Friday, July 31, 2009

Wake Up Booker! The Indy Praises Short Story Collections

In today's Independent newspaper, in an article entitled "Short-haul fiction, long-term benefits", Boyd Tonkin says:
Here's a star-spangled shortlist of leading writers who have published, or soon will publish, works of fiction since the last Man Booker contest: Kazuo Ishiguro, AL Kennedy, Ali Smith, Will Self, Chimamanda Adichie, Alice Munro. None of them could have featured on this week's long-list. Of course, the final name gives the game away. Canada's doyenne of the story that packs an entire life, and world, into 20 pages might already have won the Man Booker International Prize for career achievement. But the annual competition still shuns volumes of short fiction. Which means as well that first-rank debut collections, such as (this year) Daniyal Mueenuddin's In Other Rooms, Other Wonders, never stand a fighting chance. Should that rule now change?
Yes, Boyd, yes! He says:
In the Manchester-based Comma Press and Salt Publishing in Cambridgeshire, Britain has two high-performing specialist imprints with a robust commitment to the briefer forms.
These two publishers are the ones publishing many of the short story collections we have reviewed.

Oh, Boyd! Sending much love to the Indy today. I will leave you with his parting shot:
"The only rule is to write originally and well - whether the result takes two, five or twenty thousand words."
Yes. Yes yes yes yes yes. Read the full article here.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Dzanc's Best of the Web 2009

Dzanc Books is one of those independent publishers that makes short story lovers cheer and jump up and down. Not only does Dzanc publish great books (read reviews of Roy Kesey's All Over and Yannick Murphy's In A Bear's Eye), they are literary activists, doing all they can to spread the word about great writing and help writers. Dzanc executive director and publisher Dan Wickett founded the Emerging Writers Network in 2000 and puts an enormous amount of energy into the EWN's blog, running a Short Story Month last month with so many posts talking about short stories that they are now publishing a selection of them as a book! Dzanc annually awards the Dzanc prize for Excellence in Literary Fiction and Community Service, and is now offering Creative Writing Sessions through which writers are mentored by other writers. Yes, they are quite fabulous.If this weren't enough, their second annual Best of the Web anthology was published on July 1st, and we here at the Short Review are delighted to be hosting a guest blog by M. Thomas Gammarino, one of the featured authors, as part of the one-day virtual book tour.

First, a little about the book:

Guest-edited by Lee K. Abbott, this print anthology compiles the best fiction, poetry, and non-fiction that online literary journals have to offer in an eclectic collection in the manner of other broad-ranging anthologies such as Pushcart and Best American Non-Required Reading. This is the first substantial attempt at creating an annual print compilation of the best of material published online.

This year's contributor's include: Waqar Ahmed, Arlene Ang, Michael Baker, Marcelo Ballve, Marge Barrett, Carmelinda Blagg, Benjamin Buchholz, Blake Butler, Jimmy Chen, Amy L. Clark, Amber Cook, Bill Cook, Michael Czyzniejewski, Darlin’ Neal, Matthew Derby, Ryan Dilbert, Stephen Dixon, Alex Dumont, Claudia Emerson, D.A. Feinfeld, Marcela Fuentes, M. Thomas Gammarino, Cassandra Garbus, Molly Gaudry, Anne Germanacos, Matt Getty, Todd Hasak-Lowy, Karen Heuler, Ash Hibbert, Philip Holden, Roy Kesey, Hari Bhajan Khalsa, Tricia Louvar, Peter Markus, Michael Martone, Heather Killelea McEntarfer, Lindsay Merbaum, Corey Mesler, Laura Mullen, Joseph Olschner, Jeff Parker, Elise Paschen, Elizabeth Penrose, Kate Petersen, Glen Pourciau, Sam Rasnake, Jonathan Rice, Tom Sheehan, Claudia Smith, Lynn Strongin, Terese Svoboda, Jon Thompson, Davide Trame, Donna D. Vitucci, Helen Wickes, Kathrine Leone Wright, Jordan Zinovich.

