May 12

At Books on the Nightstand, we’re dubbing 2013 “The Year of the Short Story.” In celebration, Ann is reading one story a day, for the entire year. We’ll also be highlighting new story collections, lit magazines, and online resources for short fiction. Below are links to all of our posts tagged “Project Short Story”

Before I talk about the stories I read this week, a few items to note:

1. The May Short Story Read-along has been posted. I suspect I may have been a bit too subtle in my post: I want you to read the story and then write one in a similar vein. Yes, that’s correct: I want you to write a short story, in honor of National Short Story month. It’s just for fun, and I think it might give some of you a chance to flex those muscles that haven’t been used since high school. You can post your stories in the comments on the post, or post a link to the story. If you’ve written a story but are too shy to post it, leave a comment telling us what the process was like. I don’t want to have to beg, but I will. Please write a story.

2. I was interviewed by Scott Porch at The Huffington Post about Project Short Story. Check it out! Thanks, Scott!

3. Michael and I had a brief discussion about Short Story Month on the latest BOTNS podcast (episode #229). Michael is reading a story a day for the month of May, and he talks about his plan.

OK, now on to this week’s reading:

For my writing class, I both read and listened to Denis Johnson’s “Emergency.” I had listened to this once before, and it was very helpful to dissect the story in a class setting. I can certainly appreciate that there is brilliance in this story, and I admire it greatly, but it’s not my favorite story. It seems a silly thing, but I can’t seem to get past the fact that my favorite scene, which involves a drive-in, will be almost impossible for my children to comprehend if they read this story in a few years. This was driven home even more strongly when my 11 year-old, poking around in an antique shop, had no idea how one dialed a rotary telephone. A little bit of Googling tells me that this story confounds more than a few – the blog “Reading the Short Story” attempted to answer the question of why “Emergency” is so popular back in 2011.

“Jazz” by Dylan Landis was assigned reading for my writing class, and we used this story as an illustration of the concept of Point of View. Landis’ collection Normal People Don’t Live Like This may be difficult to track down, but it’s on my list of books to seek out. “Jazz” is the first story in the volume, and features a teenage narrator who finds herself in a dangerous situation that she thinks is both exciting and disturbing.

“The History You’ve Been Trying to Write,” was an in-class story that we read and discussed, again in the context of Point of View. The story is very short — just one single sentence — and very powerful. It appears that the story may have originally been published under the title “All This” in the book Microfiction: An Anthology of Fifty Really Short Stories. The story is contained in this interview with author Joanne Avallon at There are some formatting oddities in that post, but don’t let that deter you.

I also read a classmate’s story that we then discussed in class. It’s very difficult to critique a classmate’s story, especially in an open discussion forum. It’s been helpful to my reading, though, to focus on a more critical reading of the stories I choose.

55 Miles to the Gas Pump” by Annie Proulx is another very short piece. This was recommended by reader Grace, and I loved it, disturbing thought it may be. It even more disturbing to have read this on the day the three kidnapped women were found alive in Cleveland.

“A Taste of Dust” by Lynne Sharon Schwartz, in Best American Short Stories 2005. I’ve been trying to track down old volumes of Best American Short Stories (because I want to own them all!). This is a story about a woman who has dinner at her ex-husband’s home along with his second wife, and is both funny and tense at the same time, just as that dinner must have been.

Unseasonable March” by Birdie Rose, published at the Press 53 blog. This was a winner of a 53-word flash fiction contest, and was brought to my attention in a posting by Jodi Paloni at 365 Short Stories. Jodi posts one online story each day. I don’t always follow her links, but this one intrigued me.  Jodi’s note said that the story “…has conflict, character, place, mystery and tragedy, all in 53 words.” And here is where I struggle with flash fiction. Some of it, I just don’t really get. Unlike “The History You’ve Been Trying to Write,” I didn’t see a story here. It is a lovely scene, and beautifully written. But I’m not sure if it’s a story. I’d love to hear your thoughts … please leave them in the comments below. If you are getting this post via email, you can comment at



May 06

Things Ann Must Do in May


  1. Remember that May is Short Story month
  2. Find out who decided that May is Short Story month
  3. Think of a cool way to celebrate Short Story month with readers
  4. Find excellent Jennifer Egan story at The Guardian
  5. Marvel over Jennifer Egan’s cleverness
  6. Make To Do” by Jennifer Egan the BOTNS Short Story Read-along for May
  7. Encourage everyone to read “To Do” by Jennifer Egan
  8. Wonder if you could write a short story like Jennifer Egan
  9. Wonder if Michael Kindness could write a short story like Jennifer Egan
  10. Invite BOTNS readers to write their own version of “To Do,” or any kind of story told in the form of a list
  11. Determine ways that readers can post their own stories in list form
    • In the comments at Books on the Nightstand (if it’s not too long)
    • On their own blogs, then post a link in the comments at BOTNS
    • In a Google Doc, which is free and will give a link that can be posted in the comments at BOTNS
    • any other way they can think of to post a story and provide the link in the comments
  12. Remind readers that these stories are only for fun and not a competitive sport
  13. Remind people that this is a fun way to stretch writing muscles which may not have been used for awhile
  14. Sit back and wait for the stories to roll in
  15. Remind readers from time to time about the stories (gently, don’t scare them!)
  16. Celebrate the intelligence, cleverness and bravery of BOTNS readers (of course you knew it all along)
  17. In a few years, discover that someone was inspired to become a writer because of this fun little exercise



May 05

Copy of MWA.Logo

There is a strong tradition of short stories in the mystery and crime fiction genre, due largely (I think) to the proliferation of mystery magazines. The Strand, which began in 1891 and ran until 1950, published (among others) Graham Green, Agatha Christie, and all of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes short stories. (The Strand has since been revived, beginning its new chapter in 1998. As a kid, I spent many happy hours with Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery magazine.

