Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Please Join Us for The Story Prize Event on March 4 at The New School

Between the time we announce The Story Prize finalists in early January and the event at which we honor all three of them and present one with the $20,000 top prize, we spend a lot of time worrying about filling the seats in The New School auditorium. We always end up doing pretty well on that count (and probably would without worryng about it as much as we do), but we're still eager to have a substantial audience to support the three authors, The Story Prize, and the form we exist to promote—short fiction.

(L to R: Francesca Marciano, Elizabeth McCracken, and Lorrie Moore)
The authors always prove to be interesting and amusing, but it's also no secret that writers aren't necessarily the most outgoing bunch. We all know that their real performances take place when they are alone and writing, and that what matters most happens on the page and through the deeply personal experience of reading their work. So whether you plan to join us or not, we can't recommend too highly the three books we're honoring: The Other Language by Francesca Marciano, Thunderstruck by Elizabeth McCracken, and Bark by Lorrie Moore.

You can watch the event later on YouTube or, and we post a lot of pictures in the days that follow, but it is, of course, impossible to reproduce the live atmosphere in the auditorium. Nothing can take the place of the authors' presence, the burst of laughter or buzz that comes from the room when one of them reads or says something funny or profound, or the feeling of suspense before we announce the winner, the electric moment when founder Julie Lindsey speaks that name, and the moving experience of seeing someone accept the prize—most often a hard-working, supremely talented, and deserving author who hasn't received a comparable honor before. (For instance, last year was the first time George Saunders had ever won a book award.)

Tickets are $14 (close to the same as a movie ticket). The event is a week from today, on March 4 at 7:30 p.m., at The New School auditorium at 66 W. 12th St. Please join us if you can.

Monday, February 2, 2015

A Glimpse of Kristen Radtke's Stunning Front Cover Art for The Story Prize Program

We invited graphic essayist Kristen Radtke to provide the front cover art for the program for The Story Prize event this year, and we are very lucky that she said yes to creating an original image for us. What you see here is just part of that cover—a sneak preview. Everyone who attends the event will get to take home the 8-page full color program, designed by Steven Charny, who carries through the themes of Radtke's beautiful illustration throughout.

If you want to see the finalists for The Story Prize—Francesca MarcianoElizabeth McCracken, and Lorrie Moore—read from and discuss their work on-stage and take home a copy of the program, buy a ticket and join us.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Long List: Other Outstanding 2014 Short Story Collections

We received 129 short story collections in 2014, the most ever entered for The Story Prize in a single year. 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:

We publish our long list after our short list of finalists because in some ways it's even more difficult to make these choices. We read many other worthwhile collections, but to keep the list at a somewhat reasonable length, we had to draw a line somewhere. Every author who published a short story collection in 2014 deserves a great deal of credit, and at least a dozen other books we read could easily have made this list. 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

An Index of Guest Posts from Authors of 2014 Short Story Collections

Hit parade: Antonya Nelson (top),
Ben Marcus, and Hilary Mantel
In 2014, 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 125 authors, 71 chose to participate.* Since 2010, the TSP blog has featured 337 guest posts from 328 writers.

According to Blogger's statistics, most 2014 guest posts received 300 or more page views. The most popular post, "Antonya Nelson's Ten Writing Rules," went viral (by our standards, at least) and has so far drawn more than 12,000 page views—by far the most of any TSP blog post and nearly five times as many hits as the next most popular we've ever had. The author posts with the second and third most hits this year were "Hilary Mantel's Ten Observations About Writing" and "Ben Marcus' 'Dear Writer' Letter"—both with more than 2,300 page views.

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 2014 questions were:

  • If you weren't a writer, what would you be doing?
  • Describe an unusual writing habit of yours.
  • Do you ever borrow characters or situations from real life, and has anyone ever confronted you about it, been angry or pleased? 
  • What's the worst idea for a story you've every had?
  • What's the best story idea you've had that you've never been able to write to your satisfaction?
  • What one story that someone else has written do you wish you had written?
  • Where do you do most of your work?
  • What do you do when you're stuck or have "writer's block"?
  • What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
  • What else (beyond books and writing) informs or inspires your work?

We also suggest some possible topics:

  • A literary touchstone (e.g., a book or books you have reread many times and return to often).
  • An aspect of craft you struggled to learn, and how you learned it.
  • Your publishing experience.
  • A letter to a young writer, a la Rilke.
  • A list of ten pieces of writing advice.

The last topic was a popular one this year, with about a dozen authors offering their advice. Contributors also, of course, 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 book on IndieBound (unless a book wasn't available on that site) and the rest of the guest post titles linking to the posts themselves.

