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 Tony Tulathimutte
O. Henry Award-winning Author

It's really not too common for recognition to come to writers without a little begging, a little self-punishment in one form or another. Magazine submission, and its stacks of miserably-licked envelopes and form rejections, or the horse-racing of annual fiction contests demanding hard-to-rationalize "processing fees." (Process into what, I'd like to know.) At the very least, you usually have to write a lot of very humble cover letters.

One of the nice things about the O. Henry, obvious prestige aside, is how it comes to you, rather than you to it; no horse-racing, no pageantry, no peptic ulcers. There's never a reason to believe that you're any more or less likely to receive it than anyone else: writers publishing their work for the first time are placed in the same arena as the most prolific and well-regarded writers in America. That's not lip service: "Water Shield" is my first publication. Which is to say that for me, it's an immense honor.

(author photo © Kate Nartker)


Writing Tips

I like to take an idea and spin it through lots of configurations and arrangements. I'll write in a journal, on my computer, on my hand, and I end up with a lot of small bits of writing grouped around a common theme or idea. I look for connections between them, try to marshal them in some kind of order, kill off the senseless parts, write more as necessary. Eventually I come up with something that feels like the beginning of a story, and from there I begin a first draft.

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention the self-doubt. Tons of that.

With "Water Shield," the bits remained as bits, and the fragmented structure helped me to compress a long span of time down to a dozen-and-a-half pages. My college roommate grew up in Whale Pass, a remote Alaskan town as populous as you might guess by its name, and talking to him got me interested in the potential of the harsh and extremely isolated setting.

I guess the only gloss-free pronouncement I can make about short stories as a form is this: Short Stories Are Short. It takes less time to work out a first draft, which suits them to conveying the kind of ideas that come to you all at once, tangible and whole, instead of those airier impressions you spend years of your life trying to chase down and articulate into a full-blown novel. Of course, they're maddening to write: given so little space, a single wrong detail can disrupt the mood of a whole scene, a tangent can knock the whole story off course, and each awkward simile is as out-of-place and jarring as an exploded pig.



About the Author

Tony Tulathimutte was born in 1983 in western Massachusetts. He graduated from Stanford University with Bachelor's and Master's degrees in Symbolic Systems, with a minor in Creative Writing. "Scenes from the Life of the Only Girl in Water Shield, Alaska" is his first publication. Tulathimutte lives in San Francisco.

Click here to visit Tony Tulathimutte's website.


Writer's Desk

  • I'm almost finished with a draft of a novella about a young neurosurgeon caught in a malpractice lawsuit, and I've just begun a story about skinheads in West Oakland, as well as a historical essay about writing and the personal ad.


  • Writer's Desk

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