We're teaching Flannery O'Connor. If we have a canon, she's on it. I would assume my students would have read her, but many of them have not. She was hugely influential — I think she's hilarious, so darkly funny! I read somewhere recently that she would crack herself up while she was drafting, which is just how I imagine her.

DO YOU EVER MAKE YOURSELF LAUGH WHILE YOU'RE WRITING? No! I think there lies the path to madness. I think the day that I start cracking myself is the day that I get really worried. It's already weird enough, what we're doing.

YOU'RE SUCH A CHARMING WRITER! HOW DO YOU DO IT? The writers that I love have this trick of charming the reader in a way that you're surprised but also prepared for the insights they're going to deliver. I think about George Saunders as someone who does this so well. You're so delighted and surprised by the world that he's creating that when things really take a dark turn, when the characters are spiraling into a vortex, you're really prepared to receive his message. There's this ratio of humor to sadness that he's working all the time. Nathan Englander's stories work that way for me too. He's writing about these horrible historical things, but the theme is always humor. That only underscores the tragedy for me. I think it's a delicate ratio, like a color wavelength.

I READ AN INTERVIEW WITH YOU WHERE YOU GAVE A SHOUT OUT TO DAVE BARRY! Oh my God, he was just my favorite writer growing up! I don't know what was going on psychologically with me when I was 10, that I was reading Dave Barry Turns 40, but I was thrilled by him. Originally, that's what I wanted to do, write a humor column. That is the best job! You're an adult, yet you're writing about boogers for your job. It's amazing!

Karen Russell takes part in the “Far Out Fiction” panel at the Boston Books Festival October 15.

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 See all articles by: EUGENIA WILLIAMSON