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Say It In 53 Words January 16, 2013

Posted by Patricia Ann McNair in Blog posts, Things and Stuff.
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As some of you might know, I have an odd relationship with the short-short prose structure. I love to read those that are stunning, remarkable, odd, moving, magic, entrancing, curious, and and and. (Think: Vanessa Gebbie here. Meg Pokrass. Tania Hershman. Dinty W. Moore. Carrie Etter. Katey Schultz. Stuart Dybek. Tom Hazuka.) I have written a couple of short-short pieces–in fiction and in nonfiction–myself, and am not unhappy with them.

What bothers me, though, is the idea some writers have that flash fiction and its close relatives (prose poem, sudden prose, short-short, flash nonfiction, etc.) is something easily undertaken, harnessed, mastered, and published. I would posit that it is one of the most difficult forms of writing to do consistently very well; its writers have to avoid the trap of the punchline, the narrowly-told anecdote, the cryptic instance with no resonance. How short-short and flash writers avoid these things is another matter altogether (you who succeed with this genre, please do feel free to enlighten us via the comments section of this page!) But a good piece of the short stuff is remarkably satisfying. Perhaps more closely akin to a beautiful piece of visual art than to the long narrative: it gets to you quickly, takes your breath, and then gives you plenty of time and space to look and look again to see what you missed on the first read.

So imagine my absolute thrill when at the end of 2012 and the beginning of 2013 I found myself the lucky winner of two short-short-short-short story contests sponsored by Press 53. The 53-Word Contest is a weekly call from Press 53 for writers to submit 53-word (no more, no less–titles not included in the count) pieces based on a proposed theme. The guidelines are tight and loose at the same time, allowing for a whole lot of imaginative play within a solid structure. You should try it.

Thanks to the two judges who chose my pieces: Meg Pokrass selected “Things I Wish You Heard,” and Kevin Morgan Watson picked “The Night I Said I Was Leaving.” You can read them each via the links attached to the titles, and you can read the complete Press 53 blog with its information on other contests, new books, interviews, and many things booky and literary here.

As always, thanks for reading. -PMc

Why The Short Story? ~ A National Short Story Month Remix May 12, 2012

Posted by Patricia Ann McNair in Blog posts, Things and Stuff.
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[Excerpted from this blog’s long series “Why The Short Story?” For full text, click here.]

Like so many writers, I loved to read when I was a child. I remember SRA books—do you remember those? You’d have to be of a certain age, and maybe of a certain region of the world. Anyway, SRA was a reading comprehension program for grade schoolers where you could read at your own pace, answer questions on a little quiz, and move onto the next book, the next level, and so on. They were stories, really, not books. Small pamphlets of one short story each. There were at least two educational premises going at once here with this program: 1.) independent learning; and 2.) speed reading for comprehension. Now I have to say that while I loved these little stories (I wish I could remember some of them, but we are talking decades ago and probably not the highest caliber of literature) I was not very good at advancing up through the ranks of readership. (Colors, there were colors. The pamphlets bore a certain band of color on their edges as did their question cards. A new rank, a new color. Like karate belts. Like national safety travel advisories at the airport. Only the colors on the SRA stories were not boring old white, black, brown, orange and red, but lovely, as I recall, fuchsia and teal and turquoise—is this true or just the fondness of the memory?—colors that little kids in the 60s would be attracted to, would strive for.) Still, it would take me a long time to move from fuchsia to teal, not because I wasn’t a good or avid reader, but because I was a slow reader. A careful reader. A savor-er. (Here I will insert that even today, in my fifth decade, I eat my ice cream with a tiny spoon, a kid’s-sized utensil. I want to enjoy every little bite.) I make no apologies for being a slow reader. Just last night while I was reading about the work of an orderly and a doctor (Enos) in the title story of Melanie Rae Thon’s collection First, Body, I found myself reading over and over again these sentences: “These exchanges became the sacrament, transubstantiated in the bodies of startled men and weary children. Sometimes the innocent died and the faithless lived. Sometimes the blind began to see. Enos said, ‘We save bodies, not souls.’” I read them with my lips moving, something they tried to teach us—as we plowed through our SRA stories—would slow our reading down. As though reading faster was reading better.

I was also a student of the phonics. We’ve all seen these commercials in which the little kids are reading something very difficult from an encyclopedia, with words like transubstantiated and sacrament, and while they pronounce everything very well, it is clear that they have absolutely no understanding of what they are saying. Perhaps because my teachers gave us things to read that made sense to us, stories we could relate to and understand, learning how to read a word out loud by using sounds was instrumental in my educational process. I can still remember reading the word “perhaps” for the first time. “Per,” I sounded out, and then “haps.” It might have been one of the first two-syllable words that I could read on the page; I was very young, and I was so excited by the feat. It became my favorite word for a while. One that I had heard and used often before this, but it found a way just about everything I said. My standard answer to most questions.

“Want to come over and play after school?”

“Perhaps.”

“Can I have a bite of your sandwich?”

“Perhaps.”

“Did you finish your homework?”

“Perhaps.”

“Will you have your parents sign your report card?”

“Perhaps.”

Mostly, though, what brought me to reading—and later, writing—was STORY. I loved stories. I loved reading them, telling them, hearing them, writing them. My father, Wilbur McNair (1919-1974,) was great at telling stories. Tall tales. Tales of bullfighting and solo flying and conferring with presidents and kings. (He did none of these things. I knew that, and yet, I was enchanted by his tales. What little girl wouldn’t be?) Sometimes I’d tell him stories, too, often drawn from the ones I’d read myself, taking on the leading role, the part of the main character.

In my early adulthood, though, reading became less important to me. Why was that? Too many late nights at the clubs, too many hangovers, too many friends who didn’t read at all, maybe. Dancing. Now that was important. Flirtation. But then, in the early 1980s, I found this little book: What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. I know you know it. Raymond Carver. And regardless what you think about Carver or that literary generation’s minimalism or Gordon Lish or any of these things, I am not afraid to admit that these stories opened up a world to me. They were manageable (some no longer than those tiny stories in my SRA books long ago) and moving. They were brutal and they were fearless. I didn’t know that stories could do that. I didn’t know you could tell these things, say them out loud. And since they were so short, they helped me build my reading muscles up again. Like running a mile on your way to a marathon. I’d enrolled in my first writing class at Columbia College Chicago and was assigned Black Boy by Richard Wright, and this, too, drew me back into the magical world of the printed page.

