Wednesday, May 27, 2009

So much great short story news!

Where to begin? What a week! The biggest short story news surely must be today's announcement that Canadian writer Alice Munro has won this year's Man Booker Prize. An award-winning short story writer, a recent article in the Canadian National Post newspaper reports that Munro pokes fun at the attitude to short stories in a new story of hers, Fiction, in which the main character discovers she is a character in a book.
"When she finds out it's not a novel, it's a collection of short stories, she's horrified," says her editor, Doug Gibson. In the story, Munro writes, "It was as if the author was hanging on the gates of literature rather than fully admitted inside because she was only writing short stories."
The Man Booker judges, Jane Smiley, writer; Amit Chaudhuri, writer, academic and musician; and writer, film script writer and essayist, Andrey Kurkov, said:
‘Alice Munro is mostly known as a short story writer and yet she brings as much depth, wisdom and precision to every story as most novelists bring to a lifetime of novels. To read Alice Munro is to learn something every time that you never thought of before.'
While those of us who understand very well the power of the short story would take issue with the "and yet" - we should hold our tongues and just celebrate this wonderful news that a stunning and inspirational writer has been recognised! Alice Munro's new collection, Too Much Happiness, will be published in October. Can't wait. Visit Alice Munro's Wikipedia page for more information.

Second, the Wales Book of the Year award English-language shortlist is announced, and it is novel-free: two short story collections and a collection of poetry, and all by female authors. Deborah Kay Davies' debut short story collection, Grace, Tamar and Laszlo the Beautiful, a short story collection from award-winning novelist Gee Williams, Blood Etc, and Samantha Wynne-Rhydderch's second collection of poetry, Not in These Shoes. Congratulations to all. The winner will be announced on June 15th.

Back to Canada, Pasha Malla has won the Danuta Gleed Literary Prize for his collection, The Withdrawal Method. Says the National Post:
The $10,000 prize – named in memory of the writer Danuta Gleed, and administered by the Writers' Union of Canada – toasts the nation's best English-language debut short fiction collection.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

What does the word "story" mean to you?

In honour of National Short Story Month over at the Emerging Writers Network (and just because we love short stories) , I thought I'd bring you a selection of the responses by authors The Short Review interviewed to the question "What does the word 'story' mean to you?".

Quite a few said it was a very difficult question. For some it means nothing, for others it is life itself.

The order is purely alphabetical, I've got as far as the Bs. There will be more! Click on the names to read the full author interviews. Here goes:

Warren Adler
To me story is fundamental and defines us as human beings. What happens next is the heart of the story and the pattern of all life which is a beginning, a middle and and an end. It is also the great mystery since no human being can ever know "what happens next.

Niki Aguirre
So many things, but due to my upbringing, I prefer those that are rich in the oral storytelling tradition. The best ones are the ones you get lost in: multilayered, babbling and chaotic, not necessary neat and linear. If you think about it, when you are sitting in a café or a pub telling a story, it seldom goes from point to point: the little asides are the best parts. Stories are often desperate things, dying to be voiced and heard -- nothing calm and organised about that. Although I admire people who can write succinctly and in an orderly fashion while still maintaining a good level of excitement. That’s something to strive for.

Allison Amend
This question is no softball. Stumped, I just did what I used to do when I was stumped in college, which is look up the word in the Oxford English Dictionary. It was no help, so I’m on my own. To me, a story is the relation of a brief, epiphanal (or at least very important and pivotal) moment in a character’s life. And the stuff you need around that to understand why the moment is so important. That’s in the literature sense. In a more general sense, a story is a narrative told for a specific reason (that reason can be to entertain, to impart a moral, to make the teller seem smart, to humiliate someone else, to teach, to ingratiate the teller to the tellee, etc.).

Elizabeth Baines
I think of something jewelled, dense, which will glow in the mind long after you have finished reading it.

Richard Bardsley
Anything that holds your interest as a reader.

Aimee Bender
A tough question! The feeling of holding onto a sparkling handrail into the dark.

Tom Bissell
Nothing, really, other than serving as a placeholder term for a certain kind of literary experience, which is itself as essentially variable as a medieval bestiary.

Kiril Bozhinov
Annihilation, mystification, unmasking, abstaining … anything but entertainment.

