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 Roger Nash
PEN/O. Henry Award-winning Author

Sitting down to write, you can have the feeling that, maybe, you're talking to nobody—like praying at the Western Wall. It's a healthy form of agnosticism for the writer. Maybe an audience exists, maybe it's just a fiction. But, in any case, you want to get life in the story right. To hear I'd been included in the PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories was like the Wall shouting back.

(author photo © Tony Galic, Candid Studios, Sudbury, Ontario, Canada)

Writing Tips

Refining a story is like last-minute preparations in making a Szechuan soup: bringing out how, in character and plot, the sweet is mingled with the sour, sadness with joy. I become increasingly aware that the story has a voice of its own, even without a first-person narrator. Sweet and sour, cunning and honesty, are interwoven in it, too. That voice begins to fascinate me, I wonder who on earth it is, and try to capture its accent, intonation, speech-flow and pauses, which, usually, don't seem quite like my own. It's as though the story is telling me itself, and is another character than those in the plot. I try to wait on refining a story until the work of revision becomes an invitingly compelling matter; something all-or-nothing, like falling hopelessly in love; something I can enter into without a bundle of nagging calculations and hesitations—about plot and audience, say—in the very front of my mind. Then characters, events, and landscapes lean back at me from the page with their own energies. And things change in the story that I couldn't predict, but which now seem utterly inevitable. Sometimes, the story spooks me by ending pages before, or after, I'd thought it should, or it begins in a different place. The story is usually right about itself. Helping a story get itself right, is the only way I know of slipping though that permeable membrane that separates us from the past, and entering into a receptive conversation, sometimes disagreement, with great storytellers of history: "Yes (or No), Isaac Babel (or Jane Austen, or Mark Twain), this is how things can go!" Their reply to me comes in what I try to write much later, like a piece of long-delayed mail. I don't defend, or oppose, any theory or manifesto about the creative process, about refining. I don't spend time on that. The theories don't tell me what will work. And there's such variety in what works, on different occasions, no one theory can account for it all.

About the Author

Roger Nash was born in 1942, in Maidenhead, England. In 1965, he moved to Canada. He's won the Canadian Jewish Book Award and, twice, the Confederation Poets Award. His latest books are Something Blue and Flying Upwards: New and Selected Poems, and a collection of essays on the psalms, The Poetry of Prayer. He teaches Philosophy at Laurentian University, where he's Director of the Humanities MA in Interpretation and Values. Nash lives in Sudbury, Ontario.

Writer's Desk

  • Though I've published a number of books of poetry and philosophy, I've not put together a collection of short-stories yet. So that's what I'm working on now, to break new ground.

  • Writer's Desk

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