But the short story, yes the short story. “Palm Wine,” by Reginald McKnight. “The Story of an Hour,” by Kate Chopin, “Araby,” by James Joyce. “The Lesson,” by Toni Cade Bambara. “Rape,” by Gerard Woodward. “Morgan,” by John Schultz. “Girl,” by Jamaica Kincaid. “The Vomitorium,” by John McNally. “Pet Milk,” by Stuart Dybek. “A Temporary Matter,” by Jhumpa Lahiri. “A&P,” by John Updike. “Diamond Alley,” by Dennis McFadden. “Letters from Kilburn,” by Vanessa Gebbie. “How To Marry a Wasp,” by Gina Frangello. I have far too many favorites to name them all. Is there anything better than reading these? Why do publishers, agents, editors say we can’t sell short story collections? How wonderful they are, moments of life and imagination gathered together in a few pages. They can be like the three-minute pop song that gets it just right in three verses and a chorus. They can be bigger than that, a series of narrative lines that curve and braid and lead the reader to connections she considers for the first time. They have the capacity for grace and for resonance. They can be consumed on-line at the bank (does anyone stand in line at the bank anymore?) or on the subway ride to work or after you’ve turned off the television but before you turn off the light. Nowadays they can live on your cell phone (that’s your mobile, my British friends, check out www.cellstories.net) and in the pages of clothing catalogues and are spoken over the radio.

I love the short story. I love writing them. I love reading them. And I know that I am not alone.

A year or so ago, I had the opportunity to engage in a virtual conversation with four award-winning short story writers, Gina Frangello (Slut Lullabies,) Vanessa Gebbie (Storm Warning,) Dennis McFadden (Hart’s Grove) about various writerly, readerly and other things. My first question to them, inspired by my ramblings above, was: Why the short story?

Dennis McFadden: I was flattered when my friend Patty asked me to join this conversation about writerly things with some of her writerly pals, flattered and perhaps (that is, “per” “haps”) a bit flummoxed. My credentials can’t compete. Unlike Patty and Gina and Vanessa, I’m neither a teacher, nor an editor, nor a full-time writer. I’ve had one book published. I’m a state worker, a project manager for the New York State Department of Health who tries to write an hour or two in the morning before work. My apprehension was validated when Patty kicked off the conversation with “Why the short story?” and all I could come up with was, well, why not the short story? Because it’s short, that’s why. Then, when I saw the eloquent and elaborate offerings of my co-conversationalists, I knew I was in trouble.

But one of my mother’s favorite stories came to mind, and I was granted a modicum of hope. Good old mom. According to her, I was no more than two or three when I looked out the bus window at a busy Washington, D.C. sidewalk and said, “Look at all the pedestrians.” Was that not eloquent? And, anytime you use a word with more syllables than your years, elaborate?

Still, there weren’t many books around my place when I was a kid. Nobody’d gone to college. Dad told a few bad jokes when he was drunk, but no bedtime stories. I remember getting my hands on some Hardy Boys books, and enjoying them, and when I was 15, I picked up a paperback called Boy With a Gun. It was, coincidentally, about a 15-year-old boy. It takes place during the Hungarian uprising, and the kid’s father and brother are killed, and he ends up fighting in the revolution, and he and this 15-year-old chick are crazy about each other, but the end left me hanging. The kid was still fighting. The war wasn’t over. He and the chick still weren’t together. What happened? What the hell happened? I had to know. So I wrote to the author, James Dean Sanderson, and asked him, and he actually wrote back! I tore open the envelope, about to have all my questions answered, all the mysteries revealed. But he didn’t tell me a damn thing. He was flattered, he said, that the book had affected me that way. He suggested I write an ending. Ishould write the damn ending! I should talk to my English teacher—I might even be able to earn credit for it.

The bastard.

Maybe that planted a seed, I don’t know, but I never entertained writing, not seriously, until my senior year, when my English teacher spotted my “talent,” and singled me out for high and frequent praise. His name was MacBeth. That’s right. MacBeth.

How could I then not go on to college and major in English? I became known as a writer, a couple of stories published in the old “lit mag.” I was on my way. Then a funny thing happened. I took off 10 or 12 years after college to drink and party. And when I finally did get back to writing, it was to the novel, not the short story. My third book was pretty good, good enough to get me an honest-to-God New York City literary agent. But alas. All she succeeded in doing was getting me a higher class of rejection slips, and she dumped me after a year. In my state of despair, Irish activism caught me on the rebound, and I spent the next fifteen years getting England out of Ireland (no hard feelings, Philip, Vanessa). All I wrote during that period was propaganda, but I wrote it well and I wrote it plenty. And you know what? It wasn’t bad practice. Some of those satirical pieces are very much like short stories.

They had to be short. The old attention span blues that Gina referenced.

So maybe we’re on to something here. Short satire evolved into short stories as Irish activism fell by the wayside when peace broke out (thanks in large part to me, I like to think).

So why didn’t I go back to writing novels? Oh…just thinking out loud here…maybe because I hadn’t had one published? Just a thought. Maybe because I was getting older now, the green banana syndrome, hesitant to begin any two year projects? Maybe because I loved the high of finishing a story and craved it more often? I became addicted, jonesing for finishes.

It’s not that I really prefer one to the other, the novel and the short story. I read both, write both. I can become equally immersed—reading or writing—in both. The aforementioned Boy With a Gun, Plunkett’s Strumpet City, Donleavy’s The Ginger Man, Nichols’s The Sterile Cuckoo—these are novels that have stayed with me all my life. On the other hand, I (like my new found friend, Vanessa) will never forget “The Ledge” by Lawrence Sargent Hall, nor Elizabeth Bishop’s “The Farmer’s Children,” George Saunders’s “The Falls,” and any number of other stories, particularly those with an Alice Munro byline.

In the end, it probably comes down to goosebumps.

A few years ago I was sitting around a table at Stonecoast listening to Patty read a George Saunders story called “The End of FIRPO in the World.” Toward the end, I felt a wave of goosebumps breaking out on my arms, on my neck and back. Not for the first time, nor the last. Same thing happened toward the end of “The Ledge,” and many other stories I’ve heard or read—including, I’ll shamelessly admit, my own story, “Painting Pigs.” Same thing almost every time I write what is, at the time at least, the last sentence of a new story.

On the other hand, much as I enjoy novels, I don’t recall a single goosebump ever caused by one (though, admittedly, a single goosebump might be difficult to detect).

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I put it to you.

The goosebumps have it. For me at any rate, that’s why the short story.

Gerard Woodward: Why The Short Story?

