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 Graham Joyce
O. Henry Award-winning Author

The PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories to me means simply the wonderful O. Henry himself, who was a genius and exemplar of the short narrative. Somehow narrative skills have been relegated (by self-appointed and rather elitist authorities) in the pecking order of literary values. As if a lyrical description of a tree spread over two pages is somehow harder to come up with than a great story. I know that it's not. His wit, humanity, insight and economy make him worth far more as a writer than many elevated and canonized windbags I could mention.

(author photo © Robb Scott)

Writing Tips

Usually I know when I start something if it's going to be a short story or a novel, but I get caught out pretty often, too. Short stories should be wound on a much tighter spring than novels, but because stories are about human beings and are not subject to mechanical laws, you can't always predict. Say I have a character huddling in a shop doorway and another man passes by and looks at him in an odd way. Well, I don't have room for that second character in my supposedly tightly-wound structure. And I'm not the sort of writer who allows his characters to take over. But I do need to work out what that funny look was all about. That's it: another short story that just became a novel.

Short stories should have no claim to being better written than novels. But maybe if you move onto a novel from a short-story idea, the compact and tightly-wound form you were after may have already crystallized. And that's a good thing. Writing short stories is a wonderful antidote to self-conscious "literary" writing. In a short story there's nowhere to hide.

My attitude to writing is probably more industrial than bohemian. Writing is like coal mining. You work in the shadows, aided only by instinct and the dim lamplight of technique. Some days (or so my mining father told me) when the coal refused to come out, you'd hack at it and swear. Other days you might tug at a little straw in the wall and the lovely stuff would come clattering down, gleaming where it fell, ready for the shovel. It's the same way with words.

About the Author

Graham Joyce was born in 1954 near Coventry in the United Kingdom. He's the author of eleven adult novels, four young-adult novels, a collection of short stories, and has adapted his own work for the screen. He's won the World Fantasy Award in 2003 for his novel The Facts Of Life and the British Fantasy Award for Best Novel an unprecedented four times. Joyce teaches Creative Writing at Nottingham Trent University, and lives in Leicester.

Writer's Desk

  • On my desk I'm currently in what other writers will recognize as the hell-of-the-middle with a novel I'm working on. The first 20,000 words came clattering in, as described above. Now I feel like I'm breaking rocks. If I hadn't been here several times before, I'd probably give up.

  • Writer's Desk

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