Interview with Glen Hirshberg by Paul Miller
A mini-interview with Glen Hirshberg, author of The Snowman’s Children, the award-winning The Two Sams, and American Morons (his latest collection; October 2006), asked by American Morons publisher Paul Miller of Earthling Publications.
Paul Miller: Ghosts are a reoccurring theme in your two collections as well as the upcoming novel Sisters of Baikal, but they often go beyond the standard Hollywood-type spectral creatures that float around and go BOO. What are ghosts, to you, and what is your attraction to them?
Glen Hirshberg: There’s no simple answer to this for me. I frankly love the floating/go Boo sort of ghost, but that doesn’t seem to be what I wind up conjuring. The ghosts that exert the most power in people’s lives-at least, the people I know–tend to be of their own making, and consist of equal parts regret and old fears and just plain missing somebody. So the ghosts that tend to intrigue me most as a writer are those that seep out of the seemingly dead spaces in people’s lives and appear jarringly in the flow of everyday occurrence.
PM: How do the stories in American Morons differ from The Two Sams? I.e., where do you think you’ve come as a short story writer in the past few years?
GH: It’s hard, honestly, for me to chart differences or progressions, because I try to treat each short story as its own, unique thing that needs its own tending. But stepping back and considering the two books as distinct sets (which, really, I’m not sure they are), I seeSams playing more overtly with traditional tropes (haunted houses, great evils, devastating loss and its repercussions, etc.). The stories in Morons, while hopefully still adhering to some of the traditions that have given the genre its peculiar sort of life for so long, are probably harder to classify. They’re still people-and-their-ghosts stories, but the ghosts have evolved a long way from their go-boo form, and the intended effects of these pieces are wider ranging. Still hopefully good and scary sometimes, though.
PM: Do you always see yourself as dabbling in the fantastic to some extent, or do you see yourself writing more “mainstream” fiction in the future?
GH: I honestly try not to see myself as doing anything but trying to write decent stories that matter in some way. Certainly, I don’t want to dabble in anything. I take the grand tradition of ghost story writing very seriously-you could make a pretty fair case that there have been more truly great American short stories written with ghostly elements than without them-but I also know that those aren’t the only kinds of stories I write. As noted above…I try to stay true to the piece I’m working on at any given time.
PM: In addition to being a husband, a father, a teacher, and a writer of stories and novels, you’ve also somehow found the time to establish the Rolling Darkness Revue (described on your site as a “traveling fraternity of some of horror fiction’s premier talents”) andSurrounded (a national literary magazine for high school writers). Please explain how each of these came about, where you’d hope to see each in five years’ time, and if you ever have any free time or sleep (kidding on that last bit).
GH: You may kid, but sleep is the big issue. It’s a genuine annoyance.
The Rolling Darkness Revue came about because Dennis Etchison and Ramsey Campbell and Pete Atkins and I wound up having repeated, long conversations in various venues at different times about how much we loved being read to, how much we loved reading aloud, how boring most bookstore events (as in, our own) are even when people are nice enough to show up. Gradually, a concept emerged. Where do I hope to see it in five years? In a bookstore or little theater near you. With you there.
Meanwhile, I’ve spent the last fourteen years teaching high school, and the last ten gradually growing the kind of creative writing program I always wished I’d had at that age, one that taught the basics but also allowed enough freedom for genuine artistic expression, and encouraged kids not just to exploit their talent but to experience the joys of digging into their lives and tearing apart everything they know and creating something brand new and marvelous out of it. During that time, I’ve become increasingly humbled and astonished by what teenagers are capable of when given the opportunity and the outlet. Surrounded has neither language nor content restrictions. Our intention-it’s edited by the students in my program, I simply founded it and serve as its supervising advisor-is to let the kids speak, and find the best work we can, period. We want to shock readers with the quality of the fiction and poetry, not the language and subject matter, but we’re not going to shy away from language or subject matter, either. Believe me, if you order a copy (www.surroundedmag.com), and I very much hope you will, you’ll forget about all the issues swirling around what teens should be allowed to know and think pretty quickly. These are fascinating pieces of writing, unapologetically teenaged, but bursting with talent and heart and imagination and unique perspectives.
As for where I hope it will be five years from now…
I think the answer to that would be: still here. It needs to find an audience. My forward-thinking and generous school can’t bankroll it forever…
PM: I understand you met Courtney Love when you worked as a music journalist. How’d that meeting go?
GH: Uh…can we talk about the time I showed up to interview Neil Gaiman back in his Sandman days without any money, and he bought me soup?