Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Why Ethel Rohan Believes a Story Should Deliver a Good Climax

In the 66th in a series of posts on 2010 short story collections entered for The Story Prize, Ethel Rohan, author of Cut Through the Bone (Dark Sky Press), compares good story collections to good sex.

Describe one of the stories in your collection. 
One of my favorite stories in this collection is “Shatter,” which was originally published in FRiGG Magazine. The story follows how an unnamed woman is haunted by one everyday accident after another. Accidents where something, a bottle, jar, dish, falls from her hands and breaks.

“Shatter” is a story about addiction and dishonesty. How we mask and hide. This character is ashamed of her ugly needs, urges and failures. Her husband is complicit in the cycle.

Ultimately, “Shatter” and all the stories in this collection center on the struggles of the body and the spirit. On our yearning to be more than we are. I am nowhere in “Shatter” or in this book. I am everywhere in “Shatter” and in this book.

What do you think a good short story collection should deliver?
Good short story collections should deliver an experience as close as possible to sex.

I want goosebumps on my mind. To hear and feel the rhythm, the beat. To have the experience build and pull back, build and pull back, build and pull back again and again and again until climax and delicious fade.

I want to want to hold the book afterwards, to feel grateful, opened, sated.

The best story collections deliver love.

Have you ever written a short story in one sitting and not revised it later?
Never. I have often received the gift of a complete story draft in one sitting, but I always revise. Sometimes the revision is tinkering, but more often than not it’s more akin to toil.

What's the longest narrative time period you've ever contained in a short story?
I admire and envy writers who can cover sweeping time periods in their stories. My stories stretch moments more than time periods. I read stories that span years, decades, even generations, and marvel at how the writer accomplished such range. For whatever reasons, I’m less drawn to long narrative time periods and more caught-up in stretching the moments, the days, the now.

What book made you want to become a writer? 
I can’t say any book made me want to become a writer. The first book, which I first read as a teen and several times again as a young adult, that made me want to continue writing and reaching was Emily Brönte’s novel, Wuthering Heights. The passion in that novel, the beauty, brutality and brilliance.

I can also tell you the most recent titles I read which also made me want to continue writing and reaching:

Robin Black’s If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This 
Paula Bomer’s, Baby
Courtney Eldridge’s Unkempt
Barb Johnson’s More of This World or Maybe Another
Lori Ostlund’s The Bigness of the World
Laura van den Berg’s What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us 

As a teen, the praise I received from a few for my stories made me want to write. As an adult, my need for praise still pants and strains, but thankfully something much higher and honest draws me back to the page every time: The rewards of writing stories that surprise and humble me, that tear strips off me.