On April 29th, at our 2nd Annual Literary Debutante Ball, One Story will be celebrating five One Story authors who have published their debut books over the past year. As a lead up to the event, we thought it would be a fun idea to introduce our Debs through a series of interviews on their debut book experiences. We will post a new interview each week so that you, our wonderful readers, can get a glimpse into these writers’ lives at this exciting time in their careers and find out what it’s like to publish a first book.
This week, we had the pleasure of speaking with Jim Hanas, author of Why They Cried (Joyland eBook from ECW Press), a wonderful collection that includes the story he published with One Story, “The Cryerer.”
Jim Hanas writes a lean and powerful line that makes even absurd situations—a man who cries professionally, a talking dog that can’t really talk—seem painfully familiar. Why They Cried answers its own question—and the answer is funnier than you think.
1) How did you celebrate when you found out your first book was going to be published?
There was no single celebration that I can recall. (My wife confirms this.) Like a lot of hotly anticipated moments in life, it wasn’t the punctuated instant that I’d imagined it would be. This was particularly true in my case, I think, since the book grew out of a series of discussions with Brian Joseph Davis and Emily Schultz at Joyland. It only slowly became evident that the book was going to happen, so the glow of excitement grew over time. I didn’t work with an agent, but I imagine that one of the more satisfying things about having one is that they absorb all this uncertainty, and then focus the end result–like a red hot laser beam–into a single, cathartic phone call. Your book has been sold! And then you celebrate. But for me, the celebration was a long, satisfying summer during which I knew I had a book coming out.
2) Your collection includes, “The Cryerer,” which you published with us in One Story. What happened from when you published in One Story to when your first book was accepted?
“The Cryerer”–my third published story–appeared in 2002(!). Since then, a lot has happened.
I embarked on a novel that nobody–including me–was happy with, and then I turned my hand back to short stories. Even when I was starting out as a newspaper writer in Memphis, I wrote short, not long. And there do seem to be two completely different types of writers. I’ve worked for a lot of publications, and I’ve seen plenty of writers who turn in stories way over their assigned word count. I have no idea what that’s like. I feel like I’m fighting for every single word. I don’t have any extra, and generating a lot of extra to fill out a novel wasn’t really successful. I’ve talked to novelists who feel freed by the novel and confined by the story, but so far I’ve felt the opposite.
The other thing that happened was that I became interested in e-books. I released [self-published] my first one–Single–in 2006, a year before the Kindle was introduced. It included “The Cryerer” and another story that is now in my collection, “Miss Tennessee.” I saw this as a way to keep my stories out there, and I designed the cover to look like the indie rock singles I collected as a music critic in the 90s. I released another one–Cassingle–in 2009 (also a compilation of previously published stories), and that’s what ultimately put me on ECW’s radar. They wanted to launch an experimental e-book imprint for short story collections with Joyland, and they came to me because I was already out there doing it.
3) Why They Cried, was produced as a Joyland eBook by ECW Press. What has your experience been like publishing in a digital platform like this?
Since I was already doing DIY e-books, working with an established press was the next logical step, and Joyland and ECW did a great job with the editing, design, and production. (The book especially looks great in the iBooks app on the iPad.) But there are still challenges when trying to get attention for an e-book-only title. Print authors have the luxury of being able to collect royalties from their (growing) e-book sales while remaining ambivalent–or even hostile–to e-books themselves. And being in print remains the dividing line for many reviewers, even when–as in my book’s case–the stories have previously appeared in respected journals like One Story, McSweeney’s, and Fence. But this is changing. I give a lot of credit to The Rumpus for not even blinking about reviewing an e-book like mine. And, of course, One Story has supported the book from the very start.
4) During the editing of, Why They Cried, was there any single piece of advice you received or perhaps remembered from earlier in your career that helped ease the process?
I’ve worked on and off as a journalist for a long time, so I’m not too squeamish about editing. Journalism, especially magazine journalism, is all about editing. (I tell people who ask advice that if they can turn things in on time and not complain about being edited, they can probably make a living as freelance writer.) And my editor, Emily, and I really saw eye to eye, so it wasn’t a very painful process.
I’ve interviewed George Saunders a few times, and he described a moment in his career that stuck with me. He said he could remember the instant (I believe he was on a bicycle) when he stopped writing the way he thought he was supposed to write and just started writing the way that came naturally to him–in that inimitable, dark, funny, vernacular, voice we’ve come to know. I don’t think I’m there yet.
5) What are you looking forward to the most about the One Story Literary Debutante Ball on April 29th?
Getting out of these heels.