Joel Smith’s Intermediate Fiction class read Animal Collection and posed 5 questions. Here’s the full exchange:
1) What themes/concepts did you use to link the stories together (apart from alphabetical structure and the presence of animals)? Have you been surprised by any themes that readers have picked up on?
When I wrote the book, there was nothing tying it together aside from an artificial structure (which I’ll say more about later, though it is fairly obvious and nothing special). Any thoughts I carry around with me now about theme/concept came later, when I was thinking back on the book. It’s true that when I wrote the book, I was thinking a lot about containers—literal containers such as bodies and books, and figurative containers like language, emotive sound, etc.—and the ways in which they may actually generate what it is we think we’ve captured/identified. Putting down a fence generates the field, rather than distinguishing a part of it, blah blah. This is something I was thinking about, not necessarily believing or even fully understanding. I was, and am, interested in how we structure/organize thought—on both a personal and shared level—and how powerful those structures are, as well as the different ways those structures are degraded/mutated/evolved.People always surprise me with the way they read stories; my stories, anyone’s stories. It’s part of the pleasure of the whole thing. The first time someone told me that the stories were full of sex, I was actually surprised. Pleased, but surprised.
Hmmm. I guess the boring, thoughtful answer would be: it’s one of the most basic things shared by…most living creatures? For people specifically: being attracted to one another or not being attracted to one another often leads to the most intense kind of feelings/interactions. So, from a storytelling standpoint, that’s good stuff. And from a writing/thinking about people standpoint, how could it not be a part of it? The more revealing answer would be: I’m probably a pervert.
I have never read/seen it, so I can’t speak to that. But what would you say?
Personally, I would never have dreamed that a killer whale would be comfortable at an opera. In my mind, the seats would not accommodate its size and it would draw a lot of attention that would make it hard to enjoy the show. The narrator in the story, though, knows his killer whale better than me, and seems to have gotten it right. Or right enough, for the two of them.
This book started out in a kind of panicked hurry to write at least one readable story for an AWP event, a few years ago. I had just started graduate school and I was given the opportunity to read with a handful of people I admire at AWP in Washington DC. I was like, hell yeah, sounds great. Two nights before the reading, there was a RIDICULOUS blizzard in Chicago (where I was living) and they shut down the airports for the day. So I missed my flight and was super worried I was going to miss the reading, and for some inexplicable reason I googled the thing and found all of these postings saying that the reading was at the DC zoo and that each of the authors had written a story about their favorite animal and would be reading that story in front of the animal’s cage. I had heard no such thing and had no such story. So, as I my apartment building was buried in snow and a shitload of people were buried in their cars on Lake Shore Drive (true story—when the traffic deadlocked that afternoon, the city told people to stay in their cars and wait the storm out, which resulted in a shitload of emergency rescues for people who were basically buried alive in a battery-dead car), I found a list of animals living at the DC Zoo, which was in alphabetical order for browser convenience, and I set out to write at least one story for every lettered section. That reduced what was a large question—which animal was my favorite of all of these, or would make the best story of all of these?—to a bunch of small questions—which animal starting with the letter R, etc. And when I was done, I would have 26 stories to choose from and could just edit the best one in the morning or on the plane and read it at the reading. What an idea, right? What a way to spend a night! When I finished, I found I liked a lot of the stories, and I liked the variety of worlds/approaches to the central “animal.” So, I scrapped the truly shitty ones and re-worked the ones that had something to them. I kept doing that for awhile, then I published some of them. Then I kept re-working them and scrapping the ones I was tired of or the ones that had revealed themselves to be shitty and eventually Drew Burk at Spork Press said he wanted to make a book. I thought, cool, this will make a good Spork book. Like I said, I was thinking a lot about containers, and Spork makes some of the best containers on the market.
Black Friday sale. Buy either book ($18 to cwinnette [at] paypal.com) and I will send you personalized black metal lyrics using your name and a beast of your choosing. Option b) I will send a personalized drawing as a .jpeg of something black that begins with the first letter of your name.
A new poem from Kate Jury Denton Texas is now up at BirdFeast, alongside new work by folks like Zach Schomburg and Joshua Ware. It’s a good issue to spend some time with, so go spend some time with it.
Ben Clark and I wrote the poem. It is a little bit about starting over.
Our November online issue is LIVE and it’s filled with awesomeness by these awesome people: Bob Hicok, Rauan Klassnik and Russell Bennetts, John Thornton Williams, Kaj Tanaka, Laura Smith, Matt Petronzio, Kenny Mooney, Joel Smith, Raven Jackson, Sara Crowley, Bindu Basinath, Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz
Last year around this time, I read at the Lillian Vernon Writers House at NYU with Lydia Davis and Ken Walker, celebrating the launch of the Washington Square Review’s 30th Issue. I just stumbled across the audio from that evening, and I’m sharing here because it was one of the best nights of my life. I don’t remember much after the moment right before I read, but I did later get caught drinking from a beer someone had abandoned on the window sill…caught by the person who had abandoned it…because she hadn’t abandoned it.
Here it is, that night, without faces.
Also, here’s a drawing someone in the audience made “during Colin’s funny, creepy poem ‘The Thing’:”