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 Alexi Zentner
O. Henry Award-winning Author

"Touch" was only my second publication, and even though Tin House is a great magazine, it came as a wonderful shock to me when I found out Laura Furman had selected my story for The O. Henry Prize Stories. Writing is such a solitary occupation that I sometimes forget that when I'm done with a story there will be other people--I hope--who read it. I want to believe that I write only and ever for myself, but who am I kidding? When I've read through past years of The O. Henry Prize Stories, I've indulged in the fantasy that my name was among the long and eminent list of authors. It's nice to join the pack.

(author photo © Alexi Zentner)

Writing Tips

I spend a lot of time mulling over stories before I actually write them. Usually, the core of the story comes out fairly intact in the first few revisions, but I spend a lot of time on subsequent revisions moving bits around, taking out a word here or there. If a piece doesn't feel done to me, I tend to sit on it for a while. I'm very lucky in that my wife is incredibly supportive of my writing, and she gives me the space that I need to, well, brood. I'm not really sure how I know when a story is ready to send out into the world, but I do think that there comes a point when any more revision actually works against the story.

I write both short stories and novels, but I'm drawn to short stories because of the form; there is something elegant in the compactness of a short story. In a novel you have so much more room for digressions and there is space to allow a reader to relax, but in a short story there is little room for slack. I also started writing short stories for the simple reason that I wanted to improve as a writer, and I figured that short stories were short, and therefore easier to write than a novel. Huh. I no longer think they are easier.

"Touch" started with an image of a girl's body under a frozen lake. I'm always drawn to stories of love and duty, stories about family and the pull of desire, and I was haunted by the translucent nature of ice and the question of what it would mean to have somebody I love trapped like that, so close and yet untouchable. I was also driven by the landscape of the story. I was raised in southern Ontario, and, though I have dual-citizenship and have lived in the United States since I was eighteen, the Canadian national mythology has stuck with me. When I look at my notes--a few quick sentences I scratched down after the image of Marie trapped under the ice came to me while I was trying to fall asleep--I notice how much, even then, weather and the cold played a part in the conception of the story.

About the Author

Alexi Zentner was born in Kitchener, Ontario. His short stories have appeared in Tin House and Southwest Review. He lives in Ithaca, New York.

Writer's Desk

  • I keep finding myself drawn back to the world I created in "Touch," and I am now working on a novel that centers on "Touch" and the village of Sawgamet. When that's finished, I'm going to try to thresh out a collection of stories and then get started on my next novel.

  • Writer's Desk

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