Saturday, August 31, 2013

Valerie Trueblood talks about her amazing new short story collection SEARCH PARTY, the idea of rescue, writing, and so much more

Valerie Trueblood is one of the masters of short story writing. Her new collection Search Party is unsettling, full of desperation, and yet brimming with a kind of hope as well. A young babysitter takes care of a child who falls dangerously ill, a cop tackles a violent student, and a homeless family reexamines the meaning of home, and all of the people struggle to find meaning and a mastery of their situation. It's just a gorgeous collection.  She's a contributing editor to The American Poetry Review, and her essays, articles, and poetry have appeared in One Story, The Northwest Review, The Iowa Review, The Seattle Times, and Seattle Weekly, among others. She lives in Seattle and I am totally thrilled to host her here. Thank you so much, Valerie!

Why does the very idea of a search lead to so much story?

We need so many things!  A lot of life is spent in finding them.  While we may not go out with a lantern like Diogenes, we do spend a lot of time searching, from babyhood on:  for food, safety, a friend, work, knowledge, a place to live, a mate--and finally searching our own memories for what remains of these things when we're old.  I admit this came to me just now in thinking about your question.  I didn't think in these sweeping terms when I was writing the stories.  A story can't be summoned that way.  Mine seem to have to be found under a rock.

I also want to ask you about the title, which I think is perfect--Search Party, seems so ominous, but then there is the subhead, stories of rescue, which almost makes us breathe a sigh of relief.

You're a writer, and you're the reader we all want:  someone who feels the ominousness, someone who sighs with relief--and just at the title, at that.  I wish everyone read in this spirit, with this openness to what might be coming.  

I do believe in rescue.  The situation gets pretty desperate and now and then--perhaps rarely, but often enough that we remember the times it happened or the stories we heard of it--someone says or does something that helps, even saves.  How or why this happens at times, and at others does not, is one of the mysteries, and the short story seems to me the perfect vessel for it.  Because the story isn't obliged to say why.  It just holds the mystery.

How do you go about crafting a story? Your language is so exquisite that I’d love it if you could talk about the relationship between story and language.

It takes me a long time to get a sort of tent up and then I see it's empty, and that must be when I try to somehow create rooms in it.  But that's an easy metaphor, isn't it.  For me the story really has less to do with construction than with sound.  I hear a story faintly and in fragments and have to listen for it and try to lure it, so I can get some of the pieces down on paper.  Then for a long time it's just adding in the tones of someone's experience, and then heavy subtracting. 

Each story seems to have its own language, depending on the person having the experience or living through the state of mind.  So the words for what happens to a poet have to be filtered through the poet's senses and thought, and they'll have a tone, a pattern different from that of the words for what happens to a policeman.  Before anybody assaults me, let me say that I know at least two poet-policemen!  I'm just using these broad categories because a couple of characters in this book fit them and their stories have their own sound (while I hope still having something an Artificial Intelligence, if it read them, would know came from the same "voice").

I don't think writers can investigate our own style very deeply--or even think about it at great length--without getting into trouble, though.

Your endings are so deeply satisfying and unexpected. Do they take you by surprise or do you know them before you begin?

I rarely if ever have even a glimpse of an ending when I'm starting out.  I have to hope and trust every time that the thing will end!

What’s obsessing you now and why? 

I'm deep in the next book of stories, Garden of Children, and didn't realize until this question of yours that yes, the word is "obsessed."  But like the others it started to come together as a book more or less accidentally, because I must have been thinking and writing about children for years before I saw that a group had formed and there were children staring out of it.  These aren't coming of age stories.  As my husband says, "By the time people get around to coming of age, they're pretty much done for."
Another book is taking shape, stories of love.  People grin if they hear that.  But however jaded we get about what has been "done" in fiction, however eager for new categories, love is never done with.  Though I like to have war in there too--war being a form of hate--weighing on people who live in a rather heartless time while trying to fulfill the human duties.  Thus the title of the second group, Let Live.

What question didn’t I ask that I should have?

You ask wonderful questions, that tempt us to go on and on about ourselves.  Thank you.

No comments: