Feel Like an Outsider? You Are Not Alone. R.L. Maizes’ characters try to overcome challenges in We Love Anderson Cooper.

Review and Q & A With R.L. Maizes

40236976.jpgMy Review:

I haven’t read a lot of short stories and when the publisher asked me to take a look at We Love Anderson Cooper I was happy to do so…the title made me smile and when the book arrived I was increasingly motivated by the great looking cover!

A teenage boy coming out publicly at his Bar Mitzvah, a cat playing favorites during the Christmas/Hanukah holiday season, the relief of a called off wedding, and the power of a couch…so wonderful getting to know the varied characters and becoming absorbed in their emotional journeys in such a short time.

I really loved all the stories and was thrilled to have the opportunity to chat with author R.L. Maizes about this new short story collection, her writing process and more.

Q & A with R.L. Maizes

Q:  From a reader’s point of view, each of your stories in this wonderful collection stand on its own and is unrelated, with different characters and situations.  Every main character seems to have a problem or obstacle they face and tackle during the short time we are with them and I became invested in each and every one!  Are any of these short stories in We Love Anderson Cooper linked or connected to each other in any way?

Thanks so much for the kind words about the collection. What connects the stories in We Love Anderson Cooper is that the main characters are outsiders. For example, in the story “Tattoo,” a tattoo artist is shunned because of his unusual appearance. In “Collections,” a woman is excluded from her wealthy partner’s upper crust world because of her race and class. In “No Shortage of Birds,” a young girl becomes alienated from her mother and her friends when her father dies. Being outsiders creates challenges for these characters that they try to overcome in the stories.

Q: Did you write each story with the others in mind?  Are there other stories that didn’t make the cut?  Did you always plan on putting these together in a collection?

I wrote the stories over a ten-year period. The pain we all feel at being excluded and our tremendous desire to belong was one of my preoccupations, but I wasn’t thinking of writing a collection during that entire time. Many stories I wrote didn’t make the cut. 

Q: How long did writing each story take?  Have any of them been published on their own prior to this book?

With the exception of one very short one, I spent more than a year writing and revising each of them. Some took many years. A number of the stories were published in magazines before being included in the book. One aired on National Public Radio. Another was dramatized in a production of Stories on Stage. 

Q: From a writing standpoint, how do you gage timing, know how much to reveal in such a short time and do you have to do any work developing the characters or the story arc before the story is written or does it just all come together as you write?

I’m what’s known as a pantser, which means I develop the stories as I write them (“fly by the seat of my pants”) rather than plotting them out beforehand. The stories end up needing more revision this way, but it’s the only way I know how to write. 

Figuring out when to reveal information is one of the great challenges of fiction writing, and each story has its own needs in that regard. In “Ghost Dogs,” for example, the last story in the collection, I intentionally hold back important information until the middle of the story. While in another story, I reveal the end of the story first, allowing the suspense to arise from how the ending comes about.   

Q: What is the editing process like for a short story – do you generally write too much and have to cut, or too little and have to expand?

Both! I have to write too much to discover what the story is really about. Once I know, I cut to the heart of the story. The challenge of the form is compression. At the same time, when I want to go deeper into a character or to slow down a scene for dramatic purposes, I expand parts of the story. 

Q: Would you ever consider expanding any of these stories into a book?

I’m writing a novel now called “Other People’s Pets.” The main character is an animal empath who drops out of veterinary school to become a burglar. Her father’s been arrested and she’s desperate to earn enough to pay his attorney’s fees. It has some similarities with the collection. The main character is an outsider and the book features animals. But it’s not an expansion of any of the stories. I don’t plan to expand any of the stories in the collection because each one feels complete to me as it is.  

Q: How do you get your ideas for your writing?

Stories are everywhere. A news report might trigger an idea for a story. Something that happened to an acquaintance might be the genesis of a story. I might observe something odd in my neighborhood. But the finished stories are always greatly changed from what initially sparked them. 

Q: Are you going on book tour?

It’s a little too soon to know. I’ll be reading at bookstores in Colorado where I live. But I’m not sure where else I’ll tour. 

Q: What are three books you recently read and would recommend?  

I loved Rebecca Makkai’s recent novel, The Great Believers, and her story collection, Music for Wartime. Mad Boy by Nick Arvin is a wonderful book, funny and tender. It’s currently a finalist for a Colorado Book Award. I’m a big fan of Steve Yarbrough’s novels because of the compassion he has for his characters. The Unmade World, which came out this past year, was fantastic. I thought Sigrid Nunez’s The Friend was great. Naturally because of the dog. But also because the structure of that book was marvelous. I guess that’s more than three.

Q: What is on your nightstand to read next?  

I’m looking forward to reading Susan Choi’s Trust Exercise and was lucky enough to pick up an advance reading copy at a conference I recently attended. I’m also about to begin Kali Fajardo-Anstine’s debut story collection, Sabrina & Corina. 

Thank  you to R.L. Maizes for answering some questions!  If you feel like an outsider, you are not alone.  Easy to read, engaging and thought provoking, every step of the way, I highly recommend pre-ordering a copy of  We Love Anderson Cooper today – book will be available in July.

Goodreads Summary

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About the Author:

R.L. Maizes’s short story collection, WE LOVE ANDERSON COOPER, will be published by Celadon Books (Macmillan) in July 2019, with a novel to follow. The stories have aired on National Public Radio and have appeared in Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading. Maizes’s essays have been published in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and elsewhere.