Well, I suppose the answer has to be – because it can do something that no other literary form can. If it didn’t, then there would be no need for it. But what is that special thing it can do? That’s a bit harder to define. It can help by comparing the short story to other forms, like the novel and the poem.

I struggled with short stories for many years without much success. I had novels and books of poetry published long before I managed to write a publishable short story, even though I’d been trying since about the age of ten. One reason for this, I think, is that I didn’t properly appreciate the form. I didn’t take on board precisely what it is that a short story does so well – that is, deliver a powerfully engaging narrative in a restricted amount of space. Too often I was treating the short story as a kind of overblown poem in prose (but not a prose poem, which is something quite different), or else they were fragments of novels masquerading as complete, self-contained pieces. I began to see that one couldn’t approach the short story with the same imaginative gear of a poet or novelist, you had to have the unique, special, short story head. Without this apparatus you were unable to see either the potential for short stories in the world around you, or to write them.

At the same time, the short story incorporates elements of both the poem and the novel. In a short story every sentence matters, every word matters, to a far higher degree than in a novel. Every word needs to justify its place, as in a poem. In such a small space there is nowhere to hide your sloppy writing or your sloppy characters. You are exposed. Every metaphor and observation needs to work, because they are making up for the extra three hundred pages you get in a novel. The short story also needs to tell a story. Sounds obvious, but short stories that don’t do this, that try to have the same narrative absence that is possible in a poem, say, usually fail as pieces of writing. So you have to appreciate and respect the form – respect the shortness, respect the storyness. Get a short story head.

You acquire this ‘short story head’ in the same way that you acquire a novel or poetry head, by reading lots of good short stories. For me, Raymond Carver was a revelation. In fact, an exposure to American writing generally has been fundamental to me both in short story and novel writing. Carver’s use of the telling detail, of dialogue that is so perfect it almost sounds artificial but isn’t, and his ability to wring gallons of drama from the driest and most mundane of materials, is a very enabling thing to witness. He is a great permission-giver.

It has been particularly interesting for me since I’ve been in the States and re-immersing myself, as much as I can, in the writing over here, to see how much more prominently the short story figures in the literary culture, compared to back home. In Britain, the short story has never really taken off as a form, it has never held the kind of central position it seems to in North America, where the short story, and in particular the linked collection of short stories (Anderson, Cheever, Steinbeck et al,) seems so defining. Strange, really, that given such a big landscape, such a diversity of peoples and histories, it should find expression through such a compressed and condensed form. But maybe that is the key. The vastness of American culture is perhaps best addressed through the small lens. I know people over here write big novels as well, but as has been so well articulated in the critical narrative of the last few decades, it seems scarcely possible to write a novel that will do the whole American thing.

I know, from reading these debates on line and elsewhere, that commercial publishing in America is as wary of the form as it is in Britain, and that there seems to be an odd reluctance on the part of readers to engage with the short narrative, preferring the immersive experience of the novel instead. But in America the short story does seem to be taken more seriously.

But then there are good signs on the horizon. As I said in a comment to an earlier post, there does seem to be the beginnings of a revival in Britain, with two high profile competitions which are getting lots of national media coverage. My own publisher, Picador, has just brought out a collection by an unknown writer (Stuart Evers – 10 Stories about Smoking). Perhaps this will at last transform into a genuine popularisation of the form. In a world of short attention spans it would seem ideal – but then who are we to presume attention spans are shortening? Perhaps the next generation will actually have better concentration skills. You never know.

Gina Frangello: I was recently talking with my friend Rob Roberge, whose stellar short story collection, Working Backwards from the Worst Moment of My Life, came out a few months ago, about the difference between stories and novels. Rob was talking about the way stories tend to begin at one specific, individual point, and as they develop they open up more and more onto the world, the best ones often ending at a point that, rather than offering neat resolution, offer numerous possibilities and directions. Novels, by contrast, often begin with many disparate stories or realities that—as the novel progresses, all converge down into one overlap or resolution. In other words, the short story is shaped like a funnel, starting on top with the narrowest point, and then broadening as it progresses. The novel would be a funnel turned upside-down, so that the broadest part is its beginning, and it narrows down as it goes along.

There are always numerous exceptions to any rule, but this image really struck me. I write both short stories and novels, just as I read both, and I don’t favor one form over the other. I don’t believe that one is inherently “better” or offers more—I think those things are more internally dictated by what speaks to a specific reader, that mysterious alchemy of connection that happens between the reader and the writer, even though usually they never meet in person. But I do think that stories are harder to craft than novels, and I do think that, to do a story well, the funnel-shape is practically mandatory. While not all novels are upside-down funnels, a good story almost always needs to start with a very specific character or incident that feels highly intimate and immediate, something that “hooks” the reader immediately since the short story doesn’t have fifty pages in which to “flirt” with a reader, but has to sink its claws in fast. But the kiss of death for a short story is the “punch line” ending, the ending that can only be read one way, the ending that reveals all and with only one possible interpretation. The best short stories should be able to be read over and over again, each time yielding something new. If you get to the end of a story and feel that everything has been so completely addressed by the ending that the earlier elements of the story no longer hold any intrigue, mystery or appeal to you—if all that matters is the story’s end—then the story may be entertaining but it’s never going to make the emotional impact or haunt the reader the way the great stories do.

The trend now is towards very short shorts, where it seems as though anything longer than 3,000 words is a “long” story. Anyone who can write a brilliant story in a couple thousand words is truly talented and has my admiration. My own preference, though, is for a meaty, longer story. When I edited Other Voices magazine, most stories we published were more in the 6,000 word range, and my own stories tend to span anywhere between 6,000 to 10,000 words. Two of my favorite short stories ever are Mary Gaitskill’s “Heaven,” the finale story of her debut collection, Bad Behavior, and Jhumpa Lahiri’s “The Third and Final Continent,” the finale piece in The Interpreter of Maladies. Both of these stories offer the richness of a good novel—they are long in terms of the “typical” contemporary story, but their complexity and depth is almost unbelievable considering their shortness compared with the novel form. I like a story that’s a little messy. I teach “Hills Like White Elephants” a lot, but I usually teach it next to “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,” which is sort of a companion piece to it in some ways, though I’m not sure either Hemingway or Carver would have seen it that way. I see those two pieces as related in the same way that I see Morrison’s Beloved as continuing a dialogue with Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! I don’t think “What We Talk About” is a better story, per se, but I love the way it’s able to offer so much intense characterization and the illusion of a “rambling” piece, yet in the end the story is just as much about subtext as “Hills” is—its real meat lies in what isn’tsaid. The dialogue is masterful. Dialogue can be hard in short fiction, because there’s less space to really reflect the indirect way people actually talk to one another, but when a short story nails it, the dialogue, in a sense, is the story. That’s incredibly hard to do. Short fiction can be like drama in that sense, like writing a play. The short story is an incredibly diverse form. It combines the best of various other literary art forms.

