“The stories were about...letting the girl get under your skin and then finding out, to your horror, that you didn’t get under her skin.” surgency, or Round Up the Rebels. And as the names indicate, those can be dangerous games. Propeller: Each story here has a postmark on the title page that tells us the year and location it takes place. “Hope,” a story that’s both beautiful and funny, is built out of unmailed letters a man writes over the years to a long-lost love. Its postmark reads “Havana 1940.” When you’re writing a character from another time and place, do you do research first, and then craft a voice for that character? Or do you have a voice and story first, and then decide upon a time and place that fit the voice? Or is the process more complicated than that?
Ben Greenman: If anything, it’s the second of those options. Sometimes there are phrases that belong to a certain time. Sometimes I get a mental picture of a person and that person doesn’t seem to belong to 2010, or even 1910. In this case (and in the case of lots of the stories in this collection), I knew that I had a number of similar plots, at least thematically. The stories were about romantic disappointment, about not getting the girl, about letting the girl get under your skin and then finding out, to your horror, that you didn’t get under her skin. They’re about unbuttoned blouses and zipped-up pants. Given that, I was pretty conscious from the start about making sure that I distributed that masterplot through time and space. “Hope” takes place in Cuba, starting in the forties. “To Kill the Pink” is in Harlem in the sixties. “A Bunch of Blips,” which reverses gender (the protagonist is a woman, and she’s frustrated with men) takes place in Paris in the nineties. Part of the fun of putting the collection together was to show how the particulars of each narrative reflect (or correspond with) the universal themes. Or, to put it more simply: People are sad and funny no matter where you find them. Propeller: The story “The Hunter and the Hunted” opens with a letter-writer writing “I