Friday, May 19, 2017

Short Story Month 2017—Part 8: Short Story Writers on Mystery in the Story

Short Story Month 2017—Part 8: Short Story Writers on Mystery in the Story

Joy Williams:  “A writer loves the dark, loves it, but is always fumbling around in the dark.  The writer doesn’t want to disclose or instruct of advocate, he wants to transmute and disturb. He cherishes the mystery…. he wants to escape his time, the obligations of his time, and, by writing, transcend them.”

Flannery O’Connor:  "The particular problem of the short story writer is how to make the action he describes reveal as much of the mystery of existence as possible...The type of mind that can understand [the short story] is the kind that is willing to have its sense of mystery deepened by contact with reality, and its sense of reality deepened by contact with mystery."

Flannery O’Connor:  “The short story is] a form in which the writer makes alive some experience which we are not accustomed to observe everyday, or which the ordinary man may never experience in his ordinary life.... Their fictional qualities lean away from typical social patterns, toward mystery and the unexpected."

Catherine Brady: “Every good story has to risk being obscure, aimless, about nothing if it is to sustain that ‘something wild’ not within reach, not enclosed in the story because it cannot be named or identified in any single passage.”

Alice Munro:” I write because I want to get a feeling of mystery or surprise. Not a mystery that finishes you off, but something that makes the character or reader wonder. I don’t really like interpretations. I don’t want to make definite explanations.”

Amy Hempel: “I  don’t like having anything spelled out. Of course, mystery is not vagueness. Mystery is controlled. It involves information meted out only as needed. I not only don’t want the explanation, I want the mystery.”

Eudora Welty:   "The first thing we notice about our story is that we can't really see the solid outlines of it--it seems bathed in something of its own. It is wrapped in an atmosphere. This is what makes it shine, perhaps, as well as what initially obscures its plain, real shape.”

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Short Story Month 2017—Part 7: Subjectivity of the Short Story

Short Story Month 2017—Part 7: Subjectivity of the Short Story

Mary Lavin: “I feel that it is in the short story that a writer distills the essence of his thought.  I believe this because the short story shape as well as matter, is determined by the writer’s own character.  Both are one.”

Eudora Welty:  “All of one writer’s stories must take on their quality, carry their signature, because of one characteristic lyrical impulse of his mind—the impulse to praise, love, to call up, to prophesy.  Something in the outside world, some person, place, thing, leads back to the emotions in a specific way, it is the break of the living world upon what is stirring inside the mind, and the answering impulse that in a moment of high consciousness fuses impact and image and fires them off together.”

Elizabeth Bowen:  "The first necessity for the short necessariness. The story, that is to say, must spring from an impression or perception pressing enough, acute enough to have made the writer write.”

Sherwood Anderson: “Having, from a conversation overheard in some other way, got the tone of a tale, I was like a woman who has just become impregnated.  Something was growing inside me.  At night when I lay in my bed I could feel the heels of the tale kicking against the walls of my body.”

Erskine Caldwell:  “To transform a simple incident into a story, You get a kind of fever, I suppose, mentally and emotionally, that lifts you up and carries you away. You have to sustain this energy you’ve gotten to write your story. By the time you’ve finished, all your energy, your passion, is spent. You’ve been drained of everything.”

Lorrie Moore:  “Perhaps, in many ways, it’s a more magical form. Who knows sometimes where stories come from? They are perhaps more attached to the author’s emotional life and come more out of inspiration than slogging. You shouldn’t write without inspiration—at least not very often.”

Clark Blaise:  “With the short story, the beginning is the end, it seems to me.  If you yield to the magic of a beginning, which just seizes you, and you can continue it…if something in that beginning is pushing you, then yes, you won’t give it up, you’ll know that there was a crack in it somewhere that allowed you to see another dimension, so you’ll stick with it.”

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Short Story Month 2017—Part 6: Short Story Writers on Time in the Story

Short Story Month 2017—Part 6: Short Story Writers on Time in the Story

Julio Cortezar:  The short-story writer knows that he can’t proceed cumulatively, that time is not his ally.  His own solution is to work vertically, heading up or down in literary space.

Maurice Shadbolt:  The real challenge is to pull as much of life as a story can bear into the fewest possible pages: to produce, if possible, that hallucinatory point in which time past and time future seems to co-exist with time present, that hallucinatory point which to me defines the good or great short story..."

