Epiphany: William Trevor began his adult life as a sculptor and later described his writing as chipping away at a block of marble. Are you a chipper or a builder? In other words do you chip away at a block of writing, or are you more methodical, building up the block brick by brick?
Elias Lindert: Both; I chip away at the block as I build it up.
What was your first publication?
A Halloween poem that won a contest in fifth grade and was printed in the school newsletter.
Five books you are reading or thinking about now?
In a Strange Room by Damon Galgut: Some of the most beautiful travel writing I’ve ever read, and a profound meditation on consciousness and the fictionality of memory.
In the Country by Mia Alvar: Short stories that pack a novelistic punch and cover an impressively diverse range of Filipino experiences, from Manila to Bahrain to New York.
An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine: It’s hard not to love the narrator of this book, a snarky 72-year-old Lebanese woman who’s a fan of Junot Díaz, a literary recluse who spent the civil war holed up with her books and her Kalashnikov, and who has lines like, “Someone had to read Eliot's The Waste Land as the glow of Sabra burning illuminated Beirut's skyline.”
Faces in the Crowd by Valeria Luiselli, translated by Christina MacSweeney: A disorienting exploration of authorship that’s been lingering in my mind like a strange dream since I finished it.
Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera, translated by Lisa Dillman: A shotgun blast of a novella in a masterly translation.
If you had to inhabit a fictional world, what would it be (i.e., the environment of which novel or short story or poem)?
Like the rest of the human race, I harbor post-apocalyptic fantasies (naturally, I’d be one of the survivors, along with a few loved ones). I wouldn’t mind joining the new human society that comes together at the end of Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy, after they make peace with the pigs and kill the bad guys. The weather sounds nice, and the Crakers would make delightful neighbors.
Most interesting day job you've had (from the perspective of a writer)?
More of a night job, but I tended a ladyboy bar in Thailand and sold Mexican food from a taco stand I set up out front. It was an edifying experience.
Novels? Short stories? Which do you prefer to write?
Unlike the publishing industry, I think novellas are a perfect length. All too often, when I read a short story I like, I wish it were longer; I want to spend more time in its world with its characters. I admire the artistry that goes into crafting flawless, compact shorts, but I feel the form can be constraining. The novella is easily my favorite length to write, and I love reading them as well. Que viva la novella!
One sentence of advice regarding writing?
Talk less, write more.
Your story title: was it your first choice?
It was originally called Life on the Moon, derived from the final scene of the first draft, in which the linguistic ineptitude of the new gringo bartender leads to his misreading of a newspaper story about life on the moon. It felt a bit forced, as the story’s first reader pointed out, so I cut it and changed the title to the one that had been orbiting the story since its inception.
In a nutshell, what are you working on now?
Too many things. I’m expanding a novella set in Cambodia into a full length novel, finishing up a collection of stories based on four continents, and laying the groundwork for a novel spanning half a millennium of history in the colonial city of Potosí. I’m also working on some nonfiction about the current situation here in Myanmar and editing a collection of stories by talented young Burmese writers.
What's an interview question you've never been asked that you wish had been?
How do you feel about antinatalism?
Elias Lindert has spent much of his life in Southeast Asia and Latin America, and is currently living in Myanmar, where he teaches creative writing through a US State Department program. He is the author of the novella Tacos in Chicago, and is working on a short story collection and a novel, as well as editing an English-language collection of contemporary Burmese fiction.