But so far, most of my reading for Project Short Story has been literary fiction. This week started out no differently. First, I read one of my classmates’ stories, which we were instructed to critique so that we could discuss it in class. I’m very thankful for my past four months of story reading, as I felt far better equipped to talk about specific strengths and weaknesses in the story than I would have been earlier.  Then I read “The Swimmer” by John Cheever. It’s a classic, and I had read it before, but it was no less wonderful on the re-read.

So it was with glee that I spent the remainder of the week reading the five short stories that were nominated for The 2013 Edgar Award. I read the last story the evening before the Edgars were awarded, so I went into all the stories without knowing which would win.

“Iphigenia in Aulis” – by Mike Carey  in the anthology An Apple for the Creature edited by Charlaine Harris and Toni P. Kellner -This story, set in an unspecified future, was both compelling and disturbing. Some might consider it to be more at home in the category of speculative fiction than mystery. Regardless of how you categorize it, it’s a very strong short story, and I want to read more from Mike Carey. I can’t really tell you what it’s about, because Carey does an excellent job of revealing only what we need to know, doling out the revelations in little bits.

“Hot Sugar Blues”by Steve Liskow – from Mystery Writers of America Presents: Vengeance edited by Lee Child. A story about blues musicians, business ethics, and karma. Though I figured out early on “whodunit,” there was still a satisfying twist at the end.

“The Void it Often Brings With It” by Tom Piccirilli – published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine – If crime fiction can be fun (and why not?) this one is, though there is also darkness. It’s an interesting tale of student and professor, and while the main character is not particularly likeable, I was rooting for him all along.

“The Unremarkable Heart” by Karin Slaughter, from Mystery Writers of America Presents: Vengeance edited by Lee Child – I an seldom truly disturbed when reading fiction. It is probably a fault, but violence and gore don’t often bother me. This story, though not graphic, gave me an almost visceral reaction. I attribute that to the skill of the author. If you’ve read Karin Slaughter before, you know that she does not shy away from brutal truths. This may not be for everyone, and I can’t say I enjoyed reading it. I do, however, admire Slaughter’s ability to tell a story and achieve a reaction.

“Still Life No. 41” by Teresa Solana, published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine – A short tale set in the art world. I saw the ending coming from the beginning, but enjoyed imagining the scenes playing out nonetheless.

It was not difficult to choose my favorite of the five stories. On the evening of the Edgars, I was rooting for “Iphigenia in Aulis.” However, I was not disappointed with the winner, “The Unremarkable Heart” by Karin Slaughter. It is an incredibly accomplished story and deserving of the award.

If you want to learn more about the Edgar Award and the Mystery Writers of America, please listen to the most recent episode of the Books on the Nightstand podcast (#228). I interviewed Daniel J. Hale, Executive Vice President of the MWA, and we had a great conversation about the Edgars and its sponsoring organization.

Apr 26

At Books on the Nightstand, we’re dubbing 2013 “The Year of the Short Story.” In celebration, Ann is reading one story a day, for the entire year. We’ll also be highlighting new story collections, lit magazines, and online resources for short fiction. Below are links to all of our posts tagged “Project Short Story”

It has been a crazy few weeks between travel, world events, and some personal things, and while I have been reading, I confess that I have not kept up with the true spirit of my resolution to read one short story per day. Some days I read none. Other days, I read more (well, listened more, usually) to catch up. I have no idea if I’ve read enough stories to make up for lost days, but I’m not going to stress too much about that.

These last weeks have given me an added appreciation for The New Yorker Fiction Podcast. It was often easier to listen to a story while I was driving somewhere, or on a plane, than it was to read. I also really love the discussion about the stories that the host and guest author have on the podcast. It feels like the best kind of literature class.

Speaking of classes, I’m taking one at Grub Street, an amazing writing center in Boston. I can honestly say that this is a direct result of Project Short Story. Reading these stories has made me read differently, and I want to understand how, in many cases, the writers do what they do so effectively. So while this is a writing class, because it focuses on short fiction, it is also a reading class. The assigned stories and discussion about the craft of writing will help me to be a better reader. It also means that some of the short stories I read will be fellow students’ stories. I will not list the title or author’s name, and those stories won’t be indexed. I am, however, still going to count them as a story for that particular day.

Here’s what I’ve been reading. Please share with me in the comments any stories you’ve been reading, or stories you recommend. And a special note to Callie, who has been valiantly indexing all of the stories — no rush on getting these all in!

More Steve Yarbrough stories, specifically “Bohemia” and “Sleet” from Veneer. Steve is so good — I love his novels (especially his forthcoming The Realm of Last Chances, which will be published in August) and I am very much enjoying his early shorter work. For my writing class, I read a flash fiction piece called “Brushing Death’s Hair” by Angela Rydell (published in the Indiana Review) that I know I will think about from time to time from now forward. I read a story written by one of my classmates, and an unpublished story written by an author friend.

You may recall our guest post conversation about short stories between author J. Robert Lennon and Lori Hettler of The Next Best Book Club blog. I was thrilled to that the new One Teen Story issue is  J. Robert Lennon’s “If You are Watching This I am Dead.” I dove right in.

