Caitlin Hamilton Summie’s short story collection, To Lay to Rest Our Ghosts, was released by Fomite in August. We sat down to talk to her about the writer/promo balance, novels vs. short stories, and the importance of place. Read on!
S85: How do you navigate being both a writer and a promoter?
CH: I have to fit my own writing in to my days, as I always have had to do, whether as a student or a publicist. I make time at night, on weekends, on a lunch hour.
Also, I don’t discuss my writing with my clients, unless they bring it up. Once or twice, I shared an experience I had. But when I’m working, I’m focused on promoting their work, and I keep a division in my mind. That is their time, for their work.
S85: Given your career as a publicist, how does the commercial or critical success of a particular piece impact your personal opinion of the piece and your writing as whole?
CH: Every year, there are beautiful books, small press or big house, which never receive the notice they deserve. It has been that way since the beginning of my career, and it will be that way long after I stop working. There are simply too many books. I am heartened by the wonderful critical reception my own writing has received, and I am glad it has received notice, given the tough fight small press titles have to get any attention. I love my book, and I would love it even if no one had noticed it. I’d have been disappointed in the market and book world if there had been no coverage for it, but I would not have been disappointed in my book.
But having it recognized is wonderful.
S85: In terms of fiction, what would you say are the fundamental differences between a fiction novel and a short story? What makes a great short story?
CH: That’s an interesting question for me because so many of my stories involve decades, whole histories, so for me, short stories don’t have to be a slice of life experience. They can be their own whole worlds. In my writing, it really comes down to length (some of my stories are long) and to finishing the rest of the story. For instance, I write some stories that link, so a novel will allow me to finish these characters’ stories. I am in fact one draft in on a novel-in-stories that includes three stories from my collection.
S85: What encouraged you to delve into writing and compiling your collection of stories To Lay to Rest Our Ghosts; what was the book’s genesis?
CH: The book began 25 years ago, when I was pursuing my MFA. Eight of the ten stories were written back in 1992-1995, then taken out, dusted off, and submitted with some minor edits. The last two stories were started after the program ended but took a long time to write.
Fomite editor Marc Estrin asked in 2015 if I had a collection. I told him thank you but no. It was so cool to be asked, but I didn’t think I had anything. But in June 2016, I submitted a story called SONS that was accepted for publication. After that, I thought, “Why not look?” I pulled out my stories, saw I had ten, and contacted Marc. Ten seemed a solid number of stories to have in a book.
S85: Your stories have a very strong conveyance of location. Do you have any devices or methods for creating that intense rendering of geography and landscape?
CH: Well, I guess the answer is no. I think I am just particularly attuned to weather and landscape, to place, so they become part of how I see things.
S85: Are there books, short story collections in particular, which you are currently reading or have read that inspire you to write?
CH: No, though there are lots of writers in lots of genres I admire. I write because I feel compelled. That is always the way it has been, from when I was very, very little. My mom tells me that I used to bring her scribbles before I knew how to write letters. I would want her to read my stories. So I have been eager to tell stories since the beginning.
S85: Would you say your approach to writing is practical or purely artistic? Under which circumstance do you find your writing most fruitful or closest to your personal vision for your work?
CH: I write when I can, not on a schedule, so I consider myself a Carpe Diem writer. I find a moment or an hour or a few hours, and I go for it. I write whatever I want. Stories, novel, picture book, poems. I recently had a poem published, which was quite exciting. I hadn’t had poetry published since college. But I also give myself time in terms of years. I work, I have kids, I have volunteer responsibilities. It is a delicate balance—pursuing my writing career. I’m not sure when I best achieve my goals, but I believe it is when I trust my instincts and don’t overthink things.
About the Author
Caitlin Hamilton Summie earned an MFA with Distinction from Colorado State University, and her short stories have been published in Beloit Fiction Journal, Wisconsin Review, Puerto del Sol, Mud Season Review, and Long Story, Short. She spent many years in Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Colorado before settling with her family in Knoxville, Tennessee. She co-owns the book marketing firm, Caitlin Hamilton Marketing & Publicity, founded in 2003.
About the Interviewer
Mel Sherrer is a performance poet and teacher living in San Marcos, Texas. She is the Managing Poetry Editor for South 85 Journal.
Featured Image Photo: A crop of the cover of To Lay to Rest Our Ghosts