping by!

Barbara - yes, I wanted to go easy on Elizabeth, and since I'm all about flash, this seemed to be the way to go.

Elizabeth, my great pleasure!

annie clarkson said...

wonderful interview. I like dribble interviews... some great questions, although I have to say that one of your wuestions way exceeded 50 words Tania, is that allowed in dribble interviews!?!

Tania Hershman said...

Umm, yes, I was wondering if anyone would spot that! I am sure, umm, that there is a sub-law that permits, umm, longer questions....oops.

Elizabeth Baines said...

Annie - I was too polite to point it out!!! Hee hee.