The dominant corporate publishing industry seems to have decided, for the most part, that the short story is an unmarketable form. Fewer short story collections come out with the big, corporate houses, and fewer print magazines, especially glossies, publish much short fiction these days. Collections (and even more so, anthologies) are very hard to get reviewed by the mainstream book media. The reason for this is pretty simple: corporate publishing is run by marketing departments these days, and the marketing departments answer to corporate shareholders, and it’s all about an economic bottom line. Collections are hard to “market” because they’re very difficult to reduce to a one-sentence tag line or description. There may be 10 or 12 stories in the book and they’re all about different things and different people. Marketing departments don’t like that—they like things that are very easy to describe, that have one, unified target demographic. The one thing that collections do offer over novels—that kind of range and diversity, where a writer can really showcase a variety of talents, interests, obsessions—is exactly what New York doesn’t like about collections. But this is stupid on a variety of fronts. For starters, we live in a short attention span world. For the generations who are coming of age with YouTube and handheld video games, who crave instant gratification, the short story is an ideal literary medium. Even a long story can be read in one sitting if it really grabs you. People are busy—we work longer hours and have more competition for our free time now, given the internet—and being able to have a wholly satisfying experience by reading one short story before bed . . . this is a marketing angle I’m always shocked to find the big publishers seem to be blind to. The youth demographic is really untapped by big publishing in terms of the short fiction market. Only the indie publishers seem to realize how appealing it is to be able to download an individual story onto your iPhone and read it on the subway. I mean, I personally will happily read a fat ass book like Middlesexor Freedom, but there are people who aren’t necessarily immersed in lit culture who see a novel that big and immediately won’t buy it. Not that Eugenides—or especially Franzen—are hurting for sales! But what I mean is, what about the fact that short fiction offers short attention span literature for people on the run, not by “dumbing down” literature ala certain genres that aim to be “quick reads,” but by actually being—organically—quick reads yet still possessing incredible complexity? What if a demographic that is being spoon fed chick-lit to read on the beach or on the train to work in the morning could actually be reading short story collections or anthologies?

Some of the best short story writers working today are publishing with indie presses, who have become gatekeepers of short fiction. And almost all serious writers of short fiction—even the superstars of the genre like Dan Chaon and Aimee Bender—have rich histories with the literary magazines. It’s ironic that writers like Fitzgerald used to write short stories to pay the bills while hammering out a novel, whereas now most literary agents or big house editors will tell writers to “come back when you have a novel,” relegating their short stories to the mostly-unpaid (and always underpaid) world of nonprofit independent publishing. As an indie press editor myself (of Other Voices Books), I certainly feel that big publishing’s loss has been small publishing’s gain . . . but as a writer, I’m saddened to see how utterly impossible it’s become for a writer of short fiction to earn any money unless they are one of the chosen few who regularly place work with the New Yorker.

The American reading public has a wealth of material to choose from in terms of short fiction writers. Tod Goldberg, Laura van den Berg, Allison Amend, Aimee Parkinson, Alan Heathcock, Pinckney Benedict, Cris Mazza, and of course Patty’s new collection . . . I could go on and on. Yet amazingly, this market is still so under-tapped in the publishing industry. One of my great hopes for the transitions in the industry right now is that short story writers will find wider opportunities for getting their work out there into the hands of readers where it belongs.

Vanessa Gebbie:OK – Why the short story?

But that’s like saying why the dream?

Or why the root in the ground?

Because that’s what they all do – they act (if we let them) as portals. They grow into something far greater than the wordcount – they are the wardrobe in ‘The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe’ or the rabbit hole in ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’.

Who needs mind-altering substances when you have stories?  Do novels do that quite so well? Mostly, no. because the author is doing the filling of the world for you, to a large extent. They are making you live the dream they had themselves. Whereas with a good, well-written story – it plants seeds. They grow inside you. Its world remains alive after the pages are done. There is less closure, even if the story, that story, has finished. Is that a function of length, of our need to live longer than that? Is it a legacy from our ancestors, telling stories round cave fires, stories that span off each other until the night was filled with worlds?

Like you Patty, I read voraciously as a child – I don’t remember what speed I read at, I just know I read a lot. I learned on ‘Janet and John’ books at nursery school (age 3-4 – don’t know what US grades those would convert into…) and they were so boring, my gaaad I learned quick just to move on out. My mother was a librarian, so it was never a problem getting fresh books. I devoured Noddy by Enid Blyton, was weaned on the Milly Molly Mandy stories by Joyce Lankester Brisley and The Wishing Chair and other Blyton horrors, (as they are now regarded) by 5ish.  I was reading – who cares about the quality of the prose – the STORIES mattered! I was entering into another world each time I started a new one. I was a lonely child, desperate for friends, yet ill at ease with other children. Fiction was the perfect friend; add my own imagination and we were happy playing for hours…

I became a famous journalist at age 6. I wrote a newspaper, one issue only, in blue crayon, lead story a scoop about a man riding a bike in shorts with his knees projecting too far into the road. I’d seen him from the back seat of the car on our frequent journeys from the south of England where we lived, back ‘home’ – for my parents – to Wales. Sadly, my newspaper tycoon era was short, but I remember not long afterwards, on another journey, and it was dark, noticing a train running along in the distance, left to right – and saying it was like someone pulling a gold thread through a cloth made of night.

‘You’ve got the eye of a writer’ my mother said, unwrapping a barley-sugar. She was usually right.

I think what that means is (but what do I know, I just put down the words) that I notice things. I translate them. I find significance. Characters appear who ‘own’ them. They become metaphors whether I will or no. Some alchemy happens and they become stories. Sometimes, the stories cluster and become bigger things, big stories as opposed to short stories… we called them novels, didn’t we, a while back, although that is a misnomer. ‘Nouvelles’ should be factual if we are true to their roots, as in ‘here is the news’. So the type of ‘novel’ I like is actually cluster of stories that take flight, a kaleidoscope, ever-shifting. A community thing, a collective world within which is a series of individual worlds. Not that far removed from the warmth of a fire, in a cave, a kid falling asleep to the rise and fall of voices, watching sparks and stars working together overhead.

