“The World to Come” in Best American Short Stories 2013

As you might have read in a previous post, Jim’s story “The World to Come” has been included in the Best American Anthology this year.  The story is a love story between two nineteenth century farm women and originally appeared in One Story.  Here is a mini interview with Jim from the One Story issue:

Q&A by Hannah Tinti (Taken from One Story website which you can find here)

 

Where did the idea of this story come from?

I’d come across a book chronicling the worst storms in the history of New England. (That’s the kind of book I tend to read.) I was struck, going through it, by just the day-to-day arduousness and loneliness of the farmers’ lives. That led me to other histories and journals and diaries, and I came across a farmer’s one-line notation about how sad his wife was, because her one friend had moved away.

The details of “The World to Come” feel so authentic—from the farming tools to the medicinal herbs. How much research did you do to create this world?

I started researching last June, and, though I was also doing other things in the meantime, didn’t start writing until early December.

Why did you decide to tell this story in the format of journal entries, instead of a straight narrative?

 

I wanted to catch if I could the moment-to-moment and day-to-day nature of 19th century farming lives, as well as how seasonally based those lives were: the importance of the weather, and their meals, and of course the drudgery. But the journal nature of the story also seemed crucial when it came to capturing all of the little ways in which the narrator has let her Tallie down.

 

Do you think it was only desperate circumstances that drew these women together, or was it a deeper connection? And did you know from the start this would be a love story?

 

Unsurprisingly, I think it was both. I do think they would have been powerfully drawn to one another even had they met under less desperate circumstances, but then, they don’t consider the circumstances particularly desperate (until the end). And almost immediately I knew it would be a love story; the question at that point became how repressed a love story it would be.

 

At one point the narrator, thinking of her pioneer mother (born in 1780), remarks: “I wonder now at the courage and the resourcefulness of those women who fared forth, not knowing where they were being led, to begin to chip into the wilderness the foundations of a civilization.” This story in many ways feels like a tribute to these women—and the losses they were forced to bear. The narrator and Tallie are the next generation, but their lives continue to be severely limited and contained. Is that partly what drew you to write about this time period (1850s)?

 

That is, yes. Once I decided to write about farm women rather than men, the unsung nature of the burden they bore seemed very clear.

 

One of the most striking sections is the earthquake that Dyer’s mother goes through. Why did you decide to include this story within a story?

 

I thought it important to have a figure in the story for another, more terrifying kind of disaster, and for how precarious farmers felt their footholds in their livelihoods (and lives) to be.

 

Why did you title this story “The World to Come”?

 

I liked the way in which our narrator early on assures us that she has stopped worrying about that notion, and then finds that Tallie has created for her an entirely new version of a world to come. And then the sadness of imagining what that world to come must look like, for the narrator, once Tallie is dead.

 

What is the best bit of advice about writing you have ever received?

 

My thesis advisor at Brown University, John Hawkes, always told me to look for the weirdness in my own work. There was plenty to find.

 

Welcome to Shepard Town

The Rumpus has selected Jim Shepard’s upcoming collection, “You Think That’s Bad” as it February Rumpus Book Club Selection!

Here is the full post:

Coming Soon: February.   And not just February, but the February Rumpus Book Club selection, You Think That’s Bad, the new collection of short stories by Jim Shepard, which The Rumpus Book Club members will receive more than a month before the book is available for purchase.

You can join the book club here. We’re only going to be able to accept a limited number of new subscribers this month.

We’re really excited about this. So excited we might just rename The Rumpus “Shepard Town.” As in, Welcome to Shepard Town.

Click here to join the Rumpus Bookclub.

Master of Miniatures Available Now!

Thank you all for being so patient  – I am happy to say that Jim’s new novella, entitled “Master of Miniatures” will be available on January 21 is available now to pre-order

Here are some reviews:

A perfect embodiment of mid-20th-century anxiety, Master of Miniatures touches on hubris and nuclear testing, lunatic perfectionism and fire-tornadoes and the schisms wrought by grief and silence. In Jim Shepard’s deft and darkly brilliant tale about the master behind a legendary film, the complexities of creating a monster and shooting special effects resonate exactly with one man’s inner life. No one writes like Shepard, quietly layering loss over loss–and no one orchestrates catastrophe better.–Andrea Barrett

As in Nosferatu, with its smartly imagined life of the German film director F. W. Murnau, here Shepard considers the Japanese special effects director Eiji Tsuburaya and his cinematic inventions for the science-fiction movie we know as Godzilla. And like many of Shepard’s stories, Master of Miniatures limns the intense and alienated world of a focused expert obsessed with his field of endeavor, at a cost to his marriage and children. For Japanese survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the fifties, America itself seemed king of the monsters, to be looked at with fear and awe. This is a poignant and important story that seems to me a summation and condensation of many themes that have preoccupied Shepard before. Like a diamond held aloft, each turn of this tale in his deft hand flashes still more light.–Ron Hansen

Ready to pre-order?  Just click on a link of your choice to be directed to the appropriate page:

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

SPD

We’ll be featuring more reviews this coming week!

Jim Shepard Interview in the New Yorker

Here’s a brief and lovely interview with Jim Shepard about his new story, Boy’s Town, which appears this week in the New Yorker.  Here’s a sampling:

“Boys Town” is about a man who believes that nothing he’s done in his life has ever been good enough. When did you first start thinking about your protagonist?

I’ve written about those sorts of protagonists all of my life. It seems to me that that kind of radical disenchantment with one’s self—wedded, at the same time, to an enormous capacity for self-deception, as well—has been an ongoing subject of mine. I’ve always been interested, both in other writers’ work and my own, in protagonists who leave the reader to sort through what they’ve figured out, what they’ve been unable to figure out, and what they refuse to try to figure out about themselves.

