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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 Samuel Ligon
O. Henry Recommended Story Author

When I was a kid, maybe ten years old, I remember riding with my family down a highway somewhere and seeing a car sort of stuck, though driving, on the steep, angled wall of a concrete drainage ditch separating the two slabs of the highway. It seemed that if the car slowed it would topple, but for some reason, it couldn't get off the incline and back to the flat surface above. Maybe a half mile ahead was a concrete wall perpendicular to the ditch, with a huge pipe at the bottom through which the water would be carried. The driver was going to have to hit that wall or topple into the ditch. He was slowing down. My brother and sisters and I wanted to watch the accident, but my father kept driving and we never saw what happened. I always wondered what choice the driver made. And it was the image of that car driving along the incline of the drainage ditch, heading for a concrete wall, that was the impetus for "Drift and Swerve."

(author photo © Steve Walker)


From "Drift and Swerve," an O. Henry Recommended Story

"Why do we always have to go?" the brother said.

The father opened and closed his hands on the wheel.

"Somebody has to take care of her," the mother said. She didn't look back. "You want her to die alone?"

"Hush now," the father said.

"Yes," the brother said into the wind.

The mother looked out her window.

The Comet straddled the white lines, getting away.

The father pushed it up to ninety.

"It's Jim being useless and me being so far away," the mother said. "That's why."

The brother took off his sneakers, touched his sister's leg with his foot.

She slapped him away, stayed slouched in her corner.

The brother leaned over her and said, "Watch," then crawled back to his side of the seat.

"Anybody'd be like that," the mother said.

He dangled his shoe out the window by its laces, looked to the sister, who was watching, and let it go.

"It's just a lot of things," the father said, hunched over the wheel.

The sister smiled.

The brother dropped his other shoe out the window.

"She wasn't always like that," the mother said. "You remember, Boyd."

The sister unstrapped her sandals.

"Sure," the father said.

She dropped both out the window at once.

The mother turned in her seat. "She wasn't always like that, kids. You remember, don't you?"

"Yes," the brother said.

"Yes," the sister said.

"I'm sorry," the mother said, and the brother said, "it's okay."

The mother turned back around. "Remember that decoy she gave you, Boyd. You liked that."

"Sure I did," he said.

The Comet must have been going a hundred.

The sister reached under her skirt and pulled down her underpants. She held them out the window for a second waving like a flag, then let them go.

"Jesus," the father said, "what was that?" He craned his head, squinting into the rearview mirror.

("Drift and Swerve" by Samuel Ligon first appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review. Copyright © 2007 by Samuel Ligon. Excerpted by permission of the author.)

About the Author

Samuel Ligon is the author of the novel Safe in Heaven Dead. His stories have appeared in The Quarterly, Alaska Quarterly Review, Post Road, Gulf Coast, StoryQuarterly, Sleepingfish, Other Voices, and elsewhere. A collection of stories, Drift and Swerve, is forthcoming. He teaches at Eastern Washington University's Inland Northwest Center for Writers, in Spokane, and is the editor of Willow Springs.

Writer's Desk

  • I've just finished the edits on a collection of stories called Drift and Swerve, which is coming out in early 2009. I'm also working on a novel.

  • Writer's Desk

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