Kris Saknussemm is the author of Zanesville, Enigmatic Pilot and Private Midnight. His latest book is the short story collection, Sinister Miniatures. The collection is fantastic and one of the best short story collections I have read this year. Thanks a lot for joining me here, Kris, I really appreciate it.
Interview is as follows:
1.) Many of the stories from Sinister Miniatures have been published in journals before. Do you feel that it is dangerous for this as readers may choose to just hunt down each story, or good publicity so that a fan can buy them collectively?
I like the idea of trying to publish stories as they’re written–to share them when fresh. I think then there’s a basis upon which to select material for a collection. You choose the pieces that have seemed to work the best, to have garnered praise or demonstrated the capacity for connection with readers.
2.) Upsetting Kevin Costner, threatening to sue Michael Jackson and being accused of being David Foster Wallace, the rumors around Zanesville are as notorious as the book itself. How do you feel about these rumors and events?
I’m puzzled and amused by the rumors. It’s pleasing that the book has gotten out into the world and culture the way it has. I didn’t consciously set out to do that of course–but I see now that books have an inner hopefulness unto themselves. If they’re to work, they take on a life of their own. The Kevin Costner episode in particular always makes me laugh.
3.) How do you feel about the debate of E-readers vs print?
I’m looking forward to the expanding possibilities of what the e-book platform can deliver in a multimedia sense, and am working in more multimedia ways all the time. I don’t believe this will undermine the printed book format. I think the big issue for writers is how the royalty issue pans out. I’m concerned that so many people are self-publishing and flooding the market with give away e-books just to try to find a readership.
4.) When releasing a short story collection, do you worry that too many stories that feature the same style or voice in stories will appear repetitive to the reader and how did you avoid this in your collection?
I hope I have avoided it. I was pretty ruthless in terms of selection and many, many stories didn’t get included–even if I really liked them.
5.) You have released two books before Sinister Miniatures, Zanesville and Private Midnight. What’s next in your career?
I have a book called REVEREND AMERICA coming out in February that I’m really proud of. It’s my most realistic work to date. There’s also a kind of crazy novella called EAT JELLIED EELS AND THINK DISTANT THOUGHTS which is being published in the UK soon. It will appeal to fans of ZANESVILLE. I’ve sold another book called SEA MONKEYS, which will come out next year from Counterpoint Press, who I really admire. Right now I’m working on two parallel books that deal with my time in the Pacific Islands (the Solomons, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, Fiji and Tonga). Those were very strange times by any standard, and it’s taken me a long time to work out how to write about them.
6.) When putting together a collection, did you focus much on the placement of stories and the order they go in?
I turned the matter over entirely to my good friend Lyric Powers. She’s a great natural editor and came up with the final order.
7.) Zanesville was praised for being “a surrealist black comedy”, is this something that you intended when writing the novel and how did you feel about the novels reception?
I think that’s a very fair and apt description of it. I was pleased with the reader response to the book, but I would’ve liked more push from Random House (this is a common complaint). I feel readers and critics have understood the book better than the publisher.
8.) What is your writing process like, from start to finish?
I’m much more focused now. My earlier works have all come out of a deep chaos and sense of personal crisis. Now, I’m settling into a more workmanlike groove and sharing bits and pieces earlier with readers I trust, or with members of my collaborative multimedia posse. I try to have a lot of visual reference for the words around me right from the start. I develop musical correlatives, so I can “hear” the work from another point of view. The more real I can make it for myself, the truer and sharper it will be for others. I guess I’ve given up on the notion of “writing” something. I want to be making things. And to make them as real as possible.
9.) Years after releasing Zanesville and Private Midnight, how do you feel looking back on your published work?
There’s an elaborate mythology that lies behind ZANESVILLE. It’s intended to be part of a story cycle, so I feel that it’s still very much in progress–and vulnerable and fragile in that way. I have a feeling that the whole cycle is one body of work I’ll be tinkering with right up to the very end. PRIVATE MIDNIGHT I remain very proud of. It’s controversial and never fails to provoke strong reactions in people. I had a big fight with my agent when I first delivered it. It took me into some real personal darknesses in the writing–and when I go back to sections of it, they always seem as though they were written by someone else.
10.) You have published with an imprint of Random House and also the independent press, Lazy Facist. How do you feel about having different publishers and what difference do you feel it makes to the final work?
I highly recommend having relationships with different publishers. There are things that a large commercial house can do that a small press can’t match. On the other hand, there’s a level of engagement and connection with small press editors that is simply the most rewarding thing in the whole game. I don’t think there’s any question that the most interesting writing today is being put out by the small presses. They’re open to the most exciting work in a way New York will never be again.