Joe Baumann and his short story “Demon Lover,” previously featured in peculiar, will be appearing in a collection titled The Plagues through Cornerstone Press. This collection features eleven short stories that reimagine the plagues of Egypt in a modern setting as they befall upon a cast of primarily young LGBTQ+ characters in St. Louis, Missouri. The collection will be released in late January, but is available for pre-order. Look for it on the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point’s website or at https://www3.uwsp.edu/english/cornerstone/Pages/BOOKS.aspx.
We asked Joe a few questions to know more about his writing and his new collection “The Plagues.”
When did you start writing?
It’s hard to pinpoint an exact date, but I have a clear memory of writing a story in second grade that was an offshoot of a cartoon high-seas action adventure called The Pirates of Dark Water. So at least that long!
Why are you an author?
Ooh, this is another toughy. I think I write because it helps me process and understand the world and the people in it; I use writing as a way to work my way through the puzzles of being, using invented characters and worlds as a conduit toward that understanding. I also like the puzzle (not to mix my puzzle metaphors too much) of figuring out a story, how to make all of its disparate parts work together.
What authors do you most admire?
This could be a very long list, but I’ll try to keep it short(ish). I’m a big fan of Ramona Ausubel, Aimee Bender, and Julia Elliott for the way they work with language and image in their writing. Peter Kispert’s queer characters and all their messiness fascinate me, as do those of Kristen Arnett. I’m constantly flabbergasted by the creative intensity of N.K. Jemisin and the thoughtful heartbreak of Ken Liu’s work.
What’s your writing process?
I have a terrible, no-good, no-one-should-use-as-a-model process: I’m constantly at work at an unacceptably high number of projects, and I write maybe a page of each every day. I take Saturdays off. I don’t reread, not until I’ve pushed through and found an ending (yes, even with novel-length work). I usually start with an image, a title, a first line, or just a vague sense of a premise, and then I play around—just keep writing, adding things, following wherever my inclinations take me, until I reach an endpoint or a sense of center. Then I get to revising, which is where all the heavy lifting is. Once I know what the heart/center of a story is, I try to carve the story around that, making everything echo and point toward that center.
What inspires you to write?
The idea that I have something to say about the world and the people in it. I think writers are observers and reflectors, taking in the world and churning something out in response to it that is meant to make readers think about their own place in the larger scheme of things. The idea that I might make someone see or experience the world in a new, even if only slightly different, way keeps me going.
What’s your favorite thing you’ve ever written?
Oh now that’s a tough one. I think I’d have to say a story called “Close the Door on This Laughing Heart,” in which people hear laughter when they’re near someone who has fallen in love. It’s part of a short story collection Sing With Me at the Edge of Paradise, coming out from Texas Tech University Press in January.
What effect do you hope your writing will have on people?
Like I said above, I hope my work will make them think about the world in a slightly new, different way, or at least feel moved in a particular emotional direction.
What was the inspiration for this new collection, The Plagues?
This collection actually spun out from a single failed story: I wanted to write a story in which a devout religious family experiences the plagues of Egypt in the modern day. I just couldn’t make it work. The idea sat dormant for a while and then, several months later, I thought: why not a whole collection, one story for each? I wrote most of them in the summer of 2018, and then it was a matter of spending about a year revising and then a year shopping it—and now here we are.
What else are you working on right now?
I am at heart a short story writer, so I’m always cooking a story or two. I’m also at work on a new-ish novel, tentatively titled Weird Violents, about a small town in which teenagers must commit little acts of violence against one another or risk going insane.
Where do you see yourself in the future?
Largely, I’m hoping to see myself where I’m at now, in some ways. I have a good teaching gig and am having some pleasant success with my writing, so I hope the train stays on the tracks, as they say.
(But I would not say no to a billion dollar advance and beachfront property, if anyone who can make that happen is reading.)
Where can fans find you online?
I’ve got a website: joebaumann.wordpress.com that has links to lots of my work. I’m also on Twitter: @jbaumann035 and Instagram: baumann9174.