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Posts Tagged ‘short stories’

Author Spotlight: Elizabeth McCracken and her Publishing Team

Wednesday, May 14th, 2014

McCracken_Thunderstruck“Magnetic . . . Anyone who enjoys short fiction will find pleasure and substance in McCracken’s witty, world-wise collection.”—Library Journal

Elizabeth McCracken has been gracing the literary scene with her beloved short story collections and novels for many years. Thunderstruck & Other Stories, a nine story collection and her first in twenty years, navigate the fragile space between love and loneliness. The author sat down with some members of her Random House publishing team to answer a few questions.

Susan Kamil: Publisher & Editor-in-Chief asks…
What authors have influenced your work the most and why?

It’s so hard to say! Every time I name check a famous writer, I hear a little voice saying, Yeah, you wish. That said: I think all the time about Grace Paley, who understood that brilliance and kindness were not mutually exclusive. Dickens and his lack of restraint. Gish Jen, whose first published stories were appearing just when I first thought I would be a serious writer, in all of their hilariousness and braininess. It was a revelation to me, that it was all right to want to be both funny and serious. & Carson McCullers, for no doubt obvious oddball reasons.

Noah Eaker: Senior Editor asks…
One of my favorite stories in the collection is “Juliet,” which is set in a public library, as is your novel The Giant’s House. I know you spent time as a librarian. Can you explain the Dewey Decimal system to me? Just kidding. But I would love to know: What was your favorite thing about working in a library? And were there any great, obscure books you would have never discovered had you not worked in one?

There were a lot of things I loved about working in a library, but mostly I miss the library patrons. I love books, but books are everywhere. Library patrons are as various and oddball and democratic as library books. I really loved being a municipal employee. I can’t think of any obscure books, but I will always have a soft spot for Edwidge Danticat, beyond her brilliance: Breath, Eyes, Memory came across my circulation desk. I thought (having never heard of her) “Well, this looks interesting” and read it and of course it knocked me out. I feel the same way about Leah Hager Cohen and Train Go Sorry. She turned out to be a library patron, and I think I terrified her by being excited when I saw her name on her library card.

Karen Fink: Assistant Director of Publicity asks…
An active participant on Twitter (@elizmccracken), you often tweet about unique pieces found on auction. Do these pieces ever make their way into your writing and what are some of the most bizarre or different pieces you have ever seen on auction?

Well, I love objects. I like them around the house and I like them in fiction. So far I’m not sure that I’ve actually put anything directly into fiction (though my husband, Edward Carey, has put an oil painting we bought in England into his latest book). I have a set of Bakelite teeth that I keep trying to put into fiction but I don’t think I’ve succeeded yet. My favorite online auction objects are weird dolls—there was one a while ago with a porcelain head and a stick for a body which (according to the description) “played music,” though I still don’t know by what method. Tweeting about objects means I don’t need to bid on them, which is a blessing. Buying something is a way of saying look at this! So is tweeting. So, I guess, is writing fiction.

Selby McRae: Marketing Coordinator asks…
What did you learn about your writing going from short stories to novels and back to short stories? What drew you back to short stories?

There was a time in my life when I wasn’t sure I’d ever write a short story again, because I had started writing novels and I am fundamentally a lazy person and the fact is that a novel is a lazy person’s form, really. That is: you can amble, you can digress. You can let your attention wander. Your mistakes are better disguised, I think. A short story requires more work, somehow, more attention, and a collection of short stories is that much more, times 7 (or 9, or 12). There is no such thing as a perfect novel, but I can think of dozens of perfect short stories: I just knew I wasn’t capable of writing one myself. So I wrote a couple of novels, which I published, and then a couple of novels that didn’t work out. Michael Ray, an editor at Zoetrope All-Story, started asking me for short stories. He asked, I wrote one, he asked for another, I wrote another—really, I was a cartoon mouse lured out by cartoon cheese. And I remembered what I loved about writing short stories, even if I knew I wasn’t writing perfect ones: that sudden flash of light that (you hope) illuminates everything that goes before.

