Smile Politely

How to do an interview, by Aaron Burch

Stop what you’re doing right now and type the words Aaron Burch into your favorite web browser.  (Seriously, it’ll only take you a second.) 

Back already? 

Okay, now go ahead and Google your own lame-ass name, and in doing so, notice how Aaron’s name elicited entries that actually seemed important. The reason for this is pretty simple: he’s a hard working dude who has generated a lot of literary publications over the past seven years. That and he’s the founding editor of the super-rad literary journal, Hobart. Just last month Aaron learned that his chapbook, HOW TO TAKE YOURSELF APART, HOW TO MAKE YOURSELF ANEW: notes and instructions from/for a father had been selected by the editors of Pank (another lit journal) as the winner of its first chapbook competition.  Last week, Aaron took some time from his studies in the U of I’s MFA program to discuss how he does what he does.

Smile Politely: How’s it going?

Aaron Burch: All’s going pretty well. Not gonna lie: pretty excited about the contest. Getting lots of congrats on Facebook and an interview request is kinda awesome for the ego.

Smile Politely: Congratulations are most certainly in order – having a manuscript taken is no small thing. Care to talk at all about what people can expect when they pick it up in January?

Aaron Burch: Thanks!  Yeah, it is really a chapbook made of short shorts (or prose poems, or whatever you want to call them). I’d been writing a lot of relatively similar shorts, all called “How To” and so I compiled them and tried to arrange them in a way that was as cohesive as possible. Some have been previously published, so you can see examples here: elimae, sir, sleeping fish.

(There are a handful of others online as well, though that should give an idea.)

Then there are a few handful of longer (i.e. longer than a page, though still pretty short) stories in the middle which hopefully also fit the whole.

These “How To” pieces are actually kind of a second “series” of same-titled short shorts. A couple years ago I started writing shorts called “Overcast” and most of those are going to be compiled in another chapbook, which should be out from Keyhole Books in December, or thereabouts, which means both should come out relatively close to one another, which should be all the more exciting, hopefully.

Smile Politely: That’s quite a portfolio you’re working on. Had you published much prior to starting your MFA?

Aaron Burch: Yeah, I’ve always submitted a lot. The first think I published online was almost seven years ago now, though I started really focusing on writing with a kind of fervor, or whatever, maybe three or four years ago. I also spent a lot of that time writing these short shorts, which seem relatively easier to publish than longer, more traditional length stories, and also, obviously, you can write and submit them much faster than with longer stories, which seem to take me forever to write.

Smile Politely: They’re really interesting pieces that read almost like poetry, and as you point out, short short fiction seems to be more and more marketable these days. Has your job as editor of Hobart influenced your choice to take up short short fiction? Has it influenced your work in any other ways?

Aaron Burch: I don’t think working on Hobart influenced me to take up writing short fiction, per se, though the two (editing Hobart and working on my own writing) seem to always feed one another, often in ways I’m not fully aware of at the time. I currently focus all my Hobart-related attention on the print journal, but in the beginning I worked on both (print and web) and the web stuff would focus solely on shorter stories, say 1500 words or less, and so that obviously exposed me to a lot of flash fiction. I’ve always followed online journals pretty closely — I started Hobart online, after all, and when I didn’t know any other writers or anything, I started meeting writers and editors online and built my writing community through that. And most online journals focus on shorter works because, well, because reading longer stuff on the computer kind of sucks. Being as how that’s what I was reading, it kind of became what I was writing. A big push happened, if I remember correctly, when I became somewhat fascinated with elimae in particular and so really started trying to write shorter and shorter pieces, focusing on the language as much as possible, almost like poetry, like you said. Elimae’s editor, Cooper Renner, is an amazing editor and suggested cuts and edits with a few of the early pieces I sent him, and that too really helped me focus on language and what I could cut and still get away with.

As far as how Hobart has influence my writing in other ways: I think foremost is just that the more you read the better it is for your writing and I basically am always reading something because of Ho’. Also, I mentioned earlier that I think I published my first couple of stories online in ’03 or so and then really focused on writing more intensely in ’06 or ’07. I think I let my attention on my writing slip in some of those in between years because I was focusing and working on Hobart so much and it can be hard to balance the two. But, as I said, by the time I really dug back in and started pushing myself, I’d been reading nonstop for the intervening years – reading great stories and awful stories and everything in between – and I think that all really helped.

Smile Politely: From what little I’ve read of your work, it seems like you’ve spent some time thinking about fatherhood, parenting and family relationships.

Aaron Burch: Yikes. Way to cut to the chase. Ha.

I think I spend a lot of time thinking about manliness/masculinity in general, though I don’t really know why, and that obviously (or, maybe not obviously, but I guess in my own mind) involves and is even pretty directly related to fatherhood. I think I had something of the perfect upbringing and so maybe I’m trying to live up to that to some degree.

Kind of funny anecdote: I actually gave a slightly earlier version of this manuscript to Mike Madonick here at UI. His first comment, or at least one of his first comments, was something like, “well, obviously this is about the father figure.” And I was like, oh? Really? I hadn’t even realized. I guess it is one of those themes I write about without thinking about it. So I subtitled the chap “notes and instructions from/for a father” because I knew PANK was looking for a manuscript that was cohesive, worked as a whole, etc. and I kind of lamely thought throwing that little tag on there would be a quick and easy way at cohesion. A number of the shorts have some explicit mention of fatherhood and others don’t but I think it is interesting to read them under that “from/for a father” context.

Smile Politely: Funny how these things work. I hear you’ll be reading with a few visiting writers from Bowling Green University sometime next semester. Anything else worth mentioning before we finish?

Aaron Burch: Indeed, I’ll be reading at the final VOICE reading of the semester, which will include some writers visiting from Bowling Green. I’m pretty excited about it, because I actually kind of enjoy reading and I’m good friends with one of the students at BG.



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