Hugh Brody
Something that is told and has a magic. Something that reaches out and holds because of the events it offers and follows. Something that offers both the fearful and comforting, though always there is a reassurance that the story exists, is told. I have heard such amazing stories from Inuit and other indigenous peoples, in their homes, around fires, in tents at night. These seemed to be the archetypes. Yet I know that there is a story in so many places, in a multitude of forms.

Jason Brown
It means why am I alive, why will I die, make me laugh, why are things this way, help me escape myself, don’t let me escape myself, lie to me, show me how I lie to myself, I can’t believe you said that, I can’t believe the things I remember are now only real to me.

Randall Brown
Oh, a lot of things, but I think the best stories end with haunting, either because of their profundity or their emotional resonance. The desire for these things—for meaning and feeling—maybe drives narratives into existence, a desire shared by the character(s), readers, and the author. That coming together of these entities around wanting something, desperately and urgently, gives reading and writing (for me) its charged intensity. The writer Douglas Glover says this of the short story, "Literature is a way of thinking in which you think by pushing your characters through a set of actions (testing that character in a series of scenes which involve the same conflict)." I think Aristotle said something profound about a story having a beginning, middle, and end. Joseph Campbell discovered in his reading the ONE way to tell a story, the Monomyth, which Kurt Vonnegut summarized as "The hero gets into trouble. The hero gets out of trouble." "Separation—initiation—return," writes Campbell, "might be named the nuclear unit of the monomyth.” In describing the narrative pattern of journeys, such as Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey, Clift and Clift argue that stories work to "help one make sense of the boredom before and the terror during each journey." Out of these ideas, a very simple, workable definition of plot and narrative structure emerges: As the result of some inciting incident, desire (the beginning of a story) creates actions (the story's middle) leading to an outcome (the end).

James Burr
"Vastly, and inexplicably underrated, form of prose." I love short stories and I just don't understand why the publishing industry, and indeed many readers too, look down upon them. In these times of multi-media saturation and short attention spans surely the short story is THE medium of our times! Surely, just being able to dip in and out of a book whenever you have a few minutes to spare is the way we should all be reading now? Yet stories continue to be seen as the immature, less-devloped sibling to the novel, or worse, as a training ground for aspiring novelists. In my opinion, a good short story collection should always be superior to a good novel - the sheer range of narrative voices that can be used, the variety of characters, the number of ideas that can be explored.... Then again, while I don't write genre fiction I come from a genre background, so I see a short story as having "a point." When you read a story by Philip.K. Dick or Ray Bradbury or Clive Barker there is a definite purpose to the story - it is complete in and of itself. I wonder if the reason many people don't like reading short stories is because they read stories that are essentially notes for abandoned novels masquerading as "mood pieces" or half-formed vignettes pretending to be "character studies." This is a failing I often see in more "literary" short story collections, and it annoys me intensely. A story should be complete in itself, whether it be 1000, 5000 or 20000 words long. It isn't just "a short piece of prose" that isn't long enough to be padded up into a novel, nor is it just a single, clever idea. That isn't a short story. That's a vignette, or even, dare I say, a joke.

How would you answer the question?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Frank O'Connor Longlist 2009

Hot on the heels of last week's Edge Hill Short Story Prize shortlist comes the list of short story collections longlisted for the 2009 Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award - now renamed the The Cork City – Frank O’Connor Short Story Award. With a prize of €35,000 for the winning book, this is theworld's most lucrative award for a short story collection.

However, this is not all about how large the winner's cheque is. This year, the longlist has 57 short story collections - up from 38 last year - which means that publishers are definitely catching on to the prestige and exposure that comes with this award, where all eligible titles are longlisted. As I mentioned last week, this is a wonderful move on the part of the organisers, giving much-needed publicity to many, many books not published by mainstream publishers but by small presses without teams of publicists (including my own collection, The White Road and Other Stories). What is also wonderful is that "big" names are alongside newer writers, showcasing that the short story is not just the province of those who have yet to "graduate" to novels!

“We could have had another twenty entries but for many publishers missing the deadline," said declares Award administrator Patrick Cotter of the Munster Literature Centre in Cork. "We couldn’t bend the rules to allow late entries, there were simply too many titles already on the judges’ table this year. Next year we will have to consider a preliminary weeding-out before the publication of a longlist. But it is gratifying to see an explosion in short story publishing: encouraging short story publishing is the main raison d’etre of the award."

