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Elizabeth Crane

by Susan Henderson on March 14, 2007

Some writers’ styles are so identifiable, you can practically parody them – David Foster Wallace, Mark Twain, Dylan Thomas, Nikki Giovanni, Lemony Snicket. Today’s guest is one of those writers that, if you’re given two or three sentences, you can say, “Oh, that’s an Elizabeth Crane story.”

How would I define her writing style? Breathless, playful, totally charming, and funny. But she’s funny in a quirky, heartbreaking, underhanded kind of way I don’t know how to describe except to include excerpts of her writing throughout the interview, and so I’ll do that.

If you’re a LitPark regular, you’ll know today’s guest as Betsy. But I’m going to get all formal on you for half a second and say, Please welcome the remarkable Elizabeth Crane.

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Your writing has such an identifiable style. How would you define the style and voice of ALL THIS HEAVENLY GLORY?

Thanks for saying so! You know, this may not make sense in light of the writing, which might seem a bit complex (?) but I try to write really naturally – what I mean is that to a great extent, I like to write how I think, whether it’s first, second or third person, present, past – or future tense. If I have to work at it too hard, I know it’s not going to work at all. Is that actually an answer? To this question?

Charlotte Anne also knows that all kids don’t keep their Beautiful Crissy dolls (with the beautiful, “growing” hair) as pristine as she would, if she had one, that there are kids who cut their dolls’ hair, or lose parts of games, and that some of them will invite you over for a playdate saying that they have a certain game and then that turns out to be a lie, or don’t know where they even keep things, which she will usually consider when invited over for a playdate, seeing as how what’s the point, really, if there are only parts of things to play with.
– from “Perversion #1: The Beautiful Crissy Experience,” ALL THIS HEAVENLY GLORY

What kind of response have you received?

By and large the response has been nothing but positive. (Ok, there was that one random blogger, not a litblogger, just a regular person, who said the first sentence was so annoying they couldn’t read on… why are the one bad ones the ones that stick in my head? I can’t quote any of the good ones…) It’s weird, this book didn’t get a lot of press when it came out for reasons that are a bit maddening, but nevertheless, in spite of that, what press I did get has been very good, and, this is the part that amazes me – I feel like it’s the little book that won’t die, because over the last two years since the hardcover came out, more in the last year even, since the paperback, it seems to have fallen into the hands of some pretty visible people who have gone out of their way to champion it, and so long after its paperback release now, it’s like the little book that could.

Me and Ben at the Golden Gate bridge last summer.

On our so-called date we had lunch at Peretti’s and he asked me stuff like, Who are you? Where are you from? What do you think about god? I’m not sure anyone really has the time to hear my feelings about god, which are muddled at best, but I love that someone asked anyway.
– from “Famous,” ALL THIS HEAVENLY GLORY

Can you describe your writing process and how you tap into this voice? I have to say it reads as if the character just takes hold of you and you have to chase the story with your pen.

That’s such a cool observation and image. On occasion that’s true. It’s the most fun when it works like that, anyway! I wrote a 45 page story for my first book in three days and hardly revised it at all. And I liked the way it came out, but was like – wow, was I in a blackout when I wrote that? Basically, though, my writing process is pretty simple. When I’m in writing mode, which isn’t always (I wish it were, but work work sometimes prevents – other times I’m too obsessed with crafts although that weirdly fuels my writing in ways I can’t explain – I wrote my third book in the midst of major craft blog obsession/sewing & embroidery binge), I like to write in the mornings, ideally, when I’m most awake, and then once I have a first draft – I expand and expand and then fine tune and fine tune, eventually on a word level. I know when I get to the point where I’m changing ands and buts that it’s about time to let it go.

