The Rumpus Book Club’s February pick is You Think That’s Bad, a new collection of short stories by Jim Shepard. For the last decade, Shepard has been an open and agreeable interviewee. Here are a few Rumpus favorites:
In 2004, while on tour promoting Project X, Shepard spoke with Robert Birnbaum about Charles Baxter’s “The Harmony of the World,” writing from the point of view of historical figures, and getting a fan letter from J.M. Coetzee.
In 2007, not long after the publication of Like You’d Understand, Anyway, Shepard had a conversation with Laura van den Berg about the liberties made possible by first person, the impulses informing confessionals (fictional or Catholic or both), the difficulty of omniscience, and the idea of “ethical passivity.”
Later that year, Shepard told Bookslut’s Weston Cutter that about the relationship between research and the stories that follow from research. “[Z]eppelins themselves don’t get me going,” he said. “[I]t’s the position in which a zeppelin can place somebody that generates the initial impulse for a story.
This 2009 interview at Vice Magazine finds Shepard interested in a 19th century notion that insects have personalities, the “feeling of awe” that rises from reading Flannery O’Connor, and which works of Nabokov are more or less likely “to tilt more toward the game playing and away from the heartbreak.”
And just last November, Shepard spoke with the New Yorker about his new story “Boy’s Town,” and, in a theme common to many of these interviews, about writing about historical figures. (“Lately,” he says, “my fiction has often been inspired by real events, either from history or science or the news. Initially I read just to please myself: the happy odd person left alone with his peculiar subjects. But every so often a particular human dilemma within a situation sticks with me, and that emotional resonance that I feel in such cases suggests to me that I might want to try to inhabit the situation a little more fully, in terms of my own empathetic imagination.”)