Benjamin Dreyer: Vice President, Executive Mangaing Editor, & Copy Chief asks…
Are you a tinkerer? Or do you find that once you’ve finished a story you’re apt to leave it alone unless, say, prodded by an editor or copy editor?

Oh, I’m a terrible tinkerer. I need people to slap my work out of my hands. I don’t much (as some writers claim) spend hours putting a comma in only to take it out, but I fiddle with word choice, I try to make the characters gesture in a more interesting way, I cut and cut and cut. And I love copy editors. I love line-editing, even if I don’t agree with the edit. The thing that most interests me about writing—there are lots of things, but the thing I can’t do without—is the hit of happiness a lovely sentence delivers. I mean that as a writer or a reader. People who are compelled by sentences are my people. I take their advice, or take great pleasure in explaining why I think they’re wrong.

Stay in touch with Elizabeth on Twitter and check out her latest collection, Thunderstruck & Other Stories- on sale now!

An interview with Yiyun Li, author of Gold Boy, Emerald Girl

Wednesday, September 28th, 2011

Brigid Hughes is the founding editor of A Public Space, a Brooklyn-based independent magazine of literature and culture that debuted in 2006. Previously she worked at The Paris Review, where she succeeded George Plimpton as editor upon his death in 2003.

Brigid Hughes: To get things started, can I ask you about influences? You mention William Trevor in your acknowledgments, and you published an essay in Tin House about his influence on your work. What authors or books have mattered to you?

li_yiyunYiyun Li: I like to think that one writes stories so they could go out and talk to other stories. William Trevor’s stories have made space for my stories to venture out to the world, to be on their own, so my stories talk to Trevor’s stories constantly. For instance, the title story, “Gold Boy, Emerald Girl,” was written especially to talk to a Trevor story, “Three People.”

Of course stories, like people, can’t just stay sheltered by those to whom they feel close kinship. Stories also like to have ­discussions and sometimes arguments with other stories. A few writers who have been constantly on my mind when I write: Elizabeth Bowen, Graham Greene, John McGahern, J. M. Coetzee. So they have been influencing me too in each of their own ways.

BH: Can I ask what specifically “Gold Boy, Emerald Girl” and “Three People” were talking about with each other?

YL: “Three People” [from Trevor’s collection The Hill Bachelors] is, as the title suggests, a story about three people: an aging father; his unmarried, middle-aged daughter; and a man close to the family who the father hopes will propose to the daughter so she will not end up in solitude after her father’s death. Unknown to the father—I don’t want to give too much away of the story—the daughter and the man shared some dark secret between them. The final passage of the story goes like this: “The darkness of their secrets lit, the love that came for both of them through their pitying of each other: all that might fill the empty upstairs room, and every corner of the house. But Vera knows that, without her father, they would frighten one another.”

Gold Boy Emerald Girl TPWhen I started to work on Gold Boy, Emerald Girl, I imagined writing a story about three people too—an aging mother, a grown-up son, and a woman—and the mismatch between the latter two would not be any better than between the couple in “Three People.” The story is set to a tone similar to that of “Three People,” though I do remember writing toward the end and feeling overwhelmed by the bleakness and fatalism of “Three People,” working on the final line of my story to catch the same music but with some gentleness: “They were lonely and sad people, all three of them, and they would not make one another less sad, but they could, with great care, make a world that would accommodate their loneliness.”

BH: Do you think your characters in the new stories are lonelier, or rather more isolated, than in A Thousand Years of Good Prayers, the first collection? I’m thinking of that opening line from “Immortality”—“His story, as the story of every one of us, started long before we were born”—and that sense of being part of something bigger than oneself, history, or community, which seems much less the case with the new stories. Do you notice differences between the two collections?

YL: I would like to think that the stories in Gold Boy, Emerald Girl were more mature than the stories in A Thousand Years of Good Prayers!

But I know exactly what you are asking about. “Immortality” was the first full-length story I wrote, about nine years ago, and I was very aware at the time of how China and its past (and pres­ent) cast a long shadow over at least two or three generations of characters. Many of the stories in the first collection were written out of meditations on the inescapable fate of many of the characters being trapped by political and ideological turmoil in the past century.

