Heather A. Slomski’s stories are magical, short, and often happening around dinner time. The Minnesota author joins The Mother of All Book Clubs at Barnes & Noble, Galleria, tonight (Wednesday, April 8), beginning at 5:30 p.m. in the store’s Starbucks downstairs, with a public discussion at 7 p.m. Both events are free and open to the public.
Here Slomski answers five questions (and a bonus one)—on writing short, writing short stories, and the power of magic and dinner.
1. Many of your stories are quite short. What is attractive to you about the super short form?
[The attraction is in] beginning with one single idea/image and seeing where it takes me and for how long I can sustain its potency.
2. There is wonderful, whimsical magical realism in your stories. But it’s grownup whimsy—a sad and lonely mannequin, for instance. Do you feel like you are a person of “grownup whimsy”?
Yes, and I like that term. I find that letting a bit of magic into a story helps me to heighten tensions and to actually make the story more “real.” Human emotions are not logical; if I open the window and let in a little magic, I feel that I can explore my characters’ emotions more fully. Furthermore, stories that include a bit of magic or whimsy are just more fun to write.
3. What is the power of a shared meal? So much of your stories revolve around shared meals.
I’m attracted to mealtimes in my stories because they are ripe with dramatic possibility. Characters are more or less stuck at a table together during mealtimes, so these are great opportunities for pushing conflicts.
4. What advice do you have for writers attracted to writing short, and to readers who may be new to reading short story collections?
I would tell aspiring short story writers to make every word and image count; practice compression. I would tell readers simply to read and enjoy. Larger themes will emerge on their own; you don’t have to search for them.
5. How do you know, especially in a very short story, if a story is "good?" What quality are you looking for in your own work that makes something satisfying or "good?"
For a story to be satisfying or “good,” it has to keep my complete attention the entire time I am writing it. When a story is working, it draws to me to write the next line and the next and the next. I really can’t say much more than this.
Bonus question: What/who inspires you?
I am mostly inspired by books—phrases, images, situations. I am also inspired by visual art, and when I am stuck I try whenever possible to go to an art museum. I occasionally get ideas from eavesdropping and observing people. Music has never “inspired” a story for me, but, like many writers, I sometimes find/create a soundtrack for a story I am working on, and listening to that soundtrack helps to keep me inside the world of the story. For example, I listened to Ennio Morricone compositions while writing “Before the Story Ends.” Even now when I listen to Morricone, I re-enter the world of that story.