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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 Rae Paris
O. Henry Recommended Story Author

I went to a day camp much like the one in the story. There was a girl who chewed on her fingers. I don't remember much else about her. Fast forward many years later. I couldn't get the image of this girl out of my head. Originally, I thought the story was going to be more about the girl, but it ended up being much more about Cilia and Cilia's coming to an understanding of what it means to be a Black middle-class girl with New Orleans roots, growing up in a blue- and white-collar predominantly Black neighborhood outside of L.A. Cilia and I have many things in common except for one important difference: Cilia's forehead is much smaller than mine.

I like the distinction Shannon Cain makes between being a young writer (which I'm not), and an emerging writer. I didn't start writing fiction until I was in my early thirties, so at times I still feel as if I'm stumbling along. It took me a long time to write a draft, I think partially because the story tries to bring a lot of things together, but also because I was worried about getting some of those things wrong. I've realized the best I can do is get as close as I possibly can to some kind of truth. Hopefully, the things I get wrong won't wreak too much havoc.

(author photo © Richard D. Alonzo)


From "The Girl Who Ate Her Own Skin," an O. Henry Recommended Story

Anne didn't answer. She had an odd smile on her face. She kept looking at the photos and looking away, as if the mother were naked in them. Cilia poked her. Anne slapped her hand away. "Of course it's her," said Anne. Who else would it be?" She took one more look at the photos, and then slipped off the couch and crawled to a chair on the other side of the room.

The mother eyed Anne's backside. Cilia could feel the mother zeroing in on the places that made Annes thirteen-year-old shoulders hunch up in shame. Sometimes, in the grocery store, the mother would point out the women, the ones who left their houses with pink foam curlers still in their hair, who wore stretch pants with T-shirts that hung over their stomach rolls and covered their ample rear ends, and say to Anne, "That's going to be you one day." Cilia watched Anne lumber across the room on all fours. She felt a familiar need to protect her, but also to scream at her for making herself look like a fool.

"You need to worry about those hips," said the mother to Anne, "but you're lucky. You got my waist." She stretched her hand out. "Give it back," she cackled. "Give me back my waist."

Anne shrank as much as she could in the corner of the chair, her hands covering her stomach, as if she really believed the mother could and would slice her in half and not bother to glue her back together.

"You?" The mother looked at her the way she often did, as if she suddenly remembered she had another child and wasn't pleased about it. "You favor your daddy."

("The Girl Who Ate Her Own Skin" by Rae Paris first appeared in Indiana Review. Copyright © 2008 by Rae Paris. Excerpted by permission of the author.)

About the Author

Rae Paris is from Carson, California. Her stories have appeared in Indiana Review, Hunger Mountain, XConnect, So to Speak, and 580 Split. She currently lives in Tempe, Arizona, where she is a Faculty Associate in English at Arizona State University.

Writer's Desk

  • I'm currently putting finishing touches on a collection of stories called The Girl Who Ate Her Own Skin. I thought the last story would be the easiest, but, of course, it has proven to be the hardest, but that's how it goes. My next project is a novel, which I've already begun, but put aside because short stories felt easier to grab onto. I'm looking forward to falling into something expansive and murky where the bottom is not entirely clear.

  • Writer's Desk

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