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Simon Rich: Absurd 'New Teeth' still 'very autobiographical'

Simon Rich wrote his latest short story collection after becoming a father. Photo courtesy of Justin Schaefers
Simon Rich wrote his latest short story collection after becoming a father. Photo courtesy of Justin Schaefers

LOS ANGELES, July 27 (UPI) -- Simon Rich, author of the short story collection New Teeth, out Tuesday, said even his most absurd stories reflect his life.

"My stories always end up being very autobiographical, which is a weird thing to say since they are so bizarre and they never take place in the natural world," Rich told UPI in a phone interview. "Despite their weirdness, they're at least grounded emotionally in whatever it is I'm going through in my actual life."

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Rich's earlier collection, Man Seeking Woman, became the basis for an FX comedy series. Rich wrote that when he was single. He was a new father when he wrote New Teeth.

"In my 20s, like most people that age, I was obsessed with dating," Rich said. "Instead of writing about dating, I'm writing about things like raising a baby or a toddler because I'm just older."

The 37-year-old author said he has two daughters, one 4, the other an infant. Stories in New Teeth include The Big Nap, a hard-boiled detective story starring a toddler gumshoe with a baby client, and Beauty and the Beast, about a father play-acting the movie for his kids.

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For The Big Nap, Rich said he adapted Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler's style.

"I reread Red Harvest and Maltese Falcon," Rich said. "I got myself in that headspace, and then just wrote a story that was entirely about babies."

Rich said other influential authors include Stephen King, T.C. Boyle and Shirley Jackson. Rich said he admires those authors' attention to detail, such as King naming a brand of orange juice in a kitchen description.

New Teeth stories include many such details. The Big Nap specifies Batman stickers as the baby's payment to the detective. In LaserDisc, told from the perspective of a long unused laserdisc player, the machine's only three discs are Backdraft, Arachnophobia and Van Halen's Right Now: The Music Video.

"It's also a way to ground the stories in reality because the stories are often very strange," Rich said. "It's a world of talking objects and gigantic mutant monkey men, so whenever I can insert a little bit of naturalism, I really try to go for it,"

Clobbo is the story of the ape man who once defended the world from aliens, but proves less adaptable to peaceful society. Rich wrote Chip from the perspective of a robot in a futuristic company.

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As dark as some stories get, Rich said each story in the New Teeth collection ends on an optimistic note.

"I feel like there's enough dark stuff out there in the world, an absurdist short story writer doesn't need to add more poison to the mix," Rich said. "The beginnings of my stories have remained basically the same, but I changed my general policy on the endings."

Even stories based on historical figures can be relatable, Rich said. Case Study is about a doctor who becomes jealous of The Elephant Man. Screwball is about Babe Ruth during his time on the International League's Baltimore Orioles.

Ruth already is a powerhouse baseball player in the story. His roommate, Junior, can't even make the starting roster, even though his father manages the team.

"I think we've all been in that situation where you can't help but feel jealous of someone who's so obviously superior to you in some way," Rich said. "I just thought that relationship was a fun way to heighten that universal experience, where you're literally going up against Babe Ruth for a baseball spot."

New Teeth contains 11 stories. Rich said he writes many more, which his editor edits and he sometimes submits for individual publication as a way of testing the reader response.

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"Bit by bit, I eliminate all the ones that are stinkers," Rich said.

Those "stinkers" don't go away for good. Rich revisits them and sometimes finds the key to fixing them.

"Sometimes, I'll find that the reason why a story isn't working is that I've written it from the wrong perspective," Rich said. "Or, I've centered on the wrong protagonist."

The story Revolution, about a Medieval revolution, was the basis for Season 2 of Rich's TBS series, Miracle Workers. The first season of that show was based on a Rich novel Miracle Workers, about heaven and earth.

Because two of Rich's previous books have launched TV series, Rich said Hollywood now looks at his new collections for potential properties. Some of the New Teeth short stories are in development -- Ryan Reynolds is attached to star in a movie adaptation of Everyday Parenting Tips.

"I try really hard to not think about that when I'm writing the stories," Rich said. "I really just try to focus on the stories as self-contained and it helps that it usually takes many, many years for them to be adapted."

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