Are my characters lonelier or more isolated now? In a way, yes. In choosing solitude, my characters are also trying to regain some of the control of their own fates—rather than being members of a chorus, they allow themselves to become outcasts, sometimes illogically, sometimes stubbornly. But I don’t think they are passive characters. I like to imagine that some of the characters in the first collection (in “Persimmons,” for instance, or “Immortality,” or “A Thousand Years of Good Prayers”) allowed themselves to be carried away by history and politics as long as they did not drown—and one tended not to drown if one did not fight against that torrent. Many of the characters in Gold Boy, Emerald Girl made the decision of not letting themselves be swept away. They held on to anything—loneliness, isolation, and even death—to be themselves.

BH: Is that also what Professor Shan is saying when she tells Moyan, in “Kindness,” “The moment you admit someone into your heart you make yourself a fool. When you desire nothing, nothing will defeat you”?

YL: By forbidding Moyan to fall in love with anyone, in a way Professor Shan is acting as cruelly and inhumanely as the unfair and harsh world from which she is trying to shelter the girl, though the latter, in following the advice of the older woman, also defies her in her own way. Twice in the story—at the beginning and at the end—Moyan says, “I have never forgotten any person who has come into my life.” And indeed she is able to remain true both to her words and to her promise to Professor Shan: She is able to love without making herself a fool.

BH: When you emigrated from China, The Letters of Shen Congwen was one of the few books you brought with you to the United States. He wrote about, and was criticized for, his disinterest in politics and lack of commitment to the class struggles of his time. You recently translated some of those letters, and in an introduction wrote that “relevance is always a useful tool for lesser minds to attack true artists.” What is the connection between the politics of the present day and fiction—does one inform the other in any way? What does it mean to be a political writer?

YL: I have always resisted being called a political writer. Take Shen Congwen as an example—his commitment to his arts was not influenced by the ideology of his time, which, in one sense, made him apolitical, but in another sense his resistance was also highly political. Once I was asked by an editor to write something relevant to our time—in his letter he framed relevance with examples of a Mumbai slum, or a Chinese sweatshop, or a war-torn zone in Africa. Certainly we need stories from these countries, these places, but his letter reminded me of the criticisms Shen Congwen received in his time.

BH: How would you like your books to influence the reader?

YL: If books are like people, mine are not the prettiest ones, or the loudest ones, or the quirkiest ones one meets at a party, nor are they, I hope, too frivolous or too scared of truths to matter to the readers. I would like to imagine that the readers can have a conversation with my books—they can agree or disagree with the characters fairly and honestly.

*****

Gold Boy, Emerald Girl is now available in paperback.

Buy the eBook

Win a paperback of Elizabeth Berg’s The Day I Ate Whatever I Wanted

Monday, May 2nd, 2011

Day I Ate Whatever I WantedFinally coming to trade paperback on May 31, now with an additional story!

Every now and then, right in the middle of an ordinary day, a woman kicks up her heels and commits a small act of liberation. What would you do if you could shed the “shoulds” and do, say—and eat—whatever you really desired? Go AWOL from Weight Watchers and spend an entire day eating every single thing you want? Start a dating service for people over fifty to reclaim the razzle-dazzle in your life—or your marriage? Seek comfort in the face of aging, look for love in the midst of loss, find friendship in the most surprising of places? In these beautiful, funny stories, Elizabeth Berg takes us into the heart of the lives of women who do all these things and more—confronting their true feelings, desires, and joys along the way.

“Reading The Day I Ate Whatever I Wanted is a lot like eating comfort food: it offers great satisfaction. . . . Berg understands the need we all feel to break free of strictures . . . and how small rebellions can lead to understanding.”—New York Post

“Offer this up to the book club and—what the hell—serve chocolate.”People

Winners will be chosen randomly. We regret we can send copies to U.S. residents only. One entry per person; while supplies last.

This giveaway is now closed. Thanks to all who entered!


