Welcome back to the working week! We’re kicking our week off with an interview with award-winning author Clifford Garstang, the short fiction editor of Prime Number Magazine whose new novel in stories, What the Zhang Boys Know, is out now. Cliff talks about the joys of short fiction and how many languages he can (sort of) speak.
P53: What initially drew you to short fiction?
CG: Honestly? I had just finished a draft of a novel that was my MFA thesis and I had one semester left. I had to write something for my workshop and I couldn’t bear the thought of starting another novel so soon! But then, once I began writing them, I discovered how much I enjoyed writing them, and how much fun it was to switch characters and voices from story to story.
P53: What kind of movies do you like? What are the parallels you see between film and literature?
CG: I’m not a big movie buff because I have trouble sitting still that long, but I do like dramatic adventure films and psychological thrillers. Until I took a screenwriting class a few years ago I’m not sure I would have been able to answer the second part of that question, but it’s clear to me now that a compelling novel—and maybe a story, too—follows a three-act structure that is quite similar to a film. Films are ultimately derivative of literature, and yet writers can learn a lot from films about holding the attention of a reader and delivering a satisfying experience.
P53: When did you first truly feel like you were a writer?
CG: I tentatively felt like a writer when my first short story was published, but I only truly felt like a writer when my first book—In an Uncharted Country, from Press 53—came out in 2009. I feel a bit sheepish about saying that, though, because being a writer isn’t about being published. And yet I had a hard time identifying myself as a writer until there was something tangible to point to.
P53: You can only eat one food for the rest of your life; what is it?
CG: Salmon. I was going to pick something else, or try to be clever about it, but I realized that I almost always order salmon when I eat in a restaurant, so that must be my favorite thing. And healthy, too! (My mother would be so proud.)
P53: What is the one personal belonging you simply could not do without?
CG: My laptop—it’s my office, my filing system, my connection to the rest of the world, my source of information and entertainment. Take away all the rest, but leave me my laptop.
Three Facts About Clifford:
1. My mother wanted to be a writer, but she never pursued her dream.
2. Other than English, I’ve studied seven languages … and can’t really speak any of them.
3. The one project I remember most distinctly from my days of law practice is the leveraged buyout of Hills Brothers Coffee in the early 80s when I was a junior associate at my firm; you’ve never smelled anything so heavenly as the aroma of a whole building full of fresh-roasted coffee.