Saturday, January 30, 2016

The Story Prize Long List for Collections Published in 2015

We received 100 short story collections as entries for The Story Prize in 2015. Beyond the three finalists and the winner of The Story Prize Spotlight Award, here's a long list of some other collections that particularly stood out for us:

It's very difficult to narrow this list down to a reasonable length. Every author who published a short story collection in 2015 deserves a great deal of credit, and at least a dozen other books we read could easily have been included.

We'll announce the winner of The Story Prize at an event co-sponsored with The New School's Creative Writing program at the Auditorium at 66 W. 12 Street on March 2. At the event, finalists Charles Baxter, Adam Johnson, and Colum McCann will read from and discuss their work. You can buy tickets in advance online or that night at the box office.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Killing and Dying by Adrian Tomine—This Year's Winner of The Story Prize Spotlight Award

Three years ago, we created The Story Prize Spotlight award to honor an additional short story collection that we believe deserves further attention. Past winners have been Krys Lee's Drifitng House, Ben Stroud's Byzantium, and Kyle Minor's Praying Drunk. This year, for the first time, we're announcing this separate from our announcement of the finalists for The Story Prize to emphasize the Spotlight Award's separate identity.

We award this $1,000 prize to a short story collection that is of exceptional merit, as selected by the Director of the Story Prize from among all entrants. Winners of The Story Prize Spotlight Award might be promising works by first-time authors, collections in alternative formats, or works that demonstrate an unusual perspective on the writer's craft.

This year's winner of The Story Prize Spotlight Award is Killing and Dying by Adrian Tomine (Drawn & Quarterly)—a collection of six graphic short stories that have the depth and resonance of traditional literary fiction. Tomine employs a variety of voices, techniques, and narrative styles to convey the hopes and dreams, and the strivings and failings of his characters.

Self portrait: Author Adrian Tomine
Beyond that, the use of artful visuals with cinematic framing and telling detail demonstrates a different approach to storytelling that nonetheless relies on carefully crafted language and maintains the emotional acuity and powerful impact that the best short stories put across.

For instance, the title story focuses on an awkward, stuttering teenage girl who aspires to be a stand-up comic despite her father's misgivings. Her mother, who  is more encouraging, becomes increasingly ill as the story progresses, revealing a subtext that isn't at first obvious. And when the mother dies (with little fanfare in the story) the father is left to reluctantly accommodate what he continues to believe is his daughter's misguided ambition.

Congratulations to Adrian Tomine and Drawn & Quarterly for winning The Story Prize Spotlight Award for short story collections published in 2015.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

An Index of Guest Posts from Authors of 2015 Short Story Collections

Popular posters: McCann (left), Campbell (top right), and Gornick (bottom right)
In 2015, we once again invited each author of a collection we received as an entry for The Story Prize to contribute a guest post to this blog. Out of 100 authors, 48 chose to participate. Since 2010, the TSP blog has featured 384 guest posts from 372 writers (some have contributed in more than one year).

According to Blogger's statistics, most 2015 guest posts received 300 or more page views. The most popular post, "Colum McCann's Letter to a Young Writer," went viral (by our standards) and has so far drawn nearly 10,000 page views—the second most ever of any TSP blog post, after "Antonya Nelson's Ten Writing Rules,"  which currently has nearly 14,000 views. The author posts with the second and third most hits this year were "Bonnie Jo Campbell's Confessions of a Story Writer" and "Lisa Gornick Asks: Can Writing Make You a Better Person?"—both with more than 600 page views to date.

When we ask the authors if they'd like to contribute, we give them several options. One is to answer any or all of a series of questions, which we change somewhat each year. The 2015 questions were:
  • Describe a good writing day.
  • What keeps you going?
  • What do you think is the source of your impulse to write stories?
  • Where does a story begin for you? 
  • Describe your revision process. 
  • What’s the best phrase, line, or passage you’ve had to cut from a story?
  • Name or describe some hidden influences on your work.
  • What surprises you most when you re-read your own writing?
  • If you teach writing, how has it affected your work?
  • Describe your collection in ten words or less.
We also suggest some possible topics:
  • A literary touchstone.
  • A letter to a young writer, a la Rilke.
  • A list of ten pieces of writing advice.
Contributors also had the option of coming up with their own ideas.

This index is in alphabetical order by last name, with author names linking to their books on IndieBound (unless a book wasn't lised on that site) and the rest of the guest post titles linking to the posts themselves.