           Russell Banks:  The short story and the novel bear greatly different relations to time. The novel, I think, has a mimetic relation to time. The novel simulates the flow of time, so once you get very far into a novel, you forget where you began—just as you do in real time. Whereas with a short story the point is not to forget the beginning. The ending only makes sense if you can remember the beginning. I think the proper length for a short story is to go as far as you can without going so far that you have forgotten the beginning.

Jayne Anne Phillips:  “I think that stories in reality are often circular; past and present and future are mixed up in terms of the way we think; and the closer a story can get to that—the more completely it can represent that—the more timeless the story becomes.

David Means:  In a short story you’d better do something with time or it’ll feel short.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Short Story Month 2017—Part 5: Short Story Writers on the Novel vs. Short Story

Short Story Month 2017—Part 5: Short Story Writers on the Novel vs. Short Story

Isak Dinesen:  "I see today a new art of narration, a novel literature and category of belles-lettres, dawning upon the world. And this new art and literature--for the sake of the individual characters in the story, and in order to keep close to them and not be afraid--will be ready to sacrifice story itself.... The literature of individuals is a noble art, a great earnest and ambitious human product. But it is a human product. The divine art is the story. In the beginning was the story.... Within our whole universe the story only has authority to answer the cry of heart of its characters, that one cry of heart of each of them: 'Who am I?'"

A.E. Coppard: “First I want to crush the assumption that the short story and the novel are manifestations of one principle of fiction, differentiated merely by size.  In fact, the relationship of the short story to the novel amounts to nothing at all.  The novel is a distinct form of art having a pedigree and practice of hardly more than a couple of hundred years; the short story, so far from being its offspring, is an ancient art originating in the folk tale, which was a thing of joy even before writing, not to mention printing, was invented… The folk tale ministered to an apparently inborn and universal desire to hear tales.”

Deborah Eisenberg: “There’s something that I can’t quite put my finger on about the demands of doing something long, something that looks just slightly more conventional.”

H. E. Bates:  “The short story, whether short or long, poetical or reported, plotted or sketched, concrete or cobweb, has an insistent and eternal fluidity that slips through the hands…. The novel is predominantly an exploration of life…The development of character, the forward movement of time, have always been and perhaps always will be the pulse and nerve of the novel.  But in the short story time need not move, except by an infinitesimal fraction; the characters themselves need not move; they need not grow old; indeed there may be no characters at all.”

Grace Paley: For me, somehow, the short story is very close to the poem in feeling and not so close in feeling to the novel, although it’s about the same people that a novel would be about. But what it tries to say is the poem of those lives.

Anne Beattie: “I don’t think that short stories have all that much in common with novels.  A story re-creates for me more directly what my sense of the world is; a short story writer has to use language differently from a novelist.”

Annie Proulx:  “The construction of short stories calls for a markedly different set of mind than work on a novel, and for me short stories are at once more interesting and more difficult to write than longer works.  I think the short story is a superior form. It’s definitely more difficult than writing a novel.”

William Faulkner:  "A short story is the nearest thing I know to lyric poetry...A novel actually requires far more logic and far more knowledge of circumstances, whereas a short story can have the sort of detachment from circumstances that lyric poetry has."

            Grace Paley:  I really am in love with the story form, so I can’t say the novel will do something a short story can’t.  I would just say they probably do something different. And I’ve never been really clear about it.

George Saunders:  The novel and the short story “are, at their origin, very different… In a novel the whole point is the little constructions along the way… A chance to describe a certain household or a certain while-travelling phenomenon.  And the plot is just a way to link these together, and, in a sense justify them…. Whereas in a story the progression of the plot is what the whole machine is ultimately judged against.  You can do the other things—description, dialogue, etc., but any piece that is inessential to the sense that this thing is moving forward, and along a certain thematic track is felt as extraneous.”

William Carlos Williams: What are the advantages of the short story as an art form?  One clear advantage as against a novel—which is its nearest cousin—is that you do not have to bear in mind the complex structural paraphernalia of a novel in writing a short story and so may dwell on the manner, the writing. 

Edith Wharton:  “The chief technical difference between the short story and the novel may be summed up by saying that the situation is the main concern of the short story, character of the novel; and it follows that the effect produced by the short story depends almost entirely on its form, or presentation.  The short story, free from the longuers of the novel is also exempt from the novel's conclusiveness--too often forced and false: it may thus more nearly than the novel approach aesthetic and moral truth."

William Faulkner:  “When seriously explored, the short story seems to me the most difficult and disciplining form of prose writing extant.”

Frank O’Connor: "The short story, compared with the novel, is a lonely, personal art; the lyric cry in face of human destiny, it does not deal as the novel does with types or with problems of moment, but with what Synge calls 'the profound and common interests of life'."

