News and Interviews

November 2019 writer-in-residence Erin Frances Fisher on Choosing a Title, Doing Research and Celebrating Every Milestone


We are thrilled to announce that Erin Frances Fisher, author of That Tiny Life (House of Anansi Press), will be our November 2019 writer-in-residence.

Fisher's unique narrative style, an intoxicating melange of the microscopic and grandiose, is on full display in That Tiny Life, her debut collection of short fiction. The stories in this book are deftly-orchestrated and finely-tuned tales of humanity's never-ending obsession with progress. Traveling through various geographical and historical locales (and, in one story, outside of Earth itself), the characters in That Tiny Life grapple with the wonder and cruelty of being human in a world which, for better or for worse, continuously marches forward.

Get to know Erin below as she discusses the benefits and challenges of writing short fiction, her meticulous research process, and how a footnote found in the University of Victoria library led to an exciting idea for a story. Stay tuned for her posts on Open Book's writer-in-residence page starting in November!

Open Book:

How did you decide what stories to include in the collection? When were they written?

Erin Frances Fisher:

I began with a story that takes place at the end of world—literally during the death of the sun—and asked myself, what type of stories can be partnered with that setting? The collection would have to be futuristic and speculative, or made up of stories that were all very different. I went with contrast. “That Tiny Life” is a collection of outliers. The end-of-the-world story was cut, but I wrote the rest of the stories sticking to the idea of sprawling settings. It took a few years.


How did you decide which story would be the title story of your collection? Why that story in particular?


Titles are difficult. If I don’t have a title at the beginning of a project, I probably won’t have one when I’m finished it, and that was the case with this collection. Janie Yoon, my editor at House of Anansi, suggested “That Tiny Life” as the title of collection. It’s a line from the title story that expresses awe at life, which was a big part of writing the book. Being bowled over by existence.


What do you enjoy most about writing short fiction? What is the toughest part?


Being able to read through a draft in a single sitting. That whole-picture impression of a story is something I miss with longer projects. The toughest? Having more than one project in a book—just because a story is short doesn’t guarantee it will take less time to complete. If the story requires research, that can consume the same amount of time as research for a large project.


Did you do any specific research for any of your stories? Tell us a bit about that process.


I sure did. Each story had its own research. Mainly online—you can find a lot of blogs or articles on and by people who do interesting things: astronauts, palaeontologists, musicians, hobbyists, and so on. For “Da Capo al Fine” I ended up at the University of Victoria libraries researching harpsichord builders and fortepianos, and for “The White” I made my sister take me along when she hunted rabbits with her hawk.


What was the strangest or most memorable moment or experience during the writing process for you?


When a story idea clicks together. In the UVic library I found a footnote in an obscure building manual that said a German harpsichord maker had constructed the guillotine for the French Revolution. Another time, I took BC Ferries to Vancouver and watched a return ferry heading back to Victoria—I knew I wanted to capture people passing each other in life, waving hello.


Did you celebrate finishing your final draft or any other milestones during the writing process? If so, how?


Yes. I celebrated all the milestones. Each story completed, publications of stories, first drafts done, deadlines made, deadlines missed, seeing the cover, completed edits, completed copy edits. I celebrate all milestones and anti-milestones. Writing is a glacially paced beast, and I recommend celebrating whenever possible.


What if, anything, did you learn from writing these stories?


There will be a moment in writing every story where it stops dead, and I have to deviate from whatever plan I had for it. Letting go of the plan leaves wonderful whitespace, and endless possibilities in revision, which is for me the best part of writing.


Erin Frances Fisher (MFA UVic, AVCM pedagogy/performance) is a writer and musician in Victoria, BC. Her short story collection THAT TINY LIFE was published by House of Anansi Press, March 2018, was a finalist for the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize at the 2019 BC Book Prizes, and runner-up for the 2018 Danuta Gleed Literary Award. Her stories have appeared in Granta, The Malahat Review, PRISM international, Riddle Fence, and Little Fiction. She is the 2014 RBC Writer’s Trust Bronwen Wallace Emerging Writers recipient. Erin teaches piano at the Victoria Conservatory of Music, and is a sometimes sessional writing instructor at the University of Victoria.





Buy the Book

That Tiny Life

In settings that range from the old American West to pre-revolutionary France, from a present-day dig site in the high tablelands of South America to deep space, That Tiny Life is a wide-ranging and utterly original collection of short fiction and a novella that examines the idea of progress — humanity’s never-ending cycle of creation and destruction.

In the award-winning story, “Valley Floor,” a surgeon performs an amputation in the open desert in the American West. In “Da Capo al Fine,” set in eighteenth-century France, the creator of the fortepiano designs another, more brutal instrument. And in “That Tiny Life,” the reader gets a glimpse into a future in which human resource extraction goes far beyond Earth. Each story is infused with impeccably researched detail that brings obscure and fascinating subject matter into bright relief, be it falconry, ancient funeral rites, or space exploration. The result is an amazing interplay of minute detail against the backdrop of huge themes, such as human expression and impact, our need for connection, the innate violence in nature, and the god-complex present in all acts of human creation.

A highly accomplished, evocative, and wholly impressive work of short fiction, That Tiny Life introduces readers to a writer with limitless range and imagination.