Karen Russell, author of Swamplandia!, interviews Robin Black

Monday, April 25th, 2011

russell_karenKaren Russell is the author of the story collection St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves and the novel Swamplandia!, both published by Knopf. Recently she was selected by the National Book Foundation as one of their “5 under 35″ and by The New Yorker as one of their “20 under 40.” She is the Writer in Residence at Bard College.

KR: Robin, [If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This is] so rich, and fed by so many different streams of life experience—the stories may be “short,” relative to, say, “The Brothers Karamazov,” but they have all the insight, heartbreak, and complexity of the best novels. In your acknowledgments, you mention that it took you eight years to write the ten stories in the collection. Do you feel like the gestation period for the stories has something to do with their emotional depth?

RB: In part, I think the whole process took a long time because I never set out to write a story collection. I wroteIf I Loved You I Would Tell You This each story as its own thing without focusing on how it would fit into a manuscript, so I didn’t feel hurried to finish a book. And I am remarkably inefficient. I honestly think I throw out a good 80% of what I write. On a less logistical level, I think that some of what you call complexity and depth – thank you, Karen! – comes from a childhood spent trying to figure out the familial complexities into which I was born. So many of my stories deal with aftermath, years of history echoing down, and I can see now that I grew up with a sense of a household still trying to deal with its own history. Maybe this is true of all families, but in mine anyway, the stories from the past seemed to loom incredibly large and I was always aware that my parents and my grandmother, who lived with us, were carrying the legacies of these complex narratives within them. There had been deaths before my birth that were still being grieved, injuries and illnesses from which people had never recovered. I know that isn’t unique and my preoccupation with those things is probably the strange part, but for better and worse, I have always been obsessed with the question of how personal history determines the present moment.

KR: Your characters felt very real to me, some more real than many people I know, as though they had a secret life beyond the page. I got the sense that every one of them casts a shadow, has a past and will have a future. How much do you know about your characters when you sit down to begin a draft? Do you draft out biographies for them? Or do their histories, quirks and preoccupations become clearer to you as you write?

RB: My characters definitely reveal themselves to me in process. Going into a story, I know almost nothing about the people, the events, the reason it feels urgent to me. And I like that. Characters develop in a kind of conversation that takes place between actions or plot elements that occur to me as I go along and the responses the characters have to those which then in turn spark on more plot developments. In the sort of stories I write, the story grows out of character, meaning the people do things because it makes some kind of psychological sense to me that they would, but the characters also evolve to serve the story. Like so much of fiction writing it’s a messy and inexact process.

KR: So many of the stories in this collection focus on an emotional or spiritual blind spot—their characters’ inability to accurately see themselves, or their failure to fully apprehend a lover, a parent, a child, or, in the case of the title story, the neighbor who lives behind your cunningly-erected fence. I’m thinking of the sort of intimate one-upmanship of the conversation between Clara and her ex-husband, Harold, in “Immortalizing John Parker” or Jeremy’s startling discovery in “A Country Where You Once Lived.” How can we be so wrong in our judgments of those to whom we are closest—our parents, our children? What blinds these characters; in your opinion, what prevents them from truly seeing one another?

black_robinRB: I honestly think it’s just how we all bungle through life. We make mistakes We assume we know what’s going on and we don’t. Every person carries a vast number of secrets, even people who don’t think of themselves as secretive. We withhold from one another as a kindness or to be in control of some situation or because we don’t want to violate someone else’s confidence. Or because it’s not even theoretically possible to tell someone everything you know. So much of life is conducted in this kind of strange murky darkness. I think I may be more attuned to that than some people or I may be naturally drawn to it as an area of narrative potential, but I think it’s a condition that exists for us all. What’s amazing to me, and continually beautiful, is that we manage ever to connect to one another at all.

KR: Memory, in your stories, felt suddenly so precious and so terrifyingly fragile to me. These characters suffer losses in the present, but often it’s their version of the past that is most at risk. In “Immortalizing John Parker,” there is a wonderful dinner scene between Clara and her ex-husband where reminiscing becomes a heart-stoppingly dangerous activity: “Harold has just taken from her a part of George she thought she held…as effortlessly as she has just rewritten decades of Harold’s life for him.” Is this a loss or a betrayal that you wanted to explore in the collection–how even the past can be taken from us?

