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You Are Not a Stranger Here

by

You Are Not a Stranger Here Cover

 

 

Author Q & A

A Conversation with Adam Haslett, author of YOU ARE NOT A STRANGER HERE

Q: The title for this collection doesn’t come from one of the story titles; where does it come from?

A: The title is taken from a line in the book, in the story “War’s End,” about a man who visits an old woman’s house in St. Andrews, Scotland. He’s feeling very low and the old women picks up on this. When he asks if she often has strangers like him to her house, she replies, “You’re not a stranger here.” I liked it as a title because it’s an invitation to the reader, a welcoming. My hope is that readers, even if they haven’t experienced some of the things in my book, will still see parts of themselves in the stories, perhaps parts they don’t see reflected in a lot of other places.

Q: Did you write these stories as a collection, or did you write them and discover you had a collection?

A: Most of them were written one at a time with no clear plan to make them into a book. A few others, though, were written after I had a publisher, so at that point I knew that they would all end up together. But even then my focus was on each piece as a separate work. I didn’t make conscious decisions about themes or ideas running through all the stories. I tried to think of them each as their own world.

Q: Your stories take the reader to several locales. Are these all places you know well?

A: Most of the settings are places I’ve been, but not all. I’m half English so I’ve spent a lot of time in England and Scotland. The British settings are taken from memories of places I’ve visited. The American settings are a mix of imagined towns and locations I’ve been to but have altered slightly for my purposes. I like knowing enough about a place to set something there but not so much that I can’t invent a little as well.

Q: A number of these stories focus on people who have been diagnosed as mentally ill. Do you have personal experience with mental illness? Are any of these stories autobiographical?

A: There’s been manic-depression in my family, so I’ve experienced that at close range, and certainly it’s influenced how I see the world. Mostly I think it gave me empathy for those who suffer real emotional pain and left me wanting to understand both the amazing highs and terrible lows of human experience. Sometimes that involves mental illness, sometimes it doesn’t. I think we learn things about ourselves in extreme moments, and a lot of the stories deal with people facing serious dilemmas. But in the end the book is fiction. None of the plots are based on actual events in my life. I guess you could say there’s no literal autobiography, just emotional autobiography.

Q: Though many of your characters are in desperate states, these stories are very funny. Can you talk about the role of humor in your writing?

A: I love writing comic scenes. You spend a lot of time on your own when you write, and occasionally you need some laughter to get you through. Comedy has a great energy and it tends to move the story forward quickly. It’s also more fun to read comic work aloud at readings because you can tell if your audience is with you. If they start laughing, you know it’s working.

Q: While you were writing the stories in this collection, you were also attending law school. How did you find time to do both?

A: I tried to concentrate on one pursuit at a time. Many of the stories for this book were written before I entered law school, and then I took some time off to finish the book. I found moving back and forth helped the writing because it gave my mind a break from the material and when I returned I had my energy back.

Q: What kind of law do you plan to practice?

A: I’m interested in criminal law and writing appeals. I’m not sure yet exactly how I’ll balance law and writing, though I’d like to keep them both going.

Q: There is a great precedent for lawyers writing fiction about the law. Have you ever considered that?

A: I’ve definitely thought about having characters who are lawyers, but I haven’t considered basing a book on a legal story. When I write, I usually start by trying to find the right rhythm in the language, which gives me a sense of the characters, and the plot tends to develop from there. People’s interior life, how they see the world, is what interests me most. It would fun to write about the law from that internal perspective at some point in the future.

Q: Are you writing more stories or are you working on a novel?

A: I’m beginning a novel. The last fours years of writing has all been devoted to short stories, and I’m ready to work on a larger scale. Short stories are often confined to one character’s perspective and I’m looking forward to having multiple characters and being able to explore their lives at greater length.

