Short Story Study: A Round-Up

These days, I’m tuned into the All-Short-Stories-All-The-Time channel in my brain as I work on a collection. Here are a few of the things I’ve been reading, watching, and considering:

journeyprizecoverThe Journey Prize Stories: the annual collection of excellent stories nominated by Canadian literary journals for consideration for a $10,000 prize (the ones in the book made the shortlist). I haven’t reached the winning story yet, but my friend Nancy Jo Cullen‘s tender and darkly humorous Hashtag Maggie Vandermeer is included (and while you’re over there at This Mag, check out Stories, my most recently published short story).

The Best American Short Stories 2014: Jennifer Egan, this year’s editor, chose 20 stories with “a basic power to make me lose my bearings, to envelop me in a fictional world,” describing “the vehicle for this transport into alternate worlds [as] vivid, specific language.” That’s the foundation, of course, of good writing and after that, she looked for those that “genuinely surprised” her. I’m still thinking about the opening story, Charity by Charles Baxter, which takes a thrilling narrative turn about halfway through (you can read a snippet at McSweeneys).

Charles Baxter is not only a vivid and moving writer but he’s so smart about craft. The Art of Subtext: Beyond Plot looks at something not many writing books deal with: the important role of ‘the hidden’ in fiction. This short excerpt of a talk he gave about secrecy dove-tails nicely with that book and its premise that fiction is “a collection of instances, of luminous specific details that take us in the direction of the unsaid and unseen”:

I’ve been thinking about narrative propulsion (what pulls the reader through a story) and analyzing the balance of flashback and present-time scenes in a story I’ve been obsessively working on (after eight drafts, I’ve finally figured out what it’s about … maybe). Asking some of these questions online, as is the way of the Internet, led me to a so-far fabulous-seeming book on scene-writing (confession: I’ve only read the intro and flipped through it, digitally).

Every now and then I find it incredibly useful to go back to ‘beginner’s mind’ (even though, aren’t we always doing that, whenever the page is blank in front of us or full of confusing words?) and read other writers’ thoughts on why something works and play around with a few exercises. This book is chock full of both of those things. I’m looking forward to giving it some time and going back to class.

And finally, there’s Little Fiction. The digital imprint run by Troy Palmer and Amanda Leduc (who edits Big Truths, the non-fiction half of the venture) publishes short stories that intrigue, move, challenge them, or make them laugh (according to their FAQ). They have great taste, so navigate over there on your lunch-break (or, you know, that moment of procrastination when you can slap your hand away from Facebook, ahem) and read or download a few.

Standouts for me include the gorgeous details and strangeness of Eliza Robertson’s Sea Life and Yard Waste by Steven LaFonde, with its clear forward propulsion to an inevitable end. But there are tons of great stories, so grab that box of Turtles you bought for someone else and get over there and make up your own mind.

What about you? Anything you’re loving lately, writing-wise? Drop me  a note in the comments: would love the suggestions!

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