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 Christine Sneed
"The First Wife"
2012 PEN/O. Henry Award-winning Author

When Laura Furman's email arrived with the news that one of my stories had been selected for this year's PEN/O. Henry prize stories anthology, I let out a cry of joy. I've been reading the O. Henry anthologies for about twenty years, and, almost from the beginning, I have hoped that one of my stories would some day be a part of it too. This was, needless to say, a very good day and an absolute honor.

(author photo © Adam Tinkham)

Writing Tips

One thing that I wish I had figured out earlier, maybe about fifteen years ago when I was spending a lot of time writing stories that went nowhere but the recycling bin, is that on its most basic level, a story has to be about desire. Once you know what it is that your main character wants (or doesn't want), you're much more likely to write an interesting story because all manner of trouble will, ideally, spring from this desire. And trouble, I think, is what many people want to read about—how is it that these characters got themselves into this mess and what will they do now?

I also try to write stories that pivot on a moment when the main characters learn something dark or ungenerous about themselves. I think that much of the time, we're granted amnesty from intimate knowledge of our worst faults, but they're still there, and in fiction, I like to write about flaws that are probably universal but it's easier not to think about them because they're so hard to change. My characters, however, have to confront them, and that's when things, I hope, get interesting.

About the Author

Christine Sneed was born in 1971 in Berlin, Wisconsin. Her story collection, Portraits of a Few of the People I've Made Cry, won the 2009 Grace Paley Prize in Short Fiction and was a finalist for the 2010 Los Angeles Times Book Prize, first-fiction category, and long-listed for the 2011 Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award. Portraits also received Ploughshares' 2011 John C. Zacharis Award for a first book. Her stories have appeared in Best American Short Stories 2008, The Southern Review, New England Review, Pleiades, TriQuarterly Online, Massachusetts Review, Ploughshares, and a number of other journals. She teaches at DePaul University and Northwestern University, and lives in Evanston, Illinois.

Writer's Desk

I'm currently finishing the first draft of a novel about characters who would probably know the people in "The First Wife" because they also work in the Hollywood film industry.

Writing Tips

From "The First Wife" by Christine Sneed

If you are married to man with whom thousands, possibly millions of women believe themselves to be in love, some of them, inevitably, more beautiful and charming that you are, it is not a question of it but when. When will he be unfaithful, if he hasn't been already? It isn't easy, nor is it as romantic as the magazine photographers make it look, to be the wife of a very famous, memorably handsome man. There are very few nights, even when you are together, when you don't wonder what secrets he is keeping from you, or how long he will be at home before he leaves for another shoot or another meeting in a glamorous city across one ocean or the other, with some director or producer who rarely remembers your name. Marriage is a liability in the movie business, despite the public's stubborn, contradictory desire to believe that this particular marriage is different, in that it will endure, even prosper, with children and house-beautiful photo essays in Vogue.

Writer's Desk

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