From The New Yorker Fiction Podcast:

  • The Indian Uprising” by Donald Barthelme, read by Chris Adrian – I did not understand this story at all. It was completely incomprehensible to me. I’m not sure if reading it (instead of listening) would make it more clear. Something to go back to later…
  • Roy Spivey” by Miranda July, read by David Sedaris – Funny, quirky, sweet and sad.
  • I Bought a Little City” by Donald Barthleme, read by Donald Antrim – now this Barthlme I loved! The language is so great, and one of my favorite things in short stories is when humor turns to darkness.
  • Bullet in the Brain,” by Tobias Wolf, read by TC Boyle – This was assigned in my writing class as a great example of characterization.
  • Dance in America” by Lorrie Moore, read by Louise Erdrich
  • Somewhere Else,” by Grace Paley, read by Barbara Rosenblatt and discussed with Nell Freudenberger
  • A Day,” by William Trevor, read by Jhumpa Lahiri
  • Last Night” by James Salter, read by Thomas McGuane – This is a fantastic story that I had read before, but was happy to revisit. I’m just about to start Salter’s new novel, All That Is.
  • Where is the Voice Coming From” by Eudora Welty, read by Joyce Carol Oates – A fascinating discussion between Oates and podcast host Deborah Treisman about the writing of this story made this a doubly-great episode.
  • Emergency” by Denis Johnson, read by Tobias Wolff – a classic that I had never read.
  • Adams,” by George Saunders, read by Joshua Ferris – Ferris does an amazing reading of this story, and there is also an interesting discussion with Treisman here about what the story might mean.
  • The Dinner Party” by Joshua Ferris, read by Monica Ali – I hadn’t read Ferris’ short fiction before, but I very much enjoyed this story of a dinner party gone awry.

I think I’m back on a “normal” schedule of one story per day now, and my reading this week is themed. More on that next week …

Have a great reading week, and don’t forget to tell me what you’ve been reading!






Apr 06

At Books on the Nightstand, we’re dubbing 2013 “The Year of the Short Story.” In celebration, Ann is reading one story a day, for the entire year. We’ll also be highlighting new story collections, lit magazines, and online resources for short fiction. But one of the things I’m most looking forward to is discussing stories with you, here on the blog. Each month, I will choose one story to feature, and I hope that through the comments on the blog, we can explore these stories together. In addition, there is sure to be conversation about the story at the Books on the Nightstand Goodreads group, so come join us over there, too.




Let’s get away from the darkness for a bit, shall we? I received an email this week that called my previous selections “grim,” and I can’t really argue.

Mary Fran in our Goodreads group pointed out this story back in January. I read it right away, and it has stuck with me. I shared it with some friends, and they were as delighted with this story as I was.

Simon Rich is a humorist and former writer for Saturday Night Live. This story comes from his latest collection, The Last Girlfriend on Earth and other stories.

You can read it free on The New Yorker website.

I’d love to know your thoughts on this story. Did it work for you? What did you think about the author’s choice of narrator? If you’re not usually a fan of short stories, do you feel differently about this one? And, on the flip side, if you love short stories (especially literary short fiction), did you like this?

Please leave comments on the blog (or, if you are receiving this by email, please click through to visit the blog and leave a comment).

Apr 06

At Books on the Nightstand, we’re dubbing 2013 “The Year of the Short Story.” In celebration, Ann is reading one story a day, for the entire year. We’ll also be highlighting new story collections, lit magazines, and online resources for short fiction. But one of the things I’m most looking forward to is discussing stories with you, here on the blog. Each month, I will choose one story to feature, and I hope that through the comments on the blog, we can explore these stories together. In addition, there is sure to be conversation about the story at the Books on the Nightstand Goodreads group, so come join us over there, too.

Elizabeth reads her short story

Elizabeth reads her short story

Last weekend I attended my very first Short Story Salon. It won’t be my last, even if I have to host one myself. A friend invited several of us over to her cozy apartment; the only requirement was that we each bring a short story to read aloud. Some of us knew each other slightly, others not at all, but it was one of the most enjoyable literary evenings I’ve ever had. First, we fortified ourselves with wine, cheese, and a bit of bourbon. Then we went around the room and read our stories out loud. Some stories engendered a lot of discussion after the reading, others not so much, but I think we all appreciated each and every story.

Vanessa started the evening with “Billenium” from The Best Short Stories of J. G. Ballard.  I’d never read Ballard before but I’ll be picking up this collection, as Ballard’s futuristic story has stuck with me since the reading. It’s one of those stories that is set in a future that contains a recognizable truth: if the population continues to grow at its current rate, there will not be enough resources, including living space. And yet at its heart, “Billenium” is a human story, and one in which most of will recongize ourselves and those we know.

Callie offered “The Case of Four and Twenty Blackbirds” by Neil Gaiman, an old-fashioned detective story featuring nursery rhyme characters that were familiar to us all. It’s available to read for free from Gaiman’s website, and also in his collection Angels and Visitations.

Noah read Ron Carlson’s “The Governor’s Ball,” from A Kind of Flying. I loved Carlson’s novel Five Skies, and was happy to discover this story collection. This tale of a man who tries to retrieve an old mattress that has fallen off his truck contains a scene that I won’t quickly forget, and one that makes me smile even now as I think of it. Also, for those of you are interested in dissecting short stories, either for pleasure or because you are a writer, Carlson has written a book called Ron Carlson Writes a Story, in which he invites the reader to look in depth at how he wrote “The Governor’s Ball.” It’s “the story of the story,” and I can’t wait to read it.

Elizabeth made us all sit up when she announced her short story: Horton Hatches the Egg, by Dr. Seuss. It was fascinating to think of this story in a new way (as a short story rather than as a children’s picture book) while we listened and watched Elizabeth read it aloud. She’s right, this is a short story, and it works for adults as much as for children.

