Introducing Our Debutantes: Caitlin Horrocks

On April 20th, at our 3rd Annual Literary Debutante Ball, One Story will celebrate seven 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.

This week, in our second installment, we had the pleasure of speaking with Caitlin Horrocks, author of This is Not Your City, a mesmerizing collection of short stories published by Sarabande in June 2011.

1) Where were you when you found out your first book was going to be published? How did you celebrate?

Sarah Gorham, the editor at Sarabande, called me. I was living with friends for a few months while I guest-taught for a semester at Arizona State University. I ran out to the living room to tell them and we went out to dinner. As we ate, they were saying, “This isn’t the actual celebration, right? This is just dinner. We have to do something more exciting later.” But dinner was fine by me—much of what I was feeling was just relief, along with elation. The book had been accepted for publication once before, and then that publisher shut down. This time around, there was excitement, but also the feeling of a weight being lifted.

2) In January, 2011, your story “Life Among the Terranauts” was published in One Story. What happened to you between then and the debut of This Is Not Your City?

I’d actually just started writing “Life Among the Terranauts” when my book manuscript was accepted, and the copyediting was nearly complete when the story came out. So it didn’t make it into the book. That’s resulted in some Goodreads reviews about how my book is good, but would have been even better if it included “her awesome Terranaut story from One Story.”

To echo something I know many other One Story authors have commented on, the magazine’s format means that people actually read your one story. I loved hearing from people who enjoyed the piece and took the time to tell me so.

3) What was the revision process like for you? What advice would you give to writers about turning a group of individual stories into a book-length manuscript?

This will sound disingenuous, but my advice is to not worry too much about it. I wasted a lot of time and mental energy worrying over whether my book-length group of stories was really a book: were the stories cohesive enough? How could I make them more cohesive? Why would I even want to attempt that when much of what I love about short stories is reading and writing really disparate voices and places?

I shouldn’t have worried so much. Editors and readers have found plenty of connective tissue in this book, even things I hadn’t thought of as themes or obsessions. My book was a book all along.

4) The stories in This Is Not Your City are remarkably diverse in terms of setting and subject matter – one is written in the voice of a Russian mail-order bride on her way into Finland, for example, and another takes place in the Gulf of Aden, where Somali pirates hijack a cruise ship. What kind of research went into this collection, and how do your own experiences play into the fiction you write?

I’ve spent time in Finland, but I haven’t spent time on a cruise ship, or with pirates. There’s a blend of personal and researched experience throughout the book, and hopefully I’ve made them both seem real. The autobiographical material in my fiction is almost always some hacked up potato pieces in a much larger stew. They float alongside pieces of research that I perhaps shouldn’t admit are Googled, but often are. Even when the research is casual, I love the hunt for the exact right fact, or just the useless fact I find so interesting that I file it away in hopes of using it later. I have a lot of those.

5) What are you most looking forward to about the One Story Literary Debutante Ball on April 20th?

I’m most looking forward to the second hour or so, when I look around and see that I didn’t wear the entirely wrong thing, and can relax. Other than that, I’m very excited to meet the other debutantes.

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