Anchor Books The O. Henry Prize Stories
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What does it mean to be included in the O. Henry Prize Stories? How does an author refine their art? We've given the authors of the winning and recommended stories free rein to share their thoughts on these questions and others, and the result is a rare treat.

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Comments Andrea Barrett
"The Particles"
2013 O. Henry Award-winning Author

Of the loosely linked set of long stories I've been writing for the past five years, I think of "The Particles" as having the most challenging material. All that genetics! All those experiments! I couldn't capture Sam's passion for his work without including some of the matter of his intellectual world: but although I'm fascinated by it myself, I worried how readers would respond to it. What a gift, then, to have it included in this wonderful series!

(author photo © Barry Goldstein)

Writing Tips

Still this seems to me like the best way to make sense of our scattered, fragmentary, twittering, bleating world. Writing a complex narrative that binds together many experiences, real and imagined, is utterly absorbing and extends my own meager knowledge of the world; finding a form alters the way I perceive what's around me.

About the Author

Andrea Barrett was born in 1954 in Boston, Massachusetts. She's the author of six novels, most recently The Air We Breathe, and three collections of short fiction: Ship Fever, which received the National Book Award; Servants of the Map, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize; and Archangel. She lives in western Massachusetts and teaches at Williams College.

Writer's Desk

I'm poking around in the dark, trying to understand where to go next. A novel? Maybe; some little shoots seem to be poking up through the soil. But maybe those shoots belong to a story, or stories....

Writing Tips

From "The Particles" by Andrea Barrett

In the distance a shape, which might have been the guilty submarine, seemed to shift position. The moon disappeared behind a bank of clouds and then it rained, drenching those who weren't yet soaked; more than eleven hundred people had been onboard. When the rain stopped, the moon again lit the boats scattered around the slowly sinking ship. The three of the Athenia's crew in Sam's boat took oars, as did the three least wounded—Sam was one—of the four male passengers. The others, just over fifty women and children, bailed with their shoes and their bare hands, scooping out the oily water rising over their shins.

As the two dozen lifeboats separated like specks on an expanding balloon, one pulled toward Sam's boat to let them know that several ships had responded to the Athenia's call for help. Soon, in just a few hours, they’d be saved. Those hours passed. Not long after midnight, a faraway gleam, which might have been a periscope caught by the light of the moon, caused two women to shriek. A U-boat, one said, the German submarine that had torpedoed them rising now to shell the lifeboats. But the last beam of the searchlight, just before the emergency dynamo used up its fuel and the Athenia went completely dark, revealed enough to convince Sam and some of the others that this was a rescue ship.

Writer's Desk

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