Born and raised in Queens, New York, Maizes currently lives in Boulder, CO, with her husband, Steve, and her muses: Arie, a cat who was dropped in the animal shelter’s night box like an overdue library book, and Rosie, a dog who spent her first year homeless in South Dakota and thinks Colorado is downright balmy.

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Lawn Boy by Jonathan Evison

 

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My Review:

A wonderful coming of age story about a 22 year old Mexican man, told with wit and humor, Lawn Boy author Jonathan Evison brings to light the struggles based on race and socioeconomic class.  Mike Muñoz mows lawns for a living.  He has limited education, lives in a dilapidated home, has no money and although all he wants is the American Dream, he has so many strikes against him.  Through trials and tribulations, Mike moves one step forward and two steps back as he makes choices to better his future and tries to achieve his goals.  He is extremely likable and although he makes some questionable decisions, I was always rooting for him.  A disabled older brother, a shady businessman and a sleazy real estate agent are some of the people in Mike’s life that create havoc, but he takes the good with the bad and learns along the way.  I love that he finally felt energized and supported and conjured up the power to live his authentic self through his relationship with Andrew, a wacky activist who works in the library.  Andrew generates great conversation, brings Mike new experiences and opens up his world to possibilities that could lead to happiness and success.

Mike enjoys reading, has great passion for tree sculpting and landscaping, loves his family and is persistent… and despite his faults, you will love him too!  A heartwarming story with many colorful characters – fun and entertaining, while at the same time bringing to light how ethnicity, education, money and perception all play a role in success.  I highly recommend it!

Goodreads summary

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About the Author:

Jonathan Evison is the author of four previous novels, including All About Lulu, West of Here, The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving, and This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance!
In his teens, Evison was the founding member and frontman of the Seattle punk band March of Crimes, which included future members of Pearl Jam and Soundgarden.
Born in San Jose, California, he now lives with his wife and family in Washington State.

The Arrangement by Sarah Dunn

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My Review:

Suburban young couple, Lucy and Owen are looking to feel energized and happy in their relationship, to bring back the butterflies, so their exciting but not so well thought out solution was The Arrangement.  An open marriage for six months.  Break all the rules. Do what you want. With whomever you want. No discussing anything with each other.  They wrote out a handful of rules and agreed to follow them.  This could be just what they need, right?

The freedom is refreshing.  No trapped feeling.  A reason to get dolled up.  A feeling of less responsibility.  So Owen gets caught up with Izzy, a crazy woman who’s husband cheated on her.  She regularly seduces him and then asks him to do annoying chores around her house and although the sex is good, he starts to wish he never agreed to get involved with her or the Arrangement.  On the other hand, Lucy finds Ben, a nice guy who she schedules a weekly rendezvous with and starts to develop feelings for.  Thinking of Ben when she is not with him is nice, positive, and happy…the feeling of falling for someone. Then when she can’t make it to see him one day she has this burning desire to talk on the phone and realizes this may not just be a sexual fling.  With a child in the mix and the lies told to cover up what was agreed to be kept secret, Lucy and Owen’s relationship complications multiply, and here you have the experiment called The Arrangement!

Sarah Dunn gives us an extremely humorous and well written tale of a typical young couple in the suburbs trying to reignite the lost passion with an unconventional Arrangement… a little sexy, a little daring, a little disastrous and a hilarious and accurate depiction of marriage, family and community.   So enjoyable and quick – you should not miss it!

As seen in Goodreaads:

Lucy and Owen, ambitious, thoroughly-therapized New Yorkers, have taken the plunge, trading in their crazy life in a cramped apartment for Beekman, a bucolic Hudson Valley exurb. They’ve got a two hundred year-old house, an autistic son obsessed with the Titanic, and 17 chickens, at last count. It’s the kind of paradise where stay-at-home moms team up to cook the school’s “hot lunch,” dads grill grass-fed burgers, and, as Lucy observes, “chopping kale has become a certain kind of American housewife’s version of chopping wood.”

When friends at a wine-soaked dinner party reveal they’ve made their marriage open, sensible Lucy balks. There’s a part of her, though-the part that worries she’s become too comfortable being invisible-that’s intrigued. Why not try a short marital experiment? Six months, clear ground rules, zero questions asked. When an affair with a man in the city begins to seem more enticing than the happily-ever-after she’s known for the past nine years, Lucy must decide what truly makes her happy-“real life,” or the “experiment?”

 

Sarah Dunn (born 1970) is an American author and television writer. She is known for her novels ‘The Big Love’ and ‘Secrets to Happiness’, and the ABC sitcom American Housewife, starring Katy Mixon.

After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, Dunn spent several years working service jobs in Philadelphia, PA, the experience of which informed her first book, ‘The Official Slacker Handbook’. Shortly afterward, she moved to Los Angeles, CA, where she wrote for television series including Murphy Brown, Veronica’s Closet, Spin City, and Bunheads. With Spin City co-creator Bill Lawrence, Dunn penned Michael J. Fox‘s final episode of the series.

Dunn is also a novelist whose works include The Big Love (2005), Secrets to Happiness  (2009), and The Arrangement (2017). Her books have been translated into 19 different languages.

Dunn is a member of the all-female television writer group “The Ladies Room”, which also includes Vanessa McCarthy, Stephanie Birkitt, and Julie Bean. The group was founded in July 2016.  Dunn is married to former New York Observer executive editor Peter Stevenson. They married in 2007.