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 Brenda Peynado
"The History of Happiness"
2015 O. Henry Award-winning Author

I am utterly grateful that this story was chosen for The O. Henry Prize Stories. I revised this story and others while working several hourly jobs at once, feeling completely exhausted and wondering if I would ever be able to get out of that hole. When Cimarron Review accepted this one, I was just coming out of that dark period of my life. To have it be chosen to appear next to the stories of those who have moved me for years and kept me writing is extremely humbling and terrifying. It raises the bar for the rest of my stories, but it also makes me appreciate those moments in the middle of the night between jobs, forgoing sleep, writing.

(author photo © Micah Dean Hicks)

Writing Tips

I'm someone that's spurred by a challenge more than anything else. When I get a rejection, I feel excited, because it's a challenge for me, a journal saying, "You can do better." It's the question that is the dog nipping at my heels; not just how do you write a story, but how do you do better than that? How do you make a story that will mean something to people? It's something that people talked about in my MFA program and now in my PhD program: What is the difference between good enough, between that damning label of "a competent MFA story" and the stories that people will remember?

After my MFA, I worked two minimum wage jobs back to back, often coming home at midnight only to be up again at 6 a.m. for the other. I often felt like crying. There seemed no way out. It made my writing seem so urgent. If I didn't spend that ten-minute bathroom break typing a story with my thumbs into my phone, everyday, I would never write again. I asked myself, "If I had only ten minutes left of my life and could only write one other story, what would it be?"

Since then, I stumbled into a wonderful job with a supportive and magnanimous boss, I was fortunate to have a Fulbright Grant for a year, and now I'm grateful to be surrounded by peers and mentors that spur me to think deeply and reach further than I have before. And yet even now when I sit down to the blank page, whether I end up hitting the mark or not, I have to tap into those ten minutes when I asked myself, "What's the most important story I would tell if it were my last?"

I'm not one of those people who keeps writing because people expect them to, because they can't do anything else. At any moment, I could do something else. No one cares if I keep writing; no one needs my stories more than anyone else's. Frankly, my family and my bank account would be relieved if I quit. But I've been able to keep writing because it's urgent to me. Lately, I've turned to writing magical realism exclusively, because I'm joyful when I'm writing it. Every time one of my narrators develops a magical power, I smile in delight. The stories launch me after them. And I think that urgency—that feeling that you're tied to a space shuttle taking off—is what keeps people writing, and writing what matters.

Writer's Desk

Currently, I am working on a novel about the 1965 April Revolution in the Dominican Republic and the subsequent American invasion. It's also about a girl who can see multiple futures, quantum physics, and the tenuousness of freedom. I also am putting the finishing touches on a short story collection.

About the Author

Brenda Peynado was born and raised in Florida, and spent her childhood summers in the Dominican Republic. She received her BA in Computer Science from Wellesley College and her MFA in Fiction from Florida State University. Her fiction has appeared in The Threepenny Review, Mid-American Review, Black Warrior Review, Colorado Review, Pleiades, and others. In 2013, she was on a Fulbright Grant to the Dominican Republic, working on a novel. She lives in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Writer's Desk

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

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