A Conversation with Andrew Porter

by | Jul 8, 2023 | Interviews, The Attic

THE DISAPPEARED

Swetha Amit interviews Andrew Porter about his latest story collection, The Disappeared, out now from Knopf.


SA: What inspired The Disappeared? How did the idea initially transpire?

AP: I didn’t start with a concept. I just started writing a series of stories about characters in their 40s. I was aware of the disappearance theme while writing it. When I wrote title story, something clicked in my brain, and I became more conscious of the theme from that point onwards.

 

SW: Some of your stories are long, while some read as flash fiction. How did it all come together, and how long did it take to write this collection?

AP: I wrote all the stories in the collection during a six-month sabbatical from my job. I continued to revise and work on them over the next few years. I wrote some of those shorter flash pieces later. I was becoming interested in flash fiction at the same time when I was working on the longer stories. I could have easily seen them as two separate projects. When I was putting it all together later, I noticed they all seemed connected.

 

SW: The setting in all your stories is around Texas. Did you intend to construct all your stories in one location?

AP: I didn’t consciously decide that in the beginning. Halfway through, I realized I had set all these stories in Texas. I decided to lean into that and make it an essential part of the book. I wanted to show a version of Texas that was different from the stereotypical or standard version shown in television, movies, or books. I just wanted to showcase Texas as a reflection of the world I knew, which comprised artists, musicians, and filmmakers. That was very important to me.

 

SA: You have used a first-person point of view. Was it a conscious decision to use this narrative voice to provide a link to the stories?

AP: That came later when I was assembling the collection. I had way more stories than I needed for a collection, so I began to decide which stories I wanted to include. I was thinking a lot about tone. The first-person stories felt connected from a toning aspect. They have a reflective and meditative quality, which fits with the book’s spirit or style, especially since the characters are at a certain age in life and reflecting about the former versions of themselves.

 

SA: All your characters are artists in some sense. Being a writer/artist, did it influence your approach while sketching these characters?

AP: I have always been a fan of fiction about art, artists, and the artistic process. This book has characters in their 40s reflecting on their lives. Their profile as artists seemed like a good fit. Especially since artists are more prone to regrets and must live up to their aspirations. And this worked well with the themes of loss, regret, and disappearance.

 

SW: You capture an exciting relationship dynamic where a third person influences your characters. How did you come up with this?

AP: While assembling the collection, I realized that these stories have triangular relationships. I knew that I wanted to write about relationships and marriages. When you are writing a story about just two characters, it can feel one-dimensional. So, I wanted to add a third character that added some pressure to the relationship, in some cases threatening the relationship and in other cases creating that weird dependency or supporting the relationship. I put that third character to make more exciting options for myself as a writer and more potential for complexity in the story.

 

SA: Tell us more about your writing process concerning these short stories. What came first? The plot or the characters?

AP: Usually, the first thing that comes is an image. I always write out of an image. Within that image, there is usually some sense of story or conflict. The image inevitably leads me to the characters, and then the plot comes from these characters. For me, stories are about character and language. Those are the pleasure and delights of the form. A plot is something I usually associate with novels.

 

SA: Music plays a vital role in your stories. How does music impact you as a writer?

AP: I love music. I am a big believer in putting things that you love into your fictional world. Music can create an enjoyable atmosphere and reveal something about the character. I use music in a lot of different ways in fiction. Whatever atmosphere emanates from these stories in this book often comes from the music. Sometimes I use music to get into a specific frame of mind for writing. Sometimes it’s reading. I need something to transport me from my usual state of mind into that creative mode.

 

SA: There are several themes in your stories-loss, grief, longing, and parenting. How did it all come together?

AP: I try not to consciously think about themes while working on a series of stories. But I knew I wanted to write all these stories about characters of a certain age at a particular time in their life. So naturally, many themes that emerge, like parenting and loss, are things one naturally feels when they are in their 40s.

 

 SA: Who are the books/authors who have inspired you?

AP: While writing The Disappeared, I re-read some books. Cities I’ve never lived in by Sara Majka, The Coast of Chicago by Stuart Dybek, Night at the Fiestas by Kirstin Valdez Quade, and Both Ways is the only way I want it by Maile Meloy.

 

SA: Are any more projects in the pipeline?

AP: I am working on a novel now. I have set it in Southern California in the 1980s. It’s a coming-of-age story, and it’s still in progress.


Andrew Porter is the author of the story collections The Disappeared (Knopf) and The Theory of Light and Matter (Vintage) and the novel In Between Days (Knopf). An Iowa Writers’ Workshop graduate, he has received a Pushcart Prize, a James Michener/Copernicus Fellowship, the W.K. Rose Fellowship in the Creative Arts, and the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction. His work has appeared in One Story, Ploughshares, The Southern Review, The Three Penny Review, and on public radio’s Selected Shorts. Currently, he teaches fiction writing. He directs the creative writing program at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas.

About The Author

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This is my updated bio. Swetha is an Indian author based in California and a recent MFA graduate from the University of San Francisco. She has published works across genres in 60-plus journals, including Atticus Review, Maudlin House, Flash Fiction Magazine, Masters Review, and others (https://swethaamit.com). She has received Pushcart and Best of the Net nominations and is an alumnus of Tin House and Kenyon Review Writers’ Workshop, 2022 and 2023.



Books by Swetha Amit