Product Details

ISBN:
9780385720724
Author:
Haslett, Adam
Publisher:
Anchor Books
Location:
New York
Subject:
Short Stories (single author)
Subject:
Short stories
Subject:
Stories (single author)
Subject:
Literature-A to Z
Copyright:
Edition Number:
1st paperback ed.
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Series Volume:
1208
Publication Date:
August 12, 2003
Binding:
TRADE PAPER
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Pages:
256
Dimensions:
8.04x5.30x.60 in. .42 lbs.

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Related Subjects

Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z

You Are Not a Stranger Here Used Trade Paper
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Product details 256 pages Anchor (UK) - English 9780385720724 Reviews:
"Review" by , "[A] very impressive debut. Haslett is an expert storyteller, who draws the reader in with his compassion, then methodically unravels unexpected truths....Haslett's perceptive stories are far-flung in setting...but his themes are grounded in one place: the troubled human mind."
"Review" by , "[An] affecting debut collection....Though the thematic similarity of many of the stories dulls their startling initial impact, this is a strikingly assured first effort."
"Review" by , "There are some spectacular moments, and also several inexplicable miscalculations in this extremely uneven yet unquestionably promising debut collection....Not by any means the book it might — perhaps should — have been."
"Review" by , "Adam Haslett's debut stories are almost frighteningly tender....Haslett is a young writer and may himself have a long journey ahead. But in the best of these stories, he reveals a piece of wisdom greater than his years: that mercy extends not just to the ill, but to their sentinels — who are, in their finest hour, blessed with the task of love."
"Review" by , "All this can be a little gloomy, but Haslett is an eloquent, precise miniaturist, and his characters' struggles with their own assumptions collectively provide a fascinating snapshot of life during the era of Prozac, when new ways of thinking about emotion have forced us to adjust our notion of identity and even, perhaps, of grace."
"Review" by , "Not every reader will care or dare to enter Haslett's sometimes melodramatically painful world, but the book welcomes the courageous — and the estranged."
"Review" by , "Haslett possesses a rich assortment of literary gifts: an instinctive empathy for his characters and an ability to map their inner lives in startling detail; a knack for graceful, evocative prose; and a determination to trace the hidden arithmetic of relationships."
"Review" by , "Elegant....Invigorating....[Haslett has an] assured, almost democratic empathy for his admirably varied characters....These are graceful, mature, witty stories."
"Review" by , "Adam Haslett is a wonderful rarity: an old-fashioned young storyteller with something urgent and fresh and fiercely intelligent to say. Haslett's great gifts as a writer — his fearlessness in particular — are a great gift to the reader. You're likely not only to love his stories but to feel stronger for having read them."
"Review" by , "Adam Haslett possesses the rare ability to combine powerful narrative with sensitive and perceptive observation of people and places. You Are Not A Stranger Here is a brilliant beginning to a literary career."
"Review" by , "From the brilliantly manic gallop of the first story to the deep, careful, breath-held balance of the last (a truly beautiful duet of age and youth), You Are Not A Stranger Here is a book to savor."
"Synopsis" by , The publication of “Notes to My Biographer,” in Zoetrope: All-Story magazine introduced readers to the remarkable voice of Adam Haslett. Nominated as part of a National Magazine Award, broadcast on National Public Radio, performed at venues across the country, the story brought the author widespread recognition.

Now, in his first book, Adam Haslett gives us nine richly varied stories, each suffused with intense emotion and written in a lyric prose alternatively lush and spare. You Are Not a Stranger Here carries its readers into the hearts and minds of people facing life’s most profound dilemmas. We meet an aging inventor still burning with ideas as he makes a final visit to his gay son. A psychiatrist’s encounter with a reluctant patient reveals a young doctor’s own needs and fears. An orphaned boy finds solace in a classmate’s violence. The return of an old lover disturbs the peace between a brother and sister who have lived together for decades.

In settings that range from New England to Great Britain, from Los Angeles to the American West, the stories in this book treat what Faulkner called the old verities and truths of the heart: love and honor, pity and pride, compassion and sacrifice. They do so with heartbreaking precision and an often generous humor, drawing us past the surface of characters’ lives into the moments of decision and recognition that shape them irrevocably. Together these stories constitute a significant achievement by a powerful new writer.

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