Pigeon Pages Interview with Matthew Lansburgh


Do you have a bird story or favorite feathered friend?

Ducks are actually an important symbol in my collection of linked short stories, Outside Is the Ocean. The book explores the troubled relationship between a German immigrant, Heike, and her children. Ducks appear in some of the scenes early on in the book in which Heike is spending time with her son, Stewart. The stories she tells Stewart about ducks allow the reader to experience the richness of her imagination and provide glimpses of what it was like for her to grow up in Germany during World War II. One of my favorite stories in the collection (which was cut in the final stages of the editing process) was a folktale told in Heike's voice that explained why it is that ducks quack instead of speaking proper German as they once did. In this story, the mother duck trades her language for a place to sleep when she is traveling south with her ducklings for the winter and the family becomes trapped in a storm. The family seeks refuge at a farmer's home, and he forces her to leave her words behind as collateral in a trade that ultimately results in the mother's loss of her family.

What is your most memorable reading experience?

Outside Is the Ocean is fiction, but it was inspired by some events from my own life. The third chapter, "House Made of Snow," provides a fictional account of something that happened to me as a child. It involves being forced to read "Hansel and Gretel" aloud on a cold winter's night in Colorado and the series of events that flowed from my father's misguided efforts to ensure that I did not grow up to be like my mother.

What makes you most excited about Outside is the Ocean?

As I've mentioned in other interviews, I worked on the book for well over a decade. There were long stretches of time when I abandoned the project, convinced that it would never come together in a way that was "marketable." The incredibly warm and enthusiastic response the book has received has been a bit mind-boggling. Having Andre Dubus III tell me it was one of the best books he's read in the past five years blew my mind and made all of the self-doubt and hard work worth it.

To tweet or not to tweet?

To be honest, I've been gravitating more towards Instagram these days. The purely visual aspect of that platform makes me feel like I'm taking a little vacation from life whenever I spend time there. But I do tweet occasionally and folks can find me at @senorlansburgh on either Twitter or Instagram.

What books do you have in your bag right now?

I'm working on a novel that's requiring me to do research into life in Latvia before the dissolution of the USSR as well as Latvian folktales and life in New York City in the early 1990s, so a lot of the books I've been reading recently relate in some way to one of those topics. I just finished Among the Living and the Dead, which is a beautiful memoir by Inara Verzemnieks.

Can you tell us your favorite rejection story?

How much time do you have? I feel like being a writer is all about rejection. Some of the stories in Outside Is the Ocean went through dozens and dozens of re-writes and were rejected by many journals before they found a home. Maybe the reason I love Elizabeth Bishop's villanelle "One Art" so much is that she does such a great job of exploring the myriad ways that loss can shape our lives. To me, loss and rejection are blood relatives.

What literary journals do you love?

All of the journals that have published my stories hold a special place in my heart—especially One Story, Glimmer Train, Ecotone, StoryQuarterly, Michigan Quarterly Review, Electric Literature, The Florida Review, Guernica, Columbia, Joyland and SLICE. I feel especially fond of SLICE because they were the first to publish my work and, since then, I've seen them evolve into a really remarkable force in the literary community.

What shakes your tail feathers?

Going for a walk with my partner along the Hudson River at the end of a long day.

What advice do you have for fledgling writers?

Never give up. It sounds corny, but it really is true. It seems to me that people who find publishing success are usually the people who seek out honest feedback, listen to criticism, and are willing to revise their work—no matter how long and arduous the process is.

What other eggs do you have in your basket right now?

As I mentioned above, I'm working on a novel. I also have new fiction coming out in One Story on Valentine’s Day and in the upcoming issue of Epoch.


MATTHEW LANSBURGH's collection of linked stories, Outside Is the Ocean, won the 2017 Iowa Short Fiction Award and was a finalist for the 30th Annual Lambda Literary Award and the 2018 Ferro-Grumley Award for LGBTQ Fiction. The book's title story was a Distinguished Story in Best American Short Stories 2018. Matthew's work has appeared or is forthcoming in publications such as One Story, Glimmer Train, Ecotone, Electric Literature, Epoch, StoryQuarterly, Columbia, Guernica, Shenandoah, The Florida Review, Joyland and Michigan Quarterly Review. You can visit him online to read more of his work.