Molly Antopol Embraces Solitude
Jacob M. Appel and the Door to Eternal Life
Vanessa Blakeslee Hits a Nerve
Michael Blumenthal's Unusual Habit
Catherine Browder and the Unmet Mentors
Kelly Cherry Makes a List
Judy Chicurel and the Atmospheric Aura
Mark Chiusano on Finding the Right Cover
Diane Cook Writes from a Place of Fear
Tracy Daugherty on Walker Percy's Thought Experiments
Halina Duraj's Ruthless Story-Brain

Sean Ennis Puts in the Time
Elizabeth Eslami Embraces the Mess
Why Ali Eteraz Stopped Trying to Be an American Writer
Murray Farish's Writing Advice from Other Writers
John Henry Fleming's Writing Tips for the Tip Averse Writer
Amina Gautier Says: "Remember Who You Were"
Joseph Gentile: Eight Things All Writers Should Do at Least Once
David Gordon Talks to Himself
Nicholas Grider's Ten Pieces of Advice
If David Guterson Weren't a Writer...

Arna Bontemps Hemenway's Walk into the Otherworld
Jennifer Horne Wrestles with Her Conscience
Alden Jones's Writing Advice: "Don't Listen to My Advice"
A.L. Kennedy Gets Out of the Way
Laurence Klavan and the Sense of Unease
Phil Klay's Middle School Stint
Doretta Lau Does the Work
Peter LaSalle Considers John Cheever Across the River
J. Robert Lennon and the Sweet Spot
Deborah Levy and the Essential Obstinacy
Karin Lin-Greenberg: Notes of a Failed Cartoonist
Sara Lippmann Gets Over It
Jack Livings on Dealing with Rejection
Shelly Lowenkopf's Good News and Bad News

James Magruder and the Boyhood Tribulations
Hilary Mantel's Ten Observations About Writing
Francesca Marciano's Ten Writing Mantras
Ben Marcus' "Dear Writer" Letter
Elizabeth McCracken's First 21st Century Short Story Collection
Monica McFawn and the Pursuit of Clarity
Kseniya Melnik's Competing Passion
Jen Michalski Starts with a Dream
K.D. Miller Works with What She Has
Kyle Minor's Unwritten Time Travel Story
Dolan Morgan's Treatment for Writer's Block

Antonya Nelson's Ten Writing Rules
Kent Nelson and the Quest for the Right Cover
James Nolan and the Singular Element
Tom Noyes Keeps the Faith
Kathy Page Encounters Other Places
Vikram Paralkar and the Agent's Letter
David James Poissant's Letter to His 25-Year-Old Self
Nick Ripatrazone's Sacramental Vision
Eliza Robertson Rocks
David Ryan and the Crowded Room

Diane Schoemperlen Works with Words and Pictures
Aurelie Sheehan Sneaks up on Plot
Susan Sherman on the Significance of Place
Heather A. Slomski Prepares Herself
Justin Taylor and the Unwriteable Idea
Johnny Townsend Wrestles with the Truth
Lee Upton Breaks the Ice
Anne Valente on Fiction and the Language of Film
Marek Waldorf Paints a Picture
John Warner's Unlikely Inspiration
Christian Winn and the Search for Meaning
Kathleen Winter and the Scary Fat Boy Story
Jonathan Woods and The Hard-Boiled Tradition

* Whether or not someone contributes a post has nothing to do with the books we choose as finalists or for our long-list. We received 129 books, but some authors published more than one this year. One 2014 contributor to TSP, Jacob M. Appel, published two short story collections in 2014, but we only invite each author to contribute to the blog one time in any year. Appel's other book is Einstein's Beach House (Pressgang).

Monday, January 19, 2015

Dolan Morgan's Treatment for Writer's Block

In the 71st in a series of posts on 2014 books entered for The Story Prize, Dolan Morgan, author of That's When the Knives Come Out (Aforementioned Productions) describes his solution to an all too common malady.

For years, “writer’s block” eluded me as a concept. I did not understand what it meant or even how it could be deemed a real affliction. Were people really having this problem? How did they know? I considered the term at best a melodramatic cover for laziness, and at worst a sign of innate inability.
I was wrong, of course, and a fool. I cringe now thinking of the way, in my youth, I would parade around and demand that people who think they have writer’s block should just sit down, get over themselves, and write already, that ideas come from action and not from perfect planning. Anyone who has experienced writer’s block knows that this is not only terrible advice but dangerous too—because writer’s block is real. It’s physical, invasive, and persistent. I learned this the hard way, and spent weeks recovering.

