where the writers are
Interview with Christopher Meeks
Date of Review: 
Dec.16.2008
Published Work: 
Reviewer: 
Tania Hershman
Source: 
The Short Review

Interview with Christopher Meeks

The Short Review: How long did it take you to write all the stories in your collection?

Christopher Meeks: After college, I wrote short stories between bigger projects, which were plays and screenplays. I’d sent a few of my stories out to many places. In return, I received impersonal rejections the size of a playing card. The stories must have been rejected, I decided, because of the humor. I thought serious fiction meant no humor. When I took the humor out, though, the stories fell flat.

In 1997, I came upon the Santa Barbara Review. The editors were looking for literary fiction, particularly with humor. I sent in my short story "Divining," and received a call a few days later. They wanted to publish it, and I was thrilled. Later, when I had a collection-worth of published work, that became "The Middle-Aged Man and the Sea," a book that came out in 2006. In total, those stories had been written over the course of twenty years.

After a reading I did, a woman came up asking if she and the Beverly Hills Public Library could present my work. I was deeply flattered. She explained that actors would read my stories. Her schedule was so filled, that my presentation couldn’t happen for two or three years. Also the stories couldn’t be from my present collection but from a new one. I hadn’t planned on a new collection. An agent interested in my writing but who wouldn’t represent "The Middle-Aged Man and the Sea" had told me there was no money in short story collections. I was already writing a novel. I told her that I’d have another collection in a couple of years. When she called a year later, I started it then and wrote it over the course of six months...because I knew the Beverly Hills Public Library could present it to a future audience. It was for one night of glory. And it was glorious. The actors grabbed the audience and never let them go. It was recorded, so I hope some of it shows up on YouTube.

TSR: Did you have a collection in mind when you were writing them?

CM: I had a far different experience writing these stories than I’d ever had before. I had to write them consciously for a book instead of writing them between bigger projects for journals. Time, too, was an element. They had to be written over a few months not several years. As I started, I wondered, too, would book reviewers like whatever I wrote as much as the first collection? I never had had to compete with myself before, so I now understood the pressure of a second book. I had to dismiss that feeling quickly or I’d be frozen. The editor I’d worked with in the first book, Nomi Isak Kleinmuntz, would surely tell me which stories might not be ready for prime time. I trusted her deeply, and indeed, two stories didn’t make the cut. Because each story was or would be so fresh on my mind, I looked to make the stories diverse. I wanted to include both men and women as protagonists, as well as protagonists of different ages. Thus the title story is appropriate, even if the story is about a young man who only dates women whose first name is a month or a season, such as April or Summer.

TSR: What does the word "story" mean to you?

DH: “Story” is something I teach to a wide variety of college students in five different settings over the course of a year. If you create interesting characters with a clear goal or problem and then throw things in their way like some god toying with his or her creations, you will make a story. Stories, too, come in a huge range. Flash fiction, ultra-short stories, such as Bernard Cooper’s "The Hurricane Ride," Mark Strand’s "Space," or my own "Catalina," are far different in needs and structure than J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series or any novel. In flash fiction, story is boiled down to a moment that has many echoes. You sense there is more. There is no one way to write a story, which I’m faced with every time I start a new one. It’s not the form or genre that matters as much as how to get your reader curious and keep him or her curious until the end and even afterwards. We’re on this earth for so short of a time, and it’s all so confusing, that stories help us all. I write to understand the chaos just a little more.

TSR: Do you have a "reader" in mind when you write stories?

CM: We’re not writing diary entries to show no one. We’re writing stories to engage and entertain. For some writers, “entertainment” is a dirty word, as if it’s about averting boredom and sucking up one’s time before death. However, I see entertainment as about being involved, watching and empathizing with people who are doing things under pressure. If the entertainment is strong, such as Lorrie Moore’s collection "Birds of America" was for me—or the shows "Six Feet Under" and "The Sopranos" were--then you’ll be carried along and see things you hadn’t considered.

As I write, I try to keep in mind what will keep a reader going? What will he or she want to know? Might something be a surprise or funny? I consciously consider in the end where the turns happen in my stories. Do I have enough turns and surprise? Is it all motivated? When I’ve taught poetry in Introduction to Literature classes, I was reminded how poets fit so much into a small space—as do flash fiction writers. Embrace ambiguity. Ambiguity in its truest sense is that story titles or actions or names or things can have two or more meanings. That gives a reader something to chew on. Thus, my stories require a reader’s involvement, and the ambiguity is to be filled in by the reader. In a recent interview, writer Annie Proulx said of her short stories, “I depend on my readers to fill in the empty spaces.” That’s it exactly.

Read the full interview at http://www.theshortreview.com/authors/ChristopherMeeks.htm