Nadine Gordimer:  "The strongest convention of the novel, prolonged coherence of false to the nature of whatever can be grasped of human reality.... where contact is more like the flash of fireflies, in and out, now here, not there, in darkness. Short-story writers see by the light of the flash; theirs is the art of the only thing one can be sure of--the present moment."

           Richard Bausch:  T”he short story is such a persistent form:  For the fact is that there are matters of the spirit the short story addresses better than any other literary art."

Lee K. Abbott: Stories are sometimes as demanding to read as they are to write, and frankly writing a couple hundred pages or three or four hundred pages of that kind of thing would kill me, exhaust the hell out of me.

John Cheever:  I do think that if it is good, it is perhaps the most intense form of writing that I’ve ever had any experience with.  The last story I wrote that I liked—I felt as though it had been written out of my left ventricle—I thought ‘I don’t want to write any more short stories, because you don’t fool around…. With a short story, you have to be in there on every word; every verb has to be lambent and strong.  It’s a fairly exhausting task, I think.”

Monday, May 8, 2017

Short Story Month 2017: Part 4: Short-Story Writers on Leaving Things OUt

Leaving Things Out

Anton Chekhov:  "In short stories it is better to say not enough than to say too much, because, because--I don't know why."

Rudyard Kipling:  "A tale from which pieces have been raked out is like a fire that has been poked. One does not know the operation has been performed, but everyone feels the effect."

Hemingway:  “If a writer of prose knows enough about what he is writing about, he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them.”

William Boyd:  “Something occurs in the writing - and reading - of a short story that is on another level from the writing and reading of a novel. The basic issue, it seems to me, is one of compression versus expansion. The essence of almost every short story, by contrast, is one of distillation, of reduction. It's not a simple question of length, either. We are talking about a different category of prose fiction altogether.”

Peter Taylor:  “Compression is what I have set great store by as a short-story writerThe short-story writer is concerned with compression, with saying as much as he can in a short space, just as the poet is. So he has to choose the right dramatic moment for the presentation. If he can do that in writing a story, he can have as big a canvas as he would with a novel. That’s the genius of the short-story writer—finding precisely the right moment in the vital interplay between the characters.”

John Barth:  “We may safely generalize that short story writers, as a class, from Poe to Paley, incline to see how much they can leave out, and novelists as a class, from Petronius to Pynchon, how much they can leave in.”

William Trevor:  “I think the short story is the art of the glimpse.  If the novel is like an intricate Renaissance painting, the short story is an impressionist painting. It should be an explosion of truth. Its strength lies in what it leaves out just as much as what it puts in, if not more. It is concerned with the total exclusion of meaninglessness. Life, on the other hand, is meaningless most of the time.”

Julio Cortezar:  “The short story begins with the notion of limits…it cuts off a fragment of reality, giving it certain limits, but in such a way that this segment acts like an explosion which fully opens a much more ample reality.”

Anne Beattie:  “Any life will seem dramatic if you omit mention of most of it.”

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Short Story Month 2017: Part 3—Writers on the Short Story

Finding The big in the Little:

Henry James: “a story is a tiny nugget with a hard latent value.”
Bernard Malamud: The short story packs a self in a few pages predicating a lifetime.  A short story is a way of indicating the complexity of life in a few pages, producing the surprise and effect of a profound knowledge in a short time.  A short story is a way of indicating the complexity of life in a few pages, producing the surprise and effect of a profound knowledge in a short time. There’s, among other things, a drama, a resonance, of the reconciliation of opposites: much to say, little time to say it, something like the effect of a poem.
Chekhov:  once told a writer that his works  "lack the compactness that makes short things alive."
Donald Barthelme: “Fragments are the only forms I trust.”
Richard Bausch:  The short story is such a persistent form, for the fact is that there are matters of the spirit the short story addresses better than any other literary art. 
Clare Boylan:  “I love the feeling with the short story of the world is in the detail and that small random acts can set ordinary lives alight or consume them to ash.”
Richard Ford:  “Short stories want to give us something big but want to do it in precious little time and space. “Short stories feel as though they arise out of some fierce schism that by their very existence they mean to reconcile.  And fascination edging on to mystery does exist in the discrepancy between the ingenious capacity of great stories to penetrate us and our ineludible awareness of their brevity.”
Amy Hempel, 1988:  “The trick is to find a tiny way into a huge subject.”

