Interview with Tim Johnston
by Carolyn Blais
Tim Johnston is going places—figuratively and literally, or should I say literary? Back in town to promote his award-winning collection of short stories, “Irish Girl,” the author has been riding on a wave of good news that is putting him on the up and up around the country. But it’s not just by luck that Johnston should meet such success—talent and a little determination are the key ingredients here. I first met the amiable author back in December when I covered one of his readings at Book Soup in Hollywood. Admittedly, I wasn’t familiar with Johnston’s work until about a week prior to the reading when I realized I would be covering it, and hence did my best to educate myself on his fiction. Needless to say, I was blown away by my findings.
In 2002 Johnston published his first novel, “Never So Green” which received many honors including a Starred Review in Publisher’s Weekly. Then in 2009 Johnston published “Irish Girl,” a collection of short stories that explore themes of loss in dark, yet sometimes darkly comic ways. The stories have won an O. Henry Prize, the New Letters Award for Writers, and the Gival Press Short Story Award. In 2005, the title story Irish Girl was chosen by David Sedaris to be included in Sedaris’ anthology of favorites, “Children Playing Before A Statue of Hercules.” In fact, David Sedaris selected “Irish Girl” as one of
his favorite books of 2009 (The New Yorker, The Book Bench, Dec. 11, 2009) and has now chosen “Irish Girl” as the book he will be recommending on his 34-city, 2010 U S Book Tour. Johnston’s collection of short stories has also won the prestigious 2009 Katherine Anne Porter Prize in Short Fiction and, most recently Dirt Men one of the stories within “Irish Girl” has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.
With all these achievements, I was curious to hear exactly how the author reacted to some of the good news—specifically to hearing that David Sedaris would be promoting “Irish Girl” to his audiences on his book tour this spring. This was Johnston’s response:
“You know how in nature when one, usually non-carnivorous creature is caught in the jaws of a larger, definitely carnivorous creature, and the smaller creature goes all kind of quiet and still? It’s supposed to be some kind of survival mechanism, like this will be better for everyone if I don’t make too much of a scene. Or maybe it’s about dignity. Anyway, it was kind of like that, only in a totally non-violent, non-gustatory way. Also, this is not the first time Mr. Sedaris has astonished me: first, back in 2005, he chose my short story, “Irish Girl,” for his collection of favorites, Children Playing
Before a Statue of Hercules. Next, when Irish Girl the book was in the pre-publication phase last September, he agreed to read the manuscript and possibly write one of those blurb things. Next, he wrote the blurb thing–a doozie, now on the cover of the book. Next he wrote me a lovely brief letter saying how much he liked the stories. Next he mentioned the collection in The New Yorker as one of his favorites of 2009. Then, just when I began to relax a little, he struck again with this book tour business. When I got the news, by email, from my editor at UNT Press, I was on a sofa in the Rocky Mountains. I read the email, read it again to make sure I understood, and then I stayed there, on the sofa, not moving. I was quiet, I was still. And it was better for everyone.”
Lucky for all those living in the LA area, Johnston will be giving a reading from “Irish Girl” this Monday, March 15 at Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena. The free reading starts at 7pm and is not to be missed so spread the word.