Here is the longlist, ordered by country, with links to those we have already reviewed:

15 American Authors:

Eleanor Bluestein, Tea and Other Ayama Na Tales, BkMk Press (University of

Missouri-Kansas City) review coming soon

Bonnie Jo Cambell, American Salvage,Wayne State University Press

Dennis Cooper, Ugly Man: Stories, Harper Perennial

David Eagleman, Sum, Pantheon Books (Random House)

Mary Gaitskill, Don’t Cry, Pantheon Books (Random House)

Lauren Groff, Delicate Edible Bird, Hyperion

Daniel A. Hoyt, Then We Saw The Flames, University of Massachusetts Press

Ian MacMillan, Our People, BkMk Press (University of Missouri-Kansas City)

James Mathews, Last Known Position, University of North Texas Press

Christopher Meeks, Months and Season, White Whisker Books

Lydia Peelle, Reasons for and Advantage of Breathing, Harper Perennial

Andrew Porter, The Theory of Light and Matter, University of Georgia Press

Glen Pourciau, Invite, University of Iowa Press

Midge Raymond, Forgetting English, Eastern Washington University Press review coming soon

Wells Tower, Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned, Farrar, Straus and Giroux

18 British Authors:

Anthony Cropper, Nature’s Magician, Route

Jane Feaver, Love Me Tender, Harvill Secker (The Random House Group)

Paul Flynn, Crossing the Border, CC Publishing

Tania Hershman, The White Road and Other Stories, Salt Publishing

Sue Hubbard, Rothko’s Red, Salt Publishing

Kazuo Ishiguro, Nocturnes, Faber and Faber Limited review coming soon

Sushma Joshi, The End of the World, FinePrint Books

Alex Keegan, Ballistics, Salt Publishing

Charles Lambert, The Scent of Cinnamon, Salt Publishing

James Lasdun, It’s Beginning to Hurt, Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Tom Lee, Greenfly, Harvill Secker (The Random House Group)

Frederick Lightfoot, Fetish and Other Stories, Superscript

André Mangeot, A Little Javanese, Salt Publishing

Sean O’Brien, The Silence Room, Comma Press

John Saul, As Rivers Flow, Salt Publishing

Ali Smith, The First Person and Other Stories, Penguin Group Canada

Mark Illis, Tender, Salt Publishing

Simon Van Booy, Love Begins in Winter, Harper Perennial review coming soon

5 Canadian Authors:

Tricia Dower, Silent Girl, Innana Publications and Education Inc.

Hannah Holborn, Fierce, McClelland & Stewart

Pamela Stewart, Elysium, Anvil Press

Deborah Willis, Vanishing and Other Stories, Penguin Group Canada

Kuzhali Manickavel, Insects Are Just Like You and Me Except Some of Them Have Wings, Blaft Publications

1 Dutch Author:

Arnon Grunberg, Amuse-Bouche, Comma Press

1 Estonian Author:

Kristiina Ehin, A Priceless Nest, Oleander Press

1 German Author:

Maike Wetzel (Trans. Lyn Marven), Long Days, Comma Press

1 Icelandic Author:

Gyrơir Elíasson (Trans. Victoria Cribb), Stone Tree, Comma Press

2 Indian Authors:

Jahnavi Barua, Next Door, Penguin Books ( India )

Jasmine Anita Yvette D’Costa, Curry is Thicker Than Water, BookLand Press

4 Irish Authors:

Michael J. Farrell, Life in the Universe, The Stinging Fly Press

Robert Graham, The Only Living Boy, Salt Publishing

Alan McMonagle, Liar, Liar, Words on the Street

Philip Ó Ceallaigh, The Pleasant Light of Day, Penguin Ireland

1 Macedonian Author:

Kiril Bozhinov, Eclipses: Stories of Disappearances and Reappearance, Beyond Art Productions

1 Malaysian Author:

Shih-Li-Kow, Ripples and Other Short Stories, Silverfish Books

2 New Zealand Authors:

Jeanette Galpin, Aroha and the River, Maungatiro Press of Marton

Charlotte Grimshaw Singularity, Vintage

2 Nigerian Authors:

Sefi Atta, Lawless, Farafina Books

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, The Thing Around Your Neck, Fourth Estate LTD

1 Spanish Author:

Empar Moliner (Trans. Peter Bush), I Love You When I’m Drunk, Comma Press

1 Ukrainian Author:

Sana Krasikov, One More Year, Portobello Books Ltd

1 Zimbabwean Author

Petina Gappah, An Elegy for Easterly, Faber and Faber

Congratulations to all these authors, and may this bring a much larger readership for short stories. The judges for the award are an American, an Irishman and a Pole: Lloren A. Foster, Milka Jankowska and Vincent McDonnell, who will be choosing a shortlist of 5 titles, to be announced in late June, and a winner in September.