Now when I have writer’s block, I follow a strict regimen that I think many others could benefit from. First, I remain ever vigilant for symptoms and signs. With every new word, paragraph, or edit, I take stock of my surroundings and consider my mind and body. This must be done holistically, as things aren’t always cut and dry in life. To be safe, I go immediately into action if two or more of the following circumstances present themselves while writing:

  • Persistent checking of social media.
  • Discoloration around mouth and lips.
  • Hands that smell like chemicals, such as white out or mercury.
  • Burns, stains, and odors on my body (or even clothing, desks, laptops, and other objects in the area, especially paper).
  • Vomiting, labored breathing, drowsiness, confusion, or other deviations from my usual routine.

If confronted with these, I step slowly away from my computer and retire to the bathroom—where I keep a special kit containing all relevant tools.
Tweezers: Aggressive treatment

First, I give my body a quick search for the affected area. This is usually indicated by redness, swelling or tenderness to the touch. I carefully soak the affected area with a hot saline solution. This helps to draw the writer’s block to the surface. If necessary, I prick the center with a needle (but generally the sensitive skin opens all on its own as tension grows). From there, I use an index finger and thumb to squeeze the so-called hotspot, puckering the opening to reveal my wriggling writer’s block, and then I pull out “the head” with a set of tweezers. A long string or tail will emerge behind it and must be gathered from the body. It will come out smoothly if there are no sudden movements. When I feel a tug or tightness deep within the chest (usually near my heart), I sever the tail with scissors or sharp blades. After placing the writer’s block in a sealable container and cleaning up the blood, I apply rubbing alcohol and a household band-aid, then let out a sigh of relief.

It can be a little tedious, but dealing with this unsightly and embarrassing ailment is well worth the effort and preparation. After just a few minutes of simple first-aid, I can get back to work. It usually takes at least four more hours for any significant writer’s block to build up in the blood, during which I can often harvest a healthy series of workable paragraphs and plot points by dissolving the extracted writer’s block chunk in a pool of water – because writer’s block survives in the body by consuming my best ideas during a rapid gestation period. 100% of one of the stories in my collection emerged whole and complete from a juiced chunk of writer’s block after medical extraction. I never would have “written” this piece if it weren’t for my dedication to home remedies and self-care.

Conversely, the accumulated effects of untreated writer’s block can be debilitating and demoralizing, even deadly, since the human body is comprised not of flesh, as is commonly repeated, but instead almost entirely of ideas and abstractions.

Monday, January 12, 2015

The Finalists for The Story Prize: The Other Language by Francesca Marciano, Thunderstruck by Elizabeth McCracken, and Bark by Lorrie Moore

The Finalists: (L to R): Marciano, McCracken, and Moore

We're pleased to honor as finalists for The Story Prize three outstanding books chosen from 129 entries representing 85 different publishers or imprints. They are:

  • The Other Language by Francesca Marciano (Pantheon)
  • Thunderstruck by Elizabeth McCracken (The Dial Press)
  • Bark by Lorrie Moore (Alfred A. Knopf)

The Other Language by Francesca Marciano collects nine stories about women and men in or just beyond the cusp of major life changes, in locales as diverse as Greece, Rome, Venice, Kenya, India, and New York. The nine stories in Elizabeth McCracken's Thunderstruck, her first collection in 20 years, delve into dark subjects with seriousness and wit, and deliver on their inventive premises. Lorrie Moore's collection, Bark, consists of eight stories set mostly in Middle America, about people in or approaching midlife who find themselves midway between speaking their minds and protecting their emotions by forming a hard shell around themselves.

This year's judges, Boulder (Colo.) bookseller Arsen Kashkashian, Center for Fiction Director Noreen Tomassi, and author Laura van den Berg 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 4. Tickets cost $14. That night, Marciano, McCracken, and Moore 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 publish an index of guest posts form 2014 authors, and a long list of other exceptional collections we read last year.

Praying Drunk by Kyle Minor—This Year's Winner Of The Story Prize Spotlight Award

It's difficult to read as many excellent short story collections each year as we do and only choose three to honor. There are always other books that don't make that very short list but stay with us long after we've read them. For that reason, three years ago, we created The Story Prize Spotlight award, a $1,000 prize to honor an additional short story collection that we believe deserves further attention.

The author: A major accomplishment
This year's winner of The Story Prize Spotlight Award is Praying Drunk by Kyle Minor (Sarabande Books)—a visceral, intense, and formally innovative book of stories set in the American south and Haiti. Throughout the book, the author and his characters pose a series of questions—some profane and some profound—that thwart any hope of easy answers. 

Congratulations to Kyle Minor and Sarabande Books.