This month, Drunk Monkeys began its Book Club feature, which gives Patreon donors at the $5, $10, and $20 levels one free book per month from an independent author or publisher. Our first selection is Sure Things & Last Chances, a short story collection from author Lou Gaglia, whose short story, “A Sure Thing”was featured in our first monthly issue.
How did this collection come together?
The stories included in the collection were pretty easy to choose, but then it took me forever to arrange them. At first, I tried to get away with picking the order out of a hat. That was fun for a while, but no random arrangements worked, so I wrote lists on many pieces of scrap paper and along the blank edges of newspapers. That didn’t work either. I was about to go back to hat-picking when I noticed how closely the stories were related thematically—that maybe my tricky subconscious had chosen the stories for me. So…since my subconscious mind thought it was so smart, I asked it to arrange the stories in such a way that the characters somehow advanced from misunderstanding and petulance and fatalism to some kind of increased awareness, with setbacks thrown at them in between. Then I swapped a few stories for others and arranged the final three, in which the characters arrived at their clearest perceptions about life. Anyway, that was what I intended, and I hope that readers will recognize that gradual progression, and that they won’t say something like, “Gee, I thought the characters were even stupider at the end. He should have picked the order out of a hat.” That would be crushing. Still, aiming a little higher thematically beat picking little papers out of a hat and scribbling on scraps.
You select a Steinbeck quote as the epigraph to this collection. How do you think it reflects the stories?
Steinbeck is one of my favorite writers, and East of Eden is one of my favorite books. That quote (“And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good”) rings true for me, and maybe it’s true for many of the characters in Sure Things. When they try to be perfect somehow, or when they expect to be perfect, especially in the early stories, then they bumble their way through, or they get mean, or they get sidetracked or hurt, or they give up, or they stay clear of involvement. But then in the later stories maybe there has been some realization for them that perfection is impossible, and that maybe “goodness” is all about understanding that each person’s heart is a mix of impulses, not all of them saintly.
What do these stories say about New York? What is your experience of the city?
All of the stories take place in Manhattan or Brooklyn or Queens or Long Island, with a couple of side-trips to upstate New York. I hadn’t realized how often I use New York City as a setting, but I guess it’s because New York is home for me. I love upstate New York where I live now, and I wouldn’t go back to live in the city. Still, whenever I visit the city, I feel like I never left, that I belong there, especially on the Lower East Side where I taught and lived for so many years. Maybe I often choose that setting for stories because it’s a perfect place to work out ideas and feelings. For a few years I lived in Brooklyn, and I walked over the Brooklyn Bridge to and from work. I roamed through Manhattan too (maybe every inch below 14th Street), and what I loved most about my roaming was that I had company (all of those people and all of those faces, and sometimes there were exchanges, most of them pleasant), and yet I could be alone with my thoughts among thousands. There are so many people with good hearts there, especially for me in my old neighborhood on the Lower East Side. They would be the first ones there if you were in trouble, even if they didn’t know you. So I often go back there in my stories. It’s a way of surrounding myself with such people again. “Private Eye” and “Networking” and “About Beauty” and “Little Cruelties” all take place in that neighborhood and in my old apartment complex, so maybe those stories are more special to me.
What do you want readers to take away from this collection?
I hope that readers will remember the stories and the characters, that some of the major and minor characters will be like real people to them, and that the places will seem real to them too. My other hope, my greatest wish, is that they will laugh a few times and maybe even grow thoughtful here and there.
What is your next project?
I’m writing what I call a 200 page story because the word “novel” has always stopped me in my tracks. I’m so much in love with the short story form, and maybe I’ll stay with it and give up trying to write 200 pages stories. But I want to keep plugging for now. Other than that, I have a novel in stories almost completely ready. That one is made up of all city stories involving two major characters. But right now I just want to write. It was a long haul getting Sure Things & Last Chances ready, on the heels of Poor Advice and Other Stories, so I just want to settle in for a while and have fun writing.