For more on the award visit The Munster Literature Centre. Click here for last year's longlist.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

May is Short Story Month at EWN

May has been declared Short Story Month over at the fabulous Emerging Writers Network blog always a lively place for a literary discussion and ideas for something great to read. Recent posts include Helen W. Mallon's review of Louise Erdrich's collection, The Red Convertible. Says Mallon:
I used the collection in my spring writing workshop, and the students pined when we moved to another author for a week or two. Erdrich is one writer whose language is accessible as popcorn--which makes her popular--yet wildly original in its beauty. Her plot twists are sometimes roll-on-the floor funny, but they never hammer you with the predictable. Her characters also slap you, when you least expect it, with the mystery and profundity of life.
EWN is posting a myriad of short-story related posts daily in May: check out what would be on short story "mix tapes" by Dawn Raffel and John Fox, John McNally on why anyone writes short stories, Gabriel Welsch on George Saunders' sublime Civilwarland in Bad Decline and Jonathan Baumbach on "fictions, short and long, that redefine possibilities".

This is just the tip of the short story iceberg, there is so much more that I am exhausted just thinking about it - visit the Emerging Writers Network and raise a glass for Short Story Month.!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Edge Hill Prize shortlist

The five short story collections on the shortlist for the £5000 Edge Hill Prize for the Short Story have just been unveiled:
  • Chris Beckett, The Turing Test, Elastic Press
  • Gerard Donovan, Country of the Grand, Faber (reviewed as Young Irelanders, the US title)
  • Anne Enright, Yesterday’s Weather, Random House
  • Shena Mackay, The Atmospheric Railway, Random House
  • Ali Smith, The First Person and Other Stories, Hamish Hamilton (review coming soon!)

Congratulations to all the shortlisted, an interesting list pitting four rather big names in literary fiction, all of whom are either MAN Booker Prize winners or nominees, and published by large publishers, against Chris Beckett - a small-press-published author of a collection whose stories, says the Edge Hill website, "feature, among other things, robots, alien planets, genetic manipulation and virtual reality, but their centre focuses on individuals rather than technology, and they deal with love and loneliness, authenticity and illusion, and what it really means to be human". Elastic Press must be hopping up and down with glee!

Last year's shortlist did seem to me rather more eclectic:
  • Tiny Deaths by Robert Shearman (Comma Press)
  • The Separate Heart by Simon Robson (Jonathan Cape)
  • Walk the Blue Fields by Claire Keegan (Faber and Faber)
  • The People on Privilege Hill by Jane Gardam (Chatto and Windus)
  • Old Devil Moon by Christopher Fowler (Serpent’s Tail)
Tiny Deaths is the first collection by Doctor Who writer Shearman, The Separate Heart is Simon Robson's debut collection, Walk the Blue Fields is Clare Keegan's second collection, Jane Gardam is the author of too many novels and short story collections to mention, and Old Devil Moon is Christopher Fowler's 10th collection of dark short fiction.

It is wonderful that there is a prize for short story collections, don't get me wrong, but we have reviewed so many excellent small-press published collections and debut collections by exciting and talented new writers over the past year, it is a shame that they didn't get a stronger showing on the shortlist this year.

I understand that picking 5 is an impossible task, perhaps the Edge Hill prize organisers could take a leaf out of the Frank O'Connor International Award for the Short Story's book: they publish a longlist that includes every book entered that fits the eligibility criteria. This year's longlist will be announced next week, and if last year is anything to go by it will include 50 or so short story collections (among them, in the interests of full disclosure, my own collection, The White Road and Other Stories). This will be whittled down to 5 books for the shortlist - but the longlist was published last year in the Guardian and all the books received a much-needed boost.

All of us aim to spread the word about great short stories, and the Frank O'Connor Award longlist accomplishes this simply and effectively - we can't all be winners, but just the fact of getting published is an achievement worth celebrating! Good luck to all!