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 Michael Parker
"Deep Eddy"
2014 O. Henry Award-winning Author

First of all, I feel a certain kinship with old O. Henry, since he was born in the town where I have lived and taught for 23 years (Greensboro, N.C.) and, like me, he fled Greensboro for Texas. But that really has nothing to do with the prize, about which I was thrilled for this reason: I have never written anything so short, and knowing that others found value in what for me was new and rather terrifying territory is more than gratifying. Of course it makes some sense that I would turn, in late middle age, to the shortest of all fictional forms, since the older I get, the less it seems I know. Or maybe it's that I'm more willing to admit to my ignorance? We all write to figure out what happened and why, and thank goodness for that, because otherwise I would be even more the ignoramus.

That this story was published in Southwest Review, a magazine I have long admired, was wonderful. That it was chosen for this anthology means a wider audience, and anyone who writes stories will tell you that the audience for same seems to be shrinking by the minute. I might not know much about the world, but I do know how fortunate it is to have your work included in an anthology as discerning and stellar as this one. I am very close to using an exclamation point here, but I only allow myself two a year, and I'm over my limit, so I will just say that I'm thrilled, emphatically thrilled.

(author photo © Tasha Thomas)

Author's Desk

I am working on a series of novellas, all three of which (somewhat inexplicably at this point) have trains running right through the middle of them.

About the Author

Anyone who has taken a class with me (or, unfortunately for them, gotten stuck in an elevator with me) knows that I have, in general, three words that I use to talk about fiction: rhythm, friction and desire. Rhythm and friction, to my mind, are the basic ingredients of all fiction, the essential stock of the soup, the thickening roux of the sauce. When I talk about rhythm I am not just talking about syntax and variation in sentence length; I am talking about aligning what the late William Goyen called "the music of what happened" with dramatic action. This involves a larger formal rhythm—a harmonious blending of all the elements carefully chosen, usually through reckless trial and grave error, to tell the tale. Friction, of course, is essential to begin a story and to keep it moving. I'm simple-minded enough to believe that rhythm and friction extend to all areas of life: relationships, history, culture, sex of course, and—not the least—long distance running.

As for desire, stories don't exist without it. See Emma Bovary and hundreds of other more-than-memorable characters if you have any doubts about how want and need (and all too often, a confusion between the two) exist, in good writing, even in the placement of a comma. Fiction, for me, is the tracing out of that desire, either in moments (short fiction) or over time (novels.)

Writer's Desk

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