RB: Definitely. And also how it can be preserved and how we conspire to create the past. In “Immortalizing John Parker,” Clara robs her former husband of his version of events, but she also offers to preserve John Parker for his wife, agrees to try and keep the past alive that way. In “Tableau Vivant,” Jean and her daughter tell and retell the story of a shared evening to one another because doing so preserves a moment of happiness. It’s a kindness they give each other. I think there’s something inherently hurtful to someone saying “Really? That’s not how I remember it at all.” It strikes a very deep chord. I imagine that we all want to believe we are reliable witnesses to our own lives. Maybe because it makes time itself seem more like something we are able to hold.

***

If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This is is now available in paperback. Read the rest of the interview in the back of the book.
Buy the book: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / IndieBound
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“I never think of any subject as taboo”: a conversation with Amy Bloom, author of WHERE THE GOD OF LOVE HANGS OUT

Monday, January 10th, 2011

Where the God of Love Hangs OutAmy Bloom is the bestselling author of Away and most recently Where the God of Love Hangs Out, a collection of stories.

Random House Reader’s Circle: In this collection of short stories, you tackle some new themes, notably love in the second half of life, and death. Why did you decide to go in this new direction? How do you see these stories fitting in with your earlier collections?

Amy Bloom: I think that generally the subject chooses the writer, not the other way around. It seems natural, even inevitable, that as I get older certain issues and moments in life that might
have been less central to me at thirty-five are now more present, and although a number of the stories in this collection are told from the point of view of younger protagonists, both of the quartets have to do with the passage of time. In the Lionel and Julia quartet, I was particularly interested in ending with a story that was largely focused on the point of view of people who were about to become the patriarchs and matriarchs of a family, having always been seen in these stories as “the kids.”

RHRC: You are known for tackling love’s taboos, particularly when it comes to gender and sexuality. What are some of the taboos you explore in this collection?

AB: The truth is I never think of any subject as taboo. And the things that I think of as truly taboo— pedophilia, sexual violence— don’t usually write about. As Camus once said, we do not choose whom we love. To me, this seems to be not only the way it is in life but probably the way it should be. I am all for loving relationships in which the couple at the center are a match set in terms of height, weight, color, and socially approved orientation. But it doesn’t strike me as any better or more blessed or more heartwarming than when people who clearly are not a match set on the outside are so clearly meant to be together on the inside.

RHRC: Tell us a little about your choice to write interlocking stories, as opposed to a novel or a single story?

AB: Perhaps one of the more striking aspects of both quartets is that they don’t just cover long periods of time in the life of my characters, they were also actually written over long periods of
time—years. One quartet took me seven years to finish and the other sixteen years. Linked short stories are a wonderful way for me to split the difference between the range and scope of a novel
and the compression and pace of a short story.

RHRC: The Lionel and Julia story “Sleepwalking” first appeared in your celebrated collection Come to Me. What was it like for you as a writer to revisit these characters in this collection? How did your understanding of the characters evolve over time?

AB: Of course I wouldn’t have revisited them if I hadn’t felt they had more stories in them and I could begin to see them in new ways. Two aspects of the quartets that were most gratifying: first, that I think I have become a better writer and am more able to put the skills I have in the service of my characters; and second, as in life, time gives you the opportunity to see events differently and to understand the actors in ways that were not possible the first time around. For example, although I always felt a great deal of sympathy for Julia it was only in the last story that I could really feel both the loss that had shaped her life and her unwillingness to yield to that.

RHRC:
Children, stepchildren, and the love between a parent and a child play a central role in many of these stories. At many times in this collection, the love for a child is in conflict with romantic love. Why did you choose to write about how people balance different loves?

