Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Interview: Matthew J. Trafford

Please tell us about your interest in the short story by:

A) telling us a bit about your recent collection (e.g., how did it come about? Does it have a recurring theme? Do you have a particular story of passage that’s a favourite?)

The Divinity Gene came very much out of my studies at UBC’s Optional-Residency MFA program. I went in to the program thinking I was a poet, but the program requires students to work in multiple genres. I took a short story course with Zsuzsi Gartner, and fell in love with the form.

I also started reading writers I’d never encountered before, and through that, felt able for the first time to write stories I’d had the ideas for but never knew how to execute. For example, I can remember so clearly when I had the idea for “Forgetting Helen,” about a boy who’s born in a library, but I had no idea how to go about writing a story like that.

I ended up doing my thesis in short fiction, and that became the basis of what eventually became The Divinity Gene. The book has ten stories in it, and generally they deal with science and religion, grief and loss, belonging and identity.

“The Grimpils” is probably my favourite story in the collection, because it was one of the hardest to write -- the first story to be started and the last one finished. It has an omniscient point of view, a large number of characters, and footnotes. I’m very happy with the way it turned out, and I care about those characters a lot. I think of the story as the collections unsung hero, because only one reviewer mentioned it, who didn’t like it.

But when I hear from readers that “The Grimpils” was their favourite story, those are good moments for me.

B) Recommending a short story or collection by someone else that you admire (and why?)

When asked my favourite short story, I always answer Rick Moody’s “Boys,” because I can’t read it without crying. There are so many short fiction writers I admire - Adam Hasslett, Jim Shepard, Aimee Bender, Ryan Boudinot.

This was a great year for short stories in Canada and of the ones I haven’t got to yet, I’m especially looking forward to reading Michael Christie’s collection The Beggar’s Garden and Julie Booker’s Up Up Up.

This year’s Journey Prize collection was also a fantastic read, especially Seyward Goodhand’s “The Fur Trader’s Daughter.”

Right now I’m reading Jeremy Dyson, a British writer, The Cranes That Build the Cranes. It’s macabre and strange and right up my alley - I’m loving it.

C) Reflecting on the 21st Century and the short story: Are they a good match (and why?)

I think the creation and telling of stories is intrinsic to human life and culture. This century is interesting because the world is more connected than ever before; the internet allows us to read cross-nationally with an ease that has never existed before (look at something like joyland).

Tablets and e-readers present new opportunities for the short story form to become popular again, though it’s anybody’s guess how all this will pan out. At the end of the day I’m excited to be writing and reading stories at this time, and optimistic about the future of the form.

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