Lauren Acampora's Good Writing Day
Jacob M. Appel Conjures the Impossible
Charles Baxter and the Restored Sentence
Karen E. Bender's Ten Ideas For Revision
Megan Mayhew Bergman's Collection in a Nutshell
Z.Z. Boone Advocates Lying
Mark Brazaitis' Orphan Stories
Austin Bunn's "Plans for Work"
Carole Burns' Free-Roaming, Imaginative Phase

Liam Callanan Sorts It Out
Bonnie Jo Campbell's Confessions of a Story Writer
Literary Stones Joy Castro Keeps Touching
Bryn Chancellor and the Girl on the Wall
Kelly Cherry and the Hard Work of Imagination
Michael Coffey's Writing Advice: Don't (Necessarily) Eschew Adverbs
Why Saadia Faruqi Turned to Fiction
April L. Ford and the Essential Activation
Kelly Fordon Loses Track of Time

Jerry Gabriel and the Crux of the Impulse
Lisa Gornick Asks: Can Writing Make You a Better Person?
Toni Graham's Writerly Inclinations
Katherine Heiny Offers Her Apologies
Patrick Hicks: 11 True Things About Writing
Tara Ison and the One Good Word
John Keene's Hidden Soundtrack
Michal Lemberger's Letter to a Young Writer Emphasizes Empathy

Rebecca Makkai on What Some Readers Are Missing Out on
Where Margaret Malone's Stories Began Then and Begin Now
Colum McCann's Letter to a Young Writer
What Keeps Helen McClory Going
John McManus Rebuilds from the Ground up
Margaret McMullan Learns the Importance of Seeing
Andrew Malan Milward's 25 Entreaties
Emily Mitchell: Anatomy of a Bad Writing Day

Ben Nickol's Shrubbery Epiphany
Sameer Pandya on the Intimacy of “I”
Barbara Paul-Emile and the Insuppresible Urge
Leslie Pietrzyk Gets All the Answers
Kirstin Valdez Quade: All Work and No Play...
Sandip Roy's Act of Remembrance
Mary Rickert's Letter to a Young Writer

Fatima Shaik Travels into the Unknown
Rob McClure Smith and the Big Fish
Adrian Tomine Cuts a Scene
Johnny Townsend Writes for the Record
Siamak Vossoughi Draws Inspiration from an Unlikely Source
Joanna Walsh Writes Against

Past indexes of guest posts:

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Finalists for The Story Prize Are: Charles Baxter, Adam Johnson, and Colum McCann

Finalists: Baxter, Johnson, and McCann
We're pleased to honor as finalists for The Story Prize three outstanding books chosen from 100 entries representing 64 different publishers or imprints. They are:

  • There's Something I Want You to Do by Charles Baxter (Pantheon)
  • Fortune Smiles by Adam Johnson (Random House)
  • Thirteen Ways of Looking by Colum McCann (Random House)

There's Something I Want You to Do by Charles Baxter collects 10 stories, each with a one-word title representing a virtue or a vice. The title phrase resonates throughout, as several recurring characters find themselves speaking or hearing this request. The six stories in Adam Johnson's Fortune Smiles take place in territory as diverse as California, Louisiana, what was formerly East Germany, and North Korea, portraying difficult situations with sadness and humor. Colum McCann's collection, Thirteen Ways of Lookingconsists of a powerful novella and three equally absorbing stories that explore how people process violence and loss.

This year's judges—Story Prize winning author Anthony Doerr, Brooklyn Librarian Rita Meade, and New Yorker staff writer Kathryn Schulz—will decide the outcome.

The annual award event will take place at the New School’s Auditorium at 66 West 12 Street in New York City at 7:30 p.m. on Wed., March 2. Tickets cost $14. That night, Baxter, Johnson, and McCann will read from and discuss their work on-stage. At the end of the event, Julie Lindsey will announce the winner and present that author with $20,000 (which remains the biggest top prize of any annual U.S. book award for fiction) along with an engraved silver bowl. The two runners-up will each receive $5,000.

In the weeks ahead, we'll announce this year's winner of The Story Prize Spotlight Award, and we'll publish an index of guest posts form 2015 authors, and a long list of other exceptional collections we read last year.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Where Margaret Malone's Stories Began Then and Begin Now

In the 48th in a series of posts on 2015 books entered for The Story Prize, Margaret Malone, author of People Like You (Atelier26), discusses how her starting point for stories has changed from a sentence to an image.

When I first started writing, I exclusively found my ideas for stories in the sudden appearance of a single, complete rhythmic sentence that would pop into my head while I was always in the middle of doing something else. I’d be walking the dog, or taking a shower, or sweeping the kitchen floor when, Bloop!, a little universe of an idea would announce itself. It typically had a person, a place, and a thing all strung together, and the sentence usually carried a particular cadence, almost as if it was a stanza from a poem I’d memorized years before.

