We're getting ready to lock the doors and check under the bed in honor of the release of Fat and Bones: And Other Stories by Larissa Theule, a member of the Super-Secret-Society of the Quirk and Quill. Published by Carolrhoda, the book is a series of seven interconnected stories that Publishers Weekly's starred review says, "feels like Charlotte's Web by way of Neil Gaiman." (Okay, I'm going to check the closet too.)
What was the spark that ignited this book?
Most of the stories in this book were written roughly five years ago while I was living in Shanghai, China. I was in my final semester at VCFA and hugely pregnant with my first child. I had always thought myself a rather brave person (growing up in a family of five children makes you pretty tough), but bringing an innocent new baby into the world terrified me. All the beautiful things in life grew dim when I thought of global food shortages, water shortages, war, disease, death, dirty air, mean-spirited strangers, you name it. Spiders, too— even on my bravest days I’m afraid of spiders. I found writing difficult and Rita Williams-Garcia suggested I take the first story in the book, which I had written a year prior, and build a world around it. I did, embracing the short story format and composing characters to live out my fears in ways that are violent, funny, and occasionally redemptive.
Tell us about how you sold this book.
I wouldn’t have sold this book without my agent Linda Pratt. Fat and Bones is an odd little collection and more than one person in the industry told me it would never sell. It’s too dark, they said. The English might understand the humor but Americans would not. But Linda took a chance on the collection, and then Andrew Karre at Lerner also took a chance, and so did my editor Greg Hunter, and the whole reason this book exists is because a few brave people said it should—a sentiment that’s probably true for a great many books, particularly debuts. A manuscript needs more champions than its author alone and I’m very grateful to those who worked hard to bring these stories to print.
What nugget of advice has been especially helpful to you?
Friend and editor Shelley Tanaka once said something like this to me (my words, her meaning), “You’ll never write like anyone else so just write like you.” I say this to myself every time I sit down to work. In fact, Fat and Bones is my first effort at tuning out the styles and stories of writer friends I admire to write solely from my own space of heart and mind, which, it turns out, delights in gallows humor—something I hadn’t known about myself.
How did attending VCFA affect your writing life?
Attending VCFA and learning from remarkable students and teachers alike gave me the courage I was lacking to pursue a career in writing. The community I found there has remained years after graduation, without which I suspect I’d be a very lonely writer.
What advice would you give to a prospective VCFA student?
Go, and don't be afraid. VCFA will empower you to write to the best of your ability and connect you with likeminded people.
What do you wish you had known before you first set foot on the VCFA campus?
I wish I had known how kind people would be. I was very inexperienced at my first residency and terrified that teachers and students would be cutthroat, but it wasn’t that way at all. People are professional, whip smart, and above all, kind.
Fat and Bones: And Other Stories (Carolrhoda, Oct 1)