The Long and The Short of It ~ One Writer’s Training

We were out at our house in Mount Carroll, Illinois for a quick turnaround weekend away. Mount Carroll is a small town just ten miles away from the Mississippi River, a quiet place where we try to step out of our city lives. Where we try to slow down.

So there I was in my writing room, a small space on the second floor with an artist table a great-great-great (or so) aunt stored her paints in and my mother used as her bedside table; a remarkably heavy “portable” typewriter made more than half a century ago; books, shelves, and an array of gewgaws mined from family items, antique shops, and auctions on the now (for decades) defunct college campus in town. I was nursing a cup of coffee, rocking in my overstuffed, secondhand easy chair with a gold velveteen re-upholstery job, looking out on our huge European Larch tree that a local tree expert told us must be over 200 years old. Our house was built in the 1890s. That means the tree was there long before the house was. (I know I’m a writer, but I can still do a little math—see? Oh, and this reminds me: the novel was around long before the short story.) My journal was open and I was trying to figure out a way to gather my thoughts together in order to finally answer Vanessa Gebbie’s question posed a couple of weeks ago: Is writing short stories training ground for writing the novel? And even as I scribbled, I found my mind wandering, going over the lists of things I had to do before we packed up and headed back to Chicago, the things I had to do when I got there, the things I have to do tomorrow, this week, the rest of this semester, this summer, and before school starts again in September. Oh yeah, and in September, too.

This all actually has to do with what I want to say about short story writing, about novel writing. It does, I swear.

At Columbia College Chicago where I teach in the Fiction Writing Department, we are always assessing and evaluating our curriculum. Part of this work is to consider new courses, often proposed by other faculty members. And recently, different ideas for a class with the subject of Flash Fiction has come up. “Writing the Short-Short.” Or “Fiction Writing Topics: Flash Fiction.” Something like that. And here’s the thing: I hate this idea. I hate the idea of making a whole class out of little, tiny stories. Of teaching students to write short. (As though people who text and tweet and blog and shorthand through most forms of communication need us to encourage them to keep it short!)

Okay, don’t get me wrong. I love the perfect short-short. Adore it. Think “Bucket Rider,” by Franz Kafka; “The Porcelain Doll,” by Leo Tolstoy; “The Story of an Hour,” Kate Chopin; “Hills Like White Elephants,” Ernest Hemingway; “Girl,” Jamaica Kincaid. These are stories I turn to often, stories I learn from and I use in teaching. I have my own short-short stories, too, in The Temple of Air. “The Joke.” “Deer Story.” “Hand Thing.” But you know what? I had to write hundreds of pages in order to write these two and three page stories. I had to write long long long in order to really do the short-short thing.

So you’re thinking I’m just slow, aren’t you? You’re thinking only someone simple-minded would have to learn how to write long in order to write short. But here’s what I’m thinking. I’m thinking that a writer needs to allow herself the time and room to enjoy the deep distraction it takes to find even the smallest nugget of story. My story “The Joke,” was a page from the 200 + pages that became my thesis. I had to write that novel in order to write that short story.

So maybe I’m saying what Dennis said a couple of weeks ago, the novel is just as much training ground for the short story as the story is for the novel. Yeah, that’s part of it. But there’s something more. And it has to do with sitting in my overstuffed golden velvet chair in the quiet hours of early morning with trees and horses out my window, and not being able to see any of that very clearly because my mind is spinning and spinning and spinning. Our desire to jump from one thing to the next, to click the link, to change the channel, to scroll through the headlines should not be the thing that moves us to read short stories; and perhaps more importantly, it should not be the thing that compels us to write them, flash or otherwise. In order to combat the shortening of our attention spans (real or imagined) it is essential that we lose ourselves in story, dive in deeply, fully, submerge ourselves. For two pages or for 200. A fine story does that, it draws us into—as John Gardner called it—the “vivid and continuous dream.” We come to after the last paragraph, at the final punctuation mark, blinking against the stark light of not reading. And we cannot create this dream state for others if we cannot experience it ourselves at the keyboard.

