Readers of Maggie Shipstead’s novel “Great Circle” will download her new collection of short stories, “You Have a Friend in 10A,” and enjoy the Easter egg found on its pages.
Not Cadbury chocolate kind of Easter egg, mind you, but the kind that is a hidden reference to other work. In this case, a character, the former actress in the title story of the collection, proves to be the forerunner of the shattering celebrity Hadley in “Great Circle”. Careful readers will also recognize the novel’s therapeutic character, the one who tells her Hollywood clientele to “imagine a tiger” to overcome their insecurities.
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And “You Have a Friend in 10A,” which hits bookstores on May 17, also contains other echoes of “Great Circle,” albeit in the sense that these stories also cover multiple geographies – from Malibu to Montana and the Foggy Irish hills to a remote Eastern European village. But for the most part, if you’ve loved Shipstead’s deft writing, her keen eye for human fragility, which has been evident in her other books – which include “Side Events” and “Astonish Me” – you will recognize the same mastery in “You Have “. a friend in 10A. “
But even though the story collection arrives after the bestselling hit “Great Circle” – a notable 2021 book selection by Southern California News Group, among other honors – it is actually a collection of works that precedes the epic novel. Shipstead wrote “Cowboy Tango,” the first of the 10 stories in the collection, in her second year of high school 14 years ago, when she was only 24. The story “Acknowledgments” was the last she completed in 2017.
If anything unites the stories, it is that they are preoccupied with the personal intrigues of the characters’ lives. She says that for her, writing short stories is “curiosity driven”, a kind of laboratory for her imagination to study character or surroundings.
“My agent always says, ‘You have to find a way to talk about what they’re all about,’ and I’m like, they’s just different. They were written at different times for different reasons and in different places. But I think it’s clear that they are a product of one consciousness. “
She says putting together a collection of ancient works was a relief after seven years of working on the “Great Circle” and its intricate structure. “I mean, it was such a colossal effort, and it really dominated my life for so long,” says Shipstead, who lives in Atwater Village but grew up in Orange County’s Coto de Caza neighborhood.
“I felt really exhausted in the end. I also think I was spoiled by my first two books because I wrote them so fast. They were so much less complicated. I mean, ‘Astonish Me’ has a complex structure, but I wrote it – from the start until I sold it – in five months. ”
In fact, it sold that book just before her first novel “Side Events” was published in 2012. She says it established the pattern she thought she would follow – when publishing a book, always have another one on the way.
But life and creativity are hard to control. When the pandemic hit, Shipstead found itself in operation amid a couple of false starts on new projects.
“It was as if the isolation should have been useful for writing, but it was not,” she says. “I mean, yes, you had free time, but I do not want to sound like it was an artist’s stay. It was a global disaster.
‘It was so overwhelming. And I just had to be like, you know, I just want to focus on what I can do on any given day. “
She tried to be understanding of herself, after putting “everything I cared about and thinking about in the ‘Great Circle'” – like questions, how do you prioritize personal freedom, and how do you preserve it as a woman? “And so I think it’s natural that it takes time to find a new … center. And I also did not really have to confront a blank page for almost seven years.”
Now, however, she has settled into her next novel – but do not expect it to be another historical epic. This is a domestic drama.
“I have no interest in writing another thousand-page manuscript over many years – at least for now,” Shipstead admits. “I start a little with this question about what happens to two people who get married and get married for decades – but never really liked each other? It happens all the time, but what’s behind it? I see around me a lot of people in their mid-30s to early 40s who make life decisions quite casually. Like, ‘Oh, I want to marry this person I do not really like, and if it does not work, it’s fine, I’m just getting divorced.’ Or: ‘Oh, my marriage is not going well. Let’s have a baby. ‘
“But you know, it’s something of a big deal, and it can derail your whole life! And so I’m interested in the duration of some of those decisions. So that’s what I started thinking about, which is more, you know, on a human scale than I thought of ‘Great Circle’. ”
Her first two novels grew out of short stories, but she says the new novel will not be an extension of any of the stories from “You Have a Friend in 10A” for one simple reason.
“Part of the reason I knew they could be novels was that when I was considering expanding them, I could see many places to go. While I would generally say that when I finish a story , I could not write another word. “
For more on Maggie Shipstead, check out her recent appearance on SCNG’s Bookish.