My ‘text book’ when learning to write, was The Best American Shorts of the Century, edited by John Updike. How do you not want to try to achieve the same effect ( by that I mean reader-involvement, caring, the depth of engagement) as Cynthia Ozyck in ‘The Shawl’. How, when you’ve read what I think is most perfect of short stories,  ‘The Ledge’, by Lawrence Sargent Hall – do you not despair?  But you can’t not try, can you?

Thanks again for reading. -PMc←

All I Want For Christmas ~ Books I Will Buy For Myself If I Have To December 23, 2011

Posted by Patricia Ann McNair in Blog posts, Things and Stuff.
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My Christmas gift exchange list gets shorter every year, but still I dream of the presents I would like to receive. (I am a bit of a present baby, truth be told.) So below I am making a short list of the books I would like for Christmas–and if I don’t receive them from anyone, I will buy them for myself. Because I am an adult. I can do that.

So, in no particular order:

A VISIT FROM THE GOOD SQUAD by Jennifer Egan (Yes, I am the only person in America–in the world maybe–who has not yet read this book.)

EVERYONE REMAIN CALM by Megan Stielstra (I know I should already own this one, too, but I don’t yet have a convenient electronic reading device.)

 

THE LEFTOVERS by Tom Perrotta (I had my name in for a book giveaway, and I was unrealistically hopeful like I am when I buy a lottery ticket; I didn’t win.)

 

 

 

THIS BURNS MY HEART  by Samuel Park (Sam teaches at Columbia College Chicago where I teach, and I have heard nothing but great things about this book.)

 

PORTRAITS OF A FEW PEOPLE I’VE MADE CRY by Christine Sneed (A Chicago writer who has won all sorts of praise with this book; I get to share the stage with her at Story Week Festival of Writers in March 2012.)

 

 

ONCE YOU BREAK A KNUCKLE by DW Wilson (Winner of BBC Short Story Award, DW has a way with words, sentences, stories.)

 

DROWNING IN GRUEL by George Singleton (because how could you not want to read a book with this title?)

 

 

And I am certain there are many, many more titles I would like to add to my collection, but this will get me through January, at least.

2011 brought a number of good new(ish) books my way as well, some I have released into the world with love (passed on to friends), some I have kept on my bedside table, some I am still savoring. Among these: As If We Were Prey by Michael Delp; Volt by Alan Heathcock; Small as a Mustard Seed by Shelli Johnson; Carry Each His Burden by James Goertel; Birch Hills at World’s End by Geoff Hyatt; The Coward’s Tale by Vanessa Gebbie; Windy City Queer, edited by Kathie Bergquist; many poetry books from Fleda Brown; The Whale Chaser by Tony Ardizzone; What You Don’t Know About Men by Michael Burke; and and and…..

Looking forward to new books in 2012 from Michael Downs (The Greatest Show), and Stacy Bierlein (A Vacation on the Island of Ex-Boyfriends), and Bill Roorbach (Life Among Giants). 

So many books, so little time.

Happiest of holidays to you all. May you spend them on the couch with a book in hand and a cat on your knee. Thanks for reading! -PMc←

They Talk, We Listen ~ A Brief Collection of Author Interviews August 12, 2011

Posted by Patricia Ann McNair in Blog posts, Conversations, Interviews, Things and Stuff.
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Author interviews. I have to admit, I like them quite a lot. A glimpse into what makes them think, write, rewrite, enjoy life, and so on and so on. When I read of their concerns, their vulnerabilities, their insecurities, I recognize that the authors I admire are just people, people like me, maybe. And sometimes the interviews can remind me that these authors are also something else, something sort of super-human…or if not SUPER, maybe EXTRA. Extra-human. Their lives, while filled with the daily considerations we all have (doing the dishes, finding socks that match, cleaning the litter box, watching our salt intake,) there lives are often spent looking deeply into these things, searching for story moments not just to imagine (because we all do that, right? Imagine little stories as we go on with their our days?) but to write down and making meaning of and from.

And so, I provide here a list of a few author interviews you can find on the internet. Some of the links will lead you to writers you have known and loved for quite sometime (Ray Bradbury, Thomas McGuane,) and others will lead you to discover someone new and emerging (Katey Schultz, Alan Heathcock.) And if you feel so inclined, I invite you to add any links you might have as well.

David Abrams speaks with Thomas McGuane for New West 

Katey Schultz answers Philip Hartigan‘s questions for Preterita 

Ray Bradbury‘s official biographer (and friend of mine) Sam Weller interviews the literary legend for Paris Review 

Another Chicago Magazine: A Conversation with Dinty W. Moore by Neil Stern

Alan Heathcock answers my questions here

Salt Publishing Blog conversation between Vanessa Gebbie and Jonathan Pinnock

 

Mike Pride interviews Maine’s Poet Laureate Wesley McNair

 

 

Bonnie Jo Campbell interviews Bonnie Jo Campbell in on
e of The Nervous Breakdown‘s Self-Interview series

Carrie Margolis interviews Anne-Marie Oomen 

Bookgroup talks with Gerard Woodward 

The Paris Review talks with Toni Morrison

Leah Tallon talks withGina Frangello for Knee-Jerk Magazine 

Jhumpa Lahiri talks with The Spectrum 

Andrea Waterfield interviews Dennis McFadden for The Missouri Review 

A transcript of NPR Weekend Edition host Scott Simon‘s recent interview with Roddy Doyle

A. Manette Ansay talks with K C Culver

And I could go on. Perhaps I will. Another time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Echoes and Echoes ~ Vanessa Gebbie on Endings July 5, 2011

Posted by Patricia Ann McNair in Blog posts, Conversations, Things and Stuff, Why The Short Story? A Conversation Among Writers.
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As we near the conclusion of this series “Why The Short Story? ~ A Conversation Among Writers,” Vanessa Gebbieduring a complicated time in her personal life—generously and graciously considers the question of endings.

Vanessa: I will start my contribution on short story endings with an apology for holding up the end of this wonderful discussion—although there is a reason, and that is that I have been caught up in recent weeks in the throes of the ending of a life, and its aftermath. That of my lovely father. And I am not sure if we are blessed, as writers, with the propensity to find parallels in all things—but in this case, they are so clear that I hope you will bear with me.

My father’s death came at the end of a full life. At ninety-five, his body and his faculties having declined fairly sharply, to continue would have been distressing for him and all who loved him—and the end was peaceful, and right. Of course, he will be missed hugely—I don’t think you can have a parent, grandparent and great-grandparent like my father without feeling their departure keenly. But at the same time, as the days since he’s gone roll into weeks, and the weeks into more weeks, we are looking back with great pleasure, sharing memories of a remarkable man, glad that his legacy—his gentleness, bravery, his enquiring mind, sharp intelligence, practicality, doggedness in adversity and his dry humour—lives on in us.