And that is what we need to train for. Creating the “vivid and continuous dream.” A novelist I met once spent years on a novel that she eventually abandoned and grieved for. She just couldn’t make it work. So she palpated the manuscript until she found its pulse, determined the size of the alive part of it. From there she discovered the story, and it was a short one. Still, she wrote it, published it, and received accolades for it. Here’s the truth of the matter: page count isn’t important; story, writing, is. And yet, I’d wager that Tolstoy, Kincaid, Kafka, Chopin, Hemingway, and even John Gardner each wrote many, many, many pages in order to write the perfect few.

And that (if you’ll indulge me) is the long and the short of it.

And just in case you are interested, an excerpt of my novel-in-progress-of-trying-to-find-a-publisher (Alice in Cuba Land) is here on the “Excerpts” page. And by the way, Gina Frangello has more to say about this as well. This short story – novel thing, that is. Coming soon.←

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

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! ←

Gail Wallace Bozzano and The Crystal Blast ~ A View From the Keyboard

Gail Wallace Bozzano has lived in many places around the world, among them China and Thailand. Her work often settles in those places, as in her excerpt below written about the tsunami in Thailand a few years ago. Now Gail lives in the Chicago suburbs, and her writing is inspired by memories and friends from far away, as well as her everyday life as mother, wife, and daughter. Her writing–as you’ll see–is both calm and urgent, compelling and moving.

Gail: This spot, on the second floor of the Northbrook Public Library, is one of my favorite places to write. To get writing time, I pay a babysitter to watch my four-year-old son while my two older children are in school. It’s always, always worth it.
The windows look out on the West Fork of the North Branch of the Chicago River. This corridor attracts an astonishing variety of wildlife: ducks, hawks, great blue herons. Once I watched a muskrat building its house in the mud along the bank. Another time, I saw a pair of river otters rolling, tumbling and playing in the water, eventually making their way upstream.

I know, I know. I’m supposed to be writing, not gazing out the window. But gazing out the window, checking out the trees and clouds and critters, taking a moment to daydream and just be, is how I drop into that magical, creative state where the words flow.

Here’s something I wrote in the Northbrook Public Library (an in-progress work of fiction):

“Afterwards, when you tally up your numerous mistakes, you will realize your biggest one. You thought you had more time.  You actually thought you had time to walk, not run, away from the water because the water was still so far away. At least you are moving off the beach; there are many who are still sleeping under brightly-colored umbrellas, sun hats covering their faces, and the Thai masseuse is still making her way around the chairs and towels that crowd the sand. At least you are heading in the right direction.

But it happens so fast.  A quiet sky and dry sand in one instant, and in the next, everything is white water and rushing noise.  A crystal blast hits you from behind, harder and faster than anything you could possibly imagine, sweeping you away from Tamara. Some detached part of you admires the brutal efficiency of the wave, the strong, gorgeous force of it. How nothing can stop it or even slow it down. How it moves as if it knows exactly what it needs. And it’s not scary or painful, not really. There is no time to be afraid.  No time to think about anything but keeping your head above water, looking for Tamara, looking for something to hang onto, trying to avoid trees and buildings and half-submerged power lines.  No time for anything but now.  There are things you will remember later and these are a few of them:  how the sunlight sparkled on the clear, warm water.  How the sky was still so blue.”

Thanks, Gail. Lovely, really lovely.  -PMc←

The Kindness of Strangers ~ Tennessee Williams at the Keyboard

Finally, a writer who looks a bit like the rest of us: disheveled, a little bleary-eyed, and a mess of papers on his desk. Here Tennessee Williams is hard at the writing thing (or so it appears.) The kindness of strangers–this time folks on the internet who posted this image for me to find–bring you a peek into the writer’s space of an American legend.

It’s your turn now; check out the View From the Keyboard Guidelines and send in a photo of your writing space and a bit of your work. John McNally did. Why don’t you?

