Dr. Nathan Oates knows more than a little about short stories. As a creative writing professor at Seton Hall, he teaches his students the work of the masters while helping them hone their craft. As a writer, he’s had numerous pieces published in prestigious literary magazines. Now, his expertise has taken his literary career to a whole new level.
Oates’ first collection of short stories, “The Empty House,” was just published after it won the Spokane Prize, which honors the best short fiction. Though he is no stranger to seeing his work in print, Oates said having a book to his name is especially meaningful.
“Like any debut writer, seeing my stories in book form is incredibly exciting,” he said. “Each (magazine) publication is a thrill, but to have about 200 pages of my stories gathered together between covers is different, even more thrilling.”
The 12 stories included in “The Empty House” are independent of each other, yet they all share one common theme – travel. The tales take readers all over the world as they follow a man searching for his missing brother in Guatemala, a broken family trying to reconnect while visiting Ireland, a father and son caught up in a Haitian civil war and many other American characters experiencing life in foreign lands.
Oates, who named the title story and “The Highline Highway” as his favorites from the book, said the reason travel is often featured in his work stems from his own love of it. He said he also finds it fascinating how travel impacts one’s sense of self.
“While we travel we often become uncomfortable, uncertain and afraid, and we reveal ourselves to be people we might not have imagined, or wanted to be,” Oates said. “Essentially, we reveal our fundamental, most basic selves, which we tend to cover up with routine in our everyday experiences… I wanted to explore (that) in these stories.”
Most of the pieces, Oates said, were written between 2008 and 2012, which corresponds with his first four years of teaching at Seton Hall. While it would seem working full-time would interfere with one’s writing, he said his years at the university have been beneficial to his creative process.
“The years I’ve been teaching at Seton Hall have been the most artistically productive of my life,” Oates said. “During this time I’ve discovered what I think of as my style and have learned a great deal about how to write stories.”
As a result, Oates said, he’s currently writing a novel and is finishing up a second story collection. In the meantime, “The Empty House” can be purchased online from Willow Springs Editions and Amazon. It will also soon be found in bookstores, including Seton Hall’s.
Sean Quinn can be reached at email@example.com.