This self- interview is answered by voices from the anthology Life is Short—Art is Shorter by David Shields and Elizabeth Cooperman.


How would you describe the brief selections in this book?

“ …ticks engorged like grapes” (Amy Hempel, “Weekend”)


What were you thinking about when you put this collection together?

“I was thinking about my body’s small, precise, limited, hungry movement forward…” (Wayne Koestenbaum, “My 1980s”)


You have said that Brevity personified came to you in a dream many years ago?

“His hands moved in spasms of mathematical complexity at invisible speed.” (Leonard Michaels, “In the Fifties”)


As my second book The Ministry of Thin comes out this month, the question I keep being asked is this: what does a ‘recovered anorexic’ have to tell us about body image and feminism?

Quite a lot actually. I believe that, as women, our desire for thin is getting way out of control. I believe that many women who do not have an actual eating disorder have profoundly disordered eating; diets such as 5:2 are normalising deeply abnormal habits. You may roll your eyes (as I do) at the crazy tongue-patchers, drip dieters, intermittent fasters. You may laugh at the Werewolf or Vampire or Caveman devotees. But no matter how feisty or feminist you think you are, I bet you’d like to lose weight. 

Full disclosure: I read FATHERMUCKER (HarperCollins 2011) the first time around in installments. As Greg wrote, I would receive these amazing sections in my inbox — smart, compelling, raucous, heartbreaking and wholly original. I would tear through those pages, enthralled by Josh Lansky’s stream of consciousness, his riffs on parenting, popular culture, love, sex, his wife and children, all set to a playlist ranging in taste from Zeppelin to the Magnetic Fields. As soon as I finished I would send Greg e-mails that contained only one word: MORE. The voice felt entirely fresh and new, unlike anything I had experienced before in contemporary fiction, and definitely not from this perspective. Josh Lansky, while a devout husband and father, was still a guy, and he held nothing back in what would surely turn out to be one of the longest days in his life. Experiencing FATHERMUCKER will leave you breathless and wanting more of what goes on inside Greg Olear’s head; thankfully, he agreed to answer a few questions.

DH: Derek Green came to my attention when three of my Facebook friends friended him on the same day. Who was this guy? A writer. I hastened over to Amazon to check him out and discovered his story collection, New World Order by the invaluable Autumn House Press. I was intrigued by the theme that holds the collection together: Americans working abroad in the new global order.

So I gambled a few bucks and bought the collection. This was a gamble I won. Derek is a born storyteller. He’s the kind of guy who you could sit down and have a beer with that you would forget to drink while he told you these tales about guys out of their country and mostly out of their depth. But let’s let Derek Green talk for himself. Here’s his WWFIL.

DG: My own addiction began early. I recall a steady habit of Scholastic paperbacks followed by the entire Hardy Boy Mystery Stories series—the latter in hardback editions sporting the shamelessly clean-cut cover art of the time. I couldn’t consume them quickly enough. My parents encouraged me, looking the other way as I moved on from such light fare to harder stuff: Isaac Asimov and Star Trek pulps, the cosmic horror of HP Lovecraft, and a newcomer in those days, Stephen King. Like anyone else with a dependency, I used constantly—in the john, in my bedroom alone. Before school, after school, and during school. Wherever heartier boys exercised their limbs, I could be found with a book.

But it was not until high school that it occurred to me that I might not only consume: why not produce this stuff too? By then I had discovered George Orwell, an experience from which I have not yet fully recovered. I read Animal Farm and1984 at the dawn of the Reagan era and it seemed to my book-addled psyche that this was what I wanted to do. Forget the MBA yuppies of the age, chasing the almighty dollar in power ties and BMWs. I would write.

My reading became frightfully promiscuous from then on and remains only slightly less so today. I was moved to write (or try to) by The World According to Garp and Under the Volcano. These two books should not be read by an earnest young writer in the same summer. I remember the searing experience of discovering Blood Meridian and wondering how I would ever learn to write with McCarthy’s thundering cadences. (Short answer: I wouldn’t, and didn’t need to. Even McCarthy never managed it again.) I became hopelessly hooked on the hopped-up noir of LA Confidential andAmerican Tabloid, and equally infatuated with Elmore Leonard’s Detroit cool. (Can anything be more different from Get Shorty than the Melvillian excesses of Blood Meridian? The answer is no.)

I decided to learn to write short stories, so I read the pastel-covered Echo Press library of Chekhov and The Stories of John Cheever to find out what a short story was. Along the way I discovered Anna Karenina, Anna Karenina, Anna Karenina. I moved from fiction to the more potent forms of non-fiction: Richard Preston, Susan Orlean, Richard Rhodes, Jon Krakhauer. The list went on.