Gerard, in responding to his own question about short story endings, talks about “a sense of completeness within the flow of things—the sense that a story is fully resolved and concluded while at the same time existing in a universe where things go on happening.” Isn’t that just perfectly right? I can’t put it better at all. Life goes on. That story is finished, but it echoes and echoes. Echoes well.

I’d like to share a perfect short story ending with you—and it is the ending of US writer Alice Elliott Dark’s “In The Gloaming,” a piece of work selected by John Updike for inclusion in The Best American Short Stories of the Century. The same story became the subject of an HBO movie directed by Christopher Reeve, starring Glenn Close. The story focuses on conversations between a young man who has come home to die and his mother. The young man is gay. His father has never come to terms with this, and remains distant, awkward, as the mother and her son share moments of closeness, at the close of each day. The story, and his life, run out—until, after the funeral, there is the most poignant final scene between his parents.

I was going to share the gist of that short and perfect scene here. But no. On second thoughts—trust me—I can do you no greater favour than encourage you to go and find Alice Elliott Dark’s story, read, and bow. You will have been in the hands of a master, and you won’t forget it.

Vanessa Gebbie is the author of two collections of stories:Words from a Glass Bubble and Storm Warning, and is contributing editor of Short Circuit: A Guide to the Art of the Short StoryHer debut novel, The Coward’s Tale, is forthcoming from Bloomsbury in the UK and the USA. Thank you for taking the time to converse with us, Vanessa. Be well and happy in your memories of your father; our thoughts are with you. -PMc←

Prizes and a Patron ~ Vanessa Gebbie on Earning as a Writer April 25, 2011

Posted by Patricia Ann McNair in Blog posts, Conversations, Things and Stuff, Why The Short Story? A Conversation Among Writers.
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Vanessa Gebbie is the first of our story writers in conversation to answer the questions Gina Frangello posed in her last post to our series “Why The Short Story?” A Conversation Among Writers. Just to remind you, here are Gina’s questions: “What role, if any, does money play in your decision to write and what to write? How has being a writer—in particular a short fiction writer—impacted your life financially? Have you had to make sacrifices or changes? Have you ever considered a more “traditional” career? Do you make decent money on your writing, and if not, how do you pay the bills? What are the pros and cons of the writing life when considering the harsh realities of economics?”

Vanessa?

V: Let me stop laughing before I type my reply.

Ahem.

Money paid no role whatsoever other than a negative one, in my decision to write fiction. Prior to that, I was being paid a small sum now and again to write non-fiction as I was a journalist of sorts—the sort that doesn’t get paid much. That’s not quite fair—I was also owner of a one-woman marketing consultancy, and had been for some eight years. I was earning thanks to that—and sometimes, decent sums.

As soon as I stopped to write, I earned not only nothing, but a negative sum. There were course fees to find. There was the purchase of a computer. Paper. Ink. Workshops. Not to mention the books. Books and more books! And I was no longer adding to the family ‘pot’. But let’s put this into context. I wasn’t exactly a youngster. My husband, bless him, had two rather useful attributes—firstly he was in a well-paid job, and was more concerned with my happiness than my financial contributions. And thus it was that I acquired what used to be called, in the olden days, a patron. I was just married to mine.

Without my income, we had appreciably less money. Even the odd competition win, bringing in a thousand or two in a good year, was laughable when compared with the income I’d given up.

I’d had my various careers. I’d done a languages degree, then worked for the Ministry of Defence in London, had one son, requalified in management specializing in HR, done an MBA, taken on senior management roles, had second son, started up the marketing consultancy… then suddenly, enough of the treadmill! Time to do what I needed to.

My husband (mon patron) pays the bills.

Short fiction has paid me very very little, if we are only talking cash. Publication fees can be measured in tens of pounds. I have been lucky and won competitions—even they don’t pay much—the best was a Bridport second place which raised £1000. ($1657 apparently…) I have two collections out and a text book, with one of the largest most respected indie presses in the UK. They pay no advances. Royalties are tiny. 7.5%. We make a little on the books—can buy them for a 35% discount and lug them round readings, festivals… But know something—I am not a saleswoman. I am a writer.

I wrote a novel. It took me five years to write. Well, from my previous post you will know it was a glorious series of short stories which was bullied into a different shape, firstly because I wanted to see if I could write something longer, and secondly because I had an agent (acquired thanks to a single short story, incidentally…) who wanted a novel to sell. So I am counting the advance I got for that as allied to the writing of short stories, if I may. A decent, not high, but very welcome five figure sum.

Wow. Five figure sum, huh. What, literary fiction? Yeah. But before we get too excited, remember it took me five years to write. That’s (if my maths is right) a cool and not-high four figure sum for each year spent working on this thing. If I take into account the money my darling patron spent on multiple stays at writing retreats (it was written in Ireland) flights and car hire to get there—over the five years…he has just about broken even.

I ought not forget teaching—as if I could. I love doing that, and have had some terrific times—being writer-in-residence at Stockholm University this time last year, for example—working at Winchester Writers Conference in July, running a week long workshop in Ireland next month—a workshop at Bridport in November—teaching pays well.

However. I am a writer, and a teacher when asked, not an academic. Is writing an academic pursuit…now there’s a question?! If I let teaching become a job, I would worry about what would happen to the writing—and am happy to leave it to those who can juggle the demands of both disciplines much more effectively than me.

Financially, I have run very far and very fast to stand absolutely still. By anyone’s measure, for a lit writer, four books in four years must be doing OK, product-wise…but then I read today about a debut author getting £600,000 in a two book deal. I felt sick for a moment. Then I looked at what her novels were about—nothing I could write in a million years…and felt much better. I do what I do and am happy. Just about. It remains to be seen whether I have the reserves to do this all over again, despite the fact that I have a brilliant idea tapping at the windows of my heart…oh what the hell. Writing will see me out one way or another. And there is one certainty. When I do shuffle off this mortal coil, my estate won’t be able to pay for solid oak and brass handles. I’ve ordered plywood.