The sentence would show up and then I’d mentally chew on it a few times to test it out, make sure it wasn’t all flash and bluster but had some real value, but was the kind of sentence you could dig claws into. If it was, I’d hurry to scribble it down in my notebook. Then, later that day or the next day, when I sat down to write, I’d find the sentence, write it down again at the top of a blank page and let fly: I’d write and write and write and keep writing until I arrived at some kind of a something that felt like it could maybe turn into the kind of thing that just might one day become a story.

I was in my late twenties and fearless: I’d started writing “so late” I wasn’t sure I’d have the time to evolve into a very good writer, so with nothing at stake, most days I’d unleash a wild rush of sentences in my notebook without much care or forethought, and I wouldn’t stop writing until the place I landed felt different than the there where I began.


Years passed. The writing life beat me up a little (as it does), and real life beat me up a lot (as it will), and the sudden appearances of the unasked-for perfect sentence became extinct.

I spent a whole bunch of years wondering what I was doing wrong. Why were those beautiful, sad, funny sentences not around anymore? Where did they go? Was someone else receiving them now? Who was this person? What was he or she writing? 

Still somehow I had the wherewithal (read: desperation) to keep putting words down onto the page. I wrote stories, and I wrote some essays, and I wrote some more stories. Occasionally something would be published; usually not. And somewhere in there I became aware that, without realizing it, I had started to hurriedly scribble ideas down in my notebook again. But the ideas were not born from a sentence anymore. 

Now they were born from an image. 

The image was more than that though—it was really a moment in time I’d seen or imagined that was often accompanied by a very particular feeling. The full effect was so complete I’d feel a click go off inside me, like I was taking a picture with a camera, a very special camera that could photograph image and feeling together.
Finding images that click

This picture would stay with me. I’d carry it around, this feeling picture, in much the same way that I used to mentally carry a sentence around before writing it down in the old days. 

Just like I used to chew on those early pop-up sentences, I’d pull up the memory of the picture to see if it still held the same resonance as the moment I saw whatever I saw when the snap and click of the camera went off. If it stayed with me, I’d eventually write the full feeling picture idea down in my notebook. 

It is not uncommon now for one of these feeling pictures to be so strong, so haunting, or so odd, I do not need to go looking through my notebook for the reminder of it. The image is with me all the time and I’m just waiting for the moment I can sit down and see what happens when I plant the feeling picture on paper and let it grow sentences—who are the people in this place feeling these things? 

I’d like to say I have no preference for how a story gets started, that I’ll take whatever I can get, but it’s not true. I prefer the way it is now. In the early version, the story ideas were born of logic—the crisp cadence of a string of words that I needed to pull along to the place they needed to be. Now, those feeling pictures are like windows to places that already exist, fully thriving with layers of chaos and order. The sentences were nice, but the windows are magic—I climb over the sill and through the panes and land inside a world that creates itself as I explore it. I visit the world and come back to this one with images and feelings to unpack on the page, and I know I am done when the feeling of the written story at last matches that first gut punch of the picture when the camera shutter clicked and the feeling image developed and I knew instinctively discovering the story behind the feeling picture would be worth all the days and weeks and sometimes years to make the moment make sense. So far, it always is.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Bonnie Jo Campbell's Confessions of a Story Writer

In the 47th in a series of posts on 2015 books entered for The Story Prize, Bonnie Jo Campbell, author of Mothers, Tell Your Daughters (W.W. Norton), contrasts stories and novels.

I’ve never set out to write a novel. I’ve always tried to write a short story and then if fail in my task, if I fail to wrap it up, I might have a novel, damn it. I’ve told this as a sort of a joke, but it’s true.

A novel, after all, is a dangerous creature, nothing to joke about. A novel goes on and on, exposing rib after rib like one of those escaped pythons clogging up the Everglades. The characters in a novel have to interact with a prescribed world in a plausible way, sentence after sentence, chapter after chapter, slithering toward revelation and resolution.

Give me short stories, glorious short stories that prod and punch and kiss and leave town before everybody sobers up! 

A short story is like dating, while a novel is like a marriage, and we all know how bad those can be. No need to be honest or consistent or thorough on a date—just be interesting. Mysterious is good on a date.

That means a piece of flash fiction (there are three in Mothers, Tell Your Daughters) is like a one-night-stand, something I should have had more of before I embarked upon my marriage, now in its blissful 28th year. I won’t make that mistake in my writing life, of pursuing joy, contentment, and peaceful evenings.

No way. In my writing life, I’ll splash and screw around in any musky, murky, fish-stinking pond I stumble into, and I’ll reach down into the muck and grope for fleshy tubers, serpents, rubber boots. In my stories, I stick a finger into any honey pot, no matter the bees or bears.

Just try pulling a novel up out of the silty bottom by its tail—it will drag you back down, and you’ll be lucky if you escape. 