John McNally and the 3 Stooges ~ View From the Keyboard

I first heard of John McNally when his collection Troublemakers was published a few years back. I was particularly intrigued with the way his narrators and main characters look at the world, how they navigate all those things they think they know, those things they want to believe, and those many, many things they may never entirely understand. John has a solid, no-nonsense voice, influenced by his Chicagoland youth and his love of movies, music, and humor. One of his stories, “The Vomitorium,” is essential reading in most fiction classes I teach, and has been chosen by at least a couple of this blog’s readers as one of their favorite short stories.

John McNally is author of three novels and two story collections, including Troublemakers, The Book of Ralph, and After the Workshop. His first nonfiction book, The Creative Writer’s Survival Guide: Advice from an Unrepentant Novelist, was published by University of Iowa Press, in 2010. But beyond these accomplishments, John is just a really, really good guy. We were lucky enough to have him here at Columbia College Chicago as a writer-in-residence in the Fiction Writing Department, and the students felt honored, challenged, and befriended by him. 

John: This is where I wrote most of The Book of Ralph and pretty much every book after that. I wish my writing space was clean, but I’ll be the first to admit it’s a fucking disaster. Apparently, I need to surround myself with all kinds of junk. At present, you’d find (inexplicably) a 30 foot tape measure; the soundtracks for Psycho, North by Northwest, and Vertigo; the three remaining pills of my z-pak; a copy of Moe Howard and the 3 Stooges by Moe Howard; two caps for Frappuccino bottles, and a cornucopia of other crap. I write on an IBM ThinkPad and an IBM Selectric II (circa 1972). My wall is covered with autographed, personalized photos from stars I wrote to in grade school (Jimmy Stewart, Bob Hope, Margaret Hamilton, and Jerry Lewis), lots of movie memorabilia (you may be able to see my Bonzo Goes to College lobby card hanging up next to my diplomas), an illustration from The Book of Ralph done by my grade school art teacher, Mrs. Richards, who was in her eighties when she drew it. Lots of Sharpies. Lots of printer ink. Lots of music within reach. I clean it up a few times a year, but it’s futile. In a week, it’s a wreck again.

This [below] is an excerpt from my essay “The Ideal Reader” from my collection of essays on the craft of fiction writing titled Vivid and Continuous. The book will be published by the University of Iowa Press in 2012.

“The Ideal Reader”

I have never sat down to write a story or novel and thought, “Okay, so who’s my audience going to be?” When asked by others who my audience is, I’ll sometimes say, “Writers don’t choose their audience; their audience chooses them,” which sounds good and which, to a certain point, I believe to be true but which ultimately is a copout. The truth is that we do, consciously or unconsciously, hone our stories and novels in such a way that we can’t help making certain readers more receptive to our work while excluding or distancing other readers.

When you’re in a creative writing workshop, especially an MFA program, it’s almost impossible not to write with your immediate audience in mind. Even if you tell yourself that you’re not going to write for that particular audience, the very fact that you’re conscious of who you’re not writing for is evidence of the role which that particular audience is still having on your work. To be conscious of not writing for an audience is, to my mind, an act of writing with that particular audience still in mind.

Thanks, John. Looking forward to reading the rest of this book!←

Geoff Hyatt Scrambles Reality ~ Another View from the Keyboard

I met Geoff Hyatt some years ago when he was a new MFA candidate in Fiction Writing at Columbia College Chicago, and I was his teacher. Ever have one of those encounters with someone who you can tell right away is going to go places? This was clear with Geoff. His work, even early on, was startling, funny, moving, risky, thoughtful, and engaging. No small wonder that he has already had a nice little list of publications in a wide variety of genres. Coming soon is his new book, Birch Hills at World’s End, a fine novel that I was lucky enough to see in its earliest stages. Watch for it.

Geoff: This room is full of reality-scrambling devices I use to drop out of my normal headspace. These include comic books, toys and games, tarot cards, record albums, Halloween masks, band flyers, and other assorted junk I’ve acquired since childhood. Not purely escapist, many of these things have deep personal associations. The walls are lined with shelves holding hundreds of books in every genre. Not seen in the shot are a framed 1971 black light poster of Doctor Strange, a half-stack amplifier, two electric guitars, and some other paraphernalia. The large wooden chest is full of horror and sci-fi VHS tapes I can’t bring myself to get rid of. I use it as a table to keep drafts on.

