LIANE HANSEN, host:

If sinking your teeth into a big novel seems like biting off more than you can chew this summer, then maybe you should try short stories. A collection of short stories is like a box of chocolates - you can select one or two for now and save the rest for later. Or, if you prefer, you can eat them all at once.

Maile Meloy has just published a book of short stories called "Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It." And she joins us from the studios of NPR West. Welcome to the program, Maile.

Ms. MAILE MELOY (Author, "Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It"): Thank you. Thank you for having me.

HANSEN: Where does the title come from?

Ms. MELOY: It's from an A.R. Ammons poem. It's very short. It's two words on a line, and the poem is "One Can't Have It Both Ways and Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It." It works for almost - for all the stories and has some resonance with each of them.

HANSEN: How does it become a common element in all the stories, people wanting things both ways?

Ms. MELOY: A lot of the characters are sort of caught between two different versions of their lives, or two things that seem mutually exclusive, and deeply want to have both ways.

HANSEN: Yeah.

Ms. MELOY: I do, certainly.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: Yeah, right. I mean, you have a lot of characters who are married who are, like, straying from the marriage or…

Ms. MELOY: I'm not doing that, by the way.

HANSEN: No. I wasn't thinking that you were.

Ms. MELOY: I know.

HANSEN: Why does the short story appeal to you as a writer?

Ms. MELOY: I like reading them, as you said. You know, you can read them before going to sleep, you can read them on a subway, you can read them anywhere. You know, in a short story you can see your way out, and there's a freshness to it because you have new characters. And a novel is sort of wonderfully reliable, and it's there every day to work on.

HANSEN: I was struck by the story "Two Step." Now, this is where one woman, Alice, is talking with her friend Naomi, and Alice is convinced her husband is cheating on her. What was the inspiration for this one?

Ms. MELOY: I guess different stories that I had heard. I was sort of thinking about those stories and reading the Salinger story, "Pretty Mouth and Green My Eyes." I love Salinger's nine stories. So it sort of came out of a combination of those things.

HANSEN: Yeah.

Ms. MELOY: The gradual realization of something in the short story was something I sort of wanted to try.

HANSEN: Yeah. You didn't give the husband a name.

Ms. MELOY: I didn't. Maybe he didn't seem to deserve one.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. MELOY: I don't know.

HANSEN: Yeah. At the end…

Ms. MELOY: It's so much about the two women, I think that he didn't seem to need one.

HANSEN: I'll touch on one more short story: "Travis B." This is a young ranch hand, and he falls in love with a law school graduate who lives nine and a half hours away. What was the inspiration for "Travis B?"

Ms. MELOY: My stepmother actually had a job in Glendive, and she lived in Missoula. And she was doing that drive - she was driving across the state every week and back again in order to do this job in Missoula. And Montana is, you know, you can drive all day and never get out of Montana. And that was a huge thing for me growing up, that you could just spend all these hours on the road going through really beautiful country, but kind of endless country.

And so she told me that story that she had, you know, was doing this job and just despairing. She didn't meet any cowboys, disappointingly, but that was the germ of it.

HANSEN: When you write a short story, do you try to end it or do you want to leave us wanting more?

Ms. MELOY: I want it to land in a way that makes you feel like it has an ending rather than just stopping, but that also opens up possibilities for what could happen next. You have an ending, but you also have possibilities.

HANSEN: Yeah. Do you have more short stories that you've put aside in the trunk that you hope to resurrect?

Ms. MELOY: I have a lot of fragments, and a lot of ones that I decided didn't work. So, whether I'll go back to those or whether I'll just cut my losses and move on - I don't know, it'll take going back and sort of trying them to see.

HANSEN: Maile Meloy is the author of a new collection of short stories called "Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It." She joined us from NPR West. Thank you very much.

Ms. MELOY: Thank you.

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