By the middle 1990’s I had grown confused (a trait common to addicts and to writers). I was still hooked on books but older and less tolerant of writerly poverty. Reagan was gone, Clinton was in, and it seemed like time to chase some bucks. (I was reading Michael Lewis at the time.) I donned that power tie, and offered my writing skills to the highest bidder. As a creative consultant, I traveled around the world, but never lost my secret urge to write. Then I read Bruce Chatwin. In Patagonia and The Songlines (channeled through The Sun Also Rises and the stories of Saki in ways that even I don’t fully understand) led me to see how I could write a book. Which I did. I even got it published.

These days reading remains a barely controlled addiction. Sometimes it takes exotic turns (for me at least): a newly-acquired taste for Haruki Murakami (Hardboiled Wonderland at the End of the World comes to mind) and a renewed admiration for Jorge Luis Borges (Ficciones) and the great Juan Rulfo of Pedro Páramo.

But I see signs of mellowing. I’m in my mid-forties now and like some middle-aged Dead Head, my pace has slowed. I find myself drawn to the longer and slower stories of Alice Munro. Tears swim into my eyes at odd times as I read the beautiful and elegiac and only occasionally overwrought prose of the wonderful Jim Harrison, most recently in Returning to Earth. (Harrison believes that heaven is a small cottage in the woods which you share with the dogs you’ve known in life.) Less interested in racking up new experiences, I am as likely to reread as to read.

And with this slower pace comes something unexpected: I am writing more. Longer, slower stories. Essays on travel and on food. Long notes to my children and my wife. Novels. Maybe now I am finally ready to emulate and, in my own humble way, create in others the feelings I have enjoyed all these years. Maybe.

When I Fell in Love – Greg Olear

I “fell in love” in the same manner that Mike Campbell, Hemingway’s drunken wastrel, went bankrupt: gradually, and then all at once. Here is a timeline of my formative years, with the year read in parentheses:

(Note: I’m skipping the Hardy Boys, Encyclopedia Brown, Charles Wallace, Boo Radley, the Tripods, the Chicken Man, various two-dimensional pilgrims to the Boulder Free Zone, and other childhood crushes for whom my ardor has not stood the test of time.)

1984 (1984)

The first grown-up book I ever read, at age eleven, impacted me almost as much as the video for Macintosh that ran during the Super Bowl that January. Not only do George Orwell and I share initials, his (pen) name is almost an anagram of “Greg Olear.” If I squint, it looks like I’m the author.

Lord of the Flies (1986)

The first and only time I finished the entire book when only the first three chapters were required.

Welcome to the Monkeyhouse (1987)

In which we are invited to identify with Billy the Poet, intercourse apologist and deflowerer of damsels in distress. Wow did I want to boink a Suicide Hostess.

The Sun Also Rises (1989)

Continuing the trend of crushing on novels that had absolutely no relevance to my dorkwad existence, I picked this for a book report because my mother had a copy, and it was short, and it was featured on an episode of Cheers, in which Sam Malone, upon discovering that Jake Barnes had gotten his you-know-what shot off in the war, drops Diane’s coveted first edition into the bathtub. I’ve read this seven or eight times. I’m still in love with Brett Ashley—of whom Totally Killer‘s Taylor Schmidt is, perhaps, a kickass Gen X reincarnation.

Ulysses (1993)

Semester at NYU. Class on Joyce. Three months reading Bloomsday. Day he met Nora Barnacle. Name makes her sound clingy. Paddy Dignam and Simon Dedalus. Old professor. Irish of course. Name escapes me. O’Connell, O’Donnell. Long discussion on a single paragraph. Epiphany: dog spelled backward is God. Or is it God spelled. Profound anyway. Deep as a. Over my head, most of it. Understand it, no. Read it. Eyeballs scanned every word. Yes yes yes yes YES.

Paradise Lost (1994)

I did everything short of selling a kidney to get out of the “major author” prerequisite necessary to graduate from Georgetown with a bachelor’s in English literature, but after suffering through Shakespeare, I had no choice but to submit to a dourer DWEM. Lucky thing, because Milton turned out to be the best class I took in college, and Paradise Lost superior, in my view, to anything composed by the more-celebrated Stratford-upon-Avon Bard. (Sidenote: the professor who annotated my text, who also wrote the Cliff’s Notes, makes dubious claims such as, “Paradise Lost is not about politics,” when that is, in my reading, the epic poem’s main concern.) Milton is also the author of my favorite poem of all time.

From there I moved to Dolores Haze and John Shade, Pierce Inverarity and Bucky Wunderlick, Teresa Durbeyfield and Libbets Casey, Michael Valentine Smith and Andrew Wiggin, Maximilien Aue and Major Major, Vince Camden and Matt Prior, Jason Maddox and Wayne Fencer and Will the Thrill, and Paul Theroux in any of his various forms.

Literary love, it seems, is not monogamous.

[Author’s note: In honor of Jonathan Evison, I wore sweatpants when I wrote this].