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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 Melinda Moustakis
"They Find the Drowned"
2013 O. Henry Award-winning Author

It's a tremendous honor to be included in The O. Henry Prize Stories and very unexpected. The entire process for this story took about six years until it found a home at Hobart. I didn't really believe the news for a few days. Thank goodness I had an email to look at for proof. The O. Henry Prize Stories has such a diverse and enthusiastic readership, and that's the biggest thrill—to have your story make its way to those readers.

(author photo © Emily J. Stinson)

Writing Tips

There is a sense of freedom in writing short stories that I enjoy. For twenty pages you can try anything. And if it doesn't work, you've only lost twenty pages and can move on. Or you put it in a drawer and come back to it later. One story, like one song on an album, can be weird and out there and on a different plane from what has come before—which means less pressure. There is also a sense of comfort in the page limit—you plop yourself in the middle of a small lake and can see the shore and, consequently, believe you can swim to shore—and maybe this is just a story I tell myself so I can start writing.

I know something worthwhile is happening on the page when a story surprises me as I'm writing it. I knew from the beginning that "They Find the Drowned" would include a section about a moose drowning based on a story my uncle, Sonny, told me on the river—he tells fantastic stories. But I never imagined that, by the end, I'd have a story with many other animals, scientific research, multiple drownings, and a modular structure that wasn't a complete disaster. It would just be about disaster, which I realized when I decided on the title, and this happened very late in the process.

About the Author

Melinda Moustakis was born in Fairbanks, AK, and raised in Bakersfield, CA. Her debut collection, Bear Down, Bear North: Alaska Stories, won the Flannery O' Connor Award and was shortlisted for the William Saroyan International Prize for Writing. Her stories have appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, American Short Fiction, Hobart, Kenyon Review, New England Review, and elsewhere. In 2011, she was named a 5 Under 35 writer by the National Book Foundation, and was the 2012-2013 Hodder Fellow at The Lewis Center of the Arts at Princeton University. She received her MA from University of California, Davis, and her PhD in English and Creative Writing from Western Michigan University. She lives in Austin, TX.

Writer's Desk

I'm working on a novel set in Alaska. In relation to the perceived, and often deceiving, comfort of writing short stories, attempting a novel feels like finding yourself in the middle of the ocean, treading water, with no shore in sight. I've been telling people that whatever happens with this next project, all I can promise is that there will be moose.

Writing Tips

From "They Find the Drowned" by Melinda Moustakis


Oncorhynchus gorbuscha

A river loses strength, loses water. Scientists catch the humpies and put them into tanks and drive to the Kenai River. The humpies are released near the mouth when the reds are running. The humpies don't know where to go—they don't know the Kenai and they don't follow the reds. They don't recognize the currents of the river, or the smells, or the way the light refracts into the water and bounces off the bottom. The reds run up while the dead humpies float down. They die because they have the wrong memories.

Writer's Desk

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