Jeff Bursey is a fiction writer, playwright, and literary critic. His books include two novels—Verbatim: A Novel (2010; reissued in paperback by Verbivoracious Press with additional material ) and Mirrors on which dust has fallen (Verbivoracious Press, 2015)—and a selection of literary criticism, Centring the Margins: Essays and Reviews (Zero Books, 2016).
His story, "A Livid Loneliness," appeared in issue Ninety-Five of The Rupture.
Here, he speaks with interviewer Dana Diehl about the importance of dialogue, transitioning from being a playwright to a short story writer, and literary criticism.
Please tell us how "A Livid Loneliness" began for you.
It began with coming across the line on the gravestone at the end of the story in a book of quotations: "Courage is the price that life extracts for granting peace." I wondered how to work back from Amelia Earhart's words to an unnamed woman with a traumatic past who thinks of herself as an adventurer. Then I linked the quote to the experiences of certain people I knew.
In this story, you make the choice to indicate dialogue with a hyphen instead of with quotation marks. How do you think this choice affects the way we read the story? At what point in the writing process do you make style choices such as this?
Every indication of speech is artificial, of course. I prefer the em dash as, for me, it seems slightly less disruptive of the flow and indicates movement a little better than the more quarantined approach of the double inverted commas.
In addition to being a short story writer, you're a novelist, playwright, and literary critic. How do the various genres you work in inform each other? What do short stories allow you to do that might be missing from the other genres?
I began as a playwright, so getting dialogue right was important from the start. Eventually I think I succeeded. Plus, I come from an oral culture. Short stories allowed interior life to be brought out in bursts, and "A Livid Loneliness" shows how dialogue can run into and out of internal speech. That became a learning process. Novels allowed for more reach, for me anyway. Literary criticism has brought with it exposure to a terrific range of thinking. Each of these forms enriches and draws from the others. Short stories require concentration on a small set of items, techniques, and subjects so that the most can be wrung from them in a small amount of space.
Do you have any current projects in the works?
Yes, but as it's still in the concept stage I'll not say more now.
Are there any authors or books you would recommend to anyone who loved your story?
Alexandra Chasin's Kissed By, A.D. Jameson's Amazing Adult Fantasy, Sam Savage's last book, An Orphanage of Dreams, and Lee D. Thompson's bizarre stories found on the web at various places. None of these write things like my story. They're simply four fine writers who are pushing the possibilities of the story and who retain a sense of humour while doing it. There's encouragement in the very existence of their work, and each one is worth reading.