If you were to imagine the current Chicago literary scene as a human body, Joe Meno may or may not be the face, Todd Dills may or may not be the backbone, but Elizabeth Crane is absolutely the heart. When I read her work, it feels as though she is talking directly to me, and we are in the middle of a friendly conversation. She tells me stories from her life and I understand every moment. She is honest, yet coy, playfully sincere, she can break your heart, but make you smile. She does not set out to change the world, but simply to explain it a little better.
Elizabeth Crane is the author of three short story collections, When the Messenger is Hot (2004), All This Heavenly Glory (2006), and the forthcoming You must be this Happy to Enter (2008). She also has a mini-book, Donovan's Closet, over at Featherproof.com. She teaches writing at the School of the Art Institute and the University of Chicago. She can be found darting in and out of readings across the city, and perhaps holding a few of her own. She will in fact be reading Friday, October 19, 7:00 at The Book Cellar, Saturday, October 20, 7:00 at Quimby's, 1854 W. North Ave, and Thursday October 25, 7:30 The Fixx Coffee Bar 3053 N Sheffield Ave.
Recently, Elizabeth took some time out to answer a few of my questions about here new collection and her work in general.
Orange Alert (OA): When speaking of your writing style I have heard comments to the effect, "effortless", "compelling portrayals of the everyday", "unique in its simplicity", and so on. Do the words come as easy they appear to, and how do you select your subject matter?
Elizabeth Crane (EC): Interesting question(s). That's the first time I've ever heard the word simplicity about my work! Anyway, not easy, I don't think, but certainly not hard. Sometimes a first draft will come quickly. It's just something I enjoy doing, but that said, I want to do what I do as well as I can, so I spend a lot of time on revision. In terms of selecting subject matter - sometimes story ideas come randomly, but there tend to be subjects that interest me at any given time.
OA: Have you always known you were meant to write?
EC: Meant to, I'm not sure about, but I've known I would keep writing since I was a kid.
OA: Your latest collection, You Must Be This Happy to Enter, is being published by Punk Planet Books. How did you decide to go with Punk Planet, and what can we expect from the new collection?
EC: One reason is that they pursued me, and made me feel really good about it. Another is that I knew Joe Meno, and how well he'd done there, and how happy he was with the experience.
OA: What is your opinion of the current literary scene in Chicago?
EC: I think it's great and I'm really glad to see so much going on, and so many people going to things!
OA: I read an interview with Joe Meno, and he talked about the relationship between book sales and book tours. Do you see any connection between readings and book sales?
EC: The folks at Punk Planet seem to believe it - I'm not sure I have a definite answer for that. Books get sold, for sure, but it helps to get people to come out - that can be the tricky part, and tat varies from city to city.
OA: How do you select the pieces that you read, and do you view them in a different light when reading them to an audience?
EC: Well, I try to mix it up when I read around Chicago, because sometimes I feel like I've read everything in this town and everyone's heard it already. On tours, I often read stories that I've read in other cities that I know will go over well. But also - some of my denser stuff is hard to read out loud, so I don't read those too often at all. Mostly, I aim for funny, at readings.
OA: Has being a teacher of the written word affected the way you approach your personal writing?
EC: Hee - I write less! No, that's not really true, the only way it's changed is that I do have less time to do it at my leisure, I really have to find pockets of time, and I'd prefer to have a regular schedule.
OA: What's next for Elizabeth Crane?
EC: Wealth. Great heaping piles of money. Besides the next book, there's been a play adaptation and a short film made from my stories, so I'd love to see a feature or a series.
OA: After reading "Privacy & Coffee", I can assume you are a coffee drinker, but what is your favorite type of coffee and where is your favorite coffee spot?
EC: I meet students at the Alliance Bakery often. I do drink coffee, mostly at home, loaded up with hazelnut cream.
OA: What type of music do your enjoy and who are some of your favorite musicians?
EC: Different stuff. It's almost the season for Sufjan Stevens Christmas record! But you know, I might also listen to Gnarls Barkley or the Flaming Lips or Shawn Colvin. My husband turns me on to cool stuff, but I'm still a little VH1 inside.
For more information on Elizabeth Crane you can visit her website or check out her blog. To preorder your copy of You Must This Happy to Enter go here.