Hi again, gang!
It’s time for another Q &A with author Iris N. Schwartz, my long-time friend and colleague, who has another book of micro and flash fiction out, Shame & Other Stories, from the Hoboken-based publisher, Poets Wear Prada.
As I mentioned here earlier this week, Shame & Other Stories has been short-listed for Top Summer Reads over at North of Oxford. [If you follow the link, scroll down for their summer reading list.]
Long-time readers of this blog probably recall that Iris is a prolific writer of fiction and poetry.
My official disclaimer re: Iris’s work is that I have been publishing and editing her writing since 1998. We met during a reading at Barnes & Noble at Astor Place in NYC, and have been friends, and colleagues, ever since.
I published her poetry repeatedly on my website, Other-rooms.com, and included her works of short fiction in several of the anthologies I edited over the years, including in Stirring Up A Storm: Tales of the Sensual, the Sexual, and the Erotic (Running Press), a book nominated for 2 Pushcart Prizes for short fiction.
Iris’ s writing is tight, deep, emotional, and to the point. Dysfunctional people and the eroticism of food tend to be her calling cards – though not always, and not always in that order.
For me, it is a personal treat when Iris has a new book out because I love her writing, so it was a pleasure to be able to talk to her recently about her current collection, Shame & Other Stories, published by Poets Wear Prada.
So. Iris! How do you feel about your writing these days? Have your feelings changed much since your last book, My Secret Life with Chris Noth, came out in 2017 [also from Poets Wear Prada]?
I am taking more risks — with, for example, theme, story length, point of view. I hope my writing is better. Have my feelings changed? I’m not sure how to answer. I know that in this Age of Trump, I am angrier; more determined, too. This no doubt bleeds into my writing.
When you say “more determined,” do you mean more determined to get more writing out there? To express yourself differently?
I mean more determined to do what I can in my small way to grab back our democracy. That includes reading and writing impassioned, raw, questioning work. I also mean I am more determined due to some physical limitations to nonetheless write and publish more, and become a better writer.
Do you have a favorite piece in this collection?
My favorite story in Shame? At the risk of hurting the feelings of my other, deserving offspring in this collection, I have to go with “Dime-Store Bandits.” I sense Lenore and Imogene in my bones — in my marrow — and they possess a kind of salty innocence that makes me smile. “Nickeled-and-Dimed” is another story in Shame involving these sisters. I intend to write more about them.
I can easily see an entire collection of flash and microfiction revolving around those two sisters. I think my own favorite is “Franklin Is In,” a story about a man who is intensely OCD, with, of course, one of your customary “stop you in your tracks” type of endings – can you tell us a little bit about that piece and what inspired it?
I’m glad you like “Franklin Is In!” Poor Franklin. I really feel for him. He’s very intelligent and very wounded, and because he’s bright, he’s keenly aware of his limitations. Franklin is probably one-eighth based on a person who volunteered at a mental health center where I also volunteered while in college, one-eighth based on other people I knew, and the rest (sixth-eighths) fabricated.
Am I correct in feeling that the stories included in this new collection draw less from your own personal, life experiences than the pieces included in My Secret Life with Chris Noth?
You are correct, for the most part. Some of the stories, however, have a kernel or two based on my own experience.
As you said, Imogene and Lenore come up twice in this collection. They are young Jewish sisters living in Brooklyn; are they autobiographical characters?
I consider them semi-autobiographical.
Can you talk about what makes it “semi” autobiographical?
Some events are taken from real-life experiences, some not. Regardless, they are different after I write them — as I write fiction (not journalism). Hence, semi-autobiographical. “Fiction!”
You’ve included a number of microfiction pieces this time. I love how you can capture such depth of character in such a tight word count. Are you writing more microfiction, in general? Do you find it more challenging, and/or more satisfying than writing flash fiction?
Yes, I am writing more microfiction these days, though I still write flash. And thank you. I love the challenge and excitement of writing brief pieces. And, after all, every word is supposed to count. This might be more apparent when reading a one-hundred- or fifty-word story.
I’m curious about the microfiction piece titled, “Yellow,” and the title’s connection to Lillian’s being Jewish and the story’s overall connection to hair color. Any comments about any underlying message to this particular piece?
“Yellow,” I hope, speaks to the outsider in all of us, at any time: the lone Jew in a mostly Christian town; the gay boy taunted by his classmates; the only African American living in an apartment building where other renters consistently ask if he is the plumber, the “wheelchairer” in a crowd of walkers.
With all the microfiction you’re writing now, do you still get inspired to write poetry? Any upcoming poetry publications we should know about?
I haven’t written poetry in a long time. I may return to poetry, but for now, flash and micro do it for me. Or to me. Or with me. Oy.
I hope you do go back to writing poetry because your poems are wonderful! I found “Fur” an intriguing story – where an older woman is hallucinating in unusual ways about cats. Is there any specific background to what inspired that piece?
Thanks re: “Fur.” I am an “older” woman who likes cats — and dogs, and horses. I use fantasy, dreams, and whatever else comes my way.
Are you making any kind of statement, though, about the woman’s aging process and her seemingly joyful life involving cats? When I read this piece, I felt that her life of loving cats and perhaps her imminent death were intertwining.
The woman is “older,” but I wasn’t thinking of her mortality. She is lonely, but opening to new possibilities, maybe love again.
You have a third book in the works with Poets Wear Prada – is this correct? A title yet? An approximate publication date?
Yes, I will have a third book coming out with Poets Wear Prada, Thank you, PWP! I don’t know when it will be available, but when I know I will certainly tell you. The title? Brisket for One, and it has another cast of quirky characters. I mean, my lovely if sometimes troubled “children.”
Again, can you update us on the various ways that readers can find you on the web?
My website should be ready soon. [www.irisnschwartz.com – coming soon!]
Also, see my Amazon Author’s page.
And please visit my publisher, Poets Wear Prada.
Marilyn, thank you very much for this opportunity to discuss Shame, as well as for your astute questions!
You are so welcome. Congratulations on the new book. And, gang, be sure to check out Iris’s Amazon Author’s page to check out all of Iris’s books to date!
Thanks for visiting! See ya!