Full of Lit: D.D. Miller debuts with a darkly funny short story collection

May 5, 2014

Today's Short Story Month featured collection comes from Hamilton publisher Wolsak & Wynn. They recently launched a new imprint, Buckrider Books, with the aim of sharing stories that are daring in both theme and style, as well as taking risks with an outlaw sensibility. D.D. Miller's first collection of short stories, David Foster Wallace Ruined My Suicide and Other Stories, is one of the first Buckrider books because it does just that.

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In May 2014 during LPG’s celebration of Short Story Month, I learned more about David Foster Wallace Ruined My Suicide and Other Stories by D.D. Miller, the first book published by Buckrider Books, an imprint of Wolsak and Wynn. Being a keen reader of David Foster Wallace’s work, and despairing of the trendy literary “industry” that has continued to grow after his death, I was, admittedly, cynical and dismissive at first about D.D. Miller’s debut collection of short stories. However, D.D. Miller’s generous and open answers in the Q&A convinced me to take a closer look. His thoughts on the short story form as being “most similar to poetry,” and publisher Paul Vermeersch’s statement made me add a reminder on my phone to check out this book. After another perusal of the LPG post, I found myself pleasantly surprised by D.D. Miller’s taste in Can Lit, and after reading “The Wrong Numbers” in Joyland and feeling enamoured with the first-person narrator, I left my house to look for a copy of David Foster Wallace Ruined My Suicide. So it goes.
 
— Shazia Hafiz Ramji, Publishing Assistant, Anvil Press

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Today's Short Story Month featured collection comes from Hamilton publisher Wolsak & Wynn. They recently launched a new imprint, Buckrider Books, with the aim of sharing stories that are daring in both theme and style, as well as taking risks with an outlaw sensibility. D.D. Miller's first collection of short stories, David Foster Wallace Ruined My Suicide and Other Stories, is one of the first Buckrider books because it does just that.

*****

The stories in David Foster Wallace Ruined My Suicide and Other Stories are darkly comic and always surprising. D.D. Miller’s protagonists are varied cast, but they are all stuck at a kind of crossroads in their lives. The narrator of the title story, Gregor Postma, exemplifies this perfectly. He has a problem with endings, he says. He acknowledges his inability to move forward. Even his name, he says, feels unfinished. And when he makes up his mind to end his life, he is unable to complete his plan. In this way, Gregor’s characterization becomes a signifier for the entire collection, for this assortment of young men who’ve lost control of their own destinies. That’s why Miller decided to make this the title story of his collection.

We asked… D.D. Miller

Tell us what your collection is about in 140 characters or less.
David Foster Wallace Ruined My Suicide is a collection featuring a broad range of male protagonists who are fumbling through the early 21st century reliance on social media and the fleeting relationships it supports.

Do you have a favourite story in your collection? One that gave you more trouble than the others?
That’s a tough question; I love all my stories equally! But I do have a particular affinity for “Son of Son of Flying Pig” and its narrator. [Included in Full of Lit!] He is a little clueless; an inert character “stuck” in a rut (probably) of his own doing. But I definitely feel he is a redeemable character, struggling through undiagnosed depression, who becomes obsessed over the course of a few weeks with his recently deceased neighbor and a runaway parade float. I always feel a little heartbroken for him when I read the end of that story.

One story that was hard to “find” was a story called “Be Prepared.” It was originally a 7500-word sprawling story that alternated between a present tense and a past tense. The story that eventually made it into the collection is a significantly more restrained 2800 words, even though in terms of plot, nothing changed. Finding the “heart” of this story was a challenge, and took many drafts, but it was rewarding in the end.

Did you consciously decide to be a short story writer -- or did the format choose you?
I don’t ever remember consciously making the decision, but it is the form I have worked most with my whole life. I wrote my first short stories in the third grade and haven’t really stopped since. I love the format: It is the format I read most and, at its best, has the potential to move me the most (I’ll never get over the embarrassment of breaking down on a public transit bus in Victoria at the conclusion of the Richard Ford story “Communist”).

Who is your favourite short story writer and why?
This is incredibly tough, as so many collections and individual stories have had such an impact on me. But in terms of pure volume of work, I’m going with Bill Gaston.

Aside from maybe Mavis Gallant and Alice Munro at their peaks, I can’t think of any other Canadian short story writer who has produced as solid a run as Gaston did between 1998 and 2006 when he released the collections Sex is Red (Cormorant, 1998), Mount Appetite (Raincoast, 2002), and Gargoyles (Anansi, 2006) (the latter two were short listed for the Giller and the Governor General’s Award, respectively). His ability to find the absurd in the mundane (or to express the blasé in the absurd!) is unparalleled. He’s also got a new collection coming out this spring!

My favourite debut collection in recent memory is Sarah Selecky’s This Cake is for the Party (Thomas Allen, 2010), a beautifully written, incredibly taut collection of stories. If there is a word out of place in this book, I have yet to find it. 

What makes short stories so different (besides the obvious) than other writing formats?
I think what makes it most different from other forms of prose is what makes it most similar to poetry. Although there are many ideas of what a story should be, for me, a successful story (whatever the form—traditional or experimental) must convey lifetimes and whole universes in an incredibly restrained space.

For me, the most successful stories are the ones that can accomplish this “wholeness” with as little as possible.  

What would be the title of your memoir, if you were ever to write one?

From the Literary Stage to the Roller Rink (and a few places in between): D.D. Miller’s Varied Life and Times.

D. D. Miller is originally from Nova Scotia but has lived, worked and studied all across the country. His work has appeared in a number of journals and anthologies including The Malahat Review, The Fiddlehead, Eleven Eleven: Journal of Literature and Art and Dinosaur Porn. As the Derby Nerd, Miller is known around North America for his writing and commentary on roller derby, one of the world’s fastest growing sports. A graduate of Mount Allison University, the University of Victoria and the University of Guelph (where he completed his MFA), Miller currently lives in Toronto where he works as a college English instructor. David Foster Wallace Ruined My Suicide and Other Stories is his first book.

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We asked… Wolsak & Wynn

I love short stories, there’s certainly a renewed enthusiasm about short stories in general these days. Short fiction can give you some of the compression and power that great poetry has, but also some of the depth and scope that a good novel has. It’s a unique art form that combines of the best of both worlds. The size of a short story can be a challenge, but it is the challenges in a work of art that create opportunities for creativity and surprise, and it’s the element of surprise that typifies D.D. Miller’s writing for me. I would call it hair-raising; Miller has a real knack for balancing out cringe-worthy scenarios with enough levity to make them exciting, and he’s big-hearted enough to create a sense of genuine pathos even for otherwise disagreeable characters. Like all good stories, Miller’s are complex, expertly drawn, and entertaining.  

-- Paul Vermeersch, Senior Editor

Founded in 1982, Wolsak and Wynn began as a press devoted to Canadian poetry. Over time, we have grown to embrace all literary forms. We strive to publish clear, passionate Canadian voices that question the way we think about literature.

*****

Thank you to D.D. & Paul for answering our questions. Get caught up on all of our Short Story Month festivities here. Want to read Full of Lit now? Get your copy below.


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Edited from the original post, published on the LPG blog

 


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