This weekend, Megan Lynch, a senior editor at Riverhead Books, will be joining her author Manuel Gonzales at the Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference in Seattle. They’ll be there for “Celebrating 20 Years of Extraordinary Fiction from Riverhead Books,” an unmissable reading on Saturday afternoon at the conference (Find more details here). Manuel will be reading from his short story collection THE MINIATURE WIFE, which Megan edited.
LS: Why shouldn’t aspiring writers give up on the short story form or on the prospect of putting together their own short story collections?
Manuel Gonzales: The beauty of the short story is that everything has been done to the short story. It’s been turned into a shopping list, a set of twitter posts, a menu (Roxane Gay‘s “Contrapasso”), and a PowerPoint presentation. It’s been minimalized and maximalized; it can be as short as 500 or 100 words or as long as whatever Alice Munro wants to write and call a story. So there’s nothing you can’t do with the short story. As a writer, you’re free to do practically anything, can experiment or not, and there’s something exciting about all the possibilities open to you as a writer. But truthfully, if you write short stories, if you can’t help but write short stories, if that’s how narrative spills out of you–not as a poem or a novel or a script, but as a story–then that is reason enough not to give up on the form.
Megan Lynch: As a reader, I love short stories and always have. As an editor, their appeal is simple: they can be perfect in a way that even the most polished novel can’t touch. And getting to really perfect something in the editorial process is a true joy; plus it works different creative muscles than the kind of structural edit you might do on a novel. So I hope writers will absolutely continue to write brilliant short stories, but they should also be aware that not only can stories be perfect, they pretty much should be. I take on plenty of novels that need significant work, but can’t do that with stories.
LS: Tell us about your author-editor collaboration.
MG: We share a number of references, most of them pop-cultural, and she has a great intuitive sense about where I want to go with something and how to best get me there–by asking questions, making subtle suggestions, sending me other work as reference. She’s fairly easy on me in terms of timelines and schedules. I’m harder on myself about deadlines than Megan is. There were a few rewrites on a few stories, some good notes on the collection as a whole, but other than one or two stories, the book had been worked on and worked over for so many years that the editing–while good and incisive–was light, at least compared to how the editing and rewriting process has gone with my next project. There was a story she asked me to edit that I’d written ten or so years before and I found myself flummoxed and unable to figure out what I had intended when I’d first written it, so I asked if it was okay to write a new one, a story that had been brewing in my head for about year, and she had great notes for it as well, and the replacement worked so much better for the tone and flow of the collection.
ML: Manuel is a great author to work with when he’s not getting on my case for never having seen Die Hard. He has a fantastic sense of humor, is able to handle constructive criticism, and he is willing to put in the work. The story he’s referring to that I asked him to revisit is a case in point—I was very nervous to ask him to cut the story when we jointly came to the realization that revising it wasn’t working. I knew how much effort he had put into that story over time. But Manuel was able to remain focused on the ultimate goal of creating the best possible book, and his solution of writing a new story ended up being the ideal one.
LS: How does an editor make the book better? Are there particular anecdotes that you have about working on THE MINIATURE WIFE?
MG: Megan helped make THE MINIATURE WIFE better by making me push it darker in places. She helped shape the flow of the stories, too, and pointed to stories that were weaker in the original collection that we discarded–for good reason–and when I drummed up replacements, she had an intuitive knack for making sure that I wasn’t simply retreading themes and characters and situations already present in the collection and pushed to make the stories not just fit, tonally, but reach and stretch for different emotional points along the way.
ML: I try my best to just be a really engaged reader and sounding board—to help the author unlock the potential that has already been in their work all along.
LS: Why is THE MINIATURE WIFE perfect for the Riverhead brand? Is fitting into an imprint’s brand identity something aspiring writers should try to do?
MG: I don’t know if an aspiring writer should necessarily consciously look to fit in with an imprint’s brand but should work hard to find the right editor for her work, which will often lead indirectly to a good fit with the imprint brand. The brand is developed, aesthetically, by the editors and the publisher, and so by default, if you find an editor you really click with, you’ll have, nine times out of ten, also found an imprint you click with. As for why THE MINIATURE WIFE is perfect for Riverhead, I’ll leave that to Megan to explain, other than to say that I’ve always been a fan of the books and authors represented by Riverhead. The books are gorgeous and well-written and compelling. The house makes great, high-quality books and I’m thrilled they’ve let my books, with zombies and robots and whatnot, into their super-cool club.
ML: If you get to a point where you’re deciding among multiple offers on a book you’ve written, you should absolutely think about how your work fits within an imprint, but I think to do so before then is an unnecessary imposition on the creative process. At Riverhead we’re always looking to publish the best work by up-and-coming writers, work that succeeds on the level of the line and on the level of story, and work that truly shifts the reader’s perspective on the world. And so THE MINIATURE WIFE, with its mystically hijacked planes, suburban-dwelling unicorns, and cuckolded scientists—and Manuel Gonzales’s strikingly original prose—was in so many ways a happily ideal fit.
Manuel Gonzales is a graduate of the Columbia University creative writing program. He has published fiction and nonfiction in Open City, Fence, One Story, Esquire, McSweeney’s Quarterly, and the Believer. He is the executive director of Austin Bat Cave, a nonprofit creative writing center for students aged six to eighteen. His collection of short stories THE MINIATURE WIFE is available from Riverhead Books. Connect with Manuel at the Associated Writers and Writing Programs Conference in Seattle this week–you can find out more about his reading celebrating twenty years of Riverhead fiction here. You can also follow Manuel on Twitter and Goodreads.
About Megan Lynch and Riverhead Books
Megan Lynch is a senior editor at Riverhead Books, which publishes literary fiction and high quality nonfiction. Some of our favorite guests on the Book Country blog are Riverhead authors, including Patty Chang Anker, Julie Klam, Amy Brill, Chang-rae Lee, Mohsin Hamid, and Jillian Cantor. On Twitter, follow @riverheadbooks and @lynchmegan, and find Riverhead on Facebook and Tumblr.
Want to learn more about the literary fiction genre? Join the conversation on Book Country!