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Aimee Bender: From Boredom to Brilliance

By Karinya Funsett
Arizona Daily Wildcat
September 15, 2005
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Los Angeles-based writer Aimee Bender first grabbed the attention of the literary world in 1999 with her debut collection of short stories, "The Girl in the Flammable Skirt." She further developed her signature style of artfully crafted fiction with her 2001 novel "An Invisible Sign of My Own," and has gained quite a devoted following among critics, authors and readers alike.

She is currently a faculty member in the English and creative writing department at the University of Southern California, and has published extensively in well-respected magazines such as The Paris Review, Granta, GQ and Harper's Magazine. Her newest collection of stories, "Willful Creatures," debuted Aug. 16 to much critical acclaim, garnering starred reviews in both Publishers Weekly and Booklist. Recently she was kind enough to engage in an e-mail interview with the Arizona Daily Wildcat.

Wildcat: Are there characteristics that tie the stories in "Willful Creatures" together to create a collection unified in theme or tone, or do you feel that they each have a distinct flavor? Many of the stories have been previously published as stand-alone pieces - do you feel that this particular grouping of the stories adds to the reader's understanding of the works, or can they be fully appreciated on their own?

Bender: So - I'd hope with stories that they do stand alone but that together, some kind of arc forms, gently - it's not a novel, but it is a book, and the stories ideally create a kind of loose progression. As far as theme goes, it's always hard for me to tell, but connections and (more often in these) missed connections between people feel present in all of them.

Wildcat:Though many of the stories appear too outlandish to be anchored in reality, are they still inspired by real-life events and experiences, or is it pure wild imagination that creates the characters and situations found in your short stories?

Bender: I think real-life experience is going to influence everything, but like dreams, experience can take on unexpected, nearly unrecognizable forms. I feel like my stories are my life dressed up in costumes so sometimes I don't recognize who's who or what's what until years later.

Wildcat:This is your second collection of short stories. What are your thoughts on the role or importance of short fiction in today's literary climate?

Bender: Someone said recently to me how the novel is the newer form than the story. Much younger! We always forget that! Stories are always around, will always be around. Their shortness makes them quick to tell or read, and such a natural part of human contact.

Wildcat:What is your writing process like?

Bender: I just sit at my desk. Two hours in the morning, six days a week. I can do whatever I like during that time - write, stare at the wall, rewrite, but I have to sit there. It radically changed and freed up my writing, having this routine. It became much less about inspired moments, and much more about some kind of trust in the larger process and how work will get done, often when you don't even know you're working. It's waiting and wading through boredom into whatever's next.

Aimee Bender will be in Tucson to read from "Willful Creatures" tomorrow at Antigone Books, 411 N. Fourth Ave. The event begins at 7 p.m. and will also feature a reading by local writer and UA alumna Julie Newman. Contact Antigone Books at 792-3715.

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