Out of the Bronx, screenwriter Kass’s fiction debut, follows the charming Sachs family in a set of 10 related short stories spanning from the 1940s to present.
After years of writing for the screen and stage, what drew you to short stories?
One day, feeling a need for a change, it occurred to me to sit down at the computer and finish a short story I’d begun some years before. I not only finished it but I found it to be the most enjoyable writing experience I’d ever had. At the same time, my good friend, the editor Robert Wallace, was starting an online publishing company with his friend and colleague Robert Asahini. I told Bob I’d written a short story. He asked to read it—with no other motive, I don’t think, than curiosity about my work. He told me he loved the writing and suggested I do some more stories, this time with the idea of his publishing a collection. Of course, I grabbed his suggestion.
What do you think is offered by a story collection that can’t be achieved in a novel or memoir?
Well, as it turns out, all the stories in my collection are about the same character, Joel Sachs, and the Sachs family. And the stories are chronological. As a result, in the end, I’m told, the book reads like a novel. But in general, short stories demand an economy that not all novelists or memoirists are capable of. I have tremendous respect for economy in writing. I’m a better playwright of one-act plays than longer plays, and I think I’m better at short stories than I would be at a traditional novel— although I do plan to try writing a novel eventually.
Who’s narrating these stories?
The subtitle of the book, “The Joel Sachs Stories,” suggests that Joel himself is the narrator, although at times it’s clearly an omniscient narrator. But since that omniscient narrator is me and since Joel Sachs is my alter ego, I’d say I’m always narrating.
How much did you draw from your autobiography and growing up in the Bronx?
Everything in the book is drawn from my life, including, of course, my having grown up in the Bronx. But only a small amount of the book is factual. The feelings are all real, but the events and characters, although based on my real life, are fictional. I really did work in a candy store, but my aunt was my boss. Mrs. Katz is an invention. All the chocolate concoctions I invented were for myself alone. There was no chubby girl who was turned on by chocolate, begging me for sex—although as I wrote her she was very real to me.
The book explores some dark topics, but it’s almost always suffused with humor. What do you think it is about family situations like the ones presented that steers them in the direction of comedy?
There’s a reason family is considered an institution. Like most institutions families are often dysfunctional (mine certainly was), comprised of crazy people. I think there is a lot of humor and love, as well as pain and sadness, in craziness.