Reasons I Don’t Want to Be Friends with You
1. you’re uptight and should try pot it might help
2. you’re jealous you should try sex it might help
3. bitch
– from “A Malicious Use of the List Format,” ALL THIS HEAVENLY GLORY

As far as tapping into the voice though, that’s a bit of another story. For me, it was about learning to trust the voice that was always there. Years ago, I used to think I should write like Jane Austen or I don’t know who, people who described – lovely things – and I worked really hard to write in this sort of formal, structured way that really wasn’t me. Meanwhile I’d write LONG letters to friends that I’d revise heavily before I sent them, and my friends always loved them – but I had no idea that I could write stories the same way, that I kind of was writing stories. And then, very late in the game, I started reading writers who were more experimental in their style, writing in a way that I could really relate to, and I realized that I had that license too, and that’s when my writing really changed and that voice came out.

Charlotte had heard it said many times in the program that A.A. wasn’t a hotbed of mental health, but this hadn’t stopped her from using it as a dating service.
– from “Eleven,” ALL THIS HEAVENLY GLORY

This was a weird and wonderful choice – the stories told by Charlotte Anne regarding her childhood are written in present-tense, and the more current stories are written in the past tense? Was this intentional?

Yay! You might be the first person to notice this or at least to point it out. It was intentional. Shouldn’t be much of a mystery that much of the story here is based on my childhood, and my thinking is that – for me anyway – sometimes those memories seem more crisp to me than things that happened last week, if that makes any sense, and so I reversed the tenses to point that out. I just kinda think that – childhood seems to be something that is always with us, that has so much to do with who we become, and as far away as it gets, it always seems very present to me.

My rock star moment.

Her stepfather’s devotion to Charlotte’s mother is displayed partly in the way he looks at her after all these years and partly in the way he laughs too loud when she says something funny even though mostly what she says that’s funny isn’t meant to be funny, for example she likes to tell jokes except she can’t ever really remember them, and she’ll say something like, Oh there’s this frog, and he’s in a bar, or on a bar, and he says to the bartender, “Bartender” – something about peanuts – oh wait, I think there was a whatdoyoucall, a rabbi or a priest, and then she cracks up, and she kind of does this when she tells stories too, and you know she knows what she’s trying to say, but you have to kind of help her fill in the blanks, sometimes, or put the story in the right order, which is not to say that she is stupid in any way, because she isn’t, and which is more a sort of charming characteristic than a humor-oriented characteristic, and which arguably does have its appeal.
– from “Jesse Jackson, He Lives in Chicago,” ALL THIS HEAVENLY GLORY

As I was reading this book, I kept thinking, Thank God this manuscript landed in the right hands because I can see how there might be pressure to tie the stories together into a novel or reign in the sentences. I think there’s a magic in the way the stories are shaped, and certainly in the way Charlotte Anne’s mind works. Did you have to fight to keep this a collection of stories or made into something that resembled what’s already out there?

Dang! That’s so nice. I didn’t have to fight to keep it a collection, no, my editor at Little, Brown, Reagan Arthur, was a real champ for me like that. This is where the answer gets a little tricky though, because L,B did want a novel, yes, and this was supposed to be marketed more along those lines, but it wasn’t marketed too much at all (see above vague answer), as it happened. But I didn’t write this as a compromise. I always planned a Charlotte Anne book of stories. I had about half the stories written when I decided to fill it out.

There are not many published authors who exclusively write short stories. Alice Munro, George Saunders. There’s always that pressure from agents and editors to write a novel. (When Denis Johnson and Raymond Carver tried this, I remember thinking, No, no, no, this isn’t the form you were born to write!) Can you talk to me about the value of the short story and why you choose to tell your stories in this form?

Ha! I couldn’t agree more. I LOVE LOVE LOVE short stories. That’s the simple answer. And can I say, if in some distant future universe, my name gets mentioned alongside names like that again, man, I will go to my grave one happy camper. There are numerous novels that I’ve loved over the years (I hope the novelists won’t get mad at me here – is this my controversy? I didn’t post on that subject because I don’t think I have any stories), but there’s something about the short form where I see the most exciting, original writing – in terms of what floats my boat, anyway.

A painting by my husband that hangs in our living room.

