steve-himmer-photoSteve Himmer has stories in the latest issues of Hobart and Los Angeles Review, and novel excerpts have recently appeared at Everyday Genius, Emprise Review, and PANK. He edits the webjournal Necessary Fiction and has a website, Tawny Grammar.

What novels do you feel close to? What spins your wheels as a reader?

I moved into a smaller house recently, and had to downsize my library by deciding which books I might really read again. The ones I kept tend toward the slim and tightly-focused, like Julia Leigh’s The Hunter, Frederick Buechner’s Godric, Brian Kiteley’s Still Life With Insects or Peter Angus Campbell’s Invisible Islands — those are the kinds of short, perfect novels I want to write, and the ones I return to again and again. Authors like Magnus Mills, Jean Echenoz, Marie Darrieussecq, Per Petterson, Jim Krusoe, Lars Gustafsson. But there are also more expansive novelists who consistently blow me away, like Peter Carey and Michel Houellebecq and Georges Perec. And George Mackay Brown is my most sentimental favorite, and though he’s uneven — how could he not be, with such an output? — his fictional world is the one I most like to daydream about. Oh, and I can’t leave out Flann O’Brien’s The Poor Mouth.

So what spins my wheels? I guess I think of stories — and fiction — primarily as a way of asking questions and trying to make sense of the world, and of exploring the individual’s place in webs of culture. So I’m not as language-oriented as many folks seem to be online. I’m at least as concerned with what a story asks me to think about as I am with how it’s written, and fiction with a sense of curiosity that extends beyond the characters’ own relationships or immediate, personal desires appeals to me most. Apart from a couple of classes in grad school, I’ve never really studied literature and my reading has been idiosyncratic and uneven, driven by obsessive fascinations — with particular countries, or time periods, or landscapes, or animals — rather than any knowledge of what I should be reading or of what books are important. And I’ve just realized I forgot to mention Tom McCarthy’s novel Remainder, which hit me harder than anything else I’ve read in years.

You published, on your terrific online lit. zine, Necessary Fiction, a serialized novel – New Hope for Small Men by Grant Bailie. Have you done this before? How did you come up with the idea to do so? Will you be doing more of this with other authors?

New Hope For Small Men is a great example of the kind of quiet, tightly-focused novel I love — and it’s about boring office work, too, a favorite fictional subject of mine. It’s a terrific read, and I hope to see it republished in print. I’ve been reading serials online for years, and have experimented with it as a blogger a few times though I never managed to stick with it. I would like to serialize another novel in the future at Necessary Fiction, though nothing is in the works just now. Serials are tricky, because it’s hard to measure audience return rates and to find the right balance of spreading a story out versus keeping chapters coming quickly enough to maintain momentum. I also deeply enjoyed the editing process with a longer work that wasn’t my own, and that’s something I’d welcome a chance to do more of. Whether as a freelance editor or for publication, who knows (but if any publisher is reading this and wants to give me an imprint, I’m all ears).

I understand you are writing a novel! I knew you wrote short fiction, and this is very exciting. Can you tell us what the novel is about?

I actually finished it a while ago, and a few excerpts have been published. It’s called The Bee-Loud Glade and concerns a marketer of artificial plants who gets laid off then finds a new job living as a decorative hermit in a billionaire’s garden. If that idea sounds so ridiculous it can only be true, it is — I learned about decorative hermits on a TV show called The Worst Jobs In History, and it stuck with me until eventually I managed to wring a novel out of it. It’s an intentionally quiet story — seems to be a theme here, doesn’t it? — and probably a “novel of ideas” to some extent (which I don’t consider so negative a description as it often seems to imply) about the nature of nature and the nature of work and other exciting things. It takes place almost entirely outdoors, which happens in many of my stories though I seldom plan to prevent my poor characters from going inside. Plus there’s a lion, and who doesn’t love a novel with a lion? My favorite of which is Russell Hoban’s The Lion of Boaz-Jachin and Jachin-Boaz.

What do you like best about having an online lit zine in a weekly format?

The fact that it’s weekly is fairly incidental, because that’s simply the rate I can handle and it works with our flow of submissions. What seems more important is being able to focus on a single story at a time. Instead of developing an issue containing multiple stories, with some cohesive, coherent order and assembly, each individual story is presented entirely in it’s own right. There’s definitely an aesthetic emerging over time, though it’s only vaguely apparent to me what it is — and that’s a big part of the excitement: pinning down my own taste as a reader and editor only to have it upended by some surprising, incredible new submission the next day. I’m thrilled and humbled by the positive response we’ve gotten so far, and by the quality of work I’m being trusted with. I’ve enjoyed editing more than I imagined I would, and have been introduced to the work of some incredible writers. I can’t say it helps me get more of my own writing done, but that’s a whole other story.

What else is happening right now in your world?

Reading submissions for Necessary Fiction, because they’ve definitely increased lately. I’m hoping to start another novel this summer, and I have a couple of ideas but both of them are still in the “gathering” phase — doing casual research, wandering around thinking about them, and waiting for a character’s voice to emerge from my false starts and sketches so I can get down to telling the story for real. I’m also in the midst of a series of flash fictions about tall tale figures, and hope to write and publish a few more of those. Plus, I think there are eggs in the osprey nest at the end of the street and I spend more time than I should watching for hatchlings.

Oh, and I need to add to my first answer a loud shout out to Clark Gifford’s Body by Kenneth Fearing, a tragically overlooked novel if ever there was one. Also, all those books I culled from my collection are still boxed up in the basement, so if anyone wants to come by and pick through them…

The Fictionaut Five is our ongoing series of interviews with Fictionaut authors. Every Wednesday, Meg Pokrass asks a writer five (or more) questions. Meg is an editor at Smokelong Quarterly, and her stories and poems have been published widely. She blogs at

  1. Laura Ellen Scott

    Yay Steve!!

    that’s all.

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