LMaggie Shipstead, released as of May Great CircleA 600-page-long epic that alternates the lives of two people: the 20th-century pilot who is missing, and the actor portraying the pilot in a biopic. One year later, Shipstead returns with more reflections on Hollywood, fame, and travel—this time in the form of a short story collection, Your 10A Friend is You.
She wrote long before that. Great Circle—which shot Shipstead to the top of the literary world as it became a best-selling Booker Prize finalist, set to be adapted for television—she was working on short fiction and dreaming of being published in a literary review. As a student at the prestigious Iowa Writers’ Workshop, the author began writing what would become the first piece in her debut collection. It includes 10 stories published in literary journals and websites between 2009 and 2017.
These stories range from Montana’s love triangle to the complicated relationship of a gymnast with a hurdler at Olympics to the title story about an ex-child actor who recently left a cult. Similar Great Circle, the collection probes the complexities that surround celebrity and ambition—and they contain a transportive quality, reminiscent of Great CircleRead on, because they can take readers to other continents or decades.
Shipstead has been traveling the globe for eight years as a travel journalist and spoke with TIME Los Angeles to talk about her writing process, her love of creating celebrities, and her surprise bestseller.
Continue reading: Here are 14 new books you should read in May
TIME: These stories were created over a period of more than 10 years. Was it enjoyable to revisit them?
It’s always helpful when time defamiliarizes you from your own work. The short story taught me how to be a writer—it was the most efficient way to get better. These stories are a reminder of what I experimented with, and how I made small breakthroughs.
You will feature many famous characters or those who have been associated with fame. Why are you drawn to such an experience?
Celebrity gossip is our substitution for when we lived in smaller communities—we knew more people in common and had gossip we could all take part in. You can write about Hollywood clichés and riff on stories that are already familiar to the reader. Fame is so fascinating: there’s so much glamour, there’s artifice, there’s underlying skeeviness. Sometimes there’s just a mundane aspect to it. I can’t resist it.
Are you a tabloid reader?
Less and less, because it’s so fragmented now. Everyone picked it up as a teenager. People magazine at the grocery store or the doctor’s office, and you knew who everyone was. Now I’m like, Who are these people? They are HGTV celebrities and online influencers that I don’t know.
How do you view the successes of? Great Circle?
This was an impossible project to create. I wasn’t on contract for it, and it took years and years. This has been an amazing experience. It appealed to certain tastes, and its publication during COVID added to its importance. This is a book about someone who feels it is essential to have freedom of movement, and it came out right in this moment when that was what we didn’t have. There’s a fashion right now for books that are fragmented or autofictional. I like those books, but there’s always room for a more epic story.
There’s been a surge of pandemic-related fiction. Are you drawn to this subgenre of fiction?
It’s going to be a huge quandary going forward. The book I’m starting right now, I’m trying to set very recently—so you inevitably bump up against the pandemic. There will be a lot of fiction that goes through this time period but isn’t about the pandemic in the way some of the earlier stuff was. We’re still living it, so I don’t have a huge hunger to think about it more than I already do.
The television rights were sold. Great CircleThis was last year. What would you write for TV?
Many novelists believe that it is easy. But writing for television is a really different skill, and you give up so much of what’s in your toolbox in order to do it. Perhaps one day.
Here are more must-read stories from TIME