Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Q&A with Ronna Wineberg



Ronna Wineberg is the author of the new story collection Artifacts and Other Stories. Her other books include the story collection Nine Facts That Can Change Your Life. She is the founding fiction editor of the Bellevue Literary Review, and she lives in New York City.


Q: Over how long a period did you write the stories in your new collection?


A: Half of the stories were written in the last 10 years. The rest are older. I wrote the oldest story 34 years ago. Another story is 30 years old, from in 1992. The newest one is “Artifacts,” which I wrote two and a half years ago. So the stories were written over a period of 34 years.


Serving House Books accepted the manuscript for the collection in June 2020. After the acceptance, I revised all the stories in the collection, including the older stories and stories previously published. I’ve written many stories, and when I was putting together the book, I looked through all of my stories and decided which ones would fit into a collection.  


Q: The author Anne Korkeakivi said of the book, “The people who inhabit Ronna Wineberg's exquisitely crafted stories may have loved and lost, but they still continue to love, to find new love, hope for new love, and respect the loves they have had.” What do you think of that description?


A: I felt honored by Anne Korkeakivi’s insightful, accurate description. Her words gave me a new perspective about the book. The collection really is about love. Most characters have loved and lost, as Anne wrote, but even so, they hope for new love.


I was grateful she mentioned that characters “respect the loves they have had.” As I wrote the stories, I found that most characters could acknowledge the value and meaning of what they had experienced, even if the feelings or relationships no longer existed.


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


A: Deciding on the order was a process. Before I submitted the manuscript to Walter Cummins, the publisher of Serving House Books, I labored over the order, arranging and rearranging the stories. I decided to put what I considered stronger stories first.


After the book was accepted for publication, Walter mentioned that I might want to consider rearrangement of stories, revisions, or substitutions. I looked through my inventory of stories and sent him additional stories that could work with the book’s themes. He gave me his thoughts about these stories. I removed a few stories from the manuscript and inserted substitutions.

When we agreed on what stories to include, I created a new order for them. Then Walter suggested I change the arrangement of stories. He wrote: “For the order of the stories, you might consider starting with those in which the central character is most dissatisfied and building to those that end with acceptance and fulfilment.”


I liked his suggestion; it helped me see the growth of the characters. I worked on the sequence of stories again. I had divided my earlier collection, Nine Facts That Can Change Your Life, into sections. I decided to do this in Artifacts and Other Stories.


And I remembered something I had read by David Leavitt in the introduction to his Collected Stories. I had come across this while working on my first collection. He quoted Gordon Lish’s advice: “…start with a pisser and end with a pisser.” 


Leavitt wrote that record albums, especially Joni Mitchell, helped him decide on the order of his story collections. Albums provided “a model for how to arrange nine or ten seemingly unrelated pieces of prose into a coherent and meaningful whole.” Albums, I realized, created an arc, the building of momentum.


 As I rearranged the stories in Artifacts, I tried to find an order that offered a variety of voices, points of view, plots, and locations. I decided on an order for the stories that I hoped built momentum and ended in fulfillment and acceptance.


Q: How was the book's title (also the title of one of the stories) chosen, and what does it signify for you?


A: When I submitted the collection, the title was “Double Helix and Other Stories,” named for a story in the book. However, after the collection was accepted for publication, I realized that if “Double Helix” were the title, people might think the book was about science.


I considered alternatives and thought about “Artifacts.” I asked the publisher if he had ideas for a title. He felt “Artifacts” could be the title “because of your attention to the details that surround your characters’ lives, and because, for most of them, the details of their lives are like created artifacts as they seek something substantial.”


I liked his interpretation. I also liked the sense of past and present that the word artifacts evokes. Artifacts are objects from an earlier time and have a history, but when collected, they are firmly rooted in the present and take on a different life.


The title of the book (and the story “Artifacts”) reflects both the past and the present as the characters rearrange the artifacts and details of their lives.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I am writing new stories and revising a novel manuscript.  The new stories are, in a sense, a continuation of Artifacts and Other Stories, with different characters and themes.


The novel is about a female public defender in Colorado who represents a client in a murder and rape case. Though evidence links the client to the crimes, he claims to have amnesia. The novel explores the insanity defense and the law.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I consider Artifacts and Other Stories my pandemic project. In early March 2020, I watched a zoom presentation by a woman who runs a resiliency center in Israel. She said the pandemic could last one or two years and restrict normal activities. At the time, this seemed impossible to even imagine. People would be at home, she said, and would have to learn to cope.


If her prediction about the pandemic was be accurate, I thought, I wanted to use the time at home productively. I decided to finish compiling my story collection and submit it.


Revising the stories and preparing the book for publication during lockdown and the pandemic helped me focus on writing, and temporarily distracted me from the uncertainty of the virus, the unraveling of life as we had known it.


Thank you for the insightful questions, Deborah, and for including me in your blog.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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