Aimee Bender is the author of three short story collections (The Girl in the Flammable Skirt, Willful Creatures, and The Color Master) and two novels (An Invisible Sign of My Own and The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake). Currently, she teaches creative writing at the University of Southern California.

Bender’s work is both utterly human and touched by some kind of magic; the turns in her narrative can make the reader feel as if the eye of the world is opening onto her characters. This is especially true of her newest book, The Color Master, in which she explores spirituality, sexuality, the body, and the myriad ways we forge connection.  Bender sheds more light on the human condition than the most deadly realists.

Front Porch: There seems to be a long standing stigma in the literary world
regarding very comic or very fantastical works, in that they are often not considered as “serious” or “important” as realist fiction.  Increasingly, however, the distinctions between fiction deemed “literary” and fiction with fantastic elements has begun to blur. What are your thoughts on these cultural distinctions, and their function? How much of a purpose does categorization serve?

Aimee Bender: Happily, as you say, this has been shifting, and there are more varieties of tone these days. And, the high/low culture split started to erode decades ago. Categories are a way to talk about things but beyond that not so useful I think—they begin a conversation but should never be an end point. It’s interesting to me how many women seem to write from a fairy tale influence—Kevin Brockmeier and Manuel Gonzales being a couple clear exceptions. But Sarah Shun-lien Bynum, Judy Budnitz, Ramona Ausubel, Karen Russell, Jeanette Winterson, Angela Carter as the matriarch of it all—it’s a great and growing list.

FP: All three of your story collections (The Girl in the Flammable Skirt, Willful Creatures, and The Color Master) are organized in three sections of five stories each. Is there a particular reason for choosing that structure? How do you choose the order—or section—in which to place each story?

AB: Originally, it was my editor’s idea, but I liked the way it made mini movements inside a larger whole—the story arc in the part arc in the book arc. Something like that! Then the order placing is a lot about what seems to flow well into the next, and that is inspired by other collections and even more by albums and seeing how musicians make those choices. I was listening to the White Album the other day and one of the many phenomenal things on that is the order! It’s so perfect.