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all this heavenly glory

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.

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