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.

(Browse our archive of featured authors from The O. Henry Prize Stories.)

Comments Anthony Doerr

The joy of seeing your work in any anthology, I guess, comes from the thrill of encountering the work that surrounds your own. Seeing the names on the back cover is a major thrill, of course--to think your own name appears in the table of contents in the same font size as the names of preposterously more talented writers--but the larger, more enduring pleasure comes from reading a work like Denis Johnson's "Train Dreams" or David Foster Wallace's "Good Old Neon" for the first time, and deeply, deeply loving it. The ego part of it quickly fades, and you soon become a reader like every other, entering stories one-after-another that in all likelihood you would never have found if they hadn't been chosen for the anthology.

So there's the joy of ratification, of course, to think that your fiction might be an infinitesimal fraction of the history of short stories, but in the end, I think my pleasure at being included in the O. Henry Prizes is pretty much exactly the same pleasure any reader has: turning the pages, sifting through the stories, and being moved by them.

(author photo © Hal Eastman)

Writing Tips

I don't feel too comfortable offering blanket advice to writers; I still find myself occasionally fumbling through bookshelves or straining to listen at a reading, hoping to glean some advice of my own. I guess, if forced to, I'd offer two things.

First, every writer I know and/or have read about goes about getting his or her work done in a different way. There's no "right" way to know when an ending is the right one, or when to start trusting a draft, or when to put it in an envelope. In the end, you have to find the subjects closest to your heart, and accumulate experience for yourself. There's no better instructor than the hours alone at your desk, solving the infinite problems of narrative.

The other thing I'd offer is that a healthy dose of insecurity can really help. I don't mean crushing doubt, and I know rejection is at its best tiresome (and at its worst a gargantuan impediment) but a healthy anxiety about your drafting will drive you back to the fiction again and again, always with the goal of making it stronger. If I spend a couple hours reading over a single page, and I find a word that can be cut, or I see how I can rearrange two sentences to make them more precise, I call that hour a success.

About the Author

Anthony Doerr's first collection of stories, The Shell Collector, was named a New York Times, Publishers Weekly, and Kirkus Reviews Notable Book and a Book of the Year by the American Library Association. It won the New York Public Library's Young Lions Award and the Barnes & Noble Discover Prize. His short fiction has appeared in Best American Short Stories, Zoetrope: All Story, The Atlantic Monthly, and The Paris Review. He is currently a Hodder Fellow at Princeton University and reviews science books for The Boston Globe. His first novel, About Grace, will be published in September, 2004.

Writer's Desk

  • The Shell Collector: Stories. New York: Scribner (Simon & Schuster), 2002. (Now in paperback from Penguin.)
  • About Grace: A Novel. New York: Scribner (Simon & Schuster), September, 2004.
  • I think this fall I'm going to start something about radio . . . or maybe earthworms. . . .

  • Writer's Desk

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