Loretta gave us another Neil Gaiman story: “A Study in Emerald,” which is a play on the Sherlock Holmes story “A Study in Scarlet.” Read the .pdf from Gaiman’s website.

I chose Donald Barthelme’s “The School.” It’s available to read on the NPR website and also in his collection Sixty Stories. I loved this story about a class that has been touched by death in many ways, but was also surprised by how differently it came across when I read it aloud. When I read it to myself, it’s a somewhat serious story with humorous moments that brought a bemused smile from time to time. When I read it aloud, it became laugh-out-loud funny in parts (at least that’s how this audience reacted) and then took a sharp turn toward the dark that made it difficult for me to read out loud because I was still laughing. It’s hard to explain, but so very interesting to think about.

If you are interested in short stories and literary gatherings, I highly recommend a Short Story Salon. Let me know if you try it.

I did my “regular” reading this week, too, but my recaps will be short and to the point since you’re probably all off planning your Short Story Salon…

“The Fall” by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya from There Once Lived a Girl Who Seduced Her Sister’s Husband and He Hanged Himself. This collection is so good.

“The Madman” by Chinua Achebe from Girls at War and Other Stories. Achebe died this week, and I had never read any of his short stories. This was first published in 1971.

“Night Women” by Edwidge Danticat from The Art of the Story, edited by Daniel Halpern. I recently finished Danticat’s fortchoming novel Claire of the Sea Light, and wanted to read more. My favorite line from this story reflects what I love about the new novel: “There is a place in Ville Rose where ghost women ride the crests of waves while brushing the stars out of their hair.”

The Cavemen in the Hedges” by Stacey Richter, in Zoetrope. When choosing my story for the Salon, I asked twitter to suggest good candidates for reading aloud. Pete from the fabulous Green Apple Books in San Francisco (go visit!) suggested this story. It turned out to be a bit long to read aloud, but it’s a fabulous story and I want to read more by Stacey Richter.

“The Lady Luck” and “Veneer” by Steve Yarbrough, from the collection Veneer. Steve Yarbrough is one of our authors at Booktopia Vermont next weekend, and I’ll be moderating a session called “Short Story vs. Novel.” I read these two stories in preparation, and can’t wait to talk to Steve about the similarities and differences in the two forms.

And hey … if you host a Short Story Salon in the Boston/Providence area, invite me, OK?


Apr 04

I confess: I often eavesdrop in restaurants. I love hearing snippets of other people’s lives without having to hear all about their lives. I think that’s why I love Twitter so much.

Today’s conversation is a result of that “Twitter eavesdropping.” An author and a well-respected book blogger were discussing short stories.So I pulled a metaphorical chair over to their metaphorical table and asked them to back up and start at the beginning. The result is this conversation in interview form that is chock-full of short story recommendations. 

J. Robert Lennon

Photo courtesy of the author

J. Robert Lennon is the author of a story collection, Pieces For The Left Hand, and seven novels, including Mailman, Castle, and Familiar. He holds an MFA from the University of Montana, and has published short fiction in The New Yorker, Harper’s, Playboy, Granta, The Paris Review, Electric Literature, and elsewhere. He has been anthologized in Best American Short Stories, Best American Nonrequired Reading, and Prize Stories: The O. Henry Awards, and his story “The Rememberer” inspired the CBS detective series Unforgettable. He hosts the podcast Writers at Cornell, and co-hosts another, Lunch Box, with poet Ed Skoog. His book reviews have appeared in The New York Times Book Review, The Guardian, and The London Review of Books, and he lives in Ithaca, New York, where he teaches writing at Cornell University. Graywolf Press will publish John’s new short story collection next year.

Lori HettlerLori Hettler is founder and moderator of TNBBC. Her passion for supporting the small press and self publishing communities has driven her to showcase those publishers, authors, and novels in unique and interesting ways. TNBCC was born out of The Goodreads group The Next Best Book Club (TNBBC) which proudly boasts an unbelievable 10,500 members who are collectively, endlessly, searching for the next best book! It’s one of the largest, most active group on the Goodreads site. Find Lori on TwitterGoodreads, and Facebook.


TNBBC: Short story collections are all the rage right now. Why do you think that is?

JRL: I can think of three possible reasons. First, the writers who first cut their teeth on the great short fiction of the eighties are now at the top of their game, and people are noticing. (Case in point: Saunders fever.) Second, the massive and somewhat frightening rise in the number of MFA programs has created more workshops, which are usually focused on the short story. So more people are writing them, and those people are reading them with great excitement. And finally, things work in cycles. We get tired of things, we rediscover things. Short stories were bound to make a comeback. I’m glad they have, by the way.

TNBBC: Speaking of comebacks, it would appear that short story writing is something you keep coming back to. Pieces for the Left Hand back in 2005, The Great Zombini in 2011, not to mention all of the short fiction you’ve had published in anthologies over the years… and now the collection that will be published by Graywolf Press. What is this hold that short stories have over you?

JRL: Stories were the first kind of writing I really became obsessed with—specifically Stephen King’s Night Shift. I must have read that book a hundred times in my adolescence, the paperback with the hand on it covered with gauze and eyeballs. And when I started writing myself, it was the natural place to begin. Also, though I love the long-term commitment that a novel brings, I can’t resist the one-night stand of the story—the idea that you can, just possibly, create something complete and of value in one sitting, is very exciting. (Though I admit it usually takes me longer than that.)

