Seth Fried’s stories have appeared in McSweeney’s, Missouri Review, The Pushcart Prize Anthology: Best of the Small Presses, One Story, Tin House, and many others. His debut short story collection, The Great Frustration, is currently forthcoming from Soft Skull Press. Learn more about him and his book at Seth Fried’s Absolute-Bare-Minimum-Blog Blog. KR published his story “Animalcula: A Young Scientist’s Guide to New Creatures” in the Spring 2011 issue.
KR: What’s one book, contemporary or otherwise, that you wish you had written?
SF: I think the best books are the ones where the author has the easiest access to his or her own personality. All the great writers seem to have a powerful understanding of who they are and how they relate to the world. So in order to write someone else’s book, I would have to be a different person. In that sense, as much as I love certain books, it would be strange to see my name on any of them.
That said, my work has definitely been inspired by other books. My Animalcula pieces that will be appearing in the spring issue of The Kenyon Review are heavily influenced by Italo Calvino’s book Invisible Cities. That book is a series of very short stories describing different fictional cities. Animalcula is a series of very short stories describing different fictional microscopic organisms. Writing Animalcula was a way for me to celebrate Invisible Cities while still showcasing my own personality as a writer.
KR: Have classroom experiences (as a teacher, as a student) figured largely in yourdevelopment as a writer?
SF: I’ve had several teachers go out of their way to support and encourage my writing, even when it wasn’t in their job descriptions. In undergrad I majored in Latin; when one of my professors found out about my first publication, he got so excited that he made me read the story in front of a classroom filled with very confused LAT 202 students. Another Latin professor would always either loan or give me books by awesome, obscure science fiction writers like Frederic Brown. I’ve had lots of great experiences like that. I think that teaching is a pretty special calling and that the majority of people who go into it are just reflexively generous.
KR: What advice would you give yourself five years ago?
SF: When I was younger a lot of people told me that I would never be able to publish a short story collection without writing a novel first. The people who told me this all seemed to know what they were talking about, so I really took their advice to heart. As a result, I wasted a bunch of energy working on novel projects that I wasn’t passionate about. I like fiction in general, but for whatever reason I particularly love short stories. The novel projects made me miserable, but I wanted to do whatever it took to make sure my stories could have an audience.
However, I am now 28 and have a short story collection coming out on a press I love. This, despite the fact that I don’t have two novel pages to rub together. So the advice I would give myself five years ago is something I would tell anyone: Don’t pay attention to advice that doesn’t take into account the possibility that you could be a special case. Otherwise, you’ll be defining
yourself by other people’s limitations, which have nothing to do with you.
KR: Of all the things you could be doing, why do you write?
SF: Because I love it. In terms of articulating why I love it, I’ll have to turn things over to my good friend Rainer Maria Rilke:
Everything that makes more of you than you have ever been, even in your best hours, is right. Every intensification is good, as long as it is in your entire blood, as long as it isn’t intoxication or muddiness, but joy which you can see into, clear to the bottom.