Bradley Sides is the author of the new story collection Those Fantastic Lives and Other Strange Stories. His work has appeared in a variety of publications, including Chapter 16 and Chicago Review of Books, and he is fiction editor of Qu. He lives in Florence, Alabama.
Q: Over how long a period did you write the stories in your new collection?
A: It took me eight years to find the right stories for Those Fantastic Lives. In 2013, I began working on the story that would become “Restored.” I completed my most recent one, “Commencement,” in January of this year.
It’s taken me a long time, but I feel proud of the result. Eight years of work was worth it, for sure.
Q: How did you decide on the order in which the stories would appear in the book?
A: I love this question. I spent many, many hours arranging and re-arranging. Seriously, I think determining the order took longer than writing some of the stories.
I wanted to make sure the tone was balanced. I didn’t want to have a heavy feeling for too long; I didn’t want all of the lighter stuff to be grouped together.
Then, once I felt okay about all of that, I started looking at length, trying to have a mix of longer and shorter stories throughout the whole. I had a notebook where I outlined tone and length and tried to make it all right. It was a long, long process.
As far as selecting the stories for Those Fantastic Lives, I only wanted to include my very best work—or what I think is my very best work.
I had a lot of stories, but I trimmed those down to 23. I thought 23 was too long, though, as I read back through the collection. I kept cutting. I got to 17, and that number seemed right.
Q: How was the book's title (also the title of the first story) chosen, and what does it signify for you?
A: As a writer, coming up with titles is what I struggle with the most.
When I was writing the story that would become the title story (a story about a boy who wants to be a psychic like his beloved grandmother), I was approaching the end of my writing cycle.
I knew the end of the collection was in sight, but I didn’t have a title yet. Not for the collection and not for the story I was working on.
As I was ending the story, the phrase “those fantastic lives” showed up on the last page. I thought that was a perfect title for the story, and after I spent some time with it, I realized the play on “fantastic” really worked for the larger collection.
The collection does fully embrace the fantastic in many ways, with, among other things, apocalypses, monsters, and ghosts. I didn’t second-guess myself. I knew that was my title. I’ve always loved it.
Q: What do you hope readers take away from your book?
A: I hope my readers will feel more seen in their own strangeness, that they’ll feel less alone in their moments of loneliness and loss, that they’ll be aware of the magic and mystery this world contains, and that they’ll believe in the power of transformation. That’s a lot, I know, but it’s my hope…
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’m currently working on a new collection of magical realism/weird fiction stories, and I’d say I’m about halfway there.
I’m working with the same themes of loss, loneliness, transformation, and masculinity that appear so frequently in Those Fantastic Lives, but this new collection is much more experimental in structure. I’m having a lot of fun in trying out new forms.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: Those Fantastic Lives is available at your favorite local bookstore. These weird stories have kept me company for a huge chunk of my life, and I’d love it if you checked them out.
Thanks for taking the time to talk to me, Deb!
--Interview with Deborah Kalb