I read the short story collection The Girl in the Flammable Skirt after graduate school and I knew immediately that a fresh and important literary voice had arrived on the scene. I was thrilled to be able to take a UCLA extension writing course with Aimee Bender not long after I read her book and she made an impression on me as a teacher–how to take chances and explore possibilities. Two of the stories in my forthcoming short story collection Interrogations started in Bender’s class. Hope you enjoy insights into her creative life.
Who has been a major influence on your writing?
How to pick one? Today I will pick William Maxwell, because I’ve taught his beautiful novel So Long, See You Tomorrow many times and every time it reminds me something crucial about plot/absence of plot and how big feelings can revolve around tiny moments.
Can you give us insight into your creative process?
Blocks of time, stopping at a predetermined time even if it’s going well, no windows to look out of, no internet, no coffee shop, perhaps a yogurt.
How has being a teacher affected your own writing?
It supplies structure in my day and the pleasure of talking to smart students about writing which validates my own investment in this strange and wonderful and difficult thing a group of us do! Teaching is social, which provides a useful foil for the solitude of writing. The two acts are so different.
What is the best advice you can give to a writer finding her/his voice and subject matter?
Tangents are useful. Staying on point is not the point, especially in early drafts. Wander, explore, make messes.
How does writing short fiction and novels impact the other genre?
My stories are often longer now that I’ve written novels. Novels have helped train me in scene writing. Stories help with sentences, though sentences are pretty key to novels too. Both are hard and fun in different ways.
What are you currently working on?
Finding a novel.
Have you read anything recently that really got you excited?
So much! The first of the Knausgaard series was fantastic, Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill, and Silence Once Began by Jesse Ball both thrilled me, and I just read the David Shields’ conversation book I Think You’re Totally Wrong and found that pretty fun and stimulating to read, too.
Can you share an example of overcoming adversity to keep your writing dream alive?
All the piles of rejections from journals and magazines I gathered over years. It was a trudge and I felt discouraged a lot. An agent said my stories were ‘little’ in a way that felt very defeating.
What is something about you that writers and readers may not know?
I can play the beginning part of “Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd on the guitar. The easy part.
About the Author:
Aimee Bender is the author of five books, including The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake and most recently, The Color Master, a NY Times Notable book of 2013. Her short fiction has been published in Granta, Harper’s, The Paris Review, and more, as well as heard on “This American Life.” She lives in Los Angeles.