I usually need to disconnect from the mental demands of day-to-day life to write anything. I tend to generate fragments at random times throughout the week, and then assemble and re-work them whenever I can set aside some hours to vanish into this space.

Birch Hills at World’s End, my novel, is forthcoming from Vagabondage Press. My work recently appeared in the journal Midwestern Gothic. I have a personal blog (geoffhyatt.com) and another called Galactic Hangover about geek-culture stuff.

Part of a collection I’m working on in here appeared in Knee-Jerk under the title “Red Eyes.”

Here’s an excerpt:

I put one dollar, a third of my allowance, in a piggy bank every week to save up for a toy (usually a Sectaur) and spent the rest at Pete’s Party Store on Saturdays. After cartoons, I’d ride my BMX down Hughes Road’s sandy shoulder for a mile, taking note of decay’s progress on road-killed possums and raccoons. At the tiny red store near Lake Chemung, a couple bucks got me some combination of pop, Mad magazine, Rom Spaceknight, Garbage Pail Kids cards, and candy.  I’d put these in my backpack and ride home, checking out the other side of the road’s carcasses. They made me think of D-Compose, a cartoon monster that made things rot away by touching them with his bony fingers. Mom couldn’t believe the sort of things they were putting in kids’ cartoons.

One cool fall afternoon I came back from the store to find Dad storming down the driveway. He grabbed my arm and nearly pulled me off my bike. He asked where the hell I’d been, so I told him I went to Pete’s to spend my allowance. He asked why I didn’t tell him first. I said I always went on Saturday and figured he knew that. He hugged me for long enough to make me think something bad happened, and then told me to put away my bike.

Jimmy got kidnapped earlier that day. That night, I asked my mom and dad over dinner why strangers took kids.

◊◊◊

Thanks, Geoff. Looking forward to reading more! ~ PMc

 

Star Gazing with Playwright Lisa Schlesinger ~ View From The Keyboard

Lisa Schlesinger is an award-winning playwright and faculty member of Columbia College Chicago where she coordinates the interdisciplinary Playwriting Major. She has traveled extensively, working with a number of national and international theatre companies. The breadth of her interests is evident in the variety of works she writes; among these pieces is Celestial Bodies, an excerpt of which is posted below.

Lisa: I am a kitchen table writer. I always have been. I often lived in tiny places with room for one table. When my kids were young, I would write when they were napping or asleep. I keep note cards so I know what I have done and what I still need to do. I lay them out on the table when I am working and stack them up when we use the table for other things.  I write like I cook. Some processes are slow, they need “rise” time and some projects I write on all day everyday  until I have a draft. I write where I fold the laundry, eat breakfast, and knead dough.  Now my daughter works here too. This table was built by Sam Mulgrew and the folks at Trappist Caskets at the New Mellarey Abbey; they harvest wood from old growth forest. It was a barter (editing for table). It’s made from two boards cut from a walnut tree–it must have been huge. If you look closely you can see the grain  like open sandwich bread. It’s great to write on–it’s full of history and life. In the background is my trusty companion, Django, behind him is my garden.
Celestial Bodies will be performed on the Mainstage for  Columbia College Chicago’s 2011-12 Mainstage Season, directed by Will Casey. It was recently shortlisted for The Internationalists’ Playwriting Prize and Act I was published on BACKSTREETLIVE.com earlier this year.  No website yet but I can be reached at Lschlesinger@colum.edu or inquiries via Charlotte Knight at The Rod Hall Agency Ltd. London  office@rodhallagency.com


ACT I

SCENE  1  – 1598 Via Borgo dei Vignali

(Marina holds candle up to read a sign.)

MARINA

Universite de Padua.   Galileo Galilei, Mathematician. (Accidentally blows out the flame.) Shit.

