It’s Halloween, so I’ve been thinking about Zombies, which always makes me think of Kelly Link. The other day at an editorial meeting, a friend of mine told me a story about a doctor who cured people of irrational fears. One of his patients had an irrational fear of Zombies.
“What I don’t understand is why being afraid of Zombies is irrational?” My friend said. ”I mean, they’re SCARY!”
So I guess that makes it a totally rational fear.
Kelly Link recently gave an interview to The Nation. She was asked if people are always asking her if she is ever going to write a novel:
Yes. Part of me thinks it’s a reasonable question, and I also think, Well, if you like the short stories, shouldn’t you ask for more short stories? I don’t think there’s any guarantee that I would write novels that work in the same way the stories work. I don’t think I have the skill set yet. I would love to write a novel, but mostly because it seems like a shame not to try to do something that a lot of people want you to do. I feel sort of like a coward every time I start a short story. But I think I will always love short stories. I’m more excited by short story collections in general–a lot of the editing or anthology work I do is based around the short story. I love novels. Some of my best friends are novels! But I really love short stories best.
You can read the rest of the interview here.
And you can download her book, Stranger Things Happen, for free on her website.
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The fiction class I teach in Westchester started a few weeks ago and in my search for new books at the library, I discovered that the craft books for short story writing are arranged next to books on the art of fishing. I thought this was sort of appropriate.
My grandfather loves to fish and one time I asked if I could tag along and he said, “Well, if you want to sit around and do nothing for hours and hours in the hopes of catching a fish and getting a few minutes of excitement, you’re welcome to come along. However, I don’t think it will be much fun for you.”
I feel that writing is kind of like that description. You plug away and do the work and most days you might not feel that you accomplished much, but sometimes it’s writing the fifty pages that just don’t work to get to those two awesome pages which lead you into the real start of a story you wouldn’t be completely ashamed to admit came out of your thoughts.
What strikes me about each writing class I teach is that people don’t really understand the commitment it takes to write something worthwhile. No one would ever decide to run the NY Marathon and not work out for months and months. Yet, people feel that they can just pick up a pen and the words will pour forth. All you need is to attend a great workshop/seminar/conference and Voila!
I once overheard someone say, “I could have gotten into Harvard.” This kind of statement always gets under my skin because someone who could utter something like that just has no idea the amount of hard work it takes to accomplish something like that at the age of eighteen. Someone who could actually say something like, “I could have gotten into Harvard,” would never say that because she knows that it was that stupid B-minus in Biology class which pushed her right out of contention. All that childhood sacrifice and summers spent memorizing those stupid 604 vocabulary words for the SAT and weekends cleaning up mouse pee and praying for your Westinghouse project results go right out the window (and, most likely, into a lesser Ivy like Brown or Cornell–if you’re lucky).
So yes, I’ve heard there are some writers who whistle while they work. I think that’s great. But most of the time, it’s awful hair-pulling frustrating work, but you know that if you get up to boil a cup of tea, you might just open up that US Weekly your sister left behind when she stayed over for the weekend and you’ll never get that blob of an idea into any shape at all. So you stay seated. You keep fishing.
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A few months ago, I attended an Amy Hempel reading and someone in the audience asked her if she has “graduated” to writing novels yet. You could see her bristle and she told him very firmly that she just wasn’t interested in writing novels. The novel’s loss is the short story’s gain, and recently Amy Hempel was the winner of the Rea Award for the Short Story, a $30,000 prize.
The Rea Award for the Short Story is given annually to a living American of Canadian writer whose published work has made a significant contribution in the discipline of the short story as an art form. Is is not given for a collection of stories or for a body of work, but rather for originality and influence on the genre.
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Steven Millhauser wrote an essay about the short story in the New York Times:
The novel is insatiable — it wants to devour the world. What’s left for the poor short story to do? It can cultivate its garden, practice meditation, water the geraniums in the window box. It can take a course in creative nonfiction. It can do whatever it likes, so long as it doesn’t forget its place — so long as it keeps quiet and stays out of the way. “Hoo ha!” cries the novel. “Here ah come!” The short story is always ducking for cover. The novel buys up the land, cuts down the trees, puts up the condos. The short story scampers across a lawn, squeezes under a fence.
For all its short storiness, he says that the short story has a “littleness (that) is the agency of its power.” I think we can all agree with him.
Read the rest of it here.
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