ROBIN McLEAN met JIM SHEPARD in a fiction workshop in Italy in 2013, two years after she’d finished her MFA in fiction, two years after she’d sworn off all workshops forever. But she’d read a few of Jim’s stories by then and was hooked. She’s worked with Jim on many stories since, has followed him and Karen Shepard around. Many do. Robin generally shows up with a pile of questions, often about agency or “rate of revelation” or “subliminal coordinates.” If you don’t know what those are, sign up for a workshop with Jim Shepard.
Here are some inquiries asked and answered on a spring pilgrimage to Western Mass in 2022, a sunny morning on a snowy hilltop, an icon of an old tape deck set on RECORD between cups of coffee, three dogs hunting crumbs around the table, then basking in the sun as the ideas flowed.
Looking for the Weirdness: An Interview with Jim Shepard
Robin McLean’s story collection, Reptile House, opens at an end—when a freeze of apocalyptic proportions devastates the town of Easter, (“Cold Snap”)—and ends at a beginning—when an unhappy man’s wife gives birth to another baby (the title story). This sort of upset runs rampant throughout McLean’s debut work. McLean’s surreal tales about ordinary characters deliver emotional truth in poetic language. Concrete and surreal, they spill beyond the conventional short story forms.
A book for lovers of language, Reptile House won the 2015 BOA Short Story Fiction Prize, sponsored by BOA Editions, Ltd., a publishing house committed strictly to poetry, until 2007 when it launched its American Reader Series with the goal of publishing fiction “more concerned with artfulness of writing than the twists and turns of plot.” Indeed, the nine short stories that form Reptile House seem to spring from language in an intuitive way.