WR: When did you first start writing the stories in My Life as an Animal?
Laurie: They developed from a writing practice I began ten years ago when I met Richard Toon at an artist colony. We got to know each other by trading stories, and we still write at a café every day when we are together. We pick a subject, work in our notebooks for 30 minutes, then read aloud to each other. We agreed when we started that each piece would be a scene or a meditative essay. No diary or journal entries, no reviewing the day, no summary or analysis. We practice narrative techniques—dialogue, a sense of place, sensual detail, and most importantly shaping a narrative voice that thinks in two time frames. Something happens, the narrator reports a response at the time it happened, and the narrator also weighs in on the incident now—at the time of the telling—whether the look back is five minutes later or 20 years later. Animal developed from this practice.WR: How are stories different from (the same) as your other writing?
Laurie: Pretty much everything I write these days is a story. The pieces in this book and elsewhere are dramatic narratives. I am not especially interested in things that happened because they happened. I am interested in whatever I find sexy, scary, surprising, strangely ordinary, or ordinarily strange. My work incorporates elements of fiction (scenes, dialogue, the build-up of dramatic revelations, etc.), memoir (some of the stuff happened in some form or other), criticism (my narrators enjoy thinking about art and politics), and nonfiction (some of the reporting is journalistically verifiable).WR: When did you feel it was a collection?
Laurie: The stories are linked, and they have the same narrator, so it’s not a collection in the standard sense. If you think of a novel as bowl, and you throw it against a wall, the shards are these stories.WR: How many revisions did you write?
Laurie: Hundreds. Stories emerge slowly for me, and I work at the level at the sentence, no prewriting or planning. Something has to happen while I am thinking about language.
WR: Who reads your drafts?
Laurie: This is a good question. I think you have to protect your work from people who tell you to make it better by writing like them. I want to know if something is alive or dead. Richard makes great suggestions, also my sister and another friend who are not writers but have learned to read experimental, hybrid, and fragmented pieces.
WR: What is your worst rejection story?
Laurie: I'm curious why you ask this question, and I am going to answer in a way you may not like. Every life is filled with disappointment and rejection. This is not a special category for writers, and to make it a special category disrespects other kinds of disappointment. You have to love what you do. The value of writing has to come from that. I need recognition from the world. I want to be part of the public conversation, and that means a lot of the time someone says to me, "No thanks," or "Get lost." At this stage of my life, I think about whether they are right and I need to make the story better.
WR: Actually, I quite like your answer. LROD was started in 2007, and a lot has changed in the literary world since then, and a lot has stayed the same, too. Writers seem to accept disappointment and rejection more easily as part of the gig—thanks in part to the ongoing discussions here and elsewhere. It's a learning process, isn't it? But, changing the subject, what advice would you give a writer wanting to publish a story collection?
Laurie: Believe in the short form if that is how your mind works. If an agent or editor tells you to shape something for commercial ends, leave that person. I used to make a living as a writer. I don’t anymore. I don’t know how you are going to support yourself while you write stories, but find a way. I have a follow-up to this book called The Love of Strangers. It is even more fragmented and hybrid than Animal. I’ll let you know if anyone bites.