In Todd Grimson’s first collection of short stories, Stabs at Happiness: 13 Stories, characters struggle against almost impossible circumstances.
You write short fiction as a well as novels. Do you have a preference for either form?
The stories seem more “perfect” to me, in that every word may end up seeming precisely right in the final draft. There are minor things in all of the novels that I’m critical of, little sections I have second thoughts about now and then. In some of the stories I’m really trying to take the reader places they’ve never been and cannot find anywhere else.
Did you find writing about a “real” person, as you do about Jean Harlow in “What the Matter Is,” more difficult than writing about a madeup character?
I felt like I had a handle on her character, the unspoiled quality she was barely hanging on to mixed in with the tough girl persona she had to adopt to survive. It would be much harder—I wouldn’t try it—to get into the head of a modern celebrity.
How did you come up with the scene in which Harlow, dressed as an everyday person to avoid being recognized, sees everyday women around her trying to emulate her look as an actress?
It seemed that it would be ironic for Jean to see so many who imagined they would like to inhabit the very celebrity she was making this effort to (however temporarily) escape. And I always try to think of “the visuals” the reader will hopefully see. “The visuals” generated that scene.
Which comes first for you, as a writer: establishing characters, or the setting that they inhabit?
Often it is the setting. And then I have to figure out who I can credibly see there, acting in that milieu. What are they doing there?
Your characters often try to bear up and survive in inescapable situations. Is this a theme you try consciously to articulate in your stories?
I try to balance their fate as opposed to their powers of agency, and how inevitably they may be moving toward or fighting what they may dimly sense is on the way. I never know the end when I begin writing the story. I let the characters deliver themselves to whatever destination they may find.
What new fiction will we be seeing from you?
I have a couple of incomplete short stories sitting around. Sometimes the best ones occur when I return to materials from a new angle after some time has passed. I’m meanwhile working on a novel, tentatively entitled, “Do It to Julia.” Some may recall this line from George Orwell’s 1984. How soon until this novel is finished? Not that long. Soon.