(She takes out a tinderbox, opens it. No Gregorian Chant. Tries to strike the flint. Looks like she might puke. Looks up for a nun on strings. None. A lamp in a second story window is lit.)

GALILEO

You again? Every night.  Rats. Indigents. Star gazers. Where are you from?  The Informoso Nazionale? (beat) What do you want from me?

MARINA

Excuse me, sir, I want

GALILEO

A story? Make something up. You make it all up anyway. You’re not worth the paper you’re printed on.

MARINA

/to know Something:

GALILEO

I have students here.  Nobles. No paparazzi allowed.

MARINA

Is there such a thing as a moving

GALILEO

Do you hear me?

MARINA

/Star? Sir?

GALILEO

Get away from my house.

(He takes off his boot and throws it at her. She ducks. He throws the second one at her.

And it’s professor, not sir.  Now scram.

(He throws the lantern out the window. The flame shoots high in arc to the floor and goes out. It smashes. She puts on the boots and runs off.)

End Scene 1

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And The Winner Is…Pt 3

I know you have just been waiting and waiting and waiting for this list of favorite short stories I’ve promised you for quite sometime now. Thanks again to all of you who put a vote in for your favorite. A few days ago, I posted the first place winner (“Pet Milk,” by Stuart Dybek) and the 17 others that tied for second, third and fourth place.

Many of you took the time to comment on why you made the choices you did, and I thank you for that. Patrick Salem, MFA candidate in Fiction Writing at Columbia College Chicago said this about “Sonny’s Blues,”The Ledge,” and “Hills Like White Elephants:”

Each time I read Baldwin’s I discover something new on the page, something compelling. Hall’s piece is just so menacing that I still feel a chill just thinking about it. And Hemingway’s subtle ending and vague conversation has me changing my mind about the third to last paragraph again and again.”

Right on, Patrick.

Lex Sonne, a recent graduate of the MFA Program at Columbia College Chicago is a fan of Larry Brown’s “Big Bad Love:”

“Humor and poignancy mixed perfectly. The protagonist’s voice reminds me of a friend of mine that lives in Louisville—makes it a little more special for me.”

Thanks, Lex.

Who knows why we make the choices that we do? I imagine something speaks to us at a certain moment in time when we stumble across a particular story, or it might be that we find ourselves turning back to a story again and again. It seems as though many of you (like me) are intrigued with stories that lean toward the dark. “Full of menace,” one person wrote about his choices. “Gorgeous and brutal,” wrote someone else. Kathie Bergquist, Chicago writer and teacher added this to her choices: “I guess I am a sucker for moments of quiet epiphany and memento mori.” Todd Mercer of Michigan Writers wanted to make sure we add the mythic Hemingway six-word story: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

Other commentary is mixed in here and there with the selections. By the way, if you find some nonfiction titles in here, too, blame it on writer and reader Dakota Sexton who tells us that a good story is just a good story, fiction or non.

One more thing that I think is pretty cool. Two people who sent me titles of their favorite short stories are also among the authors who made it into the list: Gerard Woodward and John McNally.

Okay, so finally, finally, finally a very non-exhaustive list of favorite short stories as selected by a number of my friends and readers (those who were willing to weigh in, that is!) on a particular day at a particular time.

“Compassion,” Dorothy Allison

“Rape Fantasies,” Margaret Atwood

“My First Goose, Isaac Babel

“The Catholic Church in Novgorod,” Isaac Babel [below] (“the Constantine Translations, of course,” Daniel Prazer, ERP Books editor and writer wanted us to know.)

