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 David Means
"The Junction"
2011 PEN/O. Henry Award-winning Author

Short story writing is an act of faith fueled not only by the subject at hand and the vision you're having while writing, but also by a sense—deep in the dreamy subconscious—that you are working quietly alongside your fellow writers, who are all trying to find their own way into (or out of) the tradition, following in the footsteps of literary forebears—Chekhov, Gogol, Babel, Beckett, Mansfield, Welty—who also risked finding new ways of finding literary power in shortness. With the stories alongside each other in the PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories, the reader gets to see and feel a physical embodiment of the kinship between writers working at the same time. For me, that's where the honor comes from.

(author photo © Rob Penner)

Writing Tips

Every time you write a story you're confronting a completely new set of problems, new characters, and a potentially new way into narrative, so whenever I try to offer up advice on how to write, I feel a sense that I might be betraying some potential future story—of mine, or by some young writer. The best advice might be: learn to respect the material itself. Don't simply respect the characters, or various techniques that might work—or not work—when the reader reads the story, but find a deeper relationship with the words. To be a good fiction writer, you've got to remember the primal essence of words. You've got to be that kid pointing at the moon and hearing your mother, or father, giving you, for the first time, the word moon. In general, I think there's a deeply primal aspect to story writing. There's a tactile shape and feel that's unique to each story, and that shape and feel has to be found—often through the arduous process of revision.

About the Author

David Means was born in Michigan. He is the author of four story collections, including Assorted Fire Events, The Secret Goldfish, and, most recently, The Spot. Means lives in Nyack, New York.

Writer's Desk

Right now, I've got a few stories in progress, at various stages, asking to be revised—or thrown away.

Writer's Desk

Browse our archive of featured authors from this and other editions of The O. Henry Prize Stories.

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