Today's blog, my last one, is an interview with the novelist (The Life I Lead) and short story writer, Keith Banner. The reason I wanted to finish the week off with this is that I believe, I truly fucking believe, that Banner's story collection, The Smallest People Alive, published in 2004, is one of the best books of short fiction published in the last twenty years. As I mentioned yesterday, my wife went through some major eye surgery yesterday, and so I didn't have time to work much on the interview as far as tweaking my questions for Keith. Anyway, enough of my bitching. Another reason that I wanted to write about The Smallest People Alive is that it seems most people have never read it, and it's an example of the puzzling way that short story collections, even brilliant ones like this one, are neglected and ignored by the reading "public." The following interview was conducted by email on March the 5th and the 6th, 2008.
Don: Can you tell me just a bit about the publishing history of The Smallest People Alive, maybe give me some numbers?
Keith: I think that 1,000 were printed up-front. I really haven't spoken with the editor at Carnegie Mellon University Press in a while (in fact, the one I worked with back in 2003 is no longer there), but I'd estimate about 5,000 sold maybe. The good thing about a university press for me was that there was no bullshit. I just got to have a book. Plus it never goes out of print.
Don: Why do you think short story collections usually don't sell very well?
Keith: You got me. I think possibly because most publishers and agents and booksellers consider short stories of any kind "literary," therefore they don't put muscle behind selling them and the writer. When was the last time there was a collection of short stories on the NYT Bestseller List? I don't follow that stuff too closely, but I bet it doesn't happen a lot.
Don: Where did you get the idea for "Is This Thing On?" (from The Smallest People Alive)? I know that's a dumb question, but that's one of the best damn short stories I've ever read.
Keith: That one came to me because I wanted to write a direct to the reader kind of thing. I got Shorty's voice in my head and then one night I saw this totally sad, cheesy, horrible Christmas movie, and somehow it came together in my head. Plus the landscape of where I grew up: nasty houses and apartments filled with stuff just lying around, and also wild animals hurt by lawnmowers and cars. I usually get the voice first and then the images kind of attack me and there you go. I wrote the thing in a hospital waiting room on yellow legal paper. I'm a social worker for people with disabilities and I was waiting for one of my folks who was having eye surgery.