Dear B.C.,

The Aversive Clause is out from Black Lawrence Press. Terrific. You think you can just waltz on up, dump seventeen weird-ass stories on us in 175 pages, get our hackles up and our issues raised, then depart on a note like “Evitative”? Well, fine. You’ve done it. And it is fucking great.

Zach and Amber’s baby was born with a rare condition which the doctors told them was called craniopagus parasiticus. This meant that their baby had two heads. Or–more properly–it meant that there had once been two babies, conjoined twins, but the second one had failed to develop completely. They were connected by the fused crowns of their skulls, and shared a small portion of the parietal lobes of their brains.

The second twin, which was called the “parasitic” twin, had a head and a neck but didn’t really have a body. The neck stump below the head contained fragments of bone and vestiges of a heart and lungs, and there were tiny buds attached to the neck that were the beginnings of limbs.

The day after his brother left the house for good, Marty Hanson picked out the smallest boy in his sixth grade class and waited until the boy was alone. He approached him, telling him that he’d found a dead dog decomposing in a far corner of the school’s courtyard. The boy, who was new at the school and whose name Marty could not remember, stuffed his hands deep into his pockets, nearly to the elbows, and said, “So?” He was looking at a dandelion near his sneaker’s toe.

STEVE ALMOND:  I wanted to start with a basic question I get a lot as a story writer: Why do publishers view story collections as risky? I have my own theory, but I’m curious what you think.

BRUCE MACHART:  There’s no question in my mind that, as a rule, collections receive only slivers of the big publishing house pie in terms of publicity and marketing attention. We can all point to the exceptions, but it’s become a self-fulfilling prophecy among publishers that “short stories don’t sell.” Because they believe this, they don’t want to commit resources (whether it be time or dollars) to promote books of short stories. The surprising result? Well, most collections don’t sell.

The novel-in-stories toes a dangerous line: In the hands of an inexperienced writer, the book can become repetitive, reappearing characters a stand-in for actual narrative development and the ‘plot’ merely a thinly-veiled tool for not being able to write a proper novel. Thankfully, this is not the case for Tracks, by Eric D. Goodman. Quite the opposite, actually.

Consider this from the character Sophie in the short story FlyOver State, “our house was the only rental on the block.Maybe something unseemly happened there: adultery, Judaism, modern dance” from Emma Straub’s brilliant debut story collection OTHER PEOPLE WE MARRIED (Five Chapter Books, 2011).This sharp, evocative sentence encapsulates the way Emma Straub sees the world through her characters: a little bit normal, with shades of absurdity, and a kind of irony that causes you to smirk.