. . . . not in search of an Owen Wilson “type,” not ISO anyone who looks, acts, sounds like, or does an impression of Owen Wilson, is search of the actual Owen Wilson . . . .
– from “Ad,” ALL THIS HEAVENLY GLORY

I think part of why that might be is because in a longer form you’re really bound to keeping this consistent story going for a long time, and one might tire of a more experimental style like mine in a longer form, or, as a writer, it may just be more difficult to keep up. I’m not sure – certainly there are numerous examples of people who do it well, but I’m pretty sure I’m not one of them. I have no plans to write a novel, though I did feel that pressure for a while, I’ve decided to let myself off the hook. Every time I try, I write a hundred or more pages and then decide it doesn’t work and then all I can think is there’s four months gone by where I could have been writing stories. In the end, I write short stories because I love them, and it’s what I’m best at. I wrote a novel, sort of, that got me an agent but didn’t get sold (thank god, now)- whereas my first collection got picked up in about 5 minutes – and I took that to heart. Now I’m just trying to make peace with the possibility that I might never be rich. Although I have a scheme in mind to popularize short stories once and for all, and if I had any time and smidgen of money, I’d do it. It baffles me that people say they don’t read because they don’t have time? Um, short stories? Are short.

Me and my best friend since 7th grade (Nina Solomon, also a writer) at Happy Ending (I was doing a reading there) last June.

During a rerun of Donny & Marie they had rated all the girls in their class on a scale from “excellent” to “fair” and were the only ones in the “excellent” category while most fell off the scale into “poor,” never questioning that they might not be home on a majority of Saturday nights watching Donny & Marie if their excellence were univeally recognized, always maintaining among themselves that they did so “by choice.”
– from “Brooklyn,” ALL THIS HEAVENLY GLORY

Who are you reading these days, and what are you working on now?

Well, let’s see – there are about ten books on my nightstand (there were twenty, but it was becoming wobbly) – four of them are about dogs (we just got our first), the others are: Noria‘s book of stories, Human Oddities, Sara Gran’s novel Dope, God’s Gym by John Edgar Wideman, two books by Golda Fried, and Blink, by Malcom Gladwell. That stuff kills me. And also I still haven’t finished Gary Lutz’s book of stories, Stories in the Worst Way, but his writing is insane…ly great and original.

I just finished editing my third book of stories, YOU MUST BE THIS HAPPY TO ENTER, from Punk Planet, out in September.

{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

Betsy March 14, 2007 at 1:03 pm

Ok, Sue, you are too, too, too nice. BTW, folks, I made that little top I’m wearing in the last photo but you can’t really see how cute it is.

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Myfanwy Collins March 14, 2007 at 1:31 pm

Great, great interview, Betsy and Sue! I have this book and have yet to read it but plan to do so very soon. You made that top? It’s adorable. I can’t make anything.

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Roy Kesey March 14, 2007 at 1:49 pm

Terrific interview, folks. And those excerpts were beautifully found, Sue.

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Pia March 14, 2007 at 2:55 pm

Another great interview!

Betsy – (I have to get used to thinking of you as Betsy and not Elizabeth. Betsy. Betsy. Okay.) Betsy – You have an enviable inventory of short stories. Do you submit them to lit mags before they publish in your collections? What’re your thoughts about publishing short stories on the web?

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Julie Ann Shapiro March 14, 2007 at 3:18 pm

Betsy,
Your story excerpts sound wonderful and your writing process. Could you tell us a little more about how your story collection was sold to Little Brown?

Julie

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Laini Taylor March 14, 2007 at 3:24 pm

Loved this interview and love the excerpts! I’m definitely going to pick up this book. Thanks!

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Betsy March 14, 2007 at 3:37 pm

Thanks, Myfanwy and Roy! Pia, I don’t have any particular, er – method for submitting stories anymore, although I did before I published my first book – I sent stories out regularly and frequently. Now I don’t try as hard, I have had the good fortune to have some nice litmags come to me, and I’m all for publishing on the web, although I guess it depends on the site. I have a new story on one called fivechapters.com, and they’ve had some awesome authors on there.
Julie Ann – I have an agent who sent the first collection to Little, Brown after having submitted the novel I mention to a number of publishers to lukewarm reception, and – oh, I feel another long story coming on. Suffice it to say that I had much more interest in my stories than my novel, and they made a very nice offer I couldn’t refuse.

