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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 O. Henry Prize-winning authors free rein to share their thoughts on these questions and others, and the result is a rare treat.

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Comments Kevin Brockmeier

"The Brief History of the Dead" is my third story to appear in an O. Henry Prize Stories anthology. Shortly after my story "The Ceiling" appeared in the 2002 edition, I received a message on my answering machine from a man in Indianapolis who said that he had an important question for me: he needed to find out what I knew about someone named ___ (I have decided it is best not to use this person's real name, so I will refer to him as Dwight D. Eisenhower). The man did not include a return phone number.

A week later he called again. This time I was home. "Is this Kevin Brockmeier?" he asked me.

"Yes, it is."

"Kevin Brockmeier, the writer?" he asked.




"So what do you know about Dwight D. Eisenhower?"

I told the man that I had never heard of Dwight D. Eisenhower.

He said, "Well, I guess that answers my question."

He proceeded to explain that Dwight D. Eisenhower was a friend of his from Indianapolis who had been exhibiting increasingly bizarre behavior. Most recently he had begun insisting that he was Kevin Brockmeier and that he had written "The Ceiling" using my name as a pseudonym. Dwight D. Eisenhower's friends suspected that he was either a pathological liar or that he had suffered some sort of delusional snap, but they wanted to track down the real Kevin Brockmeier to make sure.

I am gratified that my stories have been included in the O. Henry anthology for any number of reasons--the sense of validation, the company of the other writers, the broad readership of the series. Not the least of them, however, is that it has afforded me the possibility of having my own impersonator.

(author photo © Ben Krain)

Writing Tips

Every writer is idiosyncratic, and I don't know that anybody else would benefit from adopting my working methods. (I'm not even sure that I have benefitted from adopting my working methods.) Also, I confess that my methods tend to change from project to project as I teach myself what I need to know to write the particular story I have in mind. That said, one thing that has remained constant for me is that I always feel the need to begin each story with a title. I once read a description of the title as "the target toward which you shoot the arrow of the story," and that makes a lot of sense to me. If I don't have a title at the top of the first page before I write even the first sentence, I feel as though I'm completely lost at sea. Occasionally, though not often, a good title will even give birth to the story itself: one of my stories, "Love Is a Chain, Hope Is a Weed," arose from a title that I carried around with me for more than a year before I finally discovered the story that was meant to accompany it. I always spend a lot of time on the opening sentence and the opening paragraph of a story, working out the problems of tone, perspective, and voice and trying to find exactly the right combination of words to excite my own interest. Then I allow the story to build, sentence by sentence, until I reach the end.

About the Author

Kevin Brockmeier is the author of the story collection Things That Fall from the Sky, the novel The Truth About Celia, and the children's novel City of Names, as well as two forthcoming books: a novel called The Brief History of the Dead and a children's novel called Grooves: A Kind of Mystery. In addition to the O. Henry Prize Stories anthology, his stories have appeared in The New Yorker, The Georgia Review, McSweeney's, and The Best American Short Stories. He lives in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Writer's Desk

  • I have just finished another children's novel--my third. It's called I Met a Lovely Monster, and it's about a boy named Murray Teeter who discovers that the rocks in his town turn into monsters after the sun goes down. My most recent publication was a long essay about writing that appeared in the Winter 2005 issue of The Oxford American. Right now I'm working on a new short story. (February 2005)

  • Writer's Desk

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