Jim Shepard Interviewed on Fresh Air

Dear Jim Shepard fans,

Sorry this blog has not been updated in a while, but thank you all for your visits and messages!  As many of you know, Dave Davies of Fresh Air interviewed Jim Shepard back in June and it was a wonderful interview.  Here is an excerpt of the interview, which you can listen to here.


Well, Jim Shepard, welcome to FRESH AIR. You know, the most common advice we hear given to aspiring writers is write what you know, draw on your own experience for detail and insight. This collection of yours has a huge range.

It’s the story about a black ops specialist from the military, a British woman exploring the Middle East in the 1930s, a Japanese filmmaker in the ’50s, a French nobleman. Why do you embrace such diverse subjects?

Mr. JIM SHEPARD (Author): I think we’re not only hoping to write what we know as literary fiction writers. I think we’re also hoping to write what we can imagine, as well. I think literature is, in some ways, about the exercise of the empathetic imagination, and I’m always interested in stretching that capacity.

I’m also always interested in engaging the world and trying to enlarge my own sense of experience, and so I’m not only looking to reflect my own inner turmoil, which I’m certainly doing, but I’m also looking to teach myself about the world and teach the reader as I do it.

DAVIES: So when you’re writing in the voice of a British woman in the 1930s or a Japanese filmmaker, how do you know you’re getting it right?

Mr. SHEPARD: Boy, that’s a good question. A lot of the time, you fret that you’re not. But what’ll happen is I will immerse myself in a lot of primary documents, until I feel as though I’m starting to get the rhythms and the cadences of that kind of voice down.

Having satisfied myself at some laborious point in the future that I’m doing as well as I think I can do it, I will then often run it by people who know the world better than I do and say: Does any of this sound howlingly(ph) bad or off? Or something like that, as well.

DAVIES: So let’s look at an example of what you do here. The story “The Netherlands Lives with Water” is a sobering vision of climate change, and it’s set in, like, 2030, where water’s rising everywhere. And you look at a family in the Netherlands.

The husband, I guess, is like a civil engineer, right, who manages sophisticated water containment systems, and then he has a wife and a son. And why don’t you give us a reading here? This is a moment, kind of a climactic moment, where things are getting bad. Maybe just explain -set this up, if you will. Explain, you know, who the names are and what’s exactly happening here.

Mr. SHEPARD: Okay. The man is presiding over, late in the story, the sort of juxtaposition of a massive storm and massive outflows from the Rhine that are flooding Rotterdam exactly as he feared they would. And he has discovered that his wife, Cato, has taken their son to Berlin in order to keep him safe, but also, in a way, to separate from him emotionally. So he’s having a sort of double catastrophe come down on him at once. And this is, again, fairly late in the story.

(Reading) The window’s immense pane shudders and flexes before me from the force of what’s pouring out of the North Sea. Water is beginning to run its fingers under the seal on the sash. Cato will send me wry and brisk and newsy text updates whether she receives answers or not, and Henk will author a few, as well.

Everyone in Berlin will track the developments on the monitors above them while they shop or travel or work, the teaser heading reading something like: The Netherlands under siege. Some of the more sober will think: That could have been us.”

Read the rest of the interview here. And even better: click here for the audio version of Jim’s interview.

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