Suzanne Burns Interview

Where have you lived and how has it affected your writing?

I have lived only two places. I was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, and lived on Oahu until I was eight. I have been in Bend, Oregon, ever since, which freaks people out to no end that I've stayed somewhere that has gone from a classic small logging town that's claim to fame was the annual cow chip bingo to a sprawling, gentrified ski town with no less than seven wine bars. I don't know how much environment affects my writing. I have tried to be a regional writer, but it's not very interesting writing about either cow chip bingo or wine bars. I have travelled throughout the Northwest, a little bit in Mexico and Europe, but I think the environment of a relationship, especially a bad one, is the best place to travel to.

What kind of things, outside of books and writers, influence your work?

I absolutely adore circus freaks, anything having to do with sideshows, controversial or not. I've seen every horror movie you can think of, even C.H.U.D, without shame. I love painters, musicians, Joe Strummer especially. I have always had a crush on Elvis and Rod Serling. I read the National Enquirer and the Star tabloids every week while my husband reads the New Yorker. I watch The Bachelor and The Apprentice. (With a little shame.) I am fascinated by any and all relationships. I have an enduring, never-ending attraction to baked goods.

Do you think there is such a thing as going "too far" in fantastical stories?

I think there is no such thing as going too far, subject wise, but I do insist on a plot. I have read so many stories that have a strong start and then just end, without a resolution. Even good flash fiction can have a plot. What can I say, I'm a sucker for a beginning, middle and end. I'd even take a gimmicky, twist ending over no ending at all. Except never the "it was all a dream ending," unless it's a super,creepy, fabulous dream.

What's your book with Dzanc (2009) going to be like?

It's a collection of short stories that focus on what I call "extreme" relationships. The stories are almost fantastical in their set-up, like the two Double Header stories, but I straddle the line between literary and magic realism storytelling. My goal is to write the kind of stories where you can never tell where they are going, what is the natural conclusion. Characters in the book include a wife-beating world's smallest man, a man born with three hands, women obsessed with being run over by cars, people with imaginary friends, a woman in love with a wax statue. But at the core of these "bizarre" set-ups is a thread of humanity. And hopefully a good dose of self-deprecating humor and lovely descriptions of baked goods.

You've travelled to a lot of interesting places this year (2008)? Do you think those places will seep into your writing?

Well, I think Paris has seeped into all aspects of my life since my October visit, so I hope it seeps into my writing, too. There was something so crucially different about its sense of place compared to Central Oregon that I felt depressed to return home. I realize now that the concept of "home," which segues into the concept of "story," can be more braodly defined than the literal town where I grew up. Before travelling to Europe I had this pervasive feeling that I had no right trying to write about some place as "big" as Paris, but travelling has given me the freedom to know that the whole world is waiting to be a setting, and that I have as much right as Hemingway to write about whatever I want.

Your husband is a plumber. Did you guys vote for McCain/Palin?

There was an eyeglass store in town selling copies of Palin's glasses, and I did try a pair on. But even that made me feel like a dirty traitor. And you have no idea how much plumbers loathe Joe the "Plumber." Once all the guys we know found out he was unlicensed, that was it. They don't consider that "real" plumbing in Oregon. I was thinking about making up a T-shirt that said "Suzanne the Writer" but the only place in town that does printing makes everything look like the Vote for Pedro shirt from the movie Napolean Dynamite. Well, there is another T-shirt place in Bend, run by the world-famous pregnant man. I bet he supported Obama.

Do you think that literature is in danger of obscurity?

I do think big publishing houses don't take enough chances or publish the kind of books other writers would like to read. But I think small presses are wonderful, and are putting out the most interesting books ever. The question is, how do we get those books into the hands of people who have only been exposed to "Tuesdays with Morrie?"

Wine, beer, or liquor?

Toll-House Chocolate Chip Cookies.