JI: How do you pronounce your last name? Is it like “button-weyser,” or “beaut-en-wee-ser”? Just curious. Also, when I talk about your stories to everyone I want to be able to say your name correctly.
SB: It’s “Buttonweezer.” It was fun going through school with that name. There are so many different ways to make an insult out of it.
JI: All of your stories (those I’ve read so far) take place in the present tense (with flashbacks or backstory in the past tense, of course). As a writer myself I’ve always felt that telling a story in the present tense works best when you have a third person point of view, and you don’t have a character-narrator. But you’ll use it in first person narratives, like “The Mystery Year,” or “Outside the Drug Store.” I always want there to be a specific reason for that story to be told at that exact moment, like a dramatic monologue, for example. Why did you choose this perspective for these pieces of fiction?
SB: I first wrote “The Mystery Year” (which is a novel) all in second person, but that didn’t really work. First person seemed to fit better–Mac seems so un self-aware, that it felt like the narrator needed to be right in her head and reporting exactly what she felt and thought, and the voice needed to be merged with her. First person was the only way I could make that happen. That is the same reason why I wanted to use a character-narrator for “Outside the Drug Store.” I felt like the only way to tell Marnie’s story was to be right inside her head and try to figure out her decision-making process (or lack thereof) and not have any distance from her.
And in general, I like writing in present tense because it helps me be in the story and be inside the head of the character.
JI: Many of your characters are what I might call “plucky young heroines,” to steal a phrase from my wife. Your stories feature protagonists like Mac from “The Mystery Year,” or Katie from “Migration.” While they seem sure of themselves on the one hand, they’re also wracked with insecurities. What draws you to these characters?
SB: I am interested in people who are kind of on the edge for one reason or another. I’m into them in fiction and in real life. But my stories always start out with an image, a person in one scene, and then they grow from there. So I’m more drawn to the situation that these characters find themselves in–that’s where I start. And then they always seem to have a lot of inner turmoil.
JI: The stories we’re featuring are strikingly different in tone, character, and subject matter from “Translucent Ghosts.” Does this represent an evolution in your writing? Was “Translucent Ghosts” an older story, or a new one, compared to these features?
SB: “Translucent Ghosts” is pretty new. A couple of years ago, I got interested in trying to write these pretty short, small moment stories, which take place over a short amount of time, but where the stakes are high.
JI: Your stories are classically short story-esque, in that so much is suggested by specific character details as opposed to explicitly stated (the old tip-of-iceberg metaphor). For example, the end of “Migration,” as Katie stands alone in the parking lot watching her mother tearfully drive away with her new husband, says so much about how Katie, and her relationship with her mother, has changed, and it draws a figurative line across two parts of Katie’s life: childhood and adulthood. “The Mystery Year,” though, is excerpted from a novel. How differently will you handle such character development with the vast scope that a novel affords, or will you handle it differently at all?
SB: I wrote short stories for a long time before I tried to write a novel. So I think I am kind of stuck in that mode: the tip of the iceberg metaphor mode of trying to show character through other ways, and staying kind of vague.
JI: Who are some of the writers you admire, and why?
SB: Raymond Carver is one of the writers that got me excited about trying to write in the first place. All of my early stories were bad imitations of his style—my current ones probably are as well. Joan Didion also made me feel like I wanted to do what she was doing—not that I thought I could, they just made writing look exciting. They are both so powerful in using a kind of stripped down, spare language. And I think Didion’s most recent books on losing her husband and her daughter are incredible, so brave and articulate. Dan Chaon is an amazing writer—his stories and novels are masterpieces of explorations into the dark side of humanity, and he creates such empathetic characters. Also, Jhumpa Lahiri, Stewart O’Nan, Jennifer Egan, Anne Enright, Junot Diaz. I kind of fall in love with books and give them over and over to my family and friends and these writers’ books have been in heavy rotation recently. Robin Black’s story collection, If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This, is so beautiful and devastating. These are all writers I’m totally into right now—its kind of a constantly evolving thing. And I still love one of my early favorite’s, Charlotte’s Web. Every sentence in that book is perfect.
Photo Source: 3:AM Magazine