Some Thoughts on the Short Story

After winning First Place in the Writer’s Digest competition with my story, “Evacuation,” the magazine interviewed me for its July/August 2013 issue. Below is an excerpt from that interview:

 

WHO HAS INSPIRED YOU AS A WRITER?

Although you may not find evidence in “Evacuation,” I’m drawn to the off-kilter and grotesque in Flaherty O’Connor and Katherine Anne Porter. I like the magical realism in “Great, Wondrous,” a story by Marie-Helene Bertino, winner of the 2012 Iowa Short Fiction Award. I love the evocative prose found in George Saunders’s “Tenth of December” and Gail Godwin’s “Dream Children,” and in novels like L.P. Hartley’s The Go-Between, and Knowles’s A Separate Peace.

WHAT ARE THE KEYS TO A SUCCESSFUL SHORT STORY?

We won’t go far wrong if we remember the principles propounded by Poe, who virtually defined the genre. He said that the short story must create a single mood, and everything from first line to last—language, character, plot—must contribute to that mood so that by the end the reader is left with a sense of inevitability. Most important, the story must accomplish this unity of effect while remaining true to the human heart.

WHAT DO YOU THINK ARE THE GREATEST BENEFITS AND CHALLENGES TO WRITING A SHORT STORY?

I think it’s easier to manipulate the parts of a story given its shorter length because the mind can encompass the whole before giving it a final shape, whereas interior diversity and extended length give the novel a tendency to slip out of the writer’s grasp. The challenge for the short fiction writer is to engage the reader quickly with a story of substance within the work’s limited scope. In its compression, the story must meet the challenges of poetry while fulfilling the fictive requirements of characterization and conflict.

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ABOUT “EXCAVATION”: The story shows how a woman traumatized by a disfiguring surgery copes with the indignities imposed on her by powerful medical practitioners who go about their business indifferent to the suffering they inflict. It’s based on what I suspect is a universal experience, namely, the alternately dehumanizing and infantilizing of hospital patients, especially women, in the name of efficiency.

If you’d like a PDF copy of “Excavation,” just subscribe to this blog or contact me with your request via the contact form on my website.

Till next time . . .

 

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