Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Q&A with Hadley Moore

Hadley Moore is the author of the new book Not Dead Yet and Other Stories. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including McSweeney’s and the Alaska Quarterly Review.

Q: Over how long a period did you write the stories in Not Dead Yet?

A: Ten years, very off and on. During that decade I also wrote a novel and revised it several times, finished my MFA, and started a third project. Working on these stories, it didn’t occur to me for a while that I was writing a book. They were just ideas I happened upon in the midst of working on other things. Some were quick; others I revised for years, abandoning and picking them back up again. The process is so mysterious.

When it dawned on me that maybe I had enough material for a collection, my late-stage revising worked to draw it all closer together and I began to think of the stories as being of a piece, rather than a series of one-offs. I read an interview in which another author referred to the stories in her collection as “talking to each other,” and I think that is a perfect description of the goal. Though each retains its own logic and conventions, there is something more to it than gathering up all the stories you happen to have lying around.

Q: How did you choose the title of the collection (also the title of one of the stories)?

A: The title story was the last one I wrote. Sometimes a title presents itself, as it did in this case, and sometimes you have to go through hell for it. In that story, “not dead yet” is something a character repeats to himself for a particular reason, but it’s also an idea that could be applied to some of the other stories—and, well, it’s the state of all of us currently living.

I didn’t have a good idea for a book title that wasn’t a story title—like Dubliners, say, or Birds of America—and none of the other story titles felt like they could do the work of encompassing and representing the whole book. So when I started drafting the story “Not Dead Yet” I knew I’d found the title of the collection too.

Q: How did you decide on the order in which the stories would appear?

A: I wrote the title of each on a sticky note, along with some basic details about length, point of view, verb tense, and so on, and rearranged them until I landed on the order that seemed right. I wanted some variety in all those elements, and some resonance from story to story. It also felt important to anchor the book with the longest story and start with one of the shorter ones.

I still have those sticky notes in a desk drawer. I’m not sure why. It’s the sort of thing I typically toss, as I am usually unsentimental about my process tools. (I have put innumerable notebooks in the recycling.)

Q: Do you see common themes running through your work?

A: Well, existential dread! And gallows humor.

I don’t write autobiographically (not a stance, just a statement), but I can see my obsessions coming out in my work. Broadly, these include death and loss, and the terror that comes from confronting (or not confronting) those; race; family; voice and who gets to speak; secrets and why they’re kept; and bizarre or idiosyncratic religiosity.

Also, there is something about names and naming in many of these stories—who is named at all, or by whom, and how.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’d like to find a home for my novel, Mothers and Other Women, and my current project is shaping up to be thematically linked stories about the assassinations of the 1960s.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: People should read more story collections! Novels get more attention, but some of the most important books in my life are collections of short fiction.

We should also read more poetry.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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