Dzanc has a special promotion whereby you can get both Best of the Web anthologies... more about that later. Now, over to Thomas talking about the short story of his selected for the anthology, The Fridge, which originally appeared in the Adirondack Review:
I’ve heard a number of famous writers (most recently Steve Erickson in a Bookslut interview from 2007) talk about the phenomenon of the “free” book, the one that’s simply visited on them by the muses as a reward for all the years of toil they put into the rest of their books. I don’t know whether I’ll ever be gifted a free book—my not-terribly-long first novel, Big in Japan, took me five years or more—but I can vouch for the phenomenon of the free story insofar as The Fridge—the story I’m thrilled to have had selected for Best of the Web 2009—was one.

I wrote the first draft of the story longhand in one hour-long burst at a cafĂ© called ChocoCro (as in chocolate croissant) in Yokohama, Japan. I do this sort of Kerouackian exercise once in a while where I make my hand out-write my mind such that I end up making associative leaps I couldn’t possibly plan. More often than not the exercise yields a surrealistic mess, but once in a while, given enough discipline, I can turn out a viable story. In this case I knew only two things from the outset: 1) I would keep it more or less realistic, and 2) I would write, in good cubist fashion, from at least two points of view.

My story may not feel especially modernist—probably it feels more dirty-realistic insofar as it deals with blue-collar domesticity and adultery—but its germinal texts were in fact modernist landmarks like Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, and the “Wandering Rocks” chapter of Joyce’s Ulysses. I played up the impressionism by making the two accounts in the story—May’s and Bill’s—disagree on some of the details of chronology, their different senses of time being one of the story’s motifs. I considered adding a third section in which the reader would get the subjective account of Bill’s lover, Anna, but finally I decided that even as I complicated each character’s claims on history, I would at least impose enough form to make the story the portrait not of a hackneyed love triangle so much as a marriage—and it is a marriage aptly characterized by the title, I think. At the same time, the fridge is the one place where Bill and May continue to commune, the one place, however piddling, where they renew their vows each day, her by putting his lunch in there, him by being there to take it. It’s not much, but it’s something.

One last thing: anyone who has ever been in a writing workshop has heard the old chestnut “Show, don’t tell.” I teach it myself in beginners' writing classes. It’s not bad advice for young writers with a penchant for exposition, whose craft of storytelling has been honed primarily on the telephone, but the dirty secret is that the closer you look at that binary the more it begins to dissolve. So long as we’re working with words, it’s all telling of one sort or another (“diegesis,” the narratologist Gerard Genette would call it), and as Louis Menand notes in his review of Mark McGurl’s The Program Era in a recent New Yorker, that mantra has always been “effectively opposite” that other pedagogical imperative to “Find your voice.” I didn’t find my voice in The Fridge, but I like to think I found Bill’s and May’s. The Fridge is all “telling,” and that’s a curious thing if you overthink it because who are these people supposed to be talking to really? But then who are the intramural narratees of most literature? Ultimately the question proves beside the point. We accept it as a convention because literature is uniquely suited to capturing the human sensorium as channeled through a textual larynx. Suck the narratorial inflections out of it, the quirks and mannerisms, lilts and cadences, and we might as well all stick to screenplays.
Thanks, Thomas, for that insight into your story. Dzanc are running a time-limited promotion: buy both Best of the Web anthologies for $30 instead of $36 - and you'll get a 15% discount coupon off any book published by Dzanc or their imprints. So much great reading.

Monday, July 6, 2009

"Most Imaginative" Sci Fi Author Wins the Edge Hill Prize!

Shocker in the short story world - Chris Beckett, author of the Turing Test, published by Elastic Press, has beaten heavyweight writers of "literary fiction" Anne Enright, Ali Smith, Gerard Donovan and Shena Mackay to run off with the Edge Hill Prize for the short story!

"I suspect Chris Beckett winning the Edge Hill Prize will be seen as a surprise in the world of books,"
said James Walton, one of the judges.
"In fact, though, it was also a bit of surprise to the judges, none of whom knew they were science fiction fans beforehand. Yet, once the judging process started, it soon became clear that The Turing Test was the book that we'd all been impressed by, and enjoyed, the most — and one by one we admitted it."

