The second-best thing about a new Patti Abbott book is that I get a chance to interview her for the blog. (The best thing? The book, dumbass.) Patti is one of my first writing friends, from way back when the Crimespace web site was where all the cool kids hung out. I honed a lot of my writing chops working on the flash fiction challenges she used to run on her outstanding blog, pattinase. In fact, I think most, maybe all, of my best short fiction has roots in one of Patti’s challenges.
In addition to being an inspiration, Patti’s a damn fine writer. Her short fiction regularly appears in heralded collections and her novels routinely receive award nominations, notably two Anthonys and an Edgar. Her new book, I Bring Sorrow, released last week from Polis Books. (Breaking news: Patti has had a story accepted for the 2018 Bouchercon anthology, one of over 300 submissions. Congratulations, my friend.)
One Bite at a Time: Let’s start with the obvious first question: what is I Bring Sorrow about?
Patricia Abbott: I Bring Sorrow is a collection of stories that mostly deal with the idea of "flight." A woman flees the city that has forsaken her, a woman flees the husband that is responsible for their daughter’s death, a group of women flee the dying earth, a couple takes a boy out of a Tucson cafe. The original title was “Flight Tales” but it lacked any poetry.
OBAAT: Did you sit down to write a set of stories with similar themes with the idea of collecting them?
PA: Not at all. I think my work is pretty similar in both theme and tone without my giving it much thought. I find it hard to write light. I have another 20 stories that could have just as easily fit in here. Of course, it may be just me that sees my stories as similar. Maybe a reader would find them quite diverse. A few are humorous but again, it’s a dark humor. Writing a cozy would be impossible for me given my world view.
OBAAT: Your novels Shot in Detroit and Concrete Angel were nominated for Anthony, Edgar, and Macavity awards; I Bring Sorrow is a collection of short stories, which harkens back to your previous efforts Monkey Justice and Home Invasion. (The latter a novel in stories.) As someone who thinks of himself as a novelist, I always wonder how people who switch back and forth make the decision on what to write next. I mean, I write the occasional short story for an anthology, but all my shorts together might make one not very thick volume. You knock them right out.
PA: Almost always an idea comes to me as a short story. Both of the novels started from a short story. I wrote short stories for ten years before trying a novel so it was a real leap from the ledge to try a longer work. I like the hyper-focused lens of a short story best. However, I realize this is not true for most readers or most writers.
OBAAT: What was it that grew the shorts into novels? Was it that you had more to say? Or did additional things keep wanting to happen?
PA: Shot In Detroit bulged as a short story. Who kills a dozen men in 4000 words successfully? So it was ripe for expansion. I needed to talk about many more things and I saw that quickly. What kind of woman would photograph dead men? Why did so many young men die in Detroit? Can you make art from such a gruesome subject? So yes, to both questions. I wanted to explore how Violet reflected the city she lived in. I am trying to expand another short story now. But the focus is really changing as I write it. Not sure if it will really be a crime story at all by the end.
OBAAT: When did you realize you had more material than a short story could hold and how did you make the decision to expand the format rather than trim the potential material?
PA: Well, to be honest they grew into novels because the stories ended up functioning as outlines. Despite reading novels my whole life, I found it difficult to see an idea fully developed. I found it difficult to populate a 300-page story. By starting with the short story as a blueprint, I was able to add more here and there. My stories are usually trimmed to the bone already. I edit compulsively so allowing myself more space was the challenge.
OBAAT: You’ve built quite a career for yourself: hundreds of short stories, novels nominated for major awards. It has to be a good feeling. Looking at things another way, how much fun is it to be Megan Abbott’s mother, knowing the influence you’ve had on her talent and career?
PA: If we are to take any credit for Megan’s career (my husband has written 13 scholarly books) it would be in providing a bookish environment. We took our kids to the library weekly, to movies that were probably far too adult for them. We all talked about what we were reading all the time. Megan grew up watching her father write. Actually we expected her to do something in art because she drew all the time. Later I realized though that she was drawing stories. I am sure this scenario plays out in the homes of most educated families so I am going to say the influence was inadvertent if at all. We were open to her (and my son) pursuing their interests even if the chances for success were less than a business or engineering degree might offer.
It is often more worrisome than fun watching her work so hard in such a difficult field. No one works harder than Megan.
OBAAT: Patti, it’s always a treat to have you on the blog. You’re a class act and my respect for you and your work s boundless. What are you working on now? Will we get together at Bouchercon in St. Petersburg? I’m on the fence about NoirCon. Will you be there?
PA: I have recently finished a few invited short stories and I am 70 pages into a new novel. I have no plans yet for conferences. With the new tax laws, none of the expenses are deductible, which changes things. But I have been known to change my mind. Thanks, Dana. You are the class act.