Thanks again, Vanessa. There’s a whole lot more about this writing stuff on Vanessa’s website and blog:  www.vanessagebbie.comhttp://morenewsfromvg.blogspot.com/. You might want to check them out. Next up, Dennis McFadden on eating shrimp with project managers. -PMc←

Is the Short Story Training Ground for the Novel? Vanessa Gebbie says “No.” Er, “Yes.” Er, “No – Yes.” April 18, 2011

Posted by Patricia Ann McNair in Blog posts, Conversations, Things and Stuff, Why The Short Story? A Conversation Among Writers.
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A short while back Vanessa Gebbie posed a question to our writers in conversation, and now it is time for her to answer her own question. Vanessa?

 

 I do get a bit tired of hearing that the short story is a ‘training ground’ for the novel?  Is it?

I posed this question initially without really thinking, expecting my own response to be ‘of course not’… but after consideration I’m now not so sure. Quite apart from the fact that any piece of creative writing surely has some small bearing on the next, being a step on a journey, I thought short fiction and novels were so different, that the one would have little direct influence on the other.

But I have just spent the last five years writing a longer work – at the same time as producing enough short stories to fill two collections and plenty over. And I am now convinced that the answer to the question is not as simple as a straight ‘yes, it is’ or ‘no, it isn’t’. At least, for this writer – the only one I can speak for.

In some ways, being comfortable with creating short fiction has not helped me make a coherent piece of long fiction. I am avoiding the word ‘novel’ now – because that conjures ideas of lengthy narratives with several side alley explorations. Side alley explorations that are not actually vital, but which help to pad out the page count. Don’t they?  No? How many novels have you read (as a writer yourself) without wanting to reach for the red pen – ‘Why is this here? What’s it got to do with…?’ And I must admit, I would not at this point, consider writing one of those single main narrative works, because I don’t enjoy reading so many of them for the very reason outlined, so why would I?!

As an aside – I have just re-read a very well known novel written within the last few decades. A novel studied for ‘A’ level English by one of my sons not that long ago. And one I thoroughly enjoyed on first reading – already a modern classic. Reading with a writer’s eye, I wonder if it could easily be 25% shorter, and be better for it?  So says I, the short story writer! And thank the lord for subjective opinions.

However. Inasmuch that successful short fiction has no room for extraneous material, my skills as a writer of shorts, such as they are, did not exactly help when I wanted to produce something they call a novel. And although it might have been perfectly possible to go in depth into each deliberate gap, (those gaps that render short fiction successful reading experiences as far as I’m concerned) to fill them with matter, flesh out the prose, add lengthy descriptions where naturally, I might have given a single word or phrase or even nothing – this was not right for anything that had my name on it.

My response to the problem was to create the only sort of long work I can imagine I will ever do – one that could be approached in the creation stage as individual short stories. Sure, the settings were the same, and all the characters wandered in and out of each other’s stories at will, gate-crashing their parties. In this way I made twelve facets of the same thing. And just as working on a stand-alone short, where I would go deeper but sharpen at the same time, I split them again, each one becoming either two, or three distinct stories – until I ended up with over thirty in all. Two timelines, same setting, different generations of the same families.

So far so uninteresting – another writer blathering about their process, which may or may not have relevance to yours. But. The point for me is this – it was this approach that actually led the project in more ways than one. Not just structural issues emerged.

I do not plot when I write a short story. I start with a character who fascinates me enough to want to spend time with him/her and a problem, and the story finds its own direction and shape, after time. Careful revision sharpens the whole. I couldn’t imagine approaching a longer piece of work, say 100,000 words, in the same way, without there being a lot of meaningless meandering, and one helluva lot of pruning as the thicket was tamed. However. As I wrote The Coward’s Tale each story informed the next, in more ways than one. It was not just the characters who appeared again – it was the distinct shape of each story – the rhythms in the bigger sense.  And, most importantly, the theme.

Joan Didion is credited with saying, “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.” I have to say I never understood that. Of course we know what we think! But we only know what we think if we are addressing an issue consciously. Each of my stories, as they appeared, was singing the same song in a different key. Of course, there needed to berestructuring, to undo the story arcs – I was in danger of leaving it as a series, not a coherent whole…but it was only when I was able to look back at the almost finished first draft that I could see what I’d been doing. The minor and more accessible themes were rising and falling fine – but the overarching one only became clear after Id finished the first draft – during the year I spent polishing and shaping the final structure with the help of the wonderful and perceptive writer Maggie Gee, thanks to an Arts Council Grant for the Arts. I needed to have it pointed out to me.

That structure was the hardest thing to get right – so that no longer would each section be stand-alone as well as part of a whole. So that the main threads of the narrative were sharpened here, moved there, echoed, and echoed – and the tapestry that started full of holes ended up good and whole.

So what are the understandings and craft skills I think helped The Coward’s Tale along, learned at the knee of the short story? I think I will start with a nebulous one – the real respect that the short form has for the reader – not requiring them to spend a long time on a voyage without at least giving them the confidence up front that the voyage will be worthwhile. Delivering the goods, on time, and in time. It works both ways – a short story creates a need for a careful reader, not, as is so often trumpeted, one who wants to charge through a short narrative in a grabbed twenty-minute space between train rides, on a busy station. If anything, a worthwhile short story is LESS suited to today’s freneticism and short attention spans than other forms… (but maybe that is another topic?!)

Perhaps the most important direct craft skills for my novel, learned in short fiction, are as follows: characterisation, wrought by a word, a glance, a single attribute – where lengthy descriptions are so often de trop, best left to the reader’s imagination. Allied, the use of dialogue, which works so hard and so effectively on many levels. Constant awareness of pace and weight, of each and every word, sentence, paragraph, scene, and their effects on the reader. Awareness of thematic coherence – aiming for a holistic creation in which everything fits, matches, sings the same song. I could go on – the importance of a strong and intriguing opener. And a hundred thousand words later, an ending that lifts, makes the heart beat a little faster – an ending that seems the only ending possible.

What am I doing, listing some craft issues?! You know them all, and plenty more. My point is, I relied on those, and The Coward’s Tale is OK. And I answered my own question [in and earlier post] instinctively, without thinking.

“I wonder if a successful writer of short fiction may find it hard to write a novel, because they need to unlearn so much. However, when they finally do, I wonder if they might write a better novel than they would if they were not short story writers first.”

 So actually – not a very good training ground, as that assumes a natural effortless slide from one to the other. The slide from short fiction to long fiction, in my case, was definitely not easy, but I am happy to put my name to the end product. I tip my hat to writers who are able to create successful long single narratives – and I celebrate our differences. And I can’t wait to get back into writing a stand-alone short story!

