Byzantium: Stories has been getting good press. It’s been named a Best Summer Book by Publishers Weekly, the Chicago Tribune, and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Amazon listed it as one of the top ten literary fiction books of July 2013, and it was featured in The Daily Beast‘s “Hot Reads” for the week of the July 29th. The book was also singled out by Alan Cheuse on NPR’s All Things Considered: “Talk about a debut, the title story in Ben Stroud’s Byzantium, is not only the best in the book, it’s the best story by a new writer I’ve read in years.”
This month’s lit mag round up over at New Pages features a glowing review of my story “Amy” from The Literary Review:
“Ben Stroud’s ‘Amy’ shows how a college professor loses control to his sexual desires. The narrator has a stable career and is married to a beautiful and successful woman. His life would appear to be ideal, but he confesses that something is missing: ‘I saw all my future years spent waking to wrestle with murky thoughts, to put cold words on cold pages no one would ever read.’ He leaves the States to teach in Germany but has an unexpected reunion with an old friend from high school. They have sex and tour the country together like the lovesick teenagers they used to be. The narrator finally seems content with his life but then gets another unexpected surprise when his wife comes to visit. What I like most about this story is how there is no clear villain. All the characters have redeeming qualities, which makes it hard to say who is right and who is wrong. You will just have to read it and decide for yourself.”
Click here if you’d like to see the full review of the issue.
Barrett Bowlin, the fiction editor at Memorious, puts Byzantium on a 2013 anticipated books list, alongside the likes of George Saunders, Robert Olen Butler, Rick Bass, Lucy Corin, and Sam Lipsyte. I couldn’t be more honored. “Byzantium: Stories by Ben Stroud (Graywolf) – Stroud’s stories are these brief treasures I value when I come across them in literary journals, and it’s excellent to see that his first collection will be coming out in July. His work is incredibly intelligent, and it feels gratefully removed from the workshop environment to which we’ve become accustomed.” Check out the full list here: http://memoriousmag.wordpress.com/2012/12/26/anticipated-books-of-2013-barrett-bowlins-list/
I was tagged recently by friend and writer David Erik Nelson to do this self-interview on current projects. So, here goes.
Q–What is your working title of your book?
Q–Where did the idea come from for the book?
Well, as this is a story collection, the answer here could be somewhat lengthy, to account for every story. But happenstance plays a role. While researching one of my stories (“Borden’s Meat Biscuit”) I came across a short account in a history of Havana that inspired another story (“The Don’s Cinnamon”), which I won’t mention here as that would give away the story’s central mystery. I’m also often drawn by place or a particular moment, feeling my way from there to the characters.
Q–What genre does your book fall under?
Literary fiction, I suppose, though I do try to push that a little by bringing in more plottiness than might be expected–borrowing here and there from detective stories or adventure tales.
Q–Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
That’s too hard to answer–difficult for me to think of my characters that way.
Q–What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
My editor came up with this one, so I’ll repeat it as it’s much better that what I could produce: “Ben Stroud’s historical reimaginings twist together with contemporary stories to reveal startling truths about human nature across the centuries.”
Q–Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
I’m represented by the Wylie Agency, and the book is coming out with Graywolf.
Q–How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
I started on the first story in this collection in Fall 2005, and sent the final version of the manuscript to the publisher in Fall 2012–so seven years. But it was a bumpy, winding road, with a failed novel along the way.
Q–What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
I’ve been inspired by a lot of different writers, but I suppose the range I strive for is closest to that in Jim Shepard’s recent collections, which are amazing. In fact, I went home and wrote the first draft of “Eraser,” the earliest story in this collection, after going to a reading he gave at Michigan. But it’s hard to compare yourself to other people–so hard to see your own work–and then to put yourself next to towering figures like Shepard (or Steven Millhauser, or Hilary Mantel, or David Mitchell, or, or) who’ve inspired you along the way just seems impossible.
Q–Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I think some of the answers above cover this, so I’ll withhold here to keep from repeating myself.
Q–What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
Hmm, a tough one–I think it can be hard for a writer to play salesman, since you know all your own failings and kind of offer up the book with your face turned away. But here’s a pitch, which I once gave to a friend over barbecue while feeling pretty desperate about the book’s odds in the world–”Travel…in your mind!”
So, again, thanks to David Erik Nelson for tagging me with this. As part of the chain idea, I’m supposed to in turn tag five other writers. Rather than compel anyone to do the interview itself, though, I’ll just add some links to five websited writers you should keep your eye on for great current and forthcoming work: Randa Jarrar, Kodi Scheer, Scott Geiger, Kyle Minor, Andrea Lochen.
Brian Bahouth of My Audio Universe produced my story “Jean” (originally published on Tin House‘s website) for their radio show. It’ll air this Sunday at 5 PM on KRZA (northern New Mexico and southern Colorado) and from there go on to Sacramento, Denver/Boulder, and Marin County. He’s done a great job–bringing out a real spooky grimness. Click on the link to listen. http://www.myaudiouniverse.com/2012/10/25/1038/
Scott Geiger and I talk about the haunted house story I wrote for Man-Made Lands, navigating the issue of research in fiction, and the writing process in general. Check it out if you like. http://ninthletter.blogspot.com/2012/10/place-making-fiction-interview-with-ben_15.html
I found out recently that my story collection, Byzantium, won this year’s Bakeless Fiction Prize. It will be published in 2013 by Graywolf, and I’ll be headed to Bread Loaf next summer. Details here: http://www.middlebury.edu/blwc/bakeless_prize/current_winners
Just learned that “The Traitor of Zion,” which originally appeared in Ecotone, received an Honorable Mention in the 2012 Pushcart Prize anthology.
You can read the full story here: http://bostonreview.net/BR35.5/stroud.php. Enjoy!
Here’s a link to an interview I did recently with fellow writer Shawn Vestal for the literary blog Bark. The focus was “The Traitor of Zion,” which appeared in the Fall 2010 issue of Ecotone. Shawn had some really great questions–hope you enjoy.