CHRISTOPHER GRIMES is the author of Public Works: Short Fiction and a Novella (FC2, 2005) and The Pornographers(Jaded Ibis Press, 2011). His award-winning short fiction has appeared in Western Humanities Review, Beloit Fiction Journal, Reed, Cream City Review, First Intensity, Knock, and elsewhere. He teaches literature and fiction writing at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
What projects are you currently working on?
I never talk about a project that I’m currently working on. This isn’t a superstition or anything like that. For me, talking about a work-in-progress siphons away some of the pressure that’s forcing it to become complete. Talking about it can wreck it, I think, can create wreckage out of it, so instead of the work as a whole coming into the world, what comes are bits and parts of exposition, just the fragments of talking about it and not much more than that.
When and why did you begin writing?
Like life itself, writing and reading can be really boring. Reading boring writing, writing boring stuff. But then I discovered some not so boring writing—the work of Calvino, Paley, Nabokov, Borges and lots of others. These writers can be exhilarating. After awhile, I experienced pockets of exhilaration in my own tedious, boring writing. I would bore myself to tears, then throw the drafts away like so much Kleenex. Then one day I didn’t. One day I surprised myself. That took a long time, though.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
After writing the short story “Glue Trap,” which is collected in my book Public Works (FC2). Before that, I wanted to be a writer. But with that story, I had written something approximating an aesthetic object, a thing within which the parts all worked together toward a unity, a something whole. Now I knew what it actually meant to write a story, and I’ve spent much of my writer’s life after that trying to push and dismantle what I learned there and, of course, elsewhere.
What inspired you to write your first book?
My first book was a collection of stories. Mostly many short-shorts and short fictions. The inspiration was as varied as the stories themselves.
Who or what has influenced your writing?
A whole host of writers, most typically categorized, I suppose, as postmodern writers. That’s neither here nor there. I think what’s most influenced my writing is trusting improvisation, usually an antidote to boredom. Nothing is so boring as complete control, a kind of fascism of the imagination.
What genre are you most comfortable writing?
Short fiction, definitely. My new novel, The Pornographers (Jaded Ibis Press), is written like a very long short story, has, I mean, an intensity and structure that I think most would attribute more to a short story than a novel. I’m a sprinter by disposition. And now, having written a novel, I couldn’t tell you the first thing about how to write one. The one I wrote is composed of one 150 page (or so) grammatically correct sentence, and feels more like a 800 meter dash than a marathon, I suspect.
Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
I can’t respond to this with specifics. Let me tell you why: I’m a professor in the Program for Writers at the University of Illinois at Chicago. One of the things that you get good at in such a position is scouting talent, of recruiting and doing your best to nurture that talent. I can tell you that from my position the future of fiction is not just interesting but outright fascinating and important.
What is the most misunderstood aspect of your work?
That much of my work should be read as satire. Much of it is satire. Not much, most. Almost all. I’m confused when I’m occasionally called out for having characters with obnoxiously “off” points of view on a subject. My fiction is populated with occasionally wrong-thinking, but nevertheless well-intentioned morons. They do mean well. They just tend to be episodically idiotic. And frequently bored.
Any thoughts on being a writer of literary fiction in 2011?
It’s becoming an old story. The New York publishing houses have been consolidating or folding for the past many decades. They’re for sure not bringing much literary fiction to market. Whatever. Let them go. It’s the golden age of Indie presses, a revolution that has as much to do with web platforms as it does with print-on-demand technology, I think. Think about it: before print-on-demand, loaded into the cost of every book was production of the book itself, the person who ships the book, the truck the book is shipped on , the cost of every mile from point A to point B, the bookstore’s overhead, the cost of warehousing remainders, the destruction of the book, finally, into pulp. The economy of book production and distribution changes remarkably with print-on-demand. And the result? Free from such rigorous capital constraints, publishers themselves are able to explore their own possibilities, other ways of doing things that brings the art back into the art of publishing. Jaded Ibis Press, for example, is releasing my novel The Pornographers with full color art on every page by Scott Zieher. They’re also releasing it as a trade paperback, a e-book, an art object and work in collaboration with the musical artists OC Notes and Lisa Dank. And if that weren’t enough, they’re releasing a short-short story version of the book entitled Pornographies. Can you imagine an “establishment press” taking that kind of risk? Can you imagine them taking even half or a quarter of this risk? No. The old business model prohibits it. Good riddance to the old way of doing things.