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 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 Eddie Chuculate

I was shocked when I received the O. Henry Prize. In fact, I thought the notification was junk e-mail and nearly deleted it. I remember browsing through those yearly anthologies as a youngster in the Muskogee, OK, Public Library after I first became fascinated with short stories. Of course I never imagined I'd one day join that list of famous and not-so-famous. To do so seems like making, in some small way, your small notch in American literature, and for this I am very grateful. The widespread familiarity with the series among people whom I thought had no idea of its existence floored me.

(author photo © Mark Holm/The Albuquerque Tribune)


Writing Tips

I wrote my first story when I was six or seven years old, about the hillbilly who formerly graced the returnable bottles of Mountain Dew soda.

"Mountain Dew the Hillbilly," I called it. He ran away from home, his family searched for him and found him (hiding in a tree), and they lived happily ever after. My grandmother saved this story, about four pages long, front and back, on notebook paper. It's in my mom's picture box at home. I've often pondered what made me take pencil to paper on that occasion, or what makes anyone take pen to paper for that matter.

Maybe it was an intriguing character. What would he sound like, how would he act, what would his personality be if he leapt off the front of that bottle? As a freshman in college, I entered a short-story contest staged by the public library in Tahlequah, OK. I had begun reading Anton Chekov and was particularly struck by a story, "The Lament," (sometimes translated "Misery,") in which a bedraggled, luckless carriage driver is so overcome by heartache and loneliness he begins earnest conversations with his horse. By this time I had a year or two of experience writing sports stories for the local daily newspaper, the Muskogee, OK, Daily Phoenix. I simply turned the carriage driver into a cabbie driving a beat-up car in Muskogee. None of his passengers cares that his son has died of pneumonia, so at the end of the shift he goes home to his shack and talks in earnest to his German shepherd. A surefire winner. But not only did the story not win, it didn't get so much as an honorable mention.

I did attend the awards ceremony and noticed who won first place. I sought him out as he was leaving, to pick his brain, bend an ear, but bearded and hermitlike, he was reluctant to talk. I decided to follow him, trailing him through the streets of the small college town. He did nothing but return to a small apartment above a tavern, further deepening the mystery of writing for me. I don't remember much about his story, but I had to admit that it was more honest and realistic than my cabdriver tale.

I wish I was disciplined enough to write every day, or to write regularly in a journal. But when I am working on a story, I carry a notebook around with me, ready to use anything I see or hear. For instance, in one story I was working on I had a character sitting on a park bench. Walking through a park I saw a squirrel nibbling on a dog turd. I scribbled it down and when I went back to the story, stuck that moment into it. Or, for instance, if I have a character walking at night, and I read a passage in another story that describes the stars, or clouds, or moon in a way that strikes me, I'll use that for inspiration. I'll have a pad by my bedside and write things down in the middle of the night. But even though I may not be sitting down to a certain story every night, I'm constantly turning it over in my mind, running through scenarios and rejecting possibilities.



About the Author

Eddie Chuculate, Creek-Cherokee Indian, was born in 1972 in Muskogee, OK. He was a sportswriter for nine years before attending the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe and was persuaded by the poet Jon Davis to change his major from Museum Studies to Creative Writing. He held at Wallace Stegner Fellowship in Creative Writing at Stanford University and lives in Denver where he works as a copy editor at The Denver Post.


Writer's Desk

  • Right now I'm finishing a collection of stories, and intend to write another story about a fan obsessed with an actress who plays Blanche DuBois.


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