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Peter Tieryas Liu: With so many stories in the world, how are we meant to choose between them?

 Peter Tieryas Liu: With so many stories in the world, how are we meant to choose between them?


'One of the things I love about Nabokov is that every one of his books takes on very different subjects and he adapts his style to match the material, say as in Pale Fire, or as in his most famous book, Lolita,' says author Peter Tieryas Liu.

'Despite how different they are you still can sense the 'Nabokov' in them.'

Peter, whose collection Watering Heaven is soon to be released through Signal 8 Press, takes inspiration from those who arent afraid to experiment with form and style as a way to tell a story in the best, most honest way possible.

His goal is to be able to work across a variety of different genres, forms, and styles, and yet still maintain a clear 'identity' as a writer, as creatives such as Nabokov and even directors such as Stanley Kubrick have managed to do.

'Look at Stanley Kubrick's films. 2001: A Space Odyssey, Clockwork Orange, Barry Lyndon, and The Shining are vastly different pictures, and yet each feels like a Kubrick film.'

Writing across genres and forms: can it improve a writers craft?

Peter has tried his hand at everything from book reviews, to flash fiction, experimental hybrids and creative nonfiction essays in his effort to extend himself as a writer.

He admits that although not all of his attempts have been successful, even the failures have helped him improve his craft while also allowing him the freedom to explore concepts and ideas he might not have otherwise.

'Each requires a slightly different suite of tools. The most important thing is there's a story at the core that I feel drawn to that helps to bridge the different forms,' he says.

Embracing different styles and approaches also allows Peter to tell stories in a way he normally wouldn't be able to.

'I recently wrote a book review about Tim Horvath's Understories, a book I found very compelling. But in the process of writing it, I was reminded of an experience I had while I was at Berkeley. The final form became a hybrid of an essay/book review/and philosophical treatise on Heidegger.'

But does writing widely result in stylistic overlap and intrusion?

This brings to mind the concept of linguistic priming, where reading or writing in particular styles or genres can influence an authors work. Peter says that there are both advantages and disadvantages to seeking out creative breadth.

'In the benefits category, there are, as mentioned, improvement in craft, but another great aspect is that it helps ward off writer's block. Stuck on a short story? Go write an essay.'

However, certain styles can also feed into other types of work, and not always with positive results. Peter, who is currently working through edits on his forthcoming novel, also with Signal 8, has received editorial feedback suggesting that some of his scenes work well as short stories, but dont necessarily suit the structure of a novel.

'They've been cut since and make the novel all that much better. It's interesting because it's not something I would have noticed without someone pointing it out to me. Hopefully, switching genres will become easier with more practice.'

Has the booming ebook market encouraged a short story Renaissance?

I was interested to hear that Peters debut wasnt a novel, but rather a collection of short stories. Short stories, although popular in literary circles, and very often recipients of critical acclaim, arent normally thought of as a commercial endeavour, particular from new authors.

Perhaps, then, this is changing with the shift to e-readers and the digital consumption of material, where shorter texts are more palatable?

'I would love it if that were the case, and even apart from Amazon, there's some great digital magazines out there where short stories are thriving online. Some of my favourites include places like decomP, Pank, elimae, Word Riot, anderbo, Collagist, Hobart, Adirondack Review, Punchnels, Fox Chase Review, and Conjunctions.'

Peter adds that the sites that are adapted towards the digital formats are especially enjoyable to read: their images are crisp, and their content is easily accessible.

The digital format also allows for a lot more experimentation, and opens avenues for writers who might not normally thrive in the print world, where production costs may encourage editors to take a more commercial bent in their selections.

In contrast, editors working in the digital front can 'pretty much publish whatever they want.'

Three of Peters more unusual flash fiction pieces have found homes in the digital sphere, with two of the three subsequently collected in a chapbook put out by his publisher as a teaser for Watering Heaven.

Given the subject matter of the storiesone involves a couple who has to come to terms with the fact that their baby will have four arms, the second a man whose brain has been colonised by brain parasites'Peter thinks that they likely would not have found homes if not for the digital market.

At the same time, he says, one of the biggest downsides is there's so much material out there, it's hard to know what to look at, and to know what's good and what's not so good.

'The key is to persist and seek it out there. I really do have faith that good writing will eventually rise to the top and distinguish itself'it just might take a bit of time.'

Is magic realism a present-day take on mythical literature?