TNBBC: Ah. Stephen King. He has managed to embed himself into everyone’s memories, in one way or another. His novel It was the first grown up book I read, at the age of 11 or 12, and I recall it frightened the bejesus out of me at the time. And yet, the more I read of him, the more I noticed his short stories haunting me. And who can forget, as a kid, the Alvin Schwartz/Stephen Gammell series Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark…..! What are some of your favorite story collections now?

JRL: Well, Lydia Davis’s Collected Stories is practically an instruction manual for me. And I love the whole oeurve of Alice Munro and, yes, of George Saunders. I liked Wells Tower’s collection a lot, and I’m very excited about this writer Jamie Quatro, whose first collection, I Want to Show You More, was just published in March. Her story “Ladies and Gentlemen of the Pavement” is an instant classic.

TNBBC: Gee, thanks John! Now I’ve got to go add these books to my list. I’ve got to admit something. Lately, short story collections have this tendency to wow me. Specifically those being put out by small press – writers like Alan Heathcock, Ben Tanzer, Scott Dominic Carpenter, Kij Johnson, S.D. Foster, Matt Bell, Amber Sparks… they can work crazy magic within short form fiction. Their collections squeeze my heart muscle. In the whacky words of Anchorman’s Ron Burgundy, reading their short stories is like being “in a glass cage of emotion”. How do you discover short story collections? Are they something you are specifically seeking out, are they recommended to you, are they purely happy accidents?

JRL: Usually people recommend them to me—often a student—or I read one in a litmag or an annual best-of anthology. But I have to be honest with you, Lori, you probably read more of them than I do. I probably read far less in my own genre than other writers. I’m too impressionable—I end up writing pastiches. (My book Pieces for the Left Hand, for instance, is way too much like Thomas Bernhard’s The Voice Imitator, one of my all-time favorite story collections.) So I read a lot of science fiction and mystery, and tech writing on the internet, and nonfiction articles on Instapaper, and so on. (Recall how little of my bathroom-reading piece for you was literary in nature!)

TNBBC: I suppose that is something all authors must be sensitive to… being influenced by what they read and love. So let me ask you this, where did you get the inspiration for the new collection of short stories?

JRL: Well, these weren’t written all at once—they are every decent longish story that I’ve written and published in the past fifteen years. So each one has a different origin. Sometimes I go on a thematic or stylistic tear and write a bunch of stories that are of a piece—this happened with Pieces, and it happened this past year with some new stories. But those stories are for some future collection. This is a grab bag—a good one, I hope.

Thanks so much, John and Lori, for letting us listen in on your conversation. I’ve now got a reading list a mile long, with Pieces for the Left Hand at the top!





Mar 30

At Books on the Nightstand, we’re dubbing 2013 “The Year of the Short Story.” In celebration, Ann is reading one story a day, for the entire year. We’ll also be highlighting new story collections, lit magazines, and online resources for short fiction. But one of the things I’m most looking forward to is discussing stories with you, here on the blog. Each month, I will choose one story to feature, and I hope that through the comments on the blog, we can explore these stories together. In addition, there is sure to be conversation about the story at the Books on the Nightstand Goodreads group, so come join us over there, too.

The burning question for the week: “What makes one story for teens and another for adults?”

The reason for this question is that I received the new issues of One Story and One Teen Story this week. I recommend subscriptions to both. So far I’ve received two issues of One Teen Story, and I think each story could stand up among “adult” stories just fine. Based on the last two issues, don’t be put off if you don’t like Young Adult fiction.

One Story #176 is “Running Alone” by Halimah Marcus. High school athlete Hunter Porter is a middle-distance runner, the best in the Northeast. His father, who is also the track coach coach, is a mathematician turned teacher. He’s helped to push Hunter to success. When Hunter’s mother is diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer, the necessary surgery is scheduled quickly, and inadvertently on the day of Nationals. They decide that Hunter should still run, even though Hunter has to take the trip to California alone and run without his biggest supporter. My favorite line from this story: “She cannot predict her own son’s regrets any more than she can predict her own death, which, for all she knows, lies in wait on the other side of the automatic door.” I think this story would appeal to teens, even though at it also has the point of view of the mother and the father.

The story in this issue of One Teen Story (Vol 1, Issue VII) is “You Never Know” by Francesa Lia Block. This story is told in the second person. We meet “you” at thirteen, when a boy you like insults you. We follow you through your life int he context of two boys and your impossibly beautiful friend Corinne Coquillard. I don’t know what makes this story “teen” and yesterday’s story not. This is set in the 80s, and at the heart is a teen experience. But there is an epiphany, and it happens when the main character is an adult. Maybe there is no difference; I believe there is a separate editor for One Story and One Teen Story. The fact that I received these stories in the mail on the same day and read them back to back is probably driving the question. Also, One Teen Story makes a teachers’ guide available for each of its stories so that they can be used in the classroom. Perhaps that’s the only difference.

Other stories this week:

“The Echo of Neighborly Bones” by Daniel Woodrell in The Outlaw Album. First line: “Once Boshell finally killed his neighbor he couldn’t seem to quit killing him.” Great stuff.

Fishkill” by Justin Lawrence Daugherty from Longer flash fiction from a writer I met briefly at the AWP Conference. The narrator and his girlfriend Sonora are running away (from what, we’re not sure). Sonora is driven by superstition, and sees bad luck everywhere. This is a fast read with much depth and great description. I’d very much like to read more from Daugherty.