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Julie Ann Shapiro March 14, 2007 at 4:02 pm

Betsy,
That’s so cool. It says a lot about your awesome writing. We always hear story collections are harder to sell than novels and yours is the reverse. This industry is so baffling. I’m so happy your books got published and you made it.

Julie

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James Spring March 14, 2007 at 4:14 pm

I ordered Elizabetsy’s book on Amazon and can hardly wait for it to arrive. Her prose rocks. And her sewing? Let’s just say, I’d like to pattern myself after her…

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Noria March 14, 2007 at 5:08 pm

Oh, Betsy. I’m such a fan. I can’t wait for book number three.
There’s something strange going on in that stack of books on your nightstand: I’m having lunch with Sara Gran this weekend, and John Wideman is a former teacher of mine.

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Susan Henderson March 14, 2007 at 5:36 pm

Betsy – You and your writing are amazing. If we lived closer, we could braid each other’s hair!

Myf – If you open her book and read a sentence, you won’t be able to stop. Also, if you open her book and read a sentence, you might be on page two or three before that sentence ends. And by then, you might as well keep going.

Kesey – Thank you! If I happened to film a tv show last week, the bracelet you gave me might be featured in just about every shot, including some very regrettable bathing suit scenes.

Pia – My feeling about publishing stories on the web means they have a longer life and will actually find readers. I know some are picky about only going for print magazines, but your story in Narrative Magazine is a great example of the power of good writing on the internet.

Julie – Aren’t those great excerpts? I really couldn’t describe her humor without them.

Laini – Let us know what you think of the book, and thanks!

James – You are cracking me up. You’ll have to come back to NY so we can drink our scotch/vodkas again.

Noria – Ooh, tell Sara Gran I’m a big fan. My nightstand has dog hair all over it.

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Susan Henderson March 14, 2007 at 6:20 pm

(Hey, t, what kind of wonky thing is happening to the book excerpts? Now they’re all red. xx)

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Carolyn Burns Bass March 14, 2007 at 6:21 pm

Susan nailed it when she said this: …Thank God this manuscript landed in the right hands…

Before internet writing communities like LitPark provided eclectic authors the opportunity for fellowship, I wonder how many wonderful books like Betsy’s didn’t land in the hands of the right agent or editor and the author became discouraged.

Oh that Crissy doll. At about twelve, I was too cool for dolls when Crissy came out, but I found something intriguing about a blonde who could change her hair style with the twist of a button in her tummy. Of course, back then my dark, dark, dark brown hair was cut in a pixie. It’s still dark, dark, dark brown, but with a few grays fighting for the crown. Thanks for the memory, Betsy.

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Gail Siegel March 14, 2007 at 7:31 pm

Hey Betsy, I feel like I should have met you in person by now, I’ve been reading so many of your blogs/books/interviews/expositions. ALL of which are highly entertaining. I’m looking forward to the reading in April in Chicago.

Congratulations on the dog. What kind? Chicago is a great city for dogs. I’m glad to know you’re here!

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Amy Wallen March 14, 2007 at 8:26 pm

Wow! Betsy, I love your stories, or what I got a glimpse of here. So, I’m sure I’m going to love them when your book arrives. I had a Velvet doll, Chrissy’s long-haired sister in the purple velvet dress. My brother pulled the hair extension out, so she was a butch version.

Great interview Sue. It’s so cool when someone gets what you’re trying to do. Good for you for being so in tune with Betsy.

I have to put in my 3 cents and say what I’ve always thought: some of us write long, some write short. I hate when I hear of short story writers being forced to write a novel. I would get a bad skin rash if someone made me write a collection of short stories. I can’t write a short story to save my life. Perhaps you can tell why based on the length of my blog comments.

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Robin Slick March 14, 2007 at 8:42 pm

I don’t know what’s more entertaining here — the interview, the excerpts, or the comments section. What a great read I just had!

