Q. What was the biggest surprise when Dzanc Books chose your first story collection, Stealing the Fire, for their rEprint Series ?
A. Rereading the stories and inviting back the characters I’d lived with while working on the collection.
Returning to the title story in “Stealing the Fire,” I was reminded how painful the process of finding an original voice is for any writer, especially someone like Dora, who was raised on Hemingway, Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Cormac McCarthy, Kerouac, et al. Her father, who was once dubbed “the psychedelic Rimbaud,” is also her teacher. He has just died. Even as she grieves she is fighting against his influence, struggling to find her own voice and meanwhile fighting the pull of addiction in her own blood. I have hope for Dora, in the end.
Liza in my story “Once in a Blue Moon,” used to say, “I’m with the band.” Now she works in a corporate job, yearning for relief from the pressures of work. She is in the crowd at a Montreal blues festival when she recognizes an old lover onstage. As he begins “Sweet Home Chicago” she flashes back to the days when she traveled with him, the ecstatic nights of music, the pain of ending. Her regrets, her yearning for the emotional saturation of some of her wilder moments, are all too human. I wonder what’s happened to her. And to Stanley, from “Wintering at Montauk,” who yearned for a Gatsby lifestyle and took the perverse step of going to the Hamptons in winter, holing up in his parents’ beach house and gradually going mad. And to Pico, who was born in Havana, and Jenny, who’s Irish-American, an acting couple who come to an impasse in “Gridlock.” Their rent-controlled apartment becomes the fulcrum for renewed passion. I wrote that story by hand while commuting to work in Grand Central on the 104 bus. I usually got a seat because I got on at 86th and Broadway.
The short story form allows for snapshots of those moments in relationships where things almost end, and then don’t. I’ve always found that mysterious, from the outside (I’ve been in a relationship with my own fella for years). “The Almost-Perfect Man” also circles around that question.
I also remember, upon rereading, how caught up I was in the experience of the couple with the troubled son in “Memorial Day.” The raging bear in that story is such a reminder of the savage side of nature.
I began “A Pilgrimage” thinking about how belief—religious belief, political belief—motivates people, and how naïve Americans are about other cultures and other parts of the world, in this case El Salvador. Katherine is foolish, in ways, and she is punished, but she also ends up knowing a truth she’d never have encountered without leaving her comfortable life in Northern California.
Joshua, from “Payback Time,” has been working 24/7 in Silicon Valley. He’s constantly on edge. But he has this dream that he can cash in. He’s caught up in his own fantasy, until he encounters corporate malevolence in its most intimate form. If anything, this story, which is set just before the dot.com collapse, predicts an even more frenetic work pace for most Americans.
Q. Any other surprises?
A. I didn’t expect the new cover, which I love. And the book trailer created by Meg Pokrass, a flash fiction writer and senior editor at BLIP. It’s one minute long, and it evokes the feeling of breaking a taboo I felt when I was beginning to write “Stealing the Fire.” But in a slow-mo, robo sort of way. No one could have imagined a book trailer when “Stealing the Fire” was first published.
Jane Ciabattari is author of the collection Stealing the Fire, a 2013 selection of the Dzanc Book rEprint Series; her short stories have been widely published (three Pushcart Prize “special mentions” and an Editors’ Choice award from Hampton Shorts). She studied creative writing at Stanford and at San Francisco State University, and she’s had fiction fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the MacDowell Colony, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.