AB: When is romantic love not in conflict with a child— if you have children? It is a wonderful, moving, heart- filling experience to sit with the man or woman you love and your beloved children and know that all are happy to be just where they are with each other and loving one another. This doesn’t happen very often. Somebody has taken somebody else’s sweater, somebody has driven the car without permission, somebody is making a terrible choice in a career or fiancé, or someone is ill, or the adults are putting a good face on misfortune for the sake of the beloved children, or the beloved children would rather be somewhere else. . . . Seems to me that family life is a long ride full of ups and downs, moments of sartori- like bliss, and moments when you feel like you’re in a second-rate sitcom.

RHRC: In the William and Clare stories, you write about the love between two people, but their relationship ripples throughout the lives of their families. You seem to be exploring the way love
touches people at their core and also at the more superficial but important edges. Why did you choose to move in this direction?

AB: The ripple effect of love, of hate, of indifference, the consequences of one’s actions, are always of interest to me. In Come to Me, I wrote a story about a woman who chooses to go back to her
husband rather than go off with her lover, not because she couldn’t bear to hurt her husband and her children but because she felt she would be an inadequate and unhappy stepmother, and, in the end, a bad wife to a second husband. In the William and Clare stories, part of what I was writing about is that in midlife, in the face of an unexpected and powerful love, one has a lot to lose. Inevitably, there is loss, some of which people recover from and some of which they don’t— another theme of mine.

RHRC: You are known for your titles, and the stories in this collection are no exception. Tell us a little about how you chose these titles.

AB: “Where the God of Love Hangs Out” is a little unusual for me because of the colloquial phrase “hangs out.” I ended up choosing that in part because it reflected the setting of that particular
story, which is a dive in a dying town. My hope for every title is that it actually adds something to the story. It doesn’t summarize it and it doesn’t preview it, it gives something to the story that
wouldn’t be there otherwise.

RHRC: Tell us a little about your writing process. Also, what writing projects are you currently pursuing?

AB: My writing process such as it is consists of a lot of noodling, procrastinating, dawdling, and avoiding. I usually write fiction in the afternoon. I am currently at work on a couple of television
projects—one about family, one about cops—and another novel, which is about sisters, parents, psychics, orphanages, and vaudeville.

The “fierce, elegant challenge” of story writing: Amy Bloom on why short is good

Thursday, December 9th, 2010

Where the God of Love Hangs OutI have loved short stories since I was a girl reading Hawthorne and Poe. (Melville was a little sophisticated for me; I had to wait until I was a sulky teenager to love “Bartleby, the Scrivener” and then I took to walking around the house murmuring, “I would prefer not to.” My father, a Melville admirer, begged for mercy.) At the same time that I was reading the great American nineteenth century short story, I was also discovering my father’s library of pre– and post–World War II wits. Dorothy Parker was not just the funny brittle woman at the Algonquin Table; she knew sadness and self-deception from the inside out and she could put it on the page with painful, personal frankness and not a bit of  self-preserving paint or pretense. Her sentences are wry, but they bleed (“Big Blonde”). I read S. J. Perelman, the Jewish smart aleck of “Westward Ha!” and Robert Benchley, the urbane gentleman who could keep his head and his martini, even on an ice floe (“Drinking makes such fools of people, and people are such fools to begin with,  it’s just compounding a felony”). I read odd, funny, sometimes disturbing James Thurber and used his “The Catbird Seat” to plan my comeuppance of my high school principal.

The great pleasure for me in writing short stories is the fierce, elegant challenge. Writing short stories requires Cary Grant, Humphrey Bogart, and some help from Gregory Hines. We are the cat burglars of the business: in and out in a relatively short time, quietly dressed (not for us the grand gaudiness of 600 pages and a riff on our favorite kind of breakfast cereal) to accomplish something shocking—and lasting—without throwing around the furniture.

Flannery O’Connor (a reliable source when appreciating the short story) wrote that short stories deliver “the experience of surprise.” The surprise, I think, is that so few pages can contain so much, that what is taken to be a prism turns out to be not only a window but a door as well.

