Though I’d argue that anytime is the perfect time to read a story collection—or any book, for that matter—there’s something special about reading one when it’s cold outside. It’s the perfect time to curl up under a blanket with a hot cup of tea and let a dose of sharp prose and interesting characters hypnotize you. If you need another story collection to do just that, Hardly Children by Chicago-based author Laura Adamczyk is excellent.
The stories in Hardly Children are imaginative and clever, striking and strange. They examine aging and childhood and those times when the line between the two blur. Filled with humor, darkness, and aching honesty, Adamczyk’s debut is one to not let slip off your radar.
I recently chatted with Laura Adamczyk via email about titles, writing, and life in Chicago.
The title Hardly Children is so perfect for this collection and the story titles are pretty spot-on as well. Coming up with a sharp title can be tricky. Do you struggle with that or do you just have a knack for titles?
It’s one or the other: Titles either come easily or I really struggle. There’s not much of an in between. I struggled a bit with “Hardly Children.” At some point working on the collection with my agent, she said that maybe I should rethink the title. At the time I think it was “Wanted.” (There was a lot more wanting in previous iterations of the book.) I came up with a crazy long list of bad titles that I mostly kept to myself, and then was kind of just like, Oh, what about this? The story “Too Much a Child” had once been “Hardly Children,” so that’s where it came from. The more I thought of it, the more it fit, and the more it seemed like the only title for the collection that was right.
Sticking with the perfection of the book title for another minute—it was so apt since the stories encompass characters who are on the verge of adulthood or adults with childlike traits. I loved the juxtaposition of stories about children and stories about adults. Was one kind of story easier to write than the other? Any specific stories “write themselves”? Any that were more difficult to write?
I can’t say one kind of story over the other was easier to write. In part because I can see the children in the book growing into the adults. I see the way they’re the same. And sometimes there are glimpses of that within the same story, like in “The Summer Father” or “Girls,” where you get to see a little bit of the adults that the children become. The more child-centric stories are sometimes hard, because it’s kind of sad to put young characters through what they go through in these stories. But then, the adults don’t fare much better, because they’re sad or lonely or otherwise having a hard time dealing with life. Nobody’s spared.
As far as individual stories go, “Girls” might have been the easiest to write. Rather, it came most readily. I felt like my vision for it became clear pretty early on and it was just a matter of how best to execute it. The hardest or just the most stifling was probably “Wine Is Mostly Water.” I went through a lot of drafts with that one. It felt like a slog. By design, that character doesn’t know himself, he’s trying to figure himself out, and I felt like I was figuring him out at the same time.
Were there many stories that didn’t make it into the collection because they didn’t strike the right note for this one? Can you explain the process of selecting the stories that’d be included?
There were a few that I ditched, but it had less to do with striking the right note than just me feeling they weren’t as good as the other ones. Some stories weren’t fully realized. And one was excised because my agent thought it was too similar to one of the others, and she was right. It was also a matter of balance. I had a few more shorter ones that might have been included but I didn’t want too many in there with the longer ones. I didn’t want the collection to take on a wonky shape.
Can you tell me about your writing process? Do you typically start writing with an idea or with the character(s) in mind? What’s the catalyst?
This might sound cheeky, but it’s always the first sentence. It’s some scrap of language that holds a charge in me, that orients me in the possible world of the story, and has enough energy to compel me to keep going. If I can lay down that first sentence right, I can usually get somewhere.
I know you’re based in Chicago. What are your favorite things about being a writer here?
I like being a writer here for the same reason I think I’d like being here if I weren’t a writer: There’s a lot going on, and it’s, for now at least, affordable. I like going to the movies. I like riding the train. There’s a park by my house, and when the weather’s good, I go there and something weird always happens to me. But I also like being around other writers, seeing what they’re up to and talking to them about what they’re reading or working on. And the bookstores are great. I feel really lucky to be in the same city as Seminary Co-Op.
What’s next for you? Another story collection? A novel?
FICTION – STORIES
By Laura Adamczyk
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Published November 20, 2018
Laura Adamczyk has won awards from the Union League Civic & Arts Foundation of Chicago and has appeared in Hobart, Chicago Reader, Pank, Salt Hill, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Bellevue Literary Review, Necessary Fiction, and elsewhere. Her story “Girls,” published in Guernica, won the 2014 Dzanc Books/Disquiet International Literary Program Award. She currently works at The A.V. Club in Chicago.