How often is your fiction inspired by real events? When you come across a news story or an account of a historical incident, do you immediately know that it might form the germ of a story?

Lately, my fiction has often been inspired by real events, either from history or science or the news. Initially I read just to please myself: the happy odd person left alone with his peculiar subjects. But every so often a particular human dilemma within a situation sticks with me, and that emotional resonance that I feel in such cases suggests to me that I might want to try to inhabit the situation a little more fully, in terms of my own empathetic imagination.

Read the rest here.  And be sure to pick up a copy of The New Yorker this week and read Jim’s story.

“The Best American Short Stories 2010” features Jim’s Story

More good news this week.  Jim Shepard’s story “The Netherlands Lives With Water” was selected by editor Richard Russo as one of the best short stories of 2010.  Jim’s story was first published in McSweeney’s.  Read more about The Best American Short Stories 2010 by clicking here.  Take a look at some reader reviews and buy the book at Amazon.

Jim Shepard is Vice Magazine’s Guest Editor

Looking for a new magazine to read?  Check out Vice Magazine, which features Jim as a guest editor in its latest issue.  The theme of the issue?  Catastrophes.  Here’s a little bit by Jim from his “Letter from the Guest Editor:”

WELCOME TO THE CATASTROPHES ISSUE

You can make a pretty good argument that if you’re an apocalyptic you’re both fucked up and plugged into the zeitgeist. I was an apocalyptic kind of guy before I even understood what the word meant—some of my earliest obsessive interests involved books like All About Volcanoes and All About Earthquakes and movies like A Night to Remember—but that was in the early 60s, and as we all know from our radically abridged cultural histories, the shit didn’t hit the fan, in American terms, until the late 60s. So when I’m feeling good about myself, I can pretend I saw it all coming—I still take secret pride in the precocity of my childhood conviction, in the face of everything I read, that a catastrophic event of some sort had ended the Cretaceous—but when I’m being more honest, I have to ask myself some version of the question my long-suffering wife once asked me: What kind of person takes a history of the guillotine to the beach?

Well, the good news for people like me and the bad news for the rest of the world is that things are getting so fucked up that a worldview that sees disaster around every corner is starting to look a lot like a measured and sober understanding of the facts. Pick your poison—land, sea, or air—and try to think of an arena in which we don’t seem to be accelerating toward some pretty bad news. Accelerating because of our nature as human beings, which is to say in individual terms, the bad decisions we make each and every day, and in collective terms, our decision to have handed over our fate to global capital.

What to do about climate change? The toxification of our food? The death of our oceans? These are all decisions we’ve turned over to ExxonMobil, Monsanto, and BP. And those companies have become as powerful as they are by having figured out how to game the system. Regulatory agencies, national and international, are now controlled by the very companies they’re supposed to be scrutinizing. And each industry, in pursuit of ever-greater profits, has installed as its primary value its definition of greater efficiency, which means ever-narrowing options and greater precariousness. So that now instead of thousands of local slaughterhouses, America has 13 megaplants, the perfect recipe for collecting lethal pathogens and spreading them far and wide. Now instead of shallow offshore drilling, our oil companies are drilling six miles down in water two miles deep, which means the chances of anything going wrong, then going catastrophically wrong, increase geometrically.

And the one agenda on which all of these corporations agree is that of doing away with what used to be known, quaintly, as the public’s right to know: They’ve come to understand that the kind of master-of-the-universe success they’re envisioning is as much about the control of information as it is control of the market. And that’s a nonpartisan agenda, worldwide. In the US, the progressive Obama administration—and you can supply your own air quotes around progressive—has been timid and tentative about everything but going after whistleblowers.

As more and more is systematically hidden from us, there’s less and less chance that we—or anyone—will be able to intervene in time to prevent disasters. If a crucial step involved in growing older is understood to be the recognition that loss is the seminar in which we’re all going to be enrolled, the collective version of that understanding in the 21st century might be that catastrophe is the seminar in which we’re all going to be enrolled. We have a lot of Deepwater Horizons ahead of us.

JIM SHEPARD, Guest Editor

The new issue is available now.  Learn more about Vice Magazine here.

“You Think That’s Bad” Cover now on Amazon.com!

Check out the cover for “You Think That’s Bad” on Amazon.com.

Along with the cover art, here’s what we know about the book so far:

Product Description

Culling the vastness of experience—from its bizarre fringes and breathtaking pinnacles to the mediocre and desperately below average—like an expert curator, Jim Shepard populates this collection with characters at once wildly diverse and wholly fascinating.

A “black world” operative can’t tell his wife a word about his daily activities, but doesn’t resist sharing her confidences. A young Alpine researcher is smitten by the girlfriend of his dead brother, killed in an avalanche he believes he caused. An unlucky farm boy becomes the manservant of a French nobleman who’s as proud of having served with Joan of Arc as he’s aroused by slaughtering children. A free spirit tracks an ancient Shia sect, becoming the first Western woman to travel the Arabian Deserts. From the inventor of the Godzilla epics to a miserable G.I. in New Guinea, each is complicit in his or her downfall and comes to learn that, in love, knowing better is never enough.

These stories traverse centuries, continents, and social strata, yet what they depict with devastating sensitivity—all the heartbreak, alienation, intimacy, and accomplishment—is utterly universal.

About the Author
Jim Shepard is the author of six novels and three previous collections, the most recent of which, Like You’d Understand, Anyway, won the Story Prize and was a National Book Award finalist. “The Netherlands Lives with Water,” from this collection, will appear in Best American Short Stories 2010 (edited by Richard Russo). He lives with his wife and their three children in Williamstown, Massachusetts.

Can’t wait for the book to come out?  Go ahead and pre-order it!