Monday, December 29, 2008

An Interview with Tania Hershman, Author of The White Road and Other Stories

Tania Hershman has been spending the last few months making stops at blogs around cyberspace on her blog book tour talking about her excellent collection of short stories, The White Road and other Stories. Today she's with us at Thoughts from Botswana.

Hi Tania, thanks for stopping by Thoughts from Botswana. Can you tell my readers a little bit about yourself?

Hi Lauri, thanks so much for having me. I am a former Brit, now living in Jerusalem, Israel, with my partner and two cats. I am a former science journalist, now full time fiction writer. I wrote for 12 years about Israeli science and technology but my real love is short stories. I have had a number of stories published and broadcast on Radio 4, won some prizes, and in September my dream came true when my first book was published, by Salt Modern Fiction, an independent publisher in the UK.

The White Road and other Stories is a collection of 27 stories with a mixture of both short stories and flash fiction. Flash fiction is an up and coming type of fiction. What would you say makes a good flash fiction story?

If short stories are my real love, flash fiction is like an exciting fling! There is something about a story told in less than two pages that is so intense, so thrilling. Things can happen in such a short and magical space which are unsustainable in anything longer. For me a good flash story is where not just every word but every space and every punctuation mark counts, there is nothing that doesn't absolutely have to be there. No waffle, no description, no padding. Bare bones, raw and astonishing. And, for me, the writing of such stories is also “flash” in that it can be done in only 20 minutes, it is totally different from writing a longer stories, which tells itself to you over time and which you then work on and revise. Most of my flash stories come out in one go.

What reaction do you want from your readers? Is it all about entertainment or are you searching for something more?

That's an excellent question. I don't write with a reader in mind, I don't write thinking, Ah, someone will find this funny/moving/distressing. I really do write for me, to make myself laugh, and, more often these days, to upset me, in a good way, by dealing with emotional situations, through my characters. What makes me happy is when a reader has read one of my stories and actually finished it. I know how little patience I have with short stories; I will abandon them if they don't grip me. So to get to the end of one of mine, that means something. It's a new experience for me, friends and people I don't know telling me they're reading the book and enjoying it, being moved by it, or, as one said the other day, finding it all very upsetting! (This is a little worrying, I didn't set out to write depressing stories).I would be delighted if someone absolutely hated a story, that would thrill me, that it got them so riled up. I feel, though, that I need to stand back from this. Someone said that a story I thought was rather dark and about grief she found hysterically funny. You can't dictate to a reader what to think, best not to even try!

Describe your writing process. Do you wait for your muse to pitch up or do you do the 9-5?

Ah, well! Neither, actually. I tried the 9-5 for a few days and then discovered that it doesn't work for a short story writer. Novelists need to put in the time, they have a lot of words to get down, and many redrafts to go through. But it doesn't help me to structure my writing like that. But - I also don't wait for any muse. I try to make the headspace for writing and writing-related matters. To just show up, as someone said. And I stimulate my writing by preparing sets of prompts for myself, and sometimes for my writing group, which I have found work excellent for me in terms of writing flash stories. I purloin words and phrases from other people's writing, poems or stories, and then write, attempting to get as many of these prompts into the story as possible. I have also recently found that this - which is not an exercise but has resulted in over 100 flash stories, some of which have been published – puts me into the right frame of mind, the “zone” if you will, to work on existing projects. But right now focussing on marketing my book is very distracting and I have recently decided to allow myself to be distracted and not feel too guilty that I am not writing at the moment.

I’ve had discussions with other writers about using new technologies to up the popularity of short stories and, especially, flash fiction (i.e. podcasts, SMS, etc.) . Do you use any of this technology? If so can you explain how you used it and if it was effective?

I have had two short stories broadcast on podcasts, I didn't read them myself, and I did love how they sounded, but I don't think this works for any short story. I am a great lover of the radio, but not all stories are intended to be read out. The way they look on the page, the layout, and the ability to read them at your own pace and hear the voice in your head as you imagine it not as the actor performs it, that for me is an essential part of the reading experience. Reading is an active task; listening is more passive. I listen to podcasts of author interviews, and book review programs, but haven't been attracted to short story podcasts. As for SMS, I don't really like the sound of that at all! I hate reading off the screen, I force myself to read short stories online on my computer, I cannot imagine reading them off my cellphone. I am fairly techy myself, but maybe when it comes to this I'm a purist, I just love the written word, on the page.

If you were queen of the world, how would you change things to make the short story the undisputed star of the fiction scene?

Oh, what a lovely question! Do I get a special crown?
(Of course, what is a queen without her crown?)

What would I do? I would print a short story every day in every newspaper in every country around the world. I would have flash stories read out on the radio before the news each hour. I would invite short story writers onto panel discussions, I would create a special fund which looked into short stories that would make excellent movies. I would, most of all, bring more short stories into the school curriculum – classic stories, modern stories, traditional, experimental. I don't remember reading a single short
story when I was at school in England. What better to read in class than a whole and complete story in one lesson? Start early, get the kids writing and reading, and make short stories commonplace, not oddities, not “special”, just everyday.

Tania, what is up with the story ‘Fish Filled Sea’? I read somewhere, or maybe I made it up, that you think a good flash fiction story should stick with you. Well- the image of that woman with her nose stuck up the funky armpit of her lover has stuck with me. Thanks. Inspiration for that one?

