Friday, June 14, 2024

Q&A with Elizabeth Stix


Photo by Jeffrey Freymann



Elizabeth Stix is the author of the new story collection Things I Want Back from You. A Bay Area native, her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including McSweeney's.


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


A: The first story in the collection was published in 2004. About 11 of the stories have been published over the years since then, the most recent a few weeks ago. The book had a very long gestation period!


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


A: The order of the stories changed many, many times. In the first iteration, the stories were not linked.


Over time, I realized that I was revisiting the same characters at different stages in their lives, so I shifted things around and wrote a few more stories to strengthen the linkages and fill in gaps. I experimented with various ways to order it, and ultimately settled on moving it chronologically through time.


The book follows a group of neighbors who live in a fictional California suburb called San Encanto. Characters weave into each other’s stories and lives over a period of about 50 years.


Q: How was the book’s title--also the title of the first story--chosen, and what does it signify for you?


A: The title belonged to the story before the collection. I remember very clearly when and where I wrote that story.


I met with my writing partner, Ericka Lutz, at a café on Telegraph Avenue in Oakland, and we settled in to write together. She gave me a prompt: “Write a story in the form of a numbered list.”


First, I wrote that title, and then began writing a break-up letter in list format from the POV of someone who becomes more and more unhinged. That story came out really fast.


As the collection took on a clearer form, it seemed like an apt title to bring it all together.


Characters throughout the book are all seeking human connection but are constantly getting in their own way and being sabotaged by their own foibles. The title felt like a plea any one of them could make at any time – a child to their parent, a wife to a husband, a friend to a friend.

Q: The writer Jonathan Lethem said, “Elizabeth Stix’s voice is dazzling – rueful, lyrical, incisive, and funny as hell.” What do you think of that description?


A: I mean, obviously my head exploded and my brain fell out when I saw that blurb. It made me very happy.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I was still very interested in one of the recurring characters in the collection, a life coach named Spirit Rosenblatt, so I kept going with her and made her the protagonist of a novel that’s sort of a comic cozy mystery. I have the whole thing outlined and plotted, with Post-It notes all over my walls and a big Scrivener document.


However, in getting ready to publish this collection, I’ve fallen in love with the short story form again. So I might write another linked collection instead.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: One of the stories in the book, “The Acorn,” which was first published by McSweeney’s, was performed at Selected Shorts in New York on April 27. The actor Dylan Baker read it, which I’m so excited about.


It will be broadcast on public radio stations and on the Selected Shorts podcast later this year. If you like, you can sign up to my mailing list on my website to get notified when it’s available.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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