Algonquin Books is proud to celebrate a quarter-century’s worth of stellar short stories with the publication of its annual anthology, NEW STORIES FROM THE SOUTH.
Over the course of the week, we’ll be featuring spotlight interviews with series editor Kathy Pories, contributor Wells Tower, guest editor Amy Hempel, and founding series editor Shannon Ravenel. And we’ll be giving away copies each day: Just leave a comment here on on our Facebook page to enter.
Today’s interview is with Algonquin in-house senior editor Kathy Pories, who talks about her methods of editing, feral cats, and where to find her when she’s hungry.
I try to edit at work, but I do my best editing at home, with frequent breaks. Coffee shops work well too, though, until someone starts pontificating at a nearby table. Or moves their chair. Or breathes.
2. What does a “Southern story” mean to you?
We like to play fast and loose with these terms—basically, any story set in the South, or referring back to the South, or with a Southern character (see Adam Atlas’s story), or by a Southern writer. We’re not trying to keep people out, but trying to discover all of the ways in which the South stealthily creeps into and overtakes a story, not unlike kudzu.
3. How many stories do you typically receive for New Stories from the South? Can you describe the process of selection a little bit?
We have complimentary subscriptions to approximately 100-some journals, and each of those publishes 2-4 issues a year. We go through each of those, looking for any story that we can claim has some tie to the South, and then decide if it’s strong enough to be in the preliminary pile for the guest editor. Not all of them make the cut. This year we sent about 65 stories to guest editor Amy Hempel. Out of that pile, she picked 25 stories for the anthology. To my eye, she picked the absolute best stories.
4. What’s the last non-work-related book you read that stopped you in your tracks?
Edward P. Jones’s The Known World. I finished it two weeks ago, and I haven’t been able to pick up anything else since, as I don’t want to stop thinking about it. It’s so epic and so painful, and yet never once does it feel sentimental or melodramatic.
5. What’s the last book you loaned out that you regret giving away?
So Long, See You Tomorrow, by William Maxwell, first edition. Thank you for asking this; maybe the person I lent it to will read this and send it back to me.
6. How many revisions on average does it take until you feel a story’s complete?
Well, for New Stories from the South, we don’t edit the stories—we run them just as they appeared originally in the journals. But when I’m editing a story collection, it is usually three drafts or more. And that’s probably after the writer has taken it through three drafts. One of my favorite writers who I work with, Wendy Brenner, was once asked about the process of editing. She said, “I write three sentences. Then I cross out two. Then my editor crosses out the third one.” I think the best stories were probably twice as long before I ever saw them. I’m of the mind that less is more, that the reader likes to put things together rather than being spoon-fed meaning.
7. What does the South mean to you?
The South means the place I can’t leave, inexplicably. It keeps changing, so I won’t get all nostalgic and talk about porches and lazy warm days and iced tea, though I don’t mind any of that. All I ask is that there continue to be gas stations that sell bright red pickled eggs and slabs of farmer’s cheese at the counter, that I encounter at least one wild dog or feral cat or possum or deer each month, and that I hear at least one story involving a snake.
8. What is your favorite place in the South?
A country road on a bike ride where we saw a hand-painted sign pointing to a small shack. The sign said, SODAS. HONK YOUR HONE. Inside that shack we bought ice cold Sprites from an old icebox for a quarter each.
9. More importantly, please describe your favorite meal in the South.
A dinner at Crook’s Corner, with Jalapeno Hushpuppies to start, some Scallops with Hominy, and a Mount Airy Chocolate Soufflé Cake for dessert. Then I lie down for a very long time.
10. In her introduction as guest editor to New Stories from the South: 2010, Amy Hempel writes, “Much of what I read from the contemporary South has a soundtrack.” As a North Carolinian resident, what is your current ‘Southern’ soundtrack?
Ola Podrida, a band out of Austin. Beautiful haunting music. Can we call Texas the South? Sure.
* And the bonus q: You are stranded on a desert island with any celebrity, living only. Who would you choose?
Does he have to be Southern?