Ha! Inspiration? I am trying to remember. I can't actually tell you. I've no idea where that came from. Maybe something to do with all the fruity shampoos and beauty products that are around these days and how we cover ourselves with these confections to hide our true scent. Can't do better than that. Glad I left you with that image!

So you’re getting near the end of your blog book tour, what do you think about this method of marketing your book? Has it translated into good sales? Any advice for blog book tour wannabees?

I don't know about sales, I really have no clue. We authors aren't told about this sort of thing. I've really enjoyed it, though, but it has been a bit difficult for someone who likes to spend most of her time alone, in a fictional world, to talk about myself so much, every week for 11 weeks. I can't imagine I am not boring everybody silly! And I feel quite exposed by it. But what has been lovely is the generosity of all of you, hosting me on your blogs, reading my book, being curious about me and my writing. My advice: find a wide range of blogs in different countries and with different readerships, and try and roughly set out in advance the topics each one will cover, to
avoid repetition. Enjoy!

Okay, get my readers to buy your book in less than 25 words. (This is called a flash-ad. No, it’s not, I just made that up)

I love it. Brilliant. Ok, here's my flash ad:

“27 stories with GSOH. Short but full-bodied. Will transport you, from outer space to the Middle Ages, Antarctica to Las Vegas. Take them home.”

How's that??

That’s fantastic, Tania. Thanks so much for stopping by.
I’ve read the book, folks, and I thought it really did justice to what good short stories should look like. My advice- everybody go out and buy the book (Click the cover above to go to Amazon- where the book has 5 stars(!) )- forthright -(do not pass go do not collect $200)- support short story writers and teach those publishers a thing or two about how much we love short story collections!!

Tania’s Next (and final) Stop:

01/06/09: Debi Alper's Blog

Tania’s Previous Stops

12/23/08: Kanlaon
12/16/08: Kelly Spitzer's Blog
12/10/08: Eco-Libris
12/2/08: Eric Forbes’s Book Addict’s Guide to Good Books
11/26/08: Tim Jones: Books in the Trees
11/17/08: Sue Guiney: Me and Others
11/9/08: Vanessa Gebbie’s News
11/5/08: Literary Minded
10/28/08: Keeper of the Snails


Tim Jones said...

Tania, your "Queen of the World" plans sound excellent! If you decide to put in a serious bid for this position, I'm sure we can rustle up a bit of support for you here in New Zealand ...

Tania Hershman said...

Tim, I think it's likely to happen soon so get the campaigning started now. Will keep you updated. I would settle for Princess of the World, or Her Right Honorable Short Story Mistress, if I had to.

Sue Guiney said...

Another great tour stop. Thanks, Lauri -- and I must say, I love the image of Tania with a little golden crown on her head!

Tania Hershman said...

I forgot about the crown, not sure if I'd go for that. I'd be a more modern kind of Queen of the World, maybe a tiara? Anyway, thanks for coming by!

Debi said...

Great interview. I'm going to be the last stop on an excellent tour. I have a lot to live up to ...

Tania - you're right in that you can't predict how people will respond to your writing. I found your stories uplifting, even when sad. But never ever depressing!

Anonymous said...

Wonderful tour stop. Let's buy Tania's book!

Tania Hershman said...

Debi, thanks so much for saying that, I am so glad! I don't want anyone to be depressed by what I write.

Amber - you win Best Comment So Far award! When I am Queen of the World you will receive special commendation and customized tiara. And now you can go and buy my book :)

Dani said...

Wow, eleven weeks! We recommend 2-3 weeks with about 15 stops at the Blog Book Tours yahoogroup, and that's a pretty grueling tour. You must be very young to have that kind of energy.

Nice interview, both of you. Lauri, your blog gets better all the time!

Dani (Ele)

Tania Hershman said...

Hi Dani,
yes, it is pretty gruelling, and no I am not that young! Thanks for stopping by, I am off to check out your site.


groovyoldlady said...

I love good short stories and I'm intrigued by flash fiction. This tour stop has my interest thoroughly piqued!

Anonymous said...

Thanks Lauri - wonderful post. The book looks great!

Lauri said...

Wow you folks were busy while I was sleeping.
Thanks everyone for stopping by.
Dani- thanks for your comments about the blog. As you know, without your fantastic marketing of the idea of blog book tours I wouldn't even have started a blog and here I am hosting my first stop. Ke aleboga le kamoso Dani!

Group 8 said...

Great interview, quirky questions. Well done, both of you.

Charlotte Phillips said...

Congrats Lauri for being a great host - wonderful questions. And thanks to both of you for introducing me to the term/concept of "flash fiction." I'm definitely intrigued.

Lauri said...

Charlotte and WRW- Thanks for stopping by and for your kind comments.

I think I like this blog book tour hosting, especially when I get a free book out of it, and especially (even more) when it is such a lovely one.
(I'm the greediest book hoarder around)

Tania Hershman said...

Groovy, Kayt, Charlotte and WRW, thanks so much for visiting my Virtual Book Tour Botswana stop, this was really fun, thanks for having me Lauri!

Anonymous said...

A most enjoyable interview. I am a big fan of short stories myself, so it is wonderful to hear you are doing so well, Tania. Wishing you much success in 2009.

Great interview questions, Lauri.

Lauri said...

Selma, glad you stopped by.

Tania, it's been lovely having you. I'm glad quite a few people stopped by too. I was a little concerned that the holidays would keep people too busy. Fantastic luck with your book.

Tania Hershman said...

Selma, thanks so much, lovely to meet a fellow short story fan.

Lauri - this has possibly been my most-commented tour stop, thank you!

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