The Vision of Peter Damien” by Chris Adrian, from A Better Angel. This was the strangest story of the week. It is set some time in the past: the chidlren’s bedroom windows have just gotten glass; they celebrate Lammas. Peter is the only one in his family who has never been sick. This makes him feel left out, so when one night he has a fever and a vision, he’s proud. His visions continue, in epileptic-like episodes, ultimately spreading to other children in the town. Peter’s visions are of a lady falling from the sky, of two burning towers, and of a silver angel flying into the towers, causing their collapse. At one point his vision brings forth a news announcer from CNN. It’s odd and disturbing but somehow I couldn’t stop reading.

“House Heart” by Ameila Gray, in Tin House Vol 14, Number 2. I said that the Chris Adrian story was the strangest this week, but “House Heart” gave it a run for its money. I didn’t enjoy this story about a couple who buys a young woman and locks her in the venting inside their home, which is an old industrial building. The themes in this story are very similar to George Saunders’ “Semplica Girls Diary” but not as well executed. Here, it just felt creepy.

“A Murky Fate” by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya from There Once Lived a Girl Who Seduced Her Sister’s Husband, and He Hanged Himself. How can you resist a book with that title? This is the first story, in which a woman asks her mother to leave their apartment so that she may bring home a married lover. The introduction to this book was as interesting as the story, and I feel like this book is not just a collection of stories but also a document on life in Russia after the revolution. I’m eager to read more.

Next week I’ll have details of the Short Story Salon that I attended last night, which was a ton of fun and that I can’t wait to do again. Have a great reading week!

Mar 22


I had a wonderful week of reading; I was not disappointed at any level by any of the stories. I also managed to cover some range: from the prose-poetry of Anne Carson to the modern classic that is Raymond Carver, to some new collections that are mostly delicious and dark. I didn’t have a plan this week, I just picked up the stories at random. But thi is a week where randomness doesn’t feel so random; I think every one of these stories could be studied in a literature class for structure, language and technique. It was a very, very good week.


Short Talks” by Anne Carson in The Anchor Book of New American Short Stories – There is much attention being paid to Anne Carson right now, including this New York Times profile, because of the release of her new book, Red Doc>. I confess that I’ve never read Carson, but I know many who worship her. So I tried this story. Is it a story? I’m not sure. It may also be a prose poem. I didn’t understand much of it. But once I stopped worrying about understanding it and just let the language wash over me, it became the favorite thing I read all week. It’s impossible to describe, but I encourage you to read it. Don’t get frustrated because you don’t know what it is or what it means. Carson loves language and you can’t help but love it with her.

Here’s my favorite passage, titled “On Ovid”:

“I see him there on a night like this but cool, the moon blowing through black streets. He sups and walks back to his room. The radio is on the floor. Its luminous green dial blares softly. He sits down at the table; people in exile write so many letters. Now Ovid is weeping. Each night about this time he puts on sadness like a garment and goes on writing. In his spare time he is teaching himself the local language (Getic) in order to compose in it an epic poem no one will ever read.”

Rondine Al Nido” by Claire Vaye Watkins, from Battleborn – I read this after hearing that Claire Vaye Watkins had won the 2013 Story Prize, beating out Junot Diaz and Dan Chaon. I’m pretty happy with the win, though all three are great. This is a devastating story of two teens on an outing to Las Vegas in search of excitement. Watkins’ descriptions evoke things that only a true observer would notice, and once we read them, we know them to be true. This may be one of my favorite parts of reading short stories — the way an author can mention something that is so common it goes unnoticed in most people’s lives.

American Lawn” by Jessica Francis Kane from This Close – I live in the same neighborhood where my husband grew up, so this story had some additional points of connection for me. Pat and her husband have lived in their home for thirty years. Janeen and Ryan are their young neighbors. Pat resents that a couple can afford to buy a house while still in their twenties. She doesn’t like the changes they are making. She calls them “go-getters.” I really loved this portrait of suburbia, of competitiveness and frustration, of time moving on and leaving one behind.

Cry Cry Cry” by Sherman Alexie, from Blasphemy: New and Selected Stories. If you haven’t read Sherman Alexie you should fix that. This collection would be a fine place to start (but I’d recommend The Absolute True Diary of a Part-Time Indian; don’t be put off if you find it in the young adult section. It transcends). Alexie writes about loyalty, and anger, and asks “What is an Indian?”  This story, the first in his most recent collection, is tense and loving and brutal all at the same time.

Stab” by Chris Adrian, from A Better Angel, read online at Untitled Books. A story in which everything that happens is completely unexpected. Someone is killing animals in the neighborhood. Our narrator, a young boy, knows that it’s his neighbor Molly Pitcher. This is one of those stories that, when you finish, feels like you’ve read a complete novel in just a few pages. It’s dark and brilliant, just how I like my stories.

Cathedral” by Raymond Carver, performed on Selected Shorts by James Naughton, aired March 10, 2013 (you can listen to the 5 most recent episodes for free online) – A long Carver story about the night a blind man comes to visit the narrator’s home. Robert, the blind man, used to work with the narrator’s wife, but they haven’t spent time together in years, even though they stayed in touch through audiotapes. This is one of those stories where some will complain that “nothing happens.” I can’t imagine this story being as powerful if I had read it silently off the page. Naughton’s performance is theater. He allows the humor to come through, and brings the dialogue alive.

We Live in Water” by Jess Walter, from We Live in Water; read online at Byliner (but by the book, it’s fantastic)- 1958: Oren is in trouble. He was sleeping with another man’s wife, and stole money from her husband. The husband found out, and now he’s after Oren. Present day: Michael is searching for his father. He finds a note from a roadhouse in Idaho. Perhaps someone there knows where his dad has gone. This is a violent story with heart. Highly recommended.

As I recapped my writing this week, I edited the word “brilliant” out of almost every sentence. I try not to use the word lightly; I really do feel that at least some part of most of these stories could be categorized as “brilliant.” I hope that every week can be this full of fantastic reads.