The readers of short stories do not live in the real world. At least not while they’re reading. I wouldn’t dare generalize this way in a book-length work, but I’m hoping you’ll just go along with me here.
Pickles: Suspended disbelief

Over coffee or wine (red, please, unless you’re afraid I’ll spill on your couch), I could make the case that the reader of a short story lives in a magical world of suspended disbelief. After finishing the story, the reader can put the book down, do the dishes or grade some papers, let the whole story simmer in the brain, ferment like a cucumber pickle, or bob like a baby fetus in a jar of formaldehyde, like the ones I studied at length in the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago.

You can’t just sit down and read a novel. You’ll ease your way into and then dishes will call to you or papers will need grading. You’ll have to cut your way out of that novel, re-enter the bitter cold real world, leaving a bloody wound in the whole experience. Probably you’ll be trailing the novel’s blood all day. (Next to the fetuses in the science museum, there were the slices of head and torso, exactly as thick as book chapters). And worst of all, you’ll track your real world debris back into the novel.

Novels can brilliant, life-changing. But don’t try it at home, I say to students at every opportunity. Especially to my own creative writing students. A joke, but not really a joke. 

When Aimee Bender writes a story about an ogre, we are only a little surprised when the ogre eats his own children. That is one of the risks of being both a father and a child-eating ogre. I would pay a lot of money for that story by Aimee Bender, more than the price of the book. The ogre novel? Nobody needs that.

Let me confess. I do not have a drawer full of unpublished stories. I have just a couple, and I plan to finish them before I die. Stories are not practice for me, are not experiments, not playthings to be abandoned. If I wasn’t serious about a story, I wouldn’t have dragged it out of the muck to begin with. There are a few stories in Mothers, Tell Your Daughters that I worked on for twenty years.

When I tried and failed to date my husband, I admitted defeat and married him. “Gosh, I hope this works out,” I said. And if that’s not commitment, I don’t know what is.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Lenore Myka's Insatiable Curiosity

In the 46th in a series of posts on 2015 books entered for The Story Prize, Lenore Myka, author of King of the Gypsies (BkMk Books), compares her impulses to join the Peace Corps and her impulses to write.

What do you think is the source of your impulse to write stories?
At a reading several months ago, someone in the audience asked me what compelled me to join the Peace Corps. I was promoting my book at the time, much of which is set in Romania, the country where I served as a volunteer in the mid-nineties, and many of the people in the audience had come because the local Returned Peace Corps Association had advertised my event. 

I stumbled my way through an answer, saying something about how as a child watching Saturday morning cartoons, I would see those commercials of people digging trenches in Sub-Saharan Africa and took to heart the old tagline “The Toughest Job You’ll Ever Love.” I mentioned that I’d studied abroad as a junior in college and enjoyed traveling. My answer was unsurprising; the questioner looked vaguely disappointed. After a pause during which the audience seemed to be waiting for me to say more, we moved on to questions of craft. 

As is often the case for me, I was able to better articulate a truer, more accurate answer to this question weeks later; the gifts, I suppose, of time and perspective. I believe my interest in the Peace Corps is born from the same piece of me that wishes to write. In fact, writing and my interest in other cultures, other lands, dovetail quite nicely. Both ventures require an insatiable curiosity about the world. They require an interest and empathy in others who are oftentimes dissimilar from ourselves. They demand a willingness to place ourselves in foreign and uncomfortable territory so that we might learn something new about the world, but also—and more importantly—about ourselves. Both activities come from a desire to make sense of the senseless, oftentimes cruel, and frequently beautiful planet we inhabit.

I can recall as a child imagining, to the point of near physical exertion, what it might be like to be my mother. Or the neighbor down the street who was bound to a wheelchair. Or our family dog, the horse I visited during my neighborhood meandering, the toads that lived in the basement window well. I had seen the movie “Freaky Friday” and was obsessed with the idea of living another life, zipping myself inside someone else’s skin as if it were a wetsuit, if only for a day. As a family, the most exotic our vacations got was Hilton Head Island, but even as an eight- or nine-year-old I had larger aspirations. Much to the chagrin of my father, I would quite literally dig holes in the backyard, hoping to get to China.

It sounds ludicrous, digging a hole to China. Or, an alternative view: It sounds magical. Adulthood, in my opinion, comes too early and has a blunt way of beating out the imagination in most of us. And maybe this is the key to being a writer, that to do so requires some degree of arrested development. Despite being fully entrenched in midlife I frequently don’t feel much older than sixteen. Perhaps this is what keeps me going—dreaming, imagining, envisioning worlds beyond my own—this youthful clinging to imagination, to wonder. Whatever the reason, I’ll keep digging holes to China, with pen and paper, with keyboard, until I can dig no more.