Stephen Millhauser: “I imagine the short story saying to the novel: You can have everything — everything — all I ask is a single grain of sand. The novel, with a careless shrug, a shrug both cheerful and contemptuous, grants the wish.  But that grain of sand is the story’s way out. That grain of sand is the story’s salvation. I take my cue from William Blake: “To see a world in a grain of sand.” Think of it: the world in a grain of sand; which is to say, every part of the world, however small, contains the world entirely. Or to put it another way: if you concentrate your attention on some apparently insignificant portion of the world, you will find, deep within it, nothing less than the world itself. The short story concentrates on its grain of sand, in the fierce belief that there — right there, in the palm of its hand — lies the universe.”

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Short Story Month 2017—Part 2: Writers on the Short Story

Form Rather than Content is Focus for the Short Story:

Herbert Gold: The short story must “tend to control and formalize experience and strike hot like the lyric poem.”
Charles D’Ambrosio:  “It’s the musical nature of sentences, where you actually hear the sound in a meaningful way, and those sounds have meaning and nuances as important as any of the content.  I can feel the whole thing in any one of the sentences.  I love that aspect of the short story; it’s almost like reading a poem.”
Amy Hempel:  “Often I’ve started a story knowing the beat, the rhythm of the first line or first paragraph, but without knowing what the words are. I’ll be doing the equivalent of humming a tune over and over again and then this tune will be translated into a sentence. I trust that. There’s something visceral about the musical quality of a sentence.”
Lee K. Abbott:  “One of the things I like to do with the sentence is somehow make it prosodic, make it a music, take advantage of those techniques and forms that were heretofore the province of the poet, assonance and consonance and various kinds of ellipses and alliteration and, you know, all the rhetorical strategies that poets had used in their verse over time.”
Deborah Eisenberg:  “Sometimes there’s a kind of tonality that I want, almost as if I was writing a piece of music…sometimes in the back of my mind there’s a musical model.”
Hugh Hood:  “Story is very close to liturgy, which is why one's children like to have the story repeated exactly as they heard it the night before. The script ought not to deviate from the prescribed form."
James Lasdun: “One of the reasons short stories do not sell well is that the genre demands an interest in form as well as content more than a novel does and people do not seem so interested in form these days.”
Donald Barthelme: “The change of emphasis from the what to the how seems to me to be the major impulse in art since Flaubert, and it’s not merely formalism, it’s not at all superficial, it’s an attempt to reach truth, and a very rigorous one.
Gustave Flaubert: (Goncourt Journals): “I don’t give a damn about the story, the plot.  When I am writing, my idea is to render a colour, a tonality.”
Adam Haslett, 2004: “I think of each story as having a rhythm, an intensity, and I am always trying to find the rhythm that fits a particular story.”
Andrea Lee:  Novels are fun, but I think I’ll always love short fiction best, because I am obsessed with structure and symmetry, and somehow it is more satisfying for me to work with these on a small canvas.  The word is intensity.  I love the way a short story can offer a sharp concentrated insight like a stiletto thrust.  I love the way you can experience a whole life time in a few pages, as you do in the lines of a poem.”
Alberto Moravia:  “The novel has a bone structure of ideas holding it together, whereas the short story is, so to speak, boneless…made up of intuitions of feelings.”
David Means:  “Short stories demand a kind of intense poetic eye, and you can’t flinch.  I relate stories to songs; you listen to a song and get a bit of narrative along with beat and tone and sound and images, then the song fades out, or hits that final beat, and you’re left with something that’s tangible and also deeply mysterious.”
Truman Capote:  “By control, I mean maintaining a stylistic and emotional upper hand over your material. Call it precious and go to hell, but I believe a story can be wrecked by a faulty rhythm in a sentence— especially if it occurs toward the end—or a mistake in paragraphing, even punctuation.”
Harold Brodkey:  “Words have a strangely changeable, contingent kind of meaning, and as T. S. Eliot said in one of his famous essays, the music of language carries more of the real meaning than the literal meaning of words does. A shift in the mind, in the mood, and you lose control of that music.”
Katherine Mansfield:  “It’s a queer thing how craft comes into writing.  For example in ‘Miss Brill’ I choose not only the length of every sentence but even the sound of every sentence.  I choose the rise and fall of every paragraph to fit her, and to fit her on that day at that very moment.  After I’d written it I read it aloud—numbers of times—just as one would play over a musical composition—trying to get it nearer and nearer to the expression of Miss Brill—until it fitted her.”

Julio Cortazar:  “The mysterious significance does not lie only in the subject of the story… The idea of significance is worthless if we do not relate it to the ideas of intensity and tension, which refer to the technique used to develop the subject.  And this is where the sharp distinction is made between the good and the bad short-story writer.”