April, Week 1 – Texas Short Stories – An Interview with David Theis

David Theis is the editor of Literary Houston (http://www.amazon.com/Literary-Houston-David-Theis/dp/0875654401/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1328994959&sr=1-1).  I read the book when it came out at the end of 2010 and fell in love with it. As Brazos bookstore wrote in their publicity for his in-store appearance “The fifth in the “Literary Cities” series, Literary Houston gathers together historical and contemporary writing about this Texas city that everyone loves to hate.” The collection is honest and insightful, if you love Houston you’ll have more insight into why and if you hate it, you’ll probably have more insight into that as well too.  David is really dedicated to Houston’s literary landscape and is a resource to other writers.  He is also the author of  Rio Ganges, a novel set in Mexico City. (http://www.amazon.com/Rio-Ganges-David-Theis/dp/0970152566/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1328995426&sr=8-1)

  1. 1.        How long did you work on Literary Houston? How long did you work on your novel Rio Ganges? Which did you find harder?

I worked informally, off and on, on Literary Houston for several years, maybe 7 or 8.  By that I mean that I began putting together a reading list about Houston just for my own amusement.  When I saw a likely book, I looked up Houston in its index, etc.  Once I got my actually assignment from TCU Press, I worked on it more seriously for 18 months or so.

I worked on my novel, on the other hand, for an insanely long time.  10 years or so, which is hard to comprehend for a 280 page novel that hopefully is a pretty quick read.

So obviously, the novel was harder.  The anthology was a research project; the novel was a grope in the dark.

2.        You included seven short stories about Houston in the collection. How did you go about choosing them? 

I was very pragmatic.  I tried to find recognizable authors, and I tried to find stories I could get the reprint rights to.

3.        I think every person on every corner of the earth has an opinon on what Texas is like, good or bad. Can a Texan writer ever be free from a sense of place in your opinion?

I’m not giving much thought to the subject of being a Texas writer these days; I’m consciously thinking of myself as a Houston writer, and to separate the two identities.

4.        Are there any writers that you find particularly promising?

I’m afraid I don’t keep up with young writers very much.  Jealousy, I suppose.  (Of course, to me Franzen is a “young writer.”)

5.        What would you say are the strong points of Texan writers? What are the shortcomings?

Not sure how to generalize about strong points.  As for shortcomings, I agree with the Larry McMurtry of 30 or so years ago that Texas writers should become more urban, just as the state has become.  That’s a challenge, of course, because it’s easier to sell the myth.  McMurtry himself was working on Lonesome Dove when he made that statement.

6.        Do you ever write short stories?

I used to, but in the late 80s decided to try and become a “professional writer.” That is,  I decided to take the time and energy I might’ve put into short stories and invest them in writing magazine features, and in terms of fiction to focus on novels.  With limited success in all phases, of course.

8.        You suggest Houston is making strides away from completely ignoring the notion of shared space. How do you think wondering about our neighbors element fits into our literature?

Urban fiction, of course, is all about the way people and their works press in on you—or totally ignore you.

9.        I think the best description of Houston might be what you said in your introduction. “But in fact, people don’t come to Houston simply to live, to enjoy the fruits of their labors. People come here to strive; to fly to the moon and to crate empries of various kinds and to build both fortresses against cancer and temples to surrealism. So the results are often dramatic.” What are the stories that express this in your opinion?

I based that observation more on the biographies and on the essays than on the fiction.  I’m not sure a real vision of Houston arises from the stories—except that everybody talks about the heat.

10.    On which project are you currently working?

I’m working on a novel set in Houston and Mexico City.

Thanks David for taking the time to answer my questions.


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