Below is a lovely interview with AHP author Sherrie Flick. Not only is there great advice about writing, there’s a pie recipe. Can you beat that? The interview was originally published on Leslie Pietrzyk’s blog, Work-in-Progress.
Give us your elevator pitch: what’s your book about in 2-3 sentences?
Thank Your Lucky Stars is a collection of 50 flash fiction and longer stories that lean a little dark and weird.
Which story did you most enjoy creating? Why? And, which story gave you the most trouble, and why?
I loved writing so many of these stories, but the one I’m most proud of these days is “Dance,” which was also in the awesome anthology Pie & Whiskey: Writers Under the Influence of Booze and Butter. I’ve always wanted to write a story with a roving third person close point of view. Richard Yates does this in Revolutionary Road and Toni Morrison does it in Sula and it always seemed like unreachable literary magic. When I set out to write the story for the anthology (it was assigned to me by Sam Ligon with a ridiculously tight deadline), I finally realized that I understood enough about point of view to give it a go. That’s when Viv and Matty showed up on the page along with a taxidermied deer head. One of the requirements of the story for the anthology was that it had to have either pie or whiskey in it. I was happy to comply and include both.
The story that gave me the most trouble is not in the collection. Seriously, it was almost in the collection. I’d been working on it for almost 20 years and still I had to take it out because it just wasn’t working. But the one that was equally troublesome and also took me 20 years to finish is the long story “Open and Shut.” There’s a kind of continuous present in the story that always kept me coming back to it, but I just couldn’t get the characters to be likeable enough. I feel pretty good about that story now though.
Tell us a bit about the highs and lows of your book’s road to publication.
The manuscript for this story collection resides in a folder on my laptop that is labeled “2012 Story Collection.” That’s when I first pulled together what I thought would be one story collection from all the stories I’d written and published over the years. As I put together the collection it became clear to me that some stories just didn’t fit. They had a different, darker, and weirder tone. Plus, I had way too many pages for one manuscript. So I slowly put together what would become my debut story collection Whiskey, Etc. The outtakes went into a second Word document and I soon realized that they worked together in a different way and they became Thank Your Lucky Stars (It wasn’t titled that then though. I think the title then was Fucking Beautiful, a great but not really practical title). I sent both manuscripts to an editor who had requested them at a university press and they sat with her for two years. Two years. Yep. I queried every 6 weeks. Yep.
Eventually both manuscripts were declined. That’s when I made a big list of small presses that had an interest in/history with publishing flash fiction. I asked around, got some recommendations, and started sending just Whiskey, Etc. out to contests and presses—at least 15 places, maybe more. I’m not sure why I didn’t send the TYLS manuscript out but it might have had something to do with it not really having a good title and also that the really bad story was still in there and I didn’t feel as confident with it, even though the editor who held both collections for two years said it was the stronger manuscript. Whiskey, Etc. was accepted and published by Queen’s Ferry Press, which then kind of imploded a year later. In the mean time, I’d revised and sent an as yet not correctly titled manuscript to a bunch of contests and publishers. Christine Stroud at Autumn House Press liked it and agreed to publish it. In the meantime, Autumn House also agreed to pick up Whiskey, Etc. So now both books are published by Autumn House, which is nice and tidy. The two books are the same size and make a sweet matching set for your bookshelf.
What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?
It came from Tim O’Brien and it’s very simple but it has helped me tremendously in revision. He said, “Don’t forget to look around.” And he meant look around in your head and in your scene when you’re writing. Don’t get too myopic. What does your character see, really see?
My favorite writing advice is “write until something surprises you.” What surprised you in the writing of this book?
How many pieces of flash fiction you need to write and revise in order to have a book-length collection. Between the two collections, there are 107 stories. Most of those have been published. Typing that just made me very tired.
But that’s probably not what you meant. I love when characters take off and just say stuff that I personally would never say or do. I love when they kind of get away from me and out of my head and I just follow behind. That happened to great extent with the story “Monkey Head.” It was a much different story even from when it was originally published in Thumbnail. When I revisited it in the collection I realized Katey Lynn was more messed up and more complex than I’d made her previously and it was really exciting to dig back into that story.
How did you find the title of your book?
This manuscript had many titles along the way. So many I don’t think I can remember them all. One was Fucking Beautiful, which I mentioned above, another was Mind Body Heart Lungs, which is the title of the story that I ended up pulling from the manuscript entirely. I still love that title and maybe someday 20 years from now I will finally finish that story. Another was Open and Shut, which is another story title but also very boring. How I Left Ned and Other Stories was another option, again a story title and this was a contender down to the finish line. For a while I had Thank My Lucky Stars as another title option and I liked it but it never seemed quite right.
And then my friend the amazing writer Chuck Kinder read the manuscript. Chuck is the best titler in the world. He actually suggested quite a few title changes for stories within the manuscript while he was going through it (suggestions that I took), but my main challenge to him was to help me find a title for the whole thing. He suggested Thank Your Lucky Stars and that shift from “My” to “Your” just made it click. It makes a connection to the reader and it looks better typed out.
Inquiring foodies and hungry book clubs want to know: Any food/s associated with your book? (Any recipes you might share?)
Oh yes. I’m a big baker and cook and I also teach in the Food Studies program at Chatham University so I’m around food ideas and theories on a regular basis. There is a lot of corn in the first story “How I Left Ned.” The corn itself kind of becomes a character there. And there’s a lame microwaved baked potato in that one, too. In “Dance” Matty spends his days baking so we see him make a pear pie as well as raspberry, walnut mascarpone hand pies. There’s fried chicken and espresso, diner coffee and those rotating displays you find in diners with a selection of pie. There’s a dinner party with wine, garlic mashed potatoes, and steak. There are Pittsburgh women pinching pierogis and birds pecking at crumbs. There are gardens and a kind of film noir/American musical mash up of chopping onions for dinner. Thai takeout, Grapenuts, bakeries, coffee shops, cafes, tea, whiskey, Scotch, and beer.
As far as a recipe goes: The hand pie recipe is in the Pie & Whiskey anthology if anyone would like to check that out. My pear pie recipe is as follows,
Matty’s Pear Pie
Courtesy Sherrie Flick, author of THANK YOUR LUCKY STARS
6 (firm but ripe) pears cored and thinly sliced. Keep the skins on.
2 Tbs fresh lemon juice
3 Tbls flour
½ c. brown sugar, packed
½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp nutmeg
¼ tsp salt
2 Tbls dry sherry (optional)
Preheat oven to 425. Core and slice the pears into a big bowl. Add the lemon juice, flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, and sherry. Toss with your hands to coat the pear slices. Go ahead. It’s fun.
Make a double piecrust. Divide in two. Roll out the bottom crust and drape into a pie pan so the edges peek over its rim. Add the pear mixture, making sure its patted down in there with few air pockets. Roll out the top crust, make some little dashes and marks for air vents and place it on top of the pie pan. Cut off any extra dough and crimp with your fingers in a zigzag fashion around the edges so it’s all sealed up.
Bake on a sheet pan for 30 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 350 and bake until the crust is browning and the goo inside is bubbling up through those vents you made, about 35 minutes longer.
[This is adapted from Williams Sonoma Pies and Tarts, 1992 edition]