The stories in Cosmogony (Soft Skull, Mar.) grab scenarios from everyday life—say, running into a friend’s husband at the grocery store—and render the familiar strange: said husband is an immortal demon, who knows everything from the narrator’s credit score to the day she will die. PW’s review called the book an “inventive collection” whose entries “illuminate the trickier fringes of life right now.” Here, Ives discusses its timeliness.
How has the past year affected your view of these stories?
There’s a side of me that used to be very opinionated and quick to move on that now lingers. As for the stories, I go back and forth between thinking they’re a time capsule of ways of life previous to the pandemic, and that they seem already to function as a record of the ways in which certain imaginary people survived things that were supposedly normal.
What questions do the stories explore?
I’m curious about why people do self-defeating, harmful things. How is it that we embark on paths that have tragic ends? Why is it sometimes so difficult to see that a given course of action is going to lead to the opposite result we had in mind? I’m very interested in unpacking questions about the hiddenness of narrative.
Why are you drawn to fantastical and experimental forms?
Certain elements of personal life are difficult to describe without making reference to outlandish and even impossible events. Of course in real life you don’t meet an immortal demon. All the same, can you say with certainty that you’ve never met an immortal demon or, for that matter, time traveled? That tiny chance, that door left open, is something I’m interested in playing with.
What differences arise in your approach when composing a story as opposed to longer work?
With short stories I feel I have a greater intimacy with the mechanics of human action and events. I have more permission to inhabit a voice that says, “And now this happens.” With novels, there’s a different kind of creative and emotional work going on. With longer forms my responsibility seems to be to listen and record and watch and maybe even to act as a sort of archeologist. A novel—and maybe this is obvious—requires a kind of patience and incremental attention that I do not have to sustain for a short story. For stories, the challenge is to remain open to the way in which things are transforming and to keep up.
At what stage do you decide or realize what a story is about, and how do you know when it’s finished?
It’s hard for me to see a story in its entirety or fuller meaning until many years after I’ve written it. Finishing writing the story is a different project and is more intuitive, more physical and felt. [In college] I worked closely with the poet Jorie Graham, who used to talk about how a poem “snaps shut” when it’s finished. Although she was speaking about a different kind of writing, I’ve always found that idea helpful. For me, writing is a liberated act. When it starts to feel more like an idea or a shape or a thing, that means I’m starting to be done. The story seems to close on its own, and I know I need to develop a different sort of relationship to it. I’m no longer the person who was writing it. I’m someone else, then.