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 Olaf Olafsson
O. Henry Award-winning Author

The O. Henry Prize Stories had even made it to Iceland when I was growing up. My father had been introduced to them when he was studying at Columbia University during the war and there were several volumes in his study at home. I started reading them early and discovered not only new stories by authors I was already familiar with but also stories by authors I had never heard of. In my mind, the O. Henry stories were always the gold standard.

Being included in this collection takes me back to these long gone days. It's with great pleasure but certain nostalgia as well.

(author photo © Einar Falur Ingolfsson)

Writing Tips

My first book, published in Icelandic when I was 23, was a collection of short stories. Then came several novels before I ventured into the short story territory again. "On The Lake" is one of twelve stories in a collection called Valentines, which was published in 2007. Maybe I had forgotten how enjoyable the short story form actually is. Enjoyable, but demanding, of course. Demanding in a different way than a novel, requiring economy whereas the novel demands endurance. A good short story is never merely a sketch and should have as profound an impact on the reader as the longer form of storytelling.

When I was a boy I spent parts of my summers by Lake Thingvellir in Iceland, where my parents had a little cabin. The lake is very cold, its waters coming from springs beneath the lava floor. When I was ten, two young men, our neighbors, drowned in the lake on a summer night after their boat capsized.

Visiting Lake Thingvellir a couple of years ago I happened to see a man and his young son fishing in a boat not far from where I used to spend my summers. When they returned to land, a young woman--the boy's mother, I assumed--ran down from a small cottage to meet them. She took the boy in her arms and the three of them walked up the hill to the cabin the woman had come from. There was no indication of discord.

A couple of days later I started "On the Lake." I guess the story must have been dormant someplace in my mind, waiting to be told.

About the Author

Olaf Olafsson was born in Reykjavik, Iceland, in 1962. He studied physics as a Wien Scholar at Brandeis University. The author of a collection of short stories, Valentines, and three novels, The Journey Home, Absolution, and Walking into the Night, Olafsson lives in New York City with his wife and three children.

Writer's Desk

  • I'm working on a novel which takes place mostly in Italy before and during the war.

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