Mar 18

At Books on the Nightstand, we’re dubbing 2013 “The Year of the Short Story.” In celebration, Ann is reading one story a day, for the entire year. We’ll also be highlighting new story collections, lit magazines, and online resources for short fiction. To see all of our posts that are part of  Project Short Story, please click the tab at the top of the page.

Five Chapters


When I started Project Short Story, several readers recommended that Five Chapters. Five Chapters publishes a new short story every week, in five parts. For those of you who are trying to read more short fiction this year, Five Chapters is a great way to do that, since each installment is quick enough to read on a mobile device or in other instances where there is not a lot of time. Since new stories start on Monday and installments run each weekday, it’s a great diversion when you need a break at work. There’s even an iPhone app that might make your reading easier; I’m not sure if there are apps for Android or other devices.

I was intrigued by the concept of Five Stories, so asked editor David Daley to do an email Q&A interview. I hope you enjoy it, and please do check out Five Stories.

How is Five Chapters different from other literary magazines?

FiveChapters publishes a new story every week in five parts. I like to think of it as adapting the old 19th century newspaper serial to modern technology. My hope is that the site makes it easy for people to add a little fiction to their online reading diet every day, either by stopping by the site or using our iPhone app. At the same time, FiveChapters is its in seventh year, so there are some 350-plus stories in the archive by lots of amazing writers — Jennifer Egan, Maile Meloy, Lauren Groff, Wells Tower, Sam Lipsyte, Curtis Sittenfeld, Jess Walter, Arthur Phillips, Kate Christensen, Danielle Evans and so many more. So whether you stop by every day, or the site is brand new to you, there is a lot there to read. I’d be willing to say this is one of the very strongest collections of modern short stories anywhere on the web. There are so many great literary magazines. The journals I consider in FC’s peer group as far as the caliber of writers we publish — Tin House, A Public Space, One Story, The Paris Review — do some very cool things online, but are really amazing in print. They don’t — for very good reason — make everything available online and provide open access. I very much want FiveChapters to bring great short stories to the places where people read right now, on the web, on their phones, at work, during their commute. FiveChapters also looks for a mix of well-known writers and writers who are very much on their way. FC has published some of the very first stories by writers who’ve gone on to win awards, sign great book deals, get published in the New Yorker, the whole deal. And something else I’d like to emphasize — at a time when literary journals and book reviews are under deserved fire for being heavily weighted toward men in the counts produced by VIDA — is that for each of the three years in which VIDA has done a count, FiveChapters has published more women than men. I don’t think a lot of other journals can say that.

What was the impetus for Five Chapters?
I had done two really fun fiction projects. One was for McSweeney’s, called Twenty-Minute Fiction. We asked almost 100 writers to write three stories in an hour and published the best in one of the early issues of McSweeney’s. I think in some ways that series helped repopularize the idea of flash fiction. And then I worked at a newspaper in New York on a series called Tag-team fiction, where two writers kicked a story back and forth over email. There were some great ones — Aimee Bender with Jonathan Lethem, Gary Shteyngart with Darin Strauss, probably 100 more. But the real impetus for the web site, honestly, came from working at newspapers and magazines and seeing what embarrassing sites so many smart people looked at all day. I wanted to start a site you could feel good about having in your morning websurfing routine, or reading at lunch. I’ve always loved newspapers and the idea of serial storytelling, and putting all of this together seemed so natural and fun.

How do you find stories for Five Chapters? What do you look for in submissions?
FiveChapters is pretty heavily curated — I seek out most of the stories which appear on the site directly from writers. I do accept submissions and have gotten some great work that way, but I think I still solicit the vast majority of what gets published on the site, or stories come from writers who know other people who have been published on FC. I’m looking to be dazzled by a great story. There isn’t one type of story or genre — really, it’s just the desire to be gripped by something which you can’t put down because something in the writing or the language or the storytelling is so fresh, compelling and urgent.    But it is also just me, so for better or worse, this is the sense of what one person finds interesting. It’s the indie-music model, in some ways — I discovered a lot of my favorite bands simply because they were on a label I trusted. I hope that there are some readers who look at FiveChapters the same way that I’ll buy anything that comes out on Merge.

What is the best way for readers to consume the stories you publish? Do you send them by email, or do you recommend an RSS reader, or ??

I don’t send them by email, but probably should make that kind of newsletter available. You can get them over RSS,or on our iPhone app, or by visiting the site every day.

You have an online journal and also publish print books. Have you ever considered a print version of Five Chapters?
I have. There’s been talk over the years of an anthology of FiveChapters stories. But I also think it would be a lot of fun to do a monthly magazine with the stories which have appeared in the last month. I know as a reader myself, as excited as I get when the new issues of my favorite journals arrive, they’re sometimes too beautiful as objects to want to take them on the subway, or stuff in my pocket like I might the New Yorker. Maybe there would be a market for a magazine that’s purely fiction, but which you wouldn’t feel bad about recycling or leaving in the coffee shop when you were done with it. 

How did the book publishing side of Five Chapters come about? Can you tell us a little bit about the books on your list, both present and forthcoming?

