Please welcome Eleanor Bluestein, the author of Tea and Other Ayama Na Tales, which I reviewed yesterday. Today she’s here to talk about why she chose to write short stories rather than a novel. Please give Eleanor a warm welcome and don’t forget to check out the giveaway at the bottom of this post!
Meghan suggested I discuss why I chose the short story format rather than the novel for this book. I’ve been asked that before, and I realize now that I’ve given only a partial answer.
I started this book after traveling to Bangkok to attend my nephew’s wedding. On that trip, my husband and I toured Thailand and then flew to Cambodia. I hadn’t considered writing fiction set in South East Asia—I was working on a novel at the time—and didn’t even take notes. Writing a novel requires keeping many threads aligned, but soon after returning home, my father became ill, and as the person responsible for his care, I needed and wanted to spend time with him. My attention became scattered and I kept dropping one or another of the novel’s threads, so I decided to try writing short stories instead. My recent travels had been vivid, and when I started the first story, I found myself setting it in South East Asia. This is the answer I’d given to the question and it is accurate as far as it goes.
It’s clear to me now that something else was also at work. Fiction is an invention, and there is some sleight of hand involved in drawing readers into a world the author devises and into characters’ lives and holding them there. Of the ten stories in Tea and Other Ayama Na Tales, only one is written from the point of view of an American. The rest are narrated by South East Asians. I would not have thought I could create a world a reader would believe in with such an exotic setting or write from a South East Asian point of view for an entire novel. I would have believed that world and those characters too different from the one I knew, culturally and historically, for the work to feel true. But I was willing to risk that I could pull it off for a short story. I don’t mean that this was conscious—it wasn’t. But it seems obvious, looking back, that I could commit to baby steps, not the entire marathon. One at a time, though, the stories piled up, and finally, I’d run the whole course.
Could I have done this book as a novel? Perhaps. I’m not sure, but I don’t think I ever would have tried. The processing of the travel, the imaginative leap into a world and culture so different from my own, probably would never have occurred. Among the many opportunities my father made possible for me, this, it turns out, was another one.
Thank you, Meghan, for the opportunity to share these thoughts with your readers.
Thank you for that great post, Eleanor!
And now, the giveaway! I have one copy of Tea and Other Ayama Na Tales to give away to a resident of the US or Canada. To enter:
- Leave a comment on this post telling me either why you’d like to read this book, commenting about Eleanor’s guest post, or recommending me another short story collection, since I liked this one! That is your first entry.
- For another entry, leave a comment on yesterday’s review post after you’ve entered here first. If you already commented, please mention it in your comment here, that still counts.
- For a third or fourth entry, tweet or blog (or both!) about this contest. Make sure to come back with the link in a separate comment so I can count you again.
The contest will end on Wednesday, May 13th. I’ll announce the winner on May 14th. Good luck!