Sam Reese (author of Come The Tide) – ITW #24
Sam Reese and his book Come The Tide (Platypus Press) made an excellent impression on our sensibility a few weeks ago, and we couldn’t leave things at a stalemate.
In this interview, guests Ornette Coleman and Silvia Plath enrich Sam’s thoughtful reflections and unusual takes on the pleasure of writing and on the writer’s many duties.
All pictures courtesy of Alexandra Kingston Reese.
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Our interview with Sam Reese:
One of the virtues of Come the Tide is the quest for self. On your side, was the process of writing the book a similar quest for your own self too?
Sam Reese: People often say that novels are about communities, but short stories are about individuals. I think every writer discovers something about themselves in completing a book, but for me, writing Come the Tide meant really thinking about that question: what does it mean to be an individual?
The stories comprising your book Come the Tide seem to be fiction and nonfiction at the same time. Is the limit between these two worlds impervious, and how did you manage to make them coexist?
My writing always starts from a very specific sense of place. Usually it is somewhere I have been—somewhere I know well—or else somewhere that I can picture vividly. Once I have grounded the writing in this place, then it is much easier to find the line between the real and the story. That’s the kind of story I have always enjoyed: one that blurs the distinction between the real world and a place somewhere beyond. I think those are the stories that matter.
Beyond storytelling, you are a critic yourself. Isn’t the art of criticism limiting your personal directions, once knowing what a critic generally expects?
I have been writing poetry and fiction much longer than I have been a critic, so although I can understand that feeling of cynicism about critics just applying rules and formula to writing, that is never how I’ve operated. And good writers have to be good readers, whether they are critics or not.
I do think writing fiction and writing criticism draw on different skills. When I’m writing fiction, I don’t look at my work the way I would when I analyse somebody else’s—I’m listening for rhythms, seeing myself somewhere else. I’m involved. As a critic, I feel the opposite—I’m detached, observing from a distance. Good criticism needs that space. But these skills overlap and feed into each other. I’d like to think my criticism is helped by my writer’s sense of craft. And in turn, my critical understanding of form definitely helps me shape and pattern my stories, and allows me to step back from my drafts when they’re finished and approach them with some distance.
Having a strong academic background, weren’t you afraid to be labeled as « another teacher giving a shot at traditional publishing » before being perceived as an author in the most common sense?
I only had that worry after Platypus Press accepted my book for publication—until that point, like most early career writers I imagine, my only concern was whether somebody would be interested in my work at all. But something happened in the editing process that made rethink this worry. We decided—Michelle, my editor, and I—that a couple of the stories in the original draft needed to be cut. As I wrote new pieces to fill in these gaps, I remembered a story I had written years before. With a little bit of rewriting, it fitted in the collection perfectly. I liked the fact that the newest story was also the oldest, and it reminded me that I have always been telling stories, writing them for as long as I can remember.
You also wrote on music with Blues Notes. How did you develop your curiosity, and on what grounds?
I had known I wanted to write about jazz for a long time, maybe since I listened to my grandfather’s old Louis Armstrong records as a child. But I’m not a trained music critic, so I also knew that I would have to find a different way to write about it, one that used my expertise—an angle that would mean that what I wrote was meaningful. So I went back to my favourite album, Ornette Coleman’s The Shape of Jazz to Come, and listening to the opening track, a piece called “Lonely Woman,” I realised that loneliness was the thread that drew together my love of short stories, my literary criticism, and my love of music. That was my way in.
Silvia Plath once declared “I want to live and feel all the shades, tones and variations of mental and physical experience possible in my life. And I am horribly limited.” How close do you feel to that statement?
Plath’s idea definitely chimes with the way I think about writing. I understand the desire to live in different states, different ways of being. This is something that good short stories allows for better than almost anything else: the concentrated feeling of experiencing the world differently. For me, the idea of limitations is also important—and again, is part of why I am attracted to short stories. The freedom of possibility is always balanced by a closure, a restriction that is different to the expansive possibilities of novels. The alchemy between those two parts—possibility and constriction—is where the magic of short stories happens.
Sam Reese, Come the Tide
Platypus Press, available now.
In thirteen wistful and haunting stories, Sam Reese traverses the sweeping plains of memory, transforming their hidden landscapes into something familiar. A woman searches for the mysterious place of her birth. An apartment becomes a forest, a bottomless lake a graveyard. A search can return you home again, and a painting can cradle more than just its own history. The tales in Come the Tide, both real and imagined, are circling birds, soaring and diving to find that thing we’re all seeking: ourselves.
About Sam Reese
Sam Reese is the author of Come the Tide, a collection of short stories, reviewed here. Hailing from Aotearoa/New Zealand, Sam is an insatiable traveler and self-confessed short story nerd. He has lived and worked in Sydney, London, and now York, and his fiction has found further homes in magazines around the world.
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