Your short stories seem almost like challenges to yourself, with you inhabiting the heads of a staggeringly disparate cast of characters. The acknowledgment pages of your collections, meanwhile, look like the citation section from a thick academic book. Do you do research on topics that interest you and then decide to write stories based on that information, or do you conceive of the story and then do research to help with the writing?Read the entire interview.
I think they are challenges to myself -- that's a nice way of putting it -- nearly always in terms of stretching the capacities of my empathetic imagination. A story narrated by John Ashcroft began with my fulminating about yet another one of his inconceivably bad decisions as attorney general, for example, and then asking myself, ‘How does he do something like that, and live with himself?’ And then asking myself the question more seriously, and deciding that I would read all about him and try to find out. As for research, I read on subjects that interest me, first. Sometimes that sets off something that begins to feel like a story -- almost always because of some mysterious or elusive emotional resonance that I begin to register (as opposed to because I feel like the elements in front of me would make a good story.) Once I've begun to feel that what I've been reading might generate a story, my reading changes, and I begin to do more focused research.