Friday, June 27, 2008

Charles Tan Interviews Jim Shepard

Considering how many books and articles you've listed in your acknowledgments, what's the research process like for you? Do you initially start out knowing these materials will be helpful in your writing or do you simply try to read a lot and realize that they can be mined for stories?

It's really a matter of my reading turning into stories, in that what happens is that I read a lot of weird stuff -- mostly non-fiction -- like a history of plague, or whatever, just out of an interest in the subject, and then some of the details that I encounter continue to seem plangent to me. They give off a little emotional resonance that's simultaneously evocative and mysterious. Details stay with me. And I begin to suspect, or assume, that they're touching on something in my emotional life that I want to further explore. At that point, I begin researching as though writing a story: in other words, looking to fill in the gaps in my knowledge that the narrative requires.

How different is your novel-writing process as opposed to your short-fiction process? What do you think is the strength of the latter?

Novel-writing is much more elaborate and longer-sustained for me, but otherwise it's the same process. But I've recently become more impatient with those aspects of the novel that seem to me like furniture moving: setting things up. I've gotten more attracted lately to the appeal of guerilla tactics, as it were -- get in and get out fast -- no matter how much research I've done.

What were your conscious goals when writing the stories in Like You'd Understand, Anyway?

I just each time wanted to tell a story that held my interest and might hold someone else's, and didn't seem lame, in terms of its emotional complexity.

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