“My Man Bovanne,” Toni Cade Bambara

“Hermit’s Story,” Rick Bass

“The Legend of Pig Eye,” Rick Bass

“Quiet Please,” Aimee Bender

“Big Bad Love,” Larry Brown

“Distance of the Moon,” Italo Calvino

“So Much Water, So Close to Home,” Raymond Carver

“What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,” Raymond Carver

“I Demand To Know Where You’re Taking Me,” Dan Chaon

“Misery,” Anton Chekov

“The Open Boat,” Stephen Crane

“The Ursula Cookie,” Sloane Crosley

“Open Winter,” H.L. Davis

“The Sun, The Moon and The Star,” Juno Diaz

“Notes For A Story Of A Man Who Will Not Die Alone,” Dave Eggers

“After I Was Thrown In The River And Before I Drowned,” Dave Eggers

“Shamengwa,” Louise Erdrich

“A Rose For Emily,” William Faulkner               

“Barn Burning,” William Faulkner

“Near-Extinct Birds of the Central Cordillera,” Ben Fountain

“Chivalry,” Neil Gaiman

“The Yellow Wallpaper,” Charlotte Perkins Gilman

“Jury of Her Peers,” Susan Glaspell

“The Nose,” Nicolai Gogol

“A Clean Well Lighted Place,” Ernest Hemingway

“The Big Two-Hearted River,” Ernest Hemingway

“Beg, Sl Tog, Inc, Cont, Rep,” Amy Hempel

“In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried,” Amy Hempel

“Car Crash While Hitchhiking,” Denis Johnson

“The Lottery,” Shirley Jackson

“Charles,” Shirley Jackson

“Who’s Irish?,” Gish Jen

“Araby,” James Joyce

“The Metamorphosis,” Franz Kafka

“What, Of This Goldfish Would You Wish?,” Etgar Keret

“The Hitchhiking Game,” Milan Kundera

“A Temporary Matter,” Jhumpa Lahiri

“The Third and Final Continent,” Jhumpa Lahiri

“The Rocking Horse Winner,” D.H. Lawrence (“Always, always, always,” says Katie Corboy)

“Travels with the Snow Queen,” Kelly Link

“The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World,” Gabriel Garcia Marquez

“All Sorts of Impossible Things,” John McGahern (Michael Downs, author of House of Good Hope, says that this story describes this idea of choosing one favorite)

“The Yellow Wallpaper,” Charlotte Perkins Gilman

“Royal Beatings,” Alice Munro

“The Thunderstorm,” by Vladimir Nabokov. Ryan Sinon, adjunct faculty member of Columbia College Chicago says: “Nabokov grabbed me by the shoulders and turned me toward what would eventually become my thesis material. It showed me how to have fun; it showed me how to write with one foot on the ground and one foot in the sky.”

“Video,” Mira Nair

“Everything that Rises Must Converge,” Flannery O’Connor

“The Life you save may be your own,” Flannery O’Connor

“Revelation,” Flannery O’Connor

“The Bullfighter Checks her Makeup,” Susan Orlean

“The Isabel Fish,” Julie Orringer

“Brownies,” ZZ Packer

“Trilobites,” Breece D’J Pancake. “The vast depth of that story makes it a sort of adventure to explore all the things being done on the page,” says MFA candidate Derek Johnson.

“Punch Drunk,” Chuck Palahniuk

“Like a Winding Sheet,” Ann Petry

“The Tell-Tale Heart,” Edgar Allen Poe

“The End of Firpo in the World,” George Saunders

“Tralala,” Hubert Selby

“The Queen Is Dead,” Hubert Selby

“Johnny Bear,” John Steinbeck

“The Fly Paper,” Elizabeth Taylor

“The Kreutzer Sonata,” Leo Tolstoy

“Of this Time, Of That Place,” Lionel Trilling (one of my favorites, by the way! PMc)

“The Dabba Dabba Tree,” Yasutaka Tsutsui

“A&P,” John Updike                                                                                                     

“The Lovely Troubled Daughters of Our Old Crowd,” John Updike

“Harrison Bergeron,” Kurt Vonnegut

“No Place For You, My Love,” Eudora Welty

“Why I Live At The PO,” Eudora Welty

“The Portrait of Mr W. H.,” Oscar Wilde

So that’s the rest of the list of titles. There were a few other suggestions from readers, including “Any of Cortazar’s stories,” and “Anything short by Murakami.”