And I’ve finally got a jump on LitPark – for once I own the book in question. It’s awesome beyond belief.

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Anneliese March 14, 2007 at 11:56 pm

I hear about controversy over book covers, the author not having the creative influence over which design ultimately is used. Would you mind telling us how that darling photo of a girl graced the cover of your bookjacket? The pic is endearing, eye-catching, and makes me want to read – even without your interview above!

Thanks!

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n.l. belardes March 15, 2007 at 12:01 am

I haven’t read short stories in a while. I need to review Crane’s stories on Paperback Writer… for sure. Sounds wonderful.

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Roy Kesey March 15, 2007 at 1:29 am

Sue, that bracelet was MADE for bathing suit scenes, and you know it. Yay!

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*Joe* March 15, 2007 at 2:27 am

A few weeks ago, I nearly turned down a ‘Friend Request’ from a 14 year old girl posing as Elizabeth Crane in that ‘Other Space’. I’m glad I risked the wrath of the cameras, Chris Hansen and an outraged nation to accept the request. But if she had just said, “It’s Betsy,” I wouldn’t have worked so hard on collecting alibis and character witnesses.

What a great interview Susan! I put in my order for All This Heavenly Glory. Assuming that card isn’t maxed, I hope to have it in my hands soon.

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Juliet March 15, 2007 at 1:21 pm

I’ve kept Elizabeth’s writing among some of the books I re-read when life is gnawing at me and I need to get away to the familiar. Short stories are great for those times when you can’t commit the emotional energy or time to engage in an entire novel, and yet need words other than your own; a world beyond your frame.

Thanks for a great interview and again, welcome home, Susan!
J

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Betsy March 15, 2007 at 2:03 pm

Jeez, you folks are all too kind. I knew I liked this place.
Julie Ann – the story has a positive and a negative aspect. I believe wholeheartedly that good writing will find a home, whether it’s a big house, an indie, or whathaveyou, and I think that’s how my first collection got picked up. But, it tends to be that stories are often picked up because they’re hoping for a novel to come next, and not having given that to my former publisher may explain why I’m not there anymore.
Noria, that is an odd coincidence… and can I please take this moment to praise you right back? I wish I had time to get past the first two awesome stories – I have been reading student work almost exclusively for months. Except for the dog stuff. We need some extra help in that area.
Sue, OMG totally!!!
Carolyn, I had a pixie too! Maybe that’s why I loved that doll.
Gail, I know, it will be great to meet you, finally! Our dog is a Catahoula. All together now: A WHAT?
Amy – ooh, Velvet! As Napoleon Dynamite would say, ‘Lucky!’ And I agree – we, as writers, should just do what we do. I have tried to write a novel and a hundred mediocre pages later realized I should have spent the time writing stories.
Robin, thank you!!
Annelise, sigh, I’m glad you like the cover. I agree it’s a lovely photo, I just don’t think it goes with the tone of the book very well. I’ve ranted about this on myspace so I’ll spare y’all here.
*Joe* – sorry about that! I just figured since I look fourteen… but I forgot about the creepy myspace universe.
Juliet – that is so nice!
Golly, thanks again to everyone for making my week.

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Anneliese March 15, 2007 at 6:13 pm

Oh how funny then that I’d even mention it. I just read your blog over at MS on this cover. Oops! Well, then, now I’ll comment back to your blog over on MS, once I’ve read your collection and what I think about the cover then! :) Maybe I just like the photo, and that is simply all it is.

This made me laugh:
“So. Now you know what my book is about and what it isn’t about but what you think it might be about because of what it looks like it might be about and for which you couldn’t be blamed, if it were someone else’s cover I would think the same thing, and I hope this will encourage a few more of you to read it, whatever your feeling about what it looks to be but really isn’t. “

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LaurenBaratz-Logsted March 15, 2007 at 11:14 pm

Betsy, there will always be one random blogger. Rock on. Great interview!

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Aurelio March 16, 2007 at 12:14 am

Simply loved this – what more can I say?

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Betsy March 16, 2007 at 2:09 pm

Thanks, Lauren and Aurelio!

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