Stefanie’s story “In the Basement” appears in our April 2011 issue.
Andrew Stancek: Stefanie, congratulations on your new collection Surrounded by Water. I loved your first collection, Feeding Strays, and have been reading you all over the Net. I am so looking forward to the new one. Can you tell us a bit about putting a collection together: is there a commonality between the stories, do you try to include only similar thematic preoccupations or do you aim for a canvas as varied as possible? Are there stories you decided to not put in? Are they arranged in a particular way?
Stefanie Freele: Andrew, I think my canvas is fairly varied; however, if one pays close attention, there are a few characters who do cameo appearances in other stories, a couple from Feeding Strays that show up again in Surrounded by Water. I like to do that – let my characters live on. I love symbolism also, so there are places and objects that appear here or there that mean something. Arranging a collection is a daunting task, especially if there are many stories – Surrounded by Water has over 40. I’m assuming that people who have six stories maybe have an easier time organizing them. I tried to begin and end with a story that wasn’t too somber, too dark. I wanted the reader to end feeling pleased, not troubled. I made a big chart and tried not to get too many pieces in first person in a row, or third, not too many stories that were sort of slip-stream in a bunch and then a long row of more realist stories. And, length too – I wanted to scatter the longer stories. My goal was to mix them up. The collection went through many versions and I did yank a few stories out and fussed around with replacements. I would find myself removing that one story or another was the weakest link or too far different than the others, or a story I wasn’t as excited about. Finally, it just felt right.
AS: In the latest issue of Glimmer Train, Spring 2012, you have a story called “While Surrounded by Water” which just blows me away. I assume that story is in the collection. I love the characters in it, especially Janis. Her lines such as “That’s what river living is all about.” and “It’s something to look forward to – cleansing.” immediately made me think of Faulkner’s Dilsey and her “Endure.” Can you talk a bit about that particular story?
SF: I have experienced three situations of flooding along the Russian River. When one goes through a disaster, one never forgets it. A flood will change a person for life. I’ve taken many details from those experiences and inserted them into my stories. In Feeding Strays, the flood begins with “The Flood of ’09” and later, “While Surrounded by Water” the story continues. It is quite possible I may have more flooding to write about yet. Janis is right, when you’ve lived so close to a river, you realize and accept: the river will cleanse its banks now and then.
AS: What are you working on now? Is there a novel lurking?
SF: I would like to think there is a novel lurking, at least I keep hoping one emerges, however in the meantime, stories keep rising up, yelling at me to write them.
AS: You have a young son. Can you tell us how you arrange your day between motherhood and writing and editing, when you find the time to write?
SF: There is no arranging. I’ve mentioned before to people that motherhood has helped my writing in that, my time is limited and I jam and write when I can. My immediate family is very supportive. They know, when Mama (or Kitten as my son call me) is on a story, leave her alone. I think if I had more time, I might write less, because I’d stretch it out more. You hear about people who rent a cabin for the winter to write their novel and spend most of it staring out the window.
AS: Can you talk about your process? Do you outline? Do you try to complete a draft before revising or do you revise continually? How many drafts, how much time elapses before you start feeling the story is ready to send out?
SF: I have never outlined in my life. Occasionally, I see an end and write furiously to get to that end. I’d like to give you an easy answer about this, but I really can’t. Each story takes a different path. Some come out fairly finished and I revise a few times. Some have taken years to play with till I get it to a point I feel satisfied. “While Surrounded by Water” the story that won the Glimmer Train Fiction Open, took about four months of rearranging, editing, revising. Sometimes I revise as I go, sometimes later.
AS: Who are the writers who inspire you?
SF: So many! I will tell you some authors off my shelf of favorites: Flannery O’Connor, Cormac McCarthy, Stephen King, Annie Proulx, Lydia Davis. Ray Vukcevich, Nancy Lord, Bruce Holland Rogers, David Wagoner, Russell Edson etc…
AS: I have a fascination with dreams. Much of my own writing, and the writing of others that particularly intrigues me, deals with dreams in some fashion. Can you talk about the role of dreams in your writing?
SF: I have always been an extremely vivid epic-long dreamer. However, I don’t think my dreams show up in my writing all that often. One of the reasons maybe they don’t is because I don’t usually write them down, but I wish I would take up that practice.
AS: Thanks so much for your illuminating answers, Stefanie, and I wish you mega-sales of the new collection.
Andrew Stancek’s story “Elephants and Banana Leaves” appears in the July 2012 issue of r.kv.r.y. His story “Nothing Left to Lose,” won the annual Flash Fiction Chronicles contest. Some of his recent work has appeared in The Linnet’s Wings, Thunderclap Magazine, River Poets Journal, In Between Altered States, Lost in Thought Magazine, Pure Slush, Prime Number Magazine, Istanbul Literary Review, Wilderness House Literary Review and others. THIS Literary Magazine nominated him for a Pushcart Prize for “The Year of the Dog.”