Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Q&A with Christine Sneed


Photo by Larry Shore



Christine Sneed is the author of the new story collection Direct Sunlight. Her other books include the novel Please Be Advised. She lives in Pasadena, California.


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


A: Most of the stories in Direct Sunlight were written from 2017-2022, but the oldest, “Dear Kelly Bloom,” was written in 2014 or 2015, I think it was. The most recent stories are “Ma’am?” and “Wedding Party.”


My editor, Marisa Siegel, suggested I write a couple of stories specifically for the collection because she thought it was a good idea to include at least two stories that hadn’t been previously published, so I took up the challenge. 


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


A: I was thinking about how direct sunlight can either blind a person or put everything into stark relief.


The title story concerns an enormous, painful secret that’s revealed after the secret holder dies in the 9/11 attacks. It was inspired by a true story—I heard Kenneth Feinberg, the attorney hired by the federal government to determine payouts for families of 9/11 victims, interviewed on a podcast in April 2019 where he told a story about a firefighter who perished in the attacks whom Feinberg eventually discovered had two separate families, neither woman nor the firefighter’s two sets of children knew about their counterparts.


Needless to say, it inspired me to try to dramatize what it would be like for his children and his wife and mistress to discover his secret years after his death.


Q: The writer Dana Johnson said of the book, “Funny, profound, and moving, this collection reminds us of our humanity, of the beautiful vulnerability and tenderness we can extend to one another.” What do you think of that description?

A: I’m so pleased the stories in Direct Sunlight had this effect on Dana, whose own short stories I admire so much (In the Not-Quite Dark is her most recent collection).


My hope is there will be believably vulnerable characters in each of my stories, and that despite whatever disappointments or frustrations they experience, they’ll nonetheless remain essentially generous with people.


I don’t find myself writing about many characters who are “bad”—i.e., people who intentionally set out to do harm to other people, but something I’m working on now has me delving into the darker human impulses, which has been an interesting challenge.


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


A: Marisa and I talked about the order together; she rearranged a couple of the stories at the beginning, but other than that, the collection is in the order in which I originally sent it to her.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m working on a couple of different novels—one is about two-thirds drafted, the other I’m not very far into. Both have female POV characters and are set mostly in Chicago.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: The short fiction anthology I edited that came out last October, Love in the Time of Time’s Up, has 17 short stories in it by 16 female writers, among them Gina Frangello, Lynn Freed, Elizabeth Crane, Amina Gautier, and Cris Mazza.


I hope readers seek it out, along with the novel in memos, Please Be Advised, that was published two weeks after Love in the Time of Time’s Up, which lampoons what I consider to be the absurdity and accidental sadness of corporate office culture.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Christine Sneed.

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