In Depth: Bill Roorbach on ‘The Girl of the Lake’ (Q&A w/ event details)

Bill Roorbach will present his new collection of short stories, The Girl of the Lake, at R.J. Julia Booksellers in Madison on Monday evening, July 17, at 7:00 p.m. This event is free and open to the public; registration is preferred and can be completed online or by calling the store at 203-245-3959. Copies of the book will be available for purchase/signing. Location: 768 Boston Post Rd.


Today, I’m joined by celebrated novelist and short story scribe Bill Roorbach.

Bill is the author of the recently released collection, The Girl of the Lake: Stories (Algonquin Books). He has published numerous works of fiction and non-fiction; these include Big Bend, Into Woods, Summers with Juliet, Temple Stream, Life Among Giants, and The Remedy for Love. Bill has also contributed to Harper’s, the Atlantic, Playboy, The New York Times Magazine, Granta, and New York Magazine, among other publications. Additionally, his work has been featured on NPR’s Selected Shorts. Bill and his family make their home in Maine.

Roorbach-headshot_ credit_SeanMewshaw_2MB
Bill Roorbach (Photo Credit: Sean Mewshaw.)

Praise for The Girl of the Lake:

“Each meticulously chiseled-down and polished tale contains enough plot, character development, and emotion to fill a novel . . . These stories, with their smart and funny dialogue, characters both wise and fallible, are sure to capture the reader’s imagination, and heart. For fans of Richard Russo and Russell Banks.”—Booklist, starred review

“Elegant, assured short stories . . . Roorbach writes in unadorned, vigorous language . . . Readable entertainments that have much to say about the world.”—Kirkus Reviews, starred review

“The ten generous, daring short stories in the new collection by the author of Life Among Giants range from tricky romance to dark comedy to breathtaking adventure . . . Suggests comparisons with Alice Munro . . . Roorbach’s cunningly crafted stories start off ordinary, and then turn magically strange.”—Publishers Weekly

From the publisher:

Nine richly varied, often funny, always moving stories that reveal the complex workings of the human heart.

Bill Roorbach conjures vivid characters whose layered interior worlds feel at once familiar and extraordinary. He first made his mark as the winner of an O. Henry Prize for the title story of Big Bend, his first collection, which won the Flannery O’Connor Award. His new collection, The Girl of the Lake, captures a virtuoso in his prime.

Roorbach’s characters are unforgettable: among them an adventurous boy who learns what courage really is when an aging nobleman recounts history to him; a couple hiking through the mountains whose vacation and relationship ends catastrophically; a teenager being pursued by three sisters all at once; a tech genius who exacts revenge on his wife and best friend over a stolen kiss from years past.

These moving and funny stories are as rich in scope, emotional, and memorable as Bill Roorbach’s novels. He has been called “a kinder, gentler John Irving…a humane and entertaining storyteller with a smooth, graceful style” (the Washington Post), and his work has been described as “hilarious and heartbreaking, wild and wise” (Parade magazine), all of which is evident in spades (and also hearts, clubs, and diamonds) in every story in this arresting new collection.


Now, Bill offers reflections on his craft and career …

John Valeri: The Girl of the Lake is a collection of diverse stories. What do you see as the common theme(s) that carry through the work as a whole – and why is fiction a particularly powerful lens through which to explore real-life issues?

Bill Roorbach: The common thread is water—the lake of the title, but also oceans, rivers, brooks, and bays. Also powerful women.  Sometimes powerful women in the water.  And love, simple human relationships brought to the edge because of disaster, a place, as it turns out, that passion can bloom. And then dive in a lake to cool off!

JV: These works were written over many years. How has the editorial process helped to shape them – and in what ways did revisiting them for this collection benefit from time and distance?

BR: Yes, the stories span over a decade, a decade during which I was also writing novels and nonfiction books.  I tend to write stories in the interstices.  Most of the stories in The Girl of the Lake have been published in magazines, but there are several brand-new stories never seen. It was fun first to imagine these stories as parts of a collection, then to actually see it come true, Fascinating to see how the book editor revisited stories that had already been shaped for magazines.  I’m a different writer in some ways than I was ten years ago, and that new eye really helped with revision, helped me re-envision, and not merely tinker.

JV: You are a veteran of both novel-length and short fiction. What are the unique challenges and liberties of each – and how do you know which format an idea demands?

BR: I always seem to know when I’m in a story as opposed to a novel.  Stories tend to offer more compact situations, and often fewer characters in a tighter time span.  Though not always: Several readers have likened my stories to highly condensed novels. Stories, in any case, make great summer reading—I always picture a hammock and a cold drink.  Novels, by contrast, make me want to climb under the covers while snow falls.

JV: Additionally, you have written non-fiction titles on craft. In your opinion, what of the discipline can be taught versus what is intrinsic – and how can tenacity/resilience influence the outcome?

BR: I tell students that very often the successful writer is the one who’s worked the hardest! We all come to the page with certain talents, certain deficits, some with more of the latter, some with more of the former.  As a teacher, I always saw my job as helping new writers recognize their gifts, make use of them, but also to see what they lacked, and helped them develop skills to go with their talents.

JV: In your opinion, what is the role of a bookstore within its community – and how can attending an author event enhance the reader/writer/bookseller relationship?

BR: I’m so happy I’ll be meeting readers at RJ Julia’s.  I lived in Madison for a year back in the day when my college girlfriend was in grad school over there in New Haven (I’m from New Canaan): RJ Julia did not yet exist, and it seems impossible that they’re celebrating their 25th year in the community.  That means 25 years providing a place for book people of all ages to meet and exchange ideas, just what I was missing as a young writer trying to make my way.  But now RJ Julia is a place for me to come home to, to meet my readers face to face, to find new readers, to be part of building a community that reaches out beyond the walls of the store.


With thanks to Bill Roorbach for his generosity of time and thought and to Jacquelynn Burke, Publicity Manager at Algonquin/Algonquin Young Readers, for facilitating this interview.

Don’t forget: The author will appear at R.J. Julia Booksellers in Madison on Monday, July 17, at 7:00 p.m.

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