Heather O'Neill, "When Orphans Glowed in the Dark"

It's December 8. Let's watch Heather O'Neill, author of Daydreams of Angels and Lullabies for Little Criminals, as she captures lightning in a bottle.

How would you describe your story?

HEATHER O'NEILL: War orphans learning how to be children again.

When did you write it, and how did the writing process compare to your other work?

HO: I can’t remember. Sometimes I scrap short stories or beginnings of novels. I found the file hiding in some other file on my computer. I printed it. I read it on the subway ride from my apartment to my dad’s. And I liked it. It was winter outside. It’s a story idea that would have appealed to me more in the winter than in the summer. I’d say the process was similar to my other work. I usually have to let stuff sit and live on its own for a long time, then I come back to it and the story tells me what it wants to be.

What, for you, are the essential elements of a good short story? 

HO: The criteria for every good work of fiction or make believe, or actually, I’m going to go ahead and throw in non-fiction, is say something new in a new way. Expand our ability to express ourselves.

Did this story require any research?

HO: Well, yes. My research process is pretty organic. I’ll be reading something and have an idea for a story, so the inspirational research sometimes come before the story. And then I’ll do further research to figure out specifics or flesh out the story. So stories come out of things that I’ve been interested in or researching for years. So tons of stuff, essays on cruelty, documentary footage… But I’m going to throw out three inspirations that I can specifically see looking at the story in retrospect: Edward Gorey and Agota Kristof and Jerzy Kosinski.

Where can people go to learn more about you and your work?

HO: The bookstore? And Twitter: @lethal_heroine (that’s an anagram of my name, by the way).

What's on your Christmas list this year?

HO: I’m looking for a house. 

Michael Hingston