It’s such an interesting time for publishing. It seemed to me that there were thousands of people coming to FiveChapters and that all of them had one thing in common — they loved short stories by modern writers. I had a mailing list of people who loved reading short stories. Several thousand people were reading every week, and If you come back to the site, hopefully that’s because you trust the taste and the sensibility. Now most story collections only sell a couple thousand copies, even those on big houses with major review attention. It seemed to me that a new model might be effective now — a model based around direct sales to readers, with no need for Amazon or big infrastructure. And it also seemed that this might be a great way to launch or relaunch writers. Emma Straub and Jess Row both had two brilliant collections in need of a home. All Emma needed was a publisher to stand behind her and put her work out — she’s a sensation, and I’m very proud of the role FC played in placing her on the road to stardom. Jess Row is one of our great writers, and it was a real thrill to put out stories of that caliber, work which landed in Best American Short Stories. They both sold first novels to Riverhead and I hope that’s the start of a pipeline. I’m putting out two more collections in the fall: Nina McConigley’s Cowboys and East Indians and Ian Stansel’s Everybody’s Irish. They are both first collections, both completely fantastic, and I think big things are going to happen for them both. And then there will be two more early in 2014; I’m not quite ready to announce names, but the work is incredibly good.

Which one story featured on Five Chapters stands out the most for you? I’m not necessarily looking for your favorite story, but rather, the one that has the most interesting back story, maybe won a major award, or perhaps hit you at just the right time to have an impact.

One story is hard! I’ll sneak in three: One of the very first stories published on FiveChapters was Jennifer Egan’s Selling the General, which in a revised form, went on to be one of the stories in A Visit from the Goon Squad, which, of course, won the Pulitzer and the National Book Critics Circle award for fiction. Another really exciting one was Jay McInerney’s If Wishes Were Porsches. This was the beginning of a novel that he started right after Bright Lights, Big City, and was stolen from his apartment by a fan and returned years later. The only place to read it is on FiveChapters! And lastly, Molly Ringwald is a supremely talented writer. She’d shared early stabs at fiction with me many years ago, but wasn’t ready to publish anything before last year’s thunderclap of a debut, When It Happens to You. It was really an honor to publish her first fiction on the site.

What the heck is Infinite Five Chapters?

Short story marathons! Twice, over the December holidays and then in late August, weeks when a lot of magazines and web sites go dark, I decided that FC would fill the space. Instead of a story a week, we did a story a day — including the weekend. It took its name from Infinite Summer, the David Foster Wallace reading project which was going on at the same time. They were big undertakings but a lot of fun — and allowed me to mix things up, to work in new voices, take stories of different lengths. This would have been 2008. Some amazing people were part of the marathons — Lauren Grodstein, Jami Attenberg, Joe Pernice, Ashley Warlick. There was early work by several writers about to have big books on major presses — Paul Yoon, Edan Lepucki and Peyton Marshall. It’s probably time to do another one.

How would you describe the environment for short fiction in the U.S. at the moment? Do you think it is it different in other countries?
I think we’re in a golden age of the short story. It’s amazing, of course, to see Karen Russell and George Saunders and Junot Diaz get the huge sales to match their brilliance and acclaim. Claire Vaye Watkins just won the Story Prize for what was my favorite collection of last year. Either just out, or about to come out, are genius collections from Amber Dermont, Jim Gavin, Jamie Quatro, Ramona Ausubel, Ethan Rutherford, Jess Walter, Kate Milliken, Laura van den Berg and Sam Lipsyte… I could keep going. The work which gets submitted to FC is very strong — I wish I was able to accept more of it. So it’s a great time to write, and I also think a great time to be a reader, with technology making it easier and easier to take stories with us everywhere we go. But optimistic New York Times trend stories aside, I think we need to be realistic. The marketplace for short stories is not huge, and certainly not big enough to support all the writers who’d like to publish them. It’s disappointing, in that I have always thought the short story is perfect for our short attention span times. You really can inhabit this whole world on your commute, or before you fall asleep, or if you read FC, during the short Internet breaks we all take during the day. We have to be honest though: the marketplace for literary fiction is small, and the market for short stories is a subset of that. We need to grow that audience! 

If you had an unlimited budget to market, promote and advertise the concept of reading short stories to the general reader (i.e., a “Got Milk” campaign), what would you do?

So how do we grow that audience? It’s a really hard question. The traditional avenues — newspaper book reviews, advertising — are either drying up or ineffective these days. I really do believe that we are reading more than ever — now we all stand in lines and walk down the street and stare at our phones. We read at our desks all day. I don’t know how to get people to read a short story during that time instead of going to Facebook or Words with Friends. The short answer is it has to be as interesting to them as seeing what their friends’ status updates are. And then we have to make sure that stories are available on the phone, on tablets, in all the places where people read. There is a way to make the case that the short story is that perfect literary form for this time. I think we can build readers. But it is going to require really innovative delivery systems — on top of great stories. How writers and journals are able to get paid during this rush to free, well, I also don’t know the answer to that. But building readers is how you build a career, one at a time, for the next novel, and a story can be the perfect calling card.

What books are on your nightstand?

Too many! The Amber Dermont and Ethan Rutherford collections are near-perfect. I’ve saved a story or two in each because I can’t bear to be done. I’m carrying around Owen King’s Double Feature and Matthew Specktor’s American Dream Machine. The Blake Bailey biography of Charles Jackson. New novels by Allison Amend and Elliott Holt and Ben Lytal and James Salter. I just ordered the updated re-issue of Tony Fletcher’s R.E.M. biography. The pile grows and grows….

We ask all of our interview subjects to recommend two books, new or old, in print our out of print.  Please tell us two books you can’t wait for us to read.
At the risk of seeming cheesy: I can’t wait for people to read these Nina McConigley and Ian Stansel collections. I’m deep in the copy editing and cover design phases right now, and it’s that point in the process when you just want to hurry the months along so you can share their work with the world. They’ll be ready by August and I could not be more excited to have people get to know two of their next favorite authors.

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