Wonderful that finally "genre" transcends its boundaries to claim the prize. Says Walton:
"It was Beckett who seemed to us to have written the most imaginative and endlessly inventive stories, fizzing with ideas and complete with strong characters and big contemporary themes. We also appreciated the sheer zest of his story-telling and the obvious pleasure he had taken in creating his fiction."
Congratulations to Chris! Read Prize organiser Ailsa Cox's sneak peak behind the scenes before the winner was announced.

AND: I've just been informed that World Fantasy Award winner Graham Joyce just won the O Henry award, the US' most prestigious award for a single short story, judged this year by AS Byatt and Tim O'Brien. Genre triumphs again!

The story An Ordinary Soldier Of The Queen, describes the hallucinatory experiences of a British Soldier in the first Gulf conflict. Byatt says she was haunted by the rhythms of the story and the seamless mixing of genres in combining the daily and the strange. O’Brien, celebrated for his own war writing, calls An Ordinary Soldier of the Queen a “superb ghost story, a wonderful story about war”. O’Brien suggests that many war stories merge with the world of magic and ghosts, for the systematic butchery of war does not always feel “real” and that sometimes a realistic story can seem to demean the essential unrealistic reality of war.

Graham Joyce, a previous winner of the World Fantasy award, is known for his blending of realism and the hallucinatory. He is the author of a dozen novels and several short stories and says he wrote the story after seeing a statistic suggesting that three-quarters of homeless people on the streets of the UK are ex-service personnel.

If this inspires in you the immediate urge to read science fiction and fantasy, click on those links to see what we've reviewed that falls under those headings (I hate the "g" word.)

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Behind the Scenes of the Edge Hill Short Story Prize

We welcome Ailsa Cox, fiction writer, critic, tutor of creative writing, and one of the coordinators of the Edge Hill Prize for the Short Story, giving us a quick peak behind the scenes of the Prize, whose winner will be announced on July 4th:

Just about to name the winner of the Edge Hill Prize for the Short Story and as usual my lips are sealed. I’m giving nothing away – not even a clue. I don’t want anything to spoil that moment of surprise and delight at the award ceremony. This year’s shortlist includes two Irish writers, a science fiction writer, two Booker nominees and a Booker prizewinner - in other words, Chris Beckett, Gerard Donovan, Anne Enright, Shena Mackay and Ali Smith. Five really strong contenders. I’m glad the decision isn’t up to me.

The prize was started in 2007 after I ran the first of several short story conferences at Edge Hill University. Many people don’t know where Edge Hill is, which is one of the reasons why the university was keen to put us on the map with a prestigious prize. It is in fact in Ormskirk, Lancashire, somewhere between Liverpool and Southport. By giving £5000 to the author of a published short story collection we were doing something unique; we have the National Short Story Prize and the international Frank O’Connor Award Munster Literature Centre Home for any collection published in English but there is nothing for writers in the UK and Ireland which is anything like, for instance, The Rea Award for the Short Story in the US. We hoped the prize would help change attitudes in the literary world, and actively encourage publishers to accept and promote collections, in the knowledge that they might get some recognition for it.

Since then the university has upped its contribution, so there is now a second prize and a Readers’ Choice; and Blackwell Bookshops have sponsored a specially commissioned artwork to go to the winner. This is not your average bit of engraving gathering dust at the back of the mantelpiece! I’ve been watching Pete Clarke, a painter with a special interest in using text and imagery, create something really special for this year. This year’s judges were last year’s winner, Claire Keegan, Mark Flinn, Pro-Vice Chancellor of the university and James Walton, the writer and critic. Waiting for their final decision was gruelling – I had no idea what would come out of their discussion and dreaded personality clashes or stalemate; and as the time ticked by I needn’t have worried. Though none of them really knew one another, they made a good team, open-minded and sensible and their decision was unanimous. The Readers’ Choice is decided by a combination of local groups from Get Into Reading The Reader - Outreach Programmes and students from our Creative Writing MA Creative Writing. Last year it was won by horror writer Christopher Fowler. What will happen this year? I told you, I’m not saying.

