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Posts Tagged ‘short story’

Your Friday Recommendation #25

Due to a hectic schedule this week, I’m only one-third of the way through Neil Gaiman’s latest, The Graveyard Book, yet I feel pretty confident recommending it.

A toddler who comes to be named Nobody Owens wanders out of his home and into a graveyard on the night his family is slain by a mysterious man. A community of ghosts, led by Mr. and Mrs. Owens, elect to grant the boy ‘freedom of the graveyard’ and harbor him to both raise him and keep him safe. The story feels unique to me and Gaiman’s language is a sensory delight. He manages to keep the tale visually and viscerally appealing with descriptive language while keeping the story moving, and that’s besides the stylish, haunting illustrations by long-time Gaiman collaborator, Dave McKean.

The Graveyard Book is perfect for me because it’s a YA book following a boy’s life in which every chapter is its own complete short story and yet connect to each other in an overall arching storyline. That’s precisely the project I worked on during my MFA days, aside from the whole ‘being raised by ghosts’ bit. I’ve found each story I’ve read so far to truly feel self-contained while also feeding into the stories that came before it, every one adding to the story. There’s enough mystery in the first few stories to keep me interested in seeing what ultimately happens to young Nobody Owens, and I hope to finish the novel next week if my likely-just-as-hectic schedule permits.

Minnesota Public Radio ran a wonderful piece on Neil Gaiman this week and the author wrapped up his book tour for The Graveyard Book in St. Paul on Wednesday night. Unfortunately for me, I work most every Wednesday evening (except next week. Pity, off by just one week!), but hopefully you made it to one of his readings. Don’t feel too bad for me, however; I’ve met the man at least nine or ten times, and at the fifth meeting he called me an official stalker.

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My story gets workshopped tonight.

At the end of January, I wrote a short story entitled “Good Taste” and submitted it for an MFA fiction workshop. Tonight, we’ll take a look at my piece to examine the choices I’ve made, their positives and pitfalls, and I’ll take extensive notes on the entire process. The workshop is small, eleven persons including the instructor, but other pieces have been treated with grace and genuine interest, so here’s hoping mine receives similar treatment.

As for the piece itself, I got the idea from a radio program I heard in January of 2007, then allowed to churn in my brain over a few months. I finally wrote four pages of the story in September, only to not include them in the latest draft that I wrote in January. The pages didn’t fit the direction of the story anymore, though exploring the character (it’s a first-person, past-tense narrative) and the story’s tone in those four pages was immensely helpful in writing the complete story. The fifteen-page manuscript is told by a man who, unaware of his ever-increasingly eccentric behavior, becomes obsessed with his new job working with unreleased consumer products. Okay, so that’s pretty vague, I know, but I’m not ready to let the proverbial cat out of the bag just yet. Let me just say the narrator did his job in surprising me as I wrote, even switching things around when I was sure I knew what would happen next. He made me laugh in all the right places, and I even felt a little sick at the exact moments he wanted me to. Yes, it’s that kind of story.

Tomorrow, I plan to post about the workshop, from the specific details of how it goes down to the kind of notes I received to what I plan to do with the feedback I receive. While the story may not be perfect, and the workshop process may not be either, going into the process with an open mind is what will make my effort feel worthwhile to me. I set out to write a good story, and this third litmus test (the first two being my fiancée and Barry Hess) will help me gauge success.

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Your Friday Recommendation #3.

Young writers who are contemplating whether or not to try tackling the short story should give read some of the best out there. There are plenty of collections and anthologies out there, but the Best American Short Stories series is one you can rest assured lives up to its name.

Best American Short Stories is a collection comprised of precisely what its title indicates, and always features a guest editor who is usually of some high literary stature. 2007 saw Stephen King edit one of the largest collections yet, and his introduction detailing his process of story selection and his thoughts on where the short story fits in modern literature is worth the price of admission alone. As for Best American, one can pick up any volume and find several stories worth their time from both established and new voices. I’m a fan of short stories because they lend themselves to single-serving reading; I can read a great short story in bed and have some closure before turning out the light. Likewise, the short story is a writer’s perfect vehicle for embracing constraints in their craft. Novels take a certain skill, no one debates that, but the short story requires a whole other skill set, and the artist who is able to pull off both is impressive, indeed.

The cover posted is from the 2003 collection, featuring one of my favorite short stories of all time, “Space” by three-time O. Henry Prize winner Kevin Brockmeier. I’m a sucker for father/son stories, and I’ve got a soft spot on my reading list for this engrossing metaphor of a tale. You can pick up a copy of Best American Short Stories of 2003 at bookcloseouts.com for two bucks, plus find plenty of work by Brockmeier at great prices, too. Otherwise, check your favorite bookstore – the latest 2007 Stephen King-edited volume is available pretty much everywhere – or visit your local library for a shelf filled with Best American volumes.

Read a volume and apply what you’ve learned to your craft.

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