Clifford Garstang’s newest book, the novel-in-stories What the Zhang Boys Know (released this October by Press 53), is published by a small press, but it is making a big splash. Patrick Somerville says it is the Winesberg, Ohio of the 21st century, comparing it to the grand-daddy of all contemporary short story cycles. Katherine Weber likens it to Susan Minot’s Monkeys, Rand Cooper’s The Last Go, and David Schickler’s Kissing in Manhattan. John Casey calls it a “wonderful and haunting book.” For me, it’s a brilliantly affecting and authentic evocation of the grief, confusion, and magical thinking of childhood. It’s also a microcosm of America in a striving-to-become-gentrified building in our country’s capital.

Garstang is also the author of In an Uncharted Country (Press 53, 2009), the editor of Prime Number Magazine, and the author of the popular literary blog, Perpetual Folly. Garstang’s literary success—he has published two books and dozens of stories since he earned his MFA in 2003—shows that’s it’s never too late to become a serious writer. I met him for the first time when I had just moved to Charlottesville, Virginia, where he is a fixture of the vibrant literary community. He lives west of town, in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley. We conducted this interview through e-mail, from Paris (where I am spending a sabbatical year) and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts (where he was spending a residency).

We talked about his book’s hybrid form, how a book can represent the whole world, writing as a second career, why writers should blog . . . and pugs.

Avi Heyer, the protagonist of Alan Michael Parker’s second novel, Whale Man, is no Captain Ahab, but he’s still obsessed with a whale. It’s just that Avi’s whale is one that he longs to build on his mother’s front lawn out of plywood, two-by-fours, and canvas. And it isn’t overweening pride that causes him to chase his whale—it’s a dream. That and money. And a girl named Lima Bean.