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 Caitlin Horrocks
O. Henry Award-winning Author

It's an honor, of course, and an incredible, surprising gift to be included in The PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories. I'm especially proud and glad because my story, "This is Not Your City," was published in Third Coast out of Western Michigan University. The O. Henry nod is evidence not just that an editor liked my work, but that there are people reading literary journals of all sizes and finding good short fiction lurking there. Through a series of wonderful coincidences, I found myself at a wedding this past summer where the fiction editor who selected my story for Third Coast was a fellow guest; we were both graduate students when my story was accepted, and I think of this honor as a vote of support for me, for her, for literary journals everywhere: for everyone and everything keeping the short story vital and alive in spaces large and small.

(author photo © W. Todd Kaneko)

Writing Tips

I've always needed second, third, and fourth readers in my life, people with good eyes, great editorial instincts, generous patience, and a healthy degree of tact. As embarrassing as it is, I've been dependent on friends, colleagues, or teachers to clue me in that the main action of a particular story should perhaps start before page 15. I've written thirty page drafts that could instantly lose ten without hitting vital organs. My first drafts are usually the places where I sprawl out in as much detail as is necessary to figure out what drew me to the material in the first place; I often start with a single character, or place, or event, and have to find and follow the trail that will lead to an actual story. I've slowly gotten better at stepping away from those first drafts and returning to them with a reader's eyes, looking for all the slow spots, the dull spots, the vague spots, the head-scratch-raised-eyebrow-inducing spots. I've become more ruthless with my words, making sure every phrase is paying its rent. Something else that helps me refine my stories is to have a new project that's going miserably: nothing turns me to exhaustive revision more enthusiastically than the knowledge that, otherwise, I have to stumble forward into the murk of a new piece.

About the Author

Caitlin Horrocks was born in Ann Arbor in 1980, and has lived in Ohio, Arizona, Finland, England, and the Czech Republic. Her first story collection, This is Not Your City, won the 2008 Spokane Prize for Short Fiction. Her stories appear in The Paris Review, Tin House, The Southern Review, The Gettysburg Review, Epoch, and elsewhere. She lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Writer's Desk

  • I'm currently stumbling around inside a novel, and working on various short stories. I spent much of this past winter contemplating a story about human hibernation; when I finally sat down to work on it, the sun was out, the snow was melting, and the mood had faded.

  • Writer's Desk

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