Good writing is certainly key, but at the same time, writing within a genre to which readers are receptive helps as well. Much of Peters work has a magic realist or surrealist bent, making it part of a growing tradition of short fiction that blends the literary with the absurd or the fanciful.

Its a subgenre that appears to be gaining momentum, and I cant help but wonder what it is about our current context that seems to encourage fiction that blurs the boundaries between whats real and what isnt.

'When you think about it, the world's first stories were all magically realist with surreal elements. It's almost like we've gone in a full circle and we're back to the world of myths.'

In his own work, Peter enjoys revisiting old ideas and contemporising them with a modern twist; often, the intersection of two seemingly disparate ideas is key. Take his short story Gradients.

'Someone was telling me acupuncture needles could stimulate muscles that people didn't know existed, causing them to do things they'd normally be incapable of. Suddenly, I had this image in my head of someone covered in acupuncture needles that could fly.'

At the same time, he became aware of the Shanty Towns growing on the outskirts of various cities in America, and which were filled with people who'd been affected by the downturn in the economy.

'This was 21st century America and people were living at poverty levels that were comparable to the Depression Era. It was hard for me to fathom.'

Both of those ideas haunted me until I combined the two in Gradients, a story about two journalists who visit one of those shanty towns when they hear about a man who can supposedly fly.

'In this instance, the mythological is an invitation to the harsh realities of a society that chooses to ignore this subculture that has formed on the grounds of an abandoned theme park, hoping to patly ignore the suffering. The mythical became an avenue through which I could explore a subject that was very meaningful to me, and I've wondered how much that was the case in many of the old myths that have come down generation after generation.'

Another story in the collection, Chronology of an Egg, features a woman gives birth to an egg every time she makes love.

'It's really meant as an analogy or symbol for the quirks and pains of relationships. But I also wanted to rip apart the idea that love was clean and sterile. The protagonist, when confronted with this reality, has to choose to remain or leave.'

Peter says that of the collection, these two stories were probably the most fun to write.

'I felt at times like they were writing themselves. Alan Moore describes artists and writers as contemporary magicians. I'd agree.'

Is literature just about commentary, or does it have the power to create change?

Magic, however, is all about illusion. In contrast, many would argue that the power of literature isnt just one of commentary, but about being able to make a difference to people.

Peter certainly hopes this is the case. Transformation and change loom large as themes in his stories and also within the characters within them. Even the title of his collection, from the William Blake poem The Tyger, is a reference to the angels who fell after the celestial war.

'I wouldn't be writing stories if I didn't believe they made a difference to people. I can list a dozen books off the top of my head that changed my whole perspective on the way I view things. Even when I disagree, books can be powerfully riveting.'

He recalls a conversation with an artist who posited the idea that the concept of three dimensionality hadn't occurred to people until the first artist drew a shadow on a painting, say, a cavern wall. Although Peter doesnt necessarily agree with this, he does think that many of our modern concepts about human nature and identity have arisen from ideas developed within fiction and the wider storytelling tradition.

'Joseph Campbell talks about how the stories of every generation shape them and how many of the problems on a societal level stem from the loss of a generational story. I think the problem for contemporary society isn't the loss of a story, but that there are too many. It's awful hard to choose.'

 Peter Tieryas Liu: With so many stories in the world, how are we meant to choose between them?

About'Watering Heaven:'Watering Heaven is a travelogue of and requiem for the American dream in all its bizarre manifestations and a surreal, fantastic journey through the streets, alleys, and airports of China. Whether it's a monk who uses acupuncture needles to help him fly or a city filled with rats about to be exterminated so that the mayor can win his reelection bid, be prepared to laugh, swoon, and shudder at the answers'Liu'offers in this provocative debut collection.

Purchase'Watering Heaven from Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Signal 8 Press

About Peter Tieryas Liu:'Peter Tieryas'Liu'has almost 200 publications in magazines and journals including Adirondack Review, anderbo, Bitter Oleander, Bookslut, Camera Obscura Journal, decomP, Evergreen Review, Gargoyle, Indiana Review, Kartika Review, Prism Review, Toad Suck Review, Word Riot, and ZYZZYVA, and was the recipient of the 2012 Fiction Award from Mojo, the magazine run by Wichita State University. He has also worked as a technical writer for LucasArts, the gaming division of LucasFilm.

Visit Peters website | Goodreads | Blog'| Twitter

Your turn:'Id love to hear your take on the questions posed in bold throughout this interview. Feel free to chime in!