Five writers, three prizes (and theoretically the winner could also get the Readers’ Choice). Not to mention those writers who didn’t quite make the shortlist but have produced outstanding work. This, after all, is a prize for a collection, and sometimes the quality of an individual story isn’t sustained across the whole book. As a reader, I find this especially in small press publications. When a less well known writer does get onto the shortlist it’s so exciting, for them and for us. Last year Rob Shearman didn’t win anything; but even though Tiny Deaths went on to win a World Fantasy Award he says it all started for him with the Edge Hill Prize.

Thanks, Ailsa - we will announce the winner as soon as the news is made public! Good luck to all.

For more about the prize, visit the Edge Hill Short Story Prize page and Ailsa Cox's Edge Hill home page.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

2009 Frank O'Connor Award Shortlist Revealed

The Frank O'Connor Award shortlist has been revealed. At 35,000 euro, this is the biggest prize in the world for a short story collection, and previous winners include Haruki Murakami, Miranda July, Jhumpa Lahiri and Yiyun Li.

From this year's 57-strong longlist of collections, the three-judge panel picked the following six collections - passing over big names such as Ali Smith, Kazuo Ishiguro, Orange Prize winner Chimanda Ngozi Adiche, Mary Gaitskill and James Lasdun and Sana Krasikov.

An Elegy for Easterly
by Petina Gappah (Faber, UK)

Petina Gappah is a Zimbabwean writer with law degrees from Cambridge, Graz University, and the University of Zimbabwe. Her short fiction and essays have been published in eight countries.

by Charlotte Grimshaw (Vintage, New Zealand)
Charlotte Grimshaw's first novel was described as ‘New Zealand noir'. Grimshaw has contributed short fiction to anthologies, was awarded the 2006 Bank of New Zealand Katherine Mansfield Award, and published her first short story collection in 2007. Titled Opportunity, this collection was also short-listed for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award.

Ripples and other Stories
by Shih-Li Kow (Silverfish Books, Malaysia)
Shih-Li Kow was born in Kuala Lumpur. Her stories have been published in the anthologies, News from Home and Silverfish New Writing 7. Sh-li Kow holds a degree in chemical engineering.

The Pleasant Light of Day
by Philip O Ceallaigh (Penguin Ireland.)
Philip O Ceallaigh has lived and worked at a variety of jobs in Ireland, Spain, Russia, the United States, Kosovo and Georgia. He has lived mostly in Bucharest since 2000 where among other things he translates English subtitles for Romanian films. He has won the Glen Dimplex Award and the Rooney Prize for his first short story collection Notes from A Turkish Whorehouse which was also shortlisted for the Frank O’Connor Award in 2006.

Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned
by Wells Tower (FSG New York and Granta UK)
Wells Tower’s short stories and journalism have appeared in The New Yorker, Harper’s Magazine, McSweeney’s, The Paris Review, The Anchor Book of New American Short Stories, The Washington Post Magazine, and elsewhere. He received two Pushcart Prizes and the Plimpton Prize from The Paris Review. He divides his time between Chapel Hill, North Carolina and Brooklyn, New York.

Love Begins in Winter
by Simon Van Booy (Harper Perennial New York)
Simon Van Booy was born in London and grew up in rural Wales and Oxford. After playing football in Kentucky, he lived in Paris and Athens. In 2002 he was awarded an MFA and won the H.R. Hays Poetry Prize. Van Booy is the author of The Secret Lives of People in Love. He lives in New York City.

This is a varied bunch geographically and in terms of experienced writers (two previously shortlisted for this prize) versus debutantes, yet not so varied in terms of small presses versus mainstream publishers - it would have been nice for a small-press-published collection to make the shortlist. Before accusations fly, yes, I am a small-press-published author and my collection was on the longlist! But with my editor's hat on, I know that many excellent collections have been published by small presses in the past year, because I have reviewed a number of them. Next year, perhaps?

The winner will be announced in Cork on September 20th at the closing ceremony of the tenth Frank O'Connor International Short Story Festival. Before that, we have the winner of the Edge Hill Prize - which features one small-press-published short story collection on its five-book shortlist - to look forward to on Saturday July 4th. Good luck to all!