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 Mohan Sikka
PEN/O. Henry Award-winning Author

Inclusion in the O. Henry Prize Stories is a kind of terrifying validation. Just behind the excitement is a profound feeling of vulnerability and exposure. For me, as an emerging writer, there is a mental zone that I've lived in for a while, probably to manage the anxiety of producing fiction. The zone has its internal assumptions: my writing is developing slowly; I need to protect it; it requires time and space to grow. Part of me wants to stay in the zone forever, and to hold on to this parental relationship to my stories. To see one of my children step out into the world in this visible way, to be judged and considered in this kind of spotlight—that is something entirely new, thrilling, and, yes, frightening.

(author photo © Mohan Sikka)

Writing Tips

I wrote a first draft of "Uncle Musto" in workshop at Brooklyn College, and then I spent several months on revisions before One Story picked it up in late 2007. Sanju, the narrator, was too much of a disinterested "camera" hovering above the action in early drafts, and Grandma was even harsher than she is now. As I revised under the astute eye of One Story's editor, I sharpened Sanju's emotional presence while modulating Grandma.

I rely on feedback from people I trust. I don't know how I could ever produce work in isolation. I'm still learning to revise efficiently, and every story teaches me something new. Having published a few stories now, I see the distinction between the roles of readers, peer writers and editors—how each perspective shapes the revision task in a different way.

I'm also learning to trust the voice of the story itself. It does take a little sitting, sometimes with the work and sometimes away from it, to understand what needs to stay and what needs to go, and to appreciate and heighten emotional beats that may be muffled in early drafts.

I struggle with the short story form, but I am not able to give it up either. I'm so pleased that the series editor decided to pick a "long story," one that is flirting with being a novella. My recurring challenge is to keep the emotional threads and sub-plots constrained within 25 pages (not sure who decided that limit), when the narrative itself always wants to spiral out of control. At present I'm mulling several ideas that hopefully will form the engine of a novel. I'll be so relieved to worry about something other than page space!

About the Author

Mohan Sikka was born in Calcutta in 1966, and grew up in India and Zambia. His stories have appeared in One Story, the Toronto South Asian Review, and in anthologies, including Delhi Noir. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Writer's Desk

  • I am working hard to complete the collection which includes "Uncle Musto." As a realist writer, I remain obsessed with the perennial conflict between domestic restraint and the pursuit of worldly pleasure, between keeping order at home and seeking self-satisfaction abroad. This is such a lovely lens through which to appreciate the Indian family right now, buffeted as it is by new ways of living and loving.

    Every piece of bad news about publishing, and the death of the short story, makes me more determined to keep writing. I find doggedness an invaluable practice in hard times. I am working on notes for the novel project that will follow the collection—I have a couple of ideas, all of which involve the notion of an unexpected identity reversal.

  • Writer's Desk

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