Julie Paul is the author of four books, the latest of which Meteorites has just been released. The Pull of the Moon received both an IPPY award and her hometown Victoria Book Prize, and was a Top 100 Book in The Globe and Mail. The Rules of the Kingdom was a finalist for both the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize and the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award.
Here Julie is interviewed by Yaana Dancer
Yaana Dancer: Did you have a conceptual structure for the short story collection, Meteorites, before you began?
Julie Paul: No, not at all. I don’t work that way. I wait until I have a number of stories or poems and then look at them and say okay well, what’s going on as far as themes and structure go. I’ve tried to write to a theme before and failed, for example, with my first collection of stories, The Jealousy Bone, I didn’t know I was writing about jealousy until I looked at all my stories, and then I thought I might write a couple more with that theme in mind. They were terrible.
YD: At what point did you realize that you had something with this collection?
JP: I had built up a number of stories by the time I approached my publisher. I felt the title story ‘Meteorites’ lent itself to a collection about what a meteorite is. A bomb-like projectile from elsewhere. Completely out of the blue. Potentially dangerous. There’s also a religious overtone or theme to ‘Meteorites’ that speaks to the other stories too; its original title was ‘Sanctify.’ To sanctify. To bless. Make it okay. Make it holy.
YD: There’s also something edgy, some stories more than others, like the story ‘The Expansion.’ That was wickedly edgy.
JP: There’s darkness in there for sure. I like to play with that. In all my story collections, I have one or more stories that are speculative fiction. I like to push those boundaries a little bit. I’d call ‘The Expansion’ speculative fiction, where there’s one element a little off. Sometimes you need to take something in the real world, take it to extremes, to comment on what’s happening now.
YD: What prompted you to write the story, ‘The Expansion’?
JP: Every time I drive through Mt. Doug Park, I think: there’s going to be a GIANT DEER LEAPING IN FRONT OF MY CAR. I took that notion and let my imagination run free.
YD: What’s your favourite story?
JP: It’s hard to choose a favourite, but I gave myself permission to go big with the title story, ‘Meteorites.’ Sometimes you’re concerned about word count for publication in journals. I appreciate this story for needing the time, needing the unraveling. But then ‘Spilling the Bees’ started out as a novel that didn’t work but I was very attached to the characters, so I took one of the plot threads of that novel and turned it into ‘Spilling the Bees.’ Do you have a favourite?
YD: Mine is the story, ‘The Hangman.’ It must be the shortest. I love how it reads as flash fiction. It’s packed. Concise. A jewel of a story.
JP: Thank you! Glad you enjoyed it! That’s a very old story from the mid 2000’s. It’s undergone a lot of revision. This version is the shortest it’s ever been. I was breaking the rules with this one, about how writers are supposed to stay with the same point of view, keep the same tense, within one story. I move from past to present to future within a few pages.
YD: Are there others that have been transformed like that? That started out as something else?
JP: “Trajectory” was also an old story that’s undergone a number of revisions. And “Sleeping With Kittens.” The main character’s a young woman, a Psychology Major. She’s very superior. Fun story to write. It did not start as a letter — a one-sided conversation, really.
YD: What would you advise a writer regarding how to gather together a collection of stories?
JP: I would suggest starting with figuring out which story works best for them as readers. What resonates? Who do you identify with the most? And then, in particular, why? Is it the point of view? The subject matter? Humour? When you have lot of material. Circle images. Focus in. For me, in writing stories, in developing character and plot, I often use ‘what if.’ ‘What if’ this character did this? What is the meteorite that’s going to affect them? With short stories, that’s often the moto: everything seems to be going well and then…