Perhaps one of the sweetest things, though, was sent by an old boyfriend of mine from a few decades ago: “My favorite short story was written 30 years ago, with no name, no title, no author, no ending.” I think he was talking about us.

But maybe he wasn’t, and I am just full of myself. Hmmm.

This week, “Why the Short Story, A Conversation Among Writers” continues with posts from Gina Frangello, Vanessa Gebbie, and me. Y’all come back now, hear?←

Writing in Mineral Point

I’ve been invited to teach a writing workshop at Shake Rag Alley Center for Arts and Crafts in lovely Mineral Point, WI. Much of this charming little town west of Madison was settled by early miners and has a feel similar to a Cornish village. A stroll from the high street, Shake Rag Alley, Inc., occupies nine buildings in the 2.5 acre oasis of gardens, trees, and rambling brick paths.
A description of the workshop from Shake Rag’s website is below:
Writing Workshop with Patricia Ann McNair

Thursday-Sunday, June 2-5
Thur-Sat 9:30am-5pm, Sun 9:30am-noon

Join award-winning fiction and nonfiction writer Patricia Ann McNair for an intensive four-day workshop. A Carnegie Foundation U.S. Professor of the Year nominee and Columbia College Chicago Teaching Excellence Award winner, Patty brings her years of experience as a professor and writer to the workshop. Student manuscripts will serve as the basis for workshop discussions, and participants will be engaged in writing activities and strategies for developing, deepening, and furthering their work. In addition, each student will have one 30-minute manuscript conference with Patty. Workshop discussions are adapted to all levels; beginners, dabblers, and experts are all welcome. Please submit your 10-20 pages of prose fiction or nonfiction prior to May 2nd. Call Karla in Shake Rag office for instructions.
Maximum students: 15 Register by: May 2
Class code: 11B100 Fee: $250

Shake Rag Alley Center for Arts & Crafts, 18 Shake Rag Street, Mineral Point, WI 53565
Telephone: (608) 987-3292 :: www.ShakeRagAlley.com :: info@shakeragalley.com

Kitchens and Stories ~ Elizabeth Yokas at the Keyboard

Elizabeth Yokas is an adjunct faculty member in the Fiction Writing Department of Columbia College Chicago. Elizabeth is a woman of great spirit and a strong social conscience; her work-in-progress excerpted below considers her various roles as orphaned daughter, mother, union supporter, and activist.

Elizabeth is the coordinator of CCC’s Summer Fiction Programs in Prague and Florence. When she’s in the states, though, her workspace is somewhat mobile.

Elizabeth: We have a home office space, where a desk and all of our books and papers are, but lately I’ve taken to writing in the kitchen. There’s always been something about kitchens and stories. Or is it just because it’s closest to the coffee pot?

An excerpt from “We All Came to Madison,” essay-in-progress on the Madison Protest and the Assault on Collective Bargaining Rights, by Elizabeth Yokas

Before I left my home in Chicago to join the protest in Madison, I ran my fingers over the Greek fisherman’s cap my dad wore when he drove a cab. The felt had pilled in the years since he’d worn it. He’d brush it so it looked neat and presentable. I also stuffed my late mom’s little black necktie, part of her Dominick’s work uniform, in my coat pocket. One of my lingering memories is of her in this uniform:  black shoes, black apron, black pants, black tie, white blouse…

I’m not sure why I keep these mementos of my parents’ work. Why I reached for my mom’s crumpled up Dominick’s apron and necktie when my sister and I sorted through her belongings one day in the later part of last October. Maybe I snagged them because they were some of the last things my parents had actually touched. I recall the faint scent of Mom’s cologne lingering on that apron. How I buried my face in it and wept. There were a few spots on it perhaps from her last coffee break at the Starbucks, where she’d treat herself to a coffee or hot chocolate and a pastry.

The black apron, with the union pin stuck next to the Dominick’s logo, was uncharacteristically soiled –the last day she’d worked she’d come home not feeling well and tossed it at the foot of her bed. She never got around to washing it. A month later she was gone.