Why The Short Story, a Conversation Among Writers continues tomorrow with thoughts on Flash Fiction and the Continuous Dream. Thanks for reading! ←

The Hits Just Keep On Coming ~ Congratulations, Vanessa! April 6, 2011

Posted by Patricia Ann McNair in Blog posts, Conversations.
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A bit ago I wrote a short post about my colleagues in conversation Gerard Woodward, Gina Frangello, Dennis McFadden and Vanessa Gebbie and all the well-deserved attention their work (especially their short story work) has received since we started collaborating on “Why The Short Story – A Conversation Among Writers.” Well, the good news keeps on coming. Vanessa Gebbie’s Storm Warning is on the long list for this year’s Edge Hill Prize for short story collections, sponsored by Edge Hill University. Well done, Vanessa. Best of luck.

“The Grand Symbiosis.” Dennis McFadden on training… March 29, 2011

Posted by Patricia Ann McNair in Blog posts, Conversations, Things and Stuff, Why The Short Story? A Conversation Among Writers.
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In the last installment of “Why The Short Story?” our conversation among writers, Vanessa Gebbie asked us to consider whether or not we thought the short story is training ground for the novel. Here then, is Dennis McFadden’s response:

Dennis: Is the short story a “training ground” for the novel?

Unquestionably. Undeniably. Until the cows come home.

Bear in mind, however: the novel is every bit as much a training ground for the short story.

Having begun my own writing “career” with the novel before moving up to the story, it’s not difficult to conclude which was the training ground for which. In fact, based upon empirical evidence posted a while back in this very blog, I would suggest that writing novels is a wonderful training ground for writing satirical, anti-English propaganda pieces. And writing satirical, anti-English propaganda pieces (at least in that particular empirical example) is a great training ground for writing short stories.

And what about the writing of blog-post-essay-rambles (while one’s fiction sits in want of affection)? Not to worry. Can’t hurt. Can only help.

In other words, practice, practice, practice…

Or, as Patty put it, work, work, work.

The only way to become a writer is to write. The only way to become a better writer is to write more. And the only way to become the best writer you can be…well, you get the picture. The more you write, the more you perfect your craft, and the better your product will be, be that product long or short. (There may be, and probably is, a point of diminishing returns, but dementia will probably intervene before that point is reached.)

All writing is a training ground for all writing. Novels or stories, or stories or novels, or anything in between.

Of course there are plenty of differences between the novel and the story, in addition to the obvious matter of length. The novel is far more inclusive, often more complex, and the art of excision, while still practiced by the novelist, is hardly as critical as it is to the writer of stories. The differences can be—and have been—endlessly debated, and Vanessa also brings up the sensible question of unlearning the rules and conventions of one form in order to successfully write the other. Exactly. It seems to me then that it is because of those differences that the best training ground for a novelist is not the short story, but the novel—particularly the first, second and third drafts of the novel he or she wants to write.

For all their differences, the short story and the novel are also tantalizingly similar, and when you throw in that bastard stepchild called the novella, the precise relationships—beyond training ground—are as slippery to grasp as a trout in a brook. Particularly in the arena of linked stories and novels.

The relationship among my own might best be described as symbiotic. Years after I’d written my first two novels, I revisited them and was able to extract a couple of fairly decent short stories, which were essentially condensations of the books. This took place long before I learned in a recent essay by Don Koia in the New York Times Book Review that John Updike abandoned his first novel, Willow, two-thirds of the way through (how does one measure two-thirds of an incomplete entity? Never mind…), but later “mined” the unfinished novel for short story material. So, were those novels training grounds for those stories? Or were they more like blocks of wood from which those stories could be carved?

Right now I’m working on a novel based on a short story of mine (no mining pun intended). Does that mean that the original story was a training ground for the novel? Maybe. Or maybe it means simply that I liked the characters, place and plot enough to go back and spend more time with them. Maybe it means that the story, in this instance, was an outline to be filled in and fleshed out, a seed from which the novel could grow.

Furthermore, when this particular novel was nearing completion, I realized, alas, it was lacking. It needed additional depth and resonance (I often realize, also with an alas, the same thing in the early drafts of my stories), so I thought I’d develop some minor characters into major actors, give them their own scenes and plotlines. A few dozen pages into the new sections, however, I felt I didn’t really know them well enough, so I decided to write a short story—a prequel to the novel—to get to know them a little better.

A few years ago, I liked a story I’d written about a dirty old man so much I kept on writing, and ended up with a novella (I think that’s what it was. Or is). Then I kept on going—picture Forrest Gump running—and wrote three more novellas from three of the other characters’ points of view, featuring the same people and plot. And what did I end up with? A novel? Four novellas? Four extended stories? Beats the hell out of me. Beats the hell out of every agent I’ve tried to peddle it to as well.

Training ground? Sure, maybe, call it that if you will, or call it raw material, background, drafts, seeds, outlines. Whatever it is, it’s all practice, it’s all work. Call it all a part of the grand symbiosis.

→So, friends? What say you? Do you think writing the short story trains you for writing the novel?←

Since we’ve started this conversation… March 29, 2011

Posted by Patricia Ann McNair in Blog posts, Conversations, Things and Stuff.
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Our short story conversationalists have had a few rather lovely things happen in their writing lives since we started chatting about writing. Dennis McFadden, up next with his response to the question “Is the short story a training ground for the novel?” has had “Diamond Alley,” one of his stories from Hart’s Grove, chosen for inclusion in The Best American Mystery Stories of 2011; Gerard Woodward’s short story, “The Family Whistle,” has moved from the long list to the short list for the very lucrative Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story Award 2011 (site has a cool little video with judges comments on what makes a short story great); Gina Frangellos collection Slut Lullabies has been named a finalist in ForeWords Book of the Year Awards; Vanessa Gebbie’s collection Words from a Glass Bubble was selected by Booktrust as one of “Ten Collections to Celebrate the Strength of British Short Story Writers;” and me? Well, no big prizes or short lists (if I say “yet” here will that screw with my karma?) but the first offering of The Temple of Air, the Story Week Limited Release, sold out before the end of the festival and I have been signing books for friends and new readers alike–a very humbling and exciting experience.

So these writers who are giving so generously of their time to fill the pages of this blog with their thoughts on the short story are the real deal, folks. I hope you enjoy what they have to say on the subject. And do feel free to join in on the conversation. Maybe their magic will rub off on you just a little. Or maybe yours will rub off on them (us.)

Oh, and you probably figured this out, but the lovely image above is by Pablo Picasso. The man whom we named our cat after. We call him Pabs, usually. He has a brother named Enrique (Reeks.)

Reading, by the way, exhausts him.

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