If you’re an American reader, you can love short stories the way other Americans love baseball; this is our game, people! We have more than two hundred years of know-how and knack, of creativity. Of the folksy and the hip, of traditional yarn-spinning and innovative flourishes. Of men and women, of war and loss and love, with a few ghosts and many roads not taken. And in all of that, you will find some of the funniest and most heartbreaking fiction, ever. (You could take a break right now and go find Parker’s “The Waltz” and Carver’s “Cathedral.”)

Short stories have no net. The writer cannot take a leisurely sixty pages to get things moving, or make a side trip onto a barely related subject, or slack off in the last forty pages. Everything is right now, right here, in the reader’s grasp and mind’s eye. The writer has twenty to thirty pages to entice, seduce, enter, and alter the reader. For me, the short story is the depth of a novel, the breadth of a poem, and, as you come to the last few paragraphs, the experience of surprise.

A reading group guide for John Grisham’s FORD COUNTY: Stories

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010

Ford County“These stories were revelatory. They showed how much verve, suspense, instruction and moral ambiguity Mr. Grisham could pack into bare-bones plotlines. He could accomplish in 40-page virtual synopses what he normally does in 400-page novels.” – Janet Maslin, The New York Times

1. How do the small-town lawyers in Ford County compare to some of the high-powered attorneys featured in John Grisham’s other works? What struggles and temptations do they all have in common?

2. When Roger, Aggie, and Calvin decided to travel to Memphis to give blood in “Blood Drive,” what were they each hoping to gain? Was Calvin the only one who lost his innocence on the trip? What ultimately was your impression of Bailey—the character we only meet through hearsay?

3. In “Fetching Raymond,” Inez Graney and her sons Leon and Butch don’t see Raymond’s situation in quite the same way. What accounts for the difference between Raymond and his brothers? What determines whether someone will end up on the wrong side of the law?

4. John Grisham’s first work of nonfiction, The Innocent Man, recounted the story of Ron Williamson, who was sentenced to death for the 1982 murder of an Oklahoma waitress despite a spurious trial. In the fictional Raymond Graney’s case, we’re told on page 75 that he confessed to Butch, and that Butch and Leon knew their brother had ambushed Coy. Nonetheless, was it right for Raymond to receive the death penalty?

5. What drove Mack Stafford to go to such great lengths of dishonesty in his “Fish Files” escape? Was his life in Mississippi beyond salvage? Did he do any real harm in executing his brilliant plan?

6. What is Sidney Lewis’s best ammunition against Bobby Carl Leach? What really ruined Sidney and Stella’s marriage? Did money put it back together again at the end of “Casino,” or was something else at play?

7. In “Michael’s Room,” was Stanley in fact facing enormous lies of his past, or had he simply presented a different version of the truth in the courtroom? Why did Jim Cranwell lose his case? Could any amount of legislation have ensured a victory for him?

8. How did your perception of Gilbert Griffin change as you read “Quiet Haven”? What were your first impressions of him? Were you hoodwinked as well? Could someone like him dodge prosecution forever?

9. What does “home” mean to Emporia and Adrian in “Funny Boy”? What does their friendship prove about the people who make Clanton’s most powerful families feel threatened? What is Adrian’s greatest legacy to his newfound friend?

10. How do the residents of Ford County imagine city life—Memphis, San Francisco, New York? What determines whether they fear it or crave it?

11. What does Ford County tell us about the nature of small towns? What makes them safe havens? What makes them dangerous?

12. Whose lives are changed for the better by the legal agreements and maneuvers described in Ford County? What is the most significant factor in whether the law is a force for good or evil in these stories?

13. Tort reform has received much publicity in recent years. Discuss the question of damages raised in stories such as “Fish Files,” “Michael’s Room,” and “Quiet Haven.” When should an injured person be entitled to financial compensation? What should drive the dollar amount of that compensation?

14. Adrian reads much fiction by William Faulkner, who also created a fictional southern locale (Yoknapatawpha County) as the setting for many of his works. How does Grisham’s take on small-town Mississippi compare to Faulkner’s? What aspects of Ford County have remained unchanged since Grisham created it for A Time to Kill?

15. What makes Grisham’s approach to storytelling so appropriate for short fiction? Linked by time and place, do the stories in Ford County form a novel, in a way?

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