Oyster River Pages: Why did you choose Oyster River Pages?
Phillip Sterling: For the quality (especially mood and tone) of the stories I found there and for the description of what kind of stories interest the editors—“emotional experience,” “breathtaking heartbreak,” “surprise,” “originality”—not to mention the selection of accompanying visuals, which align with my aesthetic. Those were some of the qualities I was trying for in my story.
ORP: What’s the most recent work that surprised you?
PS: The story “They Told Us Not to Say This,” by Jenn Alandy Trahan, in the September 2018 issue of Harper’s Magazine. The narrator could not be more unlike me and yet I am drawn to her and her circumstances through the lyricism and detail of her language and, in a relatively brief time, come to identify and empathize with her. What more could you ask for in fiction?
ORP: If you could tell your younger creative self anything, what would it be?
PS: Be patient; study the classics. Trust your judgment; be persistent.
ORP: What’s the most unexpected place you have seen great art?
PS: In the Wieliczka Salt Mine in Poland which contains 23 chambers of different chapels and works of art (including, among other things, a Copernicus chamber with a statue of him honoring his visit to the mine in 1493, and several bas-reliefs—one of “The Last Supper”—by Antoni Wyrodek)—all carved from salt.
ORP: Does having a work published alter the way you think about it? Does it alter the way you think about yourself?
PS: In both instances, my response is often dichotomous. About the work I often think: It’s about damn time, followed by The editors must have made a mistake. I feel tempered elation, expecting that, in the end, the publisher will renege. [It’s happened occasionally, though not as often as I’ve been surprised by a work of mine being nominated for an award of some kind, which reiterates my initial reaction.] As for how I think about myself: I’m grateful that the self-critical/editorial side of my literary imagination has been reaffirmed but concerned that I will not be able to replicate the feat artistically, in whatever comes next.
Phillip Sterling is the author of a collection of short fiction, In Which Brief Stories Are Told, two poetry collections, And Then Snow and Mutual Shores, and four chapbook-length series of poems. New stories have appeared recently in Pacifica Review, Permafrost, Fiction Southeast, Cloudbank, Temenos, Third Wednesday, and The Best Small Fictions 2017. His story “Wingbeats of the Mute” is currently featured in Issue 2.