An Interview with Hollis Seamon

hollisaugust201211bw2We recently interviewed Hollis Seamon about her writing career, her newest collection of short stories, Corporeality and her upcoming young adult novel, Somebody Up There Hates You.

Publisher’s Weekly writes that “Seamon’s winning collection of short stories returns again and again to the question of how we reconcile ourselves to our bodies. Whether they’re discovering their capabilities, accepting their eventual breakdown, or reveling in the twilight of their sexuality, the bodies in Seamon’s stories show just how undependable they actually are. Love, kindness, and understanding exist in these stories, but they are often tempered by the promise of approaching tragedy.”

Hollis Seamon will be reading with novelist and Saint Rose alum Dennis Mahoney on March 1, Huether Hall 200, 5-7pm.

Your newest collection of stories is called Corporeality. Why did you choose the title? Is there a common thread tying these stories together?

 The title is a reflection of my fascination with our existence as embodied creatures.  (And if you consider that my previous two books were called Body Work and Flesh, you can see that this is a long-time interest.)  “Corporeality” means the life of the body, the life we experience through our senses.  For me, our bodily lives are the essence of who we are.  That’s where all of our stories begin—and end.  And on the literal level, many of the people in these stories suffer from bodily illnesses and ailments that are very much part of their stories.

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In September, you’re releasing your first young adult novel, Somebody Up There Hates You, which developed from your short story, “SUTHY Syndrome.” Can you tell us how your novel evolved?  

 I wrote the short story a while back and it was published in The Bellevue Literary Review in 2009.  So I thought it was done.  But the narrator, Richie, just kept on talking in my head and it became clear to me that he had much more to say and to do.  So I decided to expand the story into a novel.  The novel actually covers the same period of time as the story—not much more than a week—but it has many more characters and events.  It was my agent who pointed out that the novel would work well as a YA book and I revised it, with her suggestions and those of Elise Howard, my wonderful editor at Algonquin, to make it more suitable for young adult readers.

Someone Up There

I’ve gathered from reading your essay on writing Somebody Up There Hates You that this book is intensely personal.  Did the creative process you went through writing this book differ from your other novels?

 I think that all books are intensely personal to their writers.  Why else would we dedicate years of our lives to completing them?   I write from what I fear and what I dream and what I have lived.  But the characters and events here are, as always, imagined.  The settings, however, are based on real places and the emotions are certainly ones I have felt.  I write what haunts me—I don’t think I have any choice about that.

You’ve recently published on Amazon Kindle. How do you feel ebooks are changing the publishing world? Do you plan to publish more ebooks in the future?

I haven’t a clue about how the new technologies will play out, in publishing or any other realm.  I personally am dedicated to reading print, on paper.  But I’m happy that people are reading books in whatever form they come in and happy to have my work in both print and electronic formats.

Throughout your career you’ve switched genres. Which is your favorite genre and why? 

I haven’t really switched genres:  I write fiction and only fiction.  But I have worked in various categories of fiction:  short story, novel, mystery, young adult novel.  I try to determine what form to use according to the needs of the story itself.  Some ideas are just better suited to the shorter forms and some to the longer.  I love the rigor of the short story form, where it’s all about compression and efficiency.  And I also love writing novels, where there are opportunities to weave in multiple threads and plot lines.  I often write short stories while I’m also engaged in writing a novel, as a kind of break and different discipline.

What are your current projects?

I’m studying the theory and practice of contemporary fairy tales, as preparation for a new graduate course I’ll be teaching next year.  I’m also writing some fairy tale themed short stories and I’ve begun a new young adult novel.  In addition, I’m working with the marketing team at Algonquin on the promotion of Somebody Up There Hates You.  This kind of work is very much part of a writer’s job in today’s publishing world.

What is the most helpful criticism you have received? What has been the best compliment?

I have a couple of great early-draft readers—one is my son Tobias, who is a novelist, short story writer and poet, and another is my colleague at Fairfield University, Bill Patrick, who always offers no-holds-barred, smart, insightful critique.  They both help to smack some sense into me when my love of language runs amok.  They let me know when I need to kill my darlings.   The best compliment?   I was very pleased when Danielle Ofri, editor of The Bellevue Review, named “The Plagiarist” as her first Editor’s Choice pick of favorite stories of the past decade. And, really, having anyone shell out good money to buy one of my books is a huge, huge compliment.

Do you have any advice to give to aspiring writers?

Read, widely and broadly and constantly. Give yourself time to develop true craftsmanship.  Honor your apprenticeship. Write, always, with passion.  Don’t give up and don’t whine about how hard it is to get published or how you don’t have time to write. Just do it.

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