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LAist Interview: Nam Le, author of The Boat

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Nam Le was recently in town to read from and sign The Boat, a wildly diverse and intense collection of short stories that did not immediately strike us a short stories and which prompted an interesting dialogue. While we make a point in our author interviews to ask questions that would be of interest to our readers, we found that in this case, we were compelled to ask some pointed questions about our own reading experience as we started this collection thinking it was a novel. Over weeks of email and a meeting at The Dresden last week, we sorted it all out. And lest you think we are the only ones who are crazy enough to cry foul about the elusive "stories" title on the book cover, take a look at Antoine Wilson's review of The Boat that appeared on Sunday in the LA Times.

There is much discussion in the publishing world about how difficult it is to get a collection of short stories published. Even more difficult, so the gossip goes, is publishing an unlinked collection of short stories – a collection without common characters from one story to the next, without an obvious place or overt theme tying each story together. How, then, did you come to write (and find a publisher for) a collection of short stories so wildly different from one another? Well, first off, thanks a lot for pointing out the fact that the collection’s all over the shop! Really. Second, I can tell you that I never imagined, as I was writing these stories, that they would end up in a collection – for pretty much exactly the reasons you mention. I was writing these stories just as I started seriously reading short stories, and in part the diversity in this book is attributable to my having become simultaneously smitten with so many stories of all shapes and narratives stripes. I wanted each of my stories to work completely on its own terms, to answer solely to its own aspirations.

As for how they came to be published – a couple of years ago I holed myself up for seven cold months on the top floor of a barn in Provincetown to work on a novel, but found myself compulsively returning to and rejigging these stories. Finally I set the novel aside, knuckled down on the stories, collated them and sent them to my agent to hold in escrow. (He too was waiting for my novel.) I told him not to let me touch the stories again. He read them, then told me he thought they were ready. At that point I realized how conventional wisdom in publishing works – it doesn’t, really.