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Girl Gone Bad: Susie Moloney on 'Things Withered' (Q&A/giveaway)

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Tis the season for giving … and HBE and Susie Moloney/ChiZine Publications are offering up two free copies—one digital and one print—of the author’s new short story collection, Things Withered, to two lucky readers. For your chance to win, simply email HBE at HartfordBooksExaminer@aol.com by no later than Friday, December 13th, at 11:59 PM EST and include “Giveaway” in the subject line. Recipients will be selected at random and notified by email.

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Today, Hartford Books Examiner ventures to the dark side with Susie Moloney.

Ms. Moloney is the award-winning author of four novels and published her first collection of short stories, Things Withered (ChiZine Publications), in digital and paperback editions yesterday. Born and raised in Winnipeg, Canada, her first work, Bastion Falls (1995), chronicled the very Canadian phenomenon of an unrelenting snowstorm. The breakout novel A Dry Spell followed two years later, and was optioned by Cruise-Wagner Pictures, Tom Cruise’s production company. Subsequent titles include the bestseller The Dwelling and the highly acclaimed The Thirteen. Ms. Moloney has also written for television and film—including the screenplay adaptation of The Dwelling. She currently splits her time between Winnipeg and New York City.

Though new to general audiences, Things Withered has already left its mark on early readers. Craig Davidson, Giller Award-nominated author of Cataract City, praised, “Each of these stories has fangs. You’ve just got to wait and see how they’re going to bite you, and how deeply. Susie Moloney will keep you up waaaaay past your bedtime—either reading these stories, or thinking about them long after you’ve closed the book.” Further, Sarah Langan, author of Audrey’s Door, noted, “Moloney’s stories are taut, tense roller coasters, and so smart … [Moloney] is already a name in literary fiction, but brace yourself, because she’s going to be a big name in genre fiction, too. This chick is scary! Read her. Now.”

From the publisher:

A middle-aged realtor trying to get ahead any way she can. A bad girl pays for cheating with a married man. A wife with a dark past lives in fear of being exposed. The bad acts of a little old lady come home to roost. A young man with no direction finds power behind the wheel of a haunted truck. From behind the pretty drapes of the average suburban home, madness peers out. Stories of suburban darkness from the award-winning author of A Dry Spell, The Thirteen, and The Dwelling prove that life can turn on you, or you can turn on it!

Now, Susie Moloney entices readers to embrace the darkness that dwells within …

1) What can we expect in this collection?

Things Withered is my very first collection of short fiction—14 stories--so it's got a special place in my history. Every writer writes at least a few short stories, I think, and if I look back, I've been writing a couple of year for most of my career. It was super hard to choose stories to include. It was harder than naming my kids, honest.

These stores are my collection of bad girls, and boys who go bad. The men in the stories tend to be much nicer, or at least more vulnerable, than the women for a change, so I thought it was worth noting. I hit all the big notes in this collection: bad sex, amputation, the line “smell my fingers,” dead fish, ghost dogs, eye-gouging, evil sorority sisters, real estate—you know, the real life events of the average person.

2) What inspired you to write THINGS WITHERED – and, collectively, what do these stories say about human nature?

Well, I'll tell you, one of my favourite stories in the collection, The Truckdriver was inspired by a friend of mine who bought a very, very ugly truck. Not the one described in the story, but the same at the ugliness-level. (I believed then, and believe now, that it was witchcraft on the part of the seller that made him buy that truck.) Driving is one of those things that become second nature, so a vehicle is eventually an extension of our bodies. I liked the idea that the truck was spiritually corrupt, and that it corrupted anyone who owned it. The moment when Corey discovers the history of the truck is one of my favorite moments in the story.

Then again, other stories are deeply personal to me. The Wife comes from my very real fear of marriage and relationships and the commitment to intimacy that they require. When the wife of the story rationalizes what marriage is supposed to look like, and grades herself on how much she's adding to the picture, comes from my most personal thoughts. Do I look like a wife? Am I rocking this?

I tend to think dark and affectionate things about us human beings. I'm convinced that most of our hours are dark, and that the sunny stuff is an illusion. Things Withered is my ode to bad girls and boys.

3) You tend to gravitate toward the darker side of things. What is it about all that is disturbing that compels you – and do you find that writing about it is therapeutic?

We're all bad people. We think bad things. We just don't always do them, or get caught. If there was really a “thought police,” I would be serving time. Shaking it rough. One of the stories in Things Withered is about a woman who cheats with a married man. She knows it was a bad choice, but when the affair is over she takes a small bit of petty revenge, the sort of thing that is probably done routinely and then regretted. She takes this revenge and is sorry she took the revenge, but is not sorry for the affair. I think we're all like that—much more sorry we got caught.

Writing it down makes it a lesser crime. Evil on paper is mostly harmless, right?

4) You’ve been quoted as saying, “I’ll know I’ll have truly arrived when someone is the male Susie Moloney.” So … just what does it take to qualify for that illustrious distinction? And do we have any contenders?

Well, for context, I said that after several years of being compared to Stephen King and the humorist Dave Barry. I was always, “the female” someone. That said, I've also been compared to Joyce Carol Oates and Jane Smiley, both of which have much more meaning for me, since they're giants in this industry. Funny how no one ever says that a guy is “the male Jane Smiley.” I've got a bright shiny quarter for the first person who sends me a review that does that!

5) How do you find the process of writing short stories to compare to that of novels? Are there any particular challenges and/or liberties that you’ve found to come with the territory?

Short fiction is so immediate and satisfying. When you have that itch to write something and you know you can sit down and get something substantial on paper in a matter of days. A book is such a huge commitment. One is a hot and steamy affair, the other is a marriage. They're both wonderful, but you can check one off your to-do list in a day.

A lot of short stories, for me, have turned into novels, or are in the process of that. I didn't include my short story Single Family Dwelling in the collection, but it was the basis of my third novel, The Dwelling. And the reverse happens, too. Another of my favorites in Things Withered is The Windemere, the story of which came out of writing my fourth novel, The Thirteen. Funny too, how real life intercedes: the building in The Windemere is based on a real apartment building in NYC, which just happens to be across from the building of very good friends of ours on the Upper West Side. The address is 666. OF COURSE I had to write a story about that building. It was clearly poking me through the window.

Another story in the collection, my absolute favorite is The Last Living Summer. I still feel that it should be a novel. Those women will stay with me forever, mostly because if I have ever written anything autobiographical, it's that story.

6) Leave us with a teaser: what can readers expect from you in the New Year?

I'm always working on a new book. Clearing the schedule is always the hardest part of writing something new. Real life makes writing life tough. The new novel is sort of a period piece—takes place in the early 70s—and is based on a real life event. I will say no more! You can't make me!

I have some other projects for the new year, as well, but they're both top secret.

I'm clearly not an open book. Not yet, anyway :)

***

With thanks to Susie Moloney for bewitching us with her virtual presence and to Felicia Di Pardo for helping to facilitate the giveaway.

Don’t forget: For your chance to win either a digital or print giveaway copy of Susie Moloney’s Things Withered, simply email HBE at HartfordBooksExaminer@aol.com by no later than Friday, December 13th at 11:59 PM EST and include “Giveaway” in the subject line.

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