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 Mark Slouka
"The Hare's Nest"
2012 PEN/O. Henry Award-winning Author

To be included in the PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories is an honor and an affirmation, certainly, but for me it's also a temporary stay against the boogeyman of oblivion. You write a story that you think may have some merit, but then, even if you're fortunate enough to have it published, there's that sense of evanescence—it's here and gone. To have it selected, then, for the PEN/ O. Henry Prize Stories, is to see it plucked out of the bit-stream and set on a shelf where others may find it, read it, perhaps even be moved by it, for years to come. For any writer, that's a gift.

(author photo © Michael Lionstar)

Writing Tips

Though I love the novel and the essay as well, I have a particular fondness for short fiction, for its particular challenges, for its risks and possibilities. If pressed, I'd say that what I love best about short stories is that even though, generally speaking, they build to a pivot point—a shift, however subtle, in direction or understanding - they can suggest the years, even lifetimes that had to pass before that point was reached. In other words, though a story is almost always about a particular moment, a moment when "something happened," that moment is pregnant with the history of what came before. The result can feel very much like life itself—troubling, haunted, beautiful, ultimately mysterious.

About the Author

Mark Slouka was born in New York City in 1958. His books, which have been translated into eighteen languages, include the story collection Lost Lake, and the novels God's Fool and The Visible World, and two works of non-fiction, War of the Worlds , a cultural critique of technological society, and, most recently, Essays from the Nick of Time, winner of the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay. A Contributing Editor at Harper's, his stories and essays have appeared in Harper's, Granta, Agni, Orion, and The Paris Review, among other publications, as well as in Best American Essays, Best American Stories, and The PEN/ O. Henry Prize Stories

Writer's Desk

After three years of trying to figure out how to get at it, I'm immersed to the earlobes in a novel. Most mornings after breakfast I walk out to an 8 by 8 shack in the woods and move the story ahead an inch, two inches. The shack has no electricity, no heat—if it's hot, I put my feet in a bucket of cold water; if cold, a sweater and a hat and occasional jumping around do the trick.

I think I like the roughness of it so much because the story I'm writing is a rough story, a story about the scars we carry—deserved or not—for the things we didn't do, didn't say, should have said.

There's something else: After five books, I find myself writing a novel that's not only relatively contemporary (set in the late 1960's) and deeply American, but full of dialogue. I feel like the painter Odilon Redon, who late in life, after painting only in black and white, discovered the beauty of color. I'm in love with the color of the spoken word, with its gaps and silences, its gorgeous ungainliness, its sudden beauty. I walk around murmuring and gesturing to myself like a mad actor, laughing at odd moments...what a strange business this is. Still, however precarious, however filled with insecurities—I may fall flat on my face—I wouldn't trade it for the finest cubicle in heaven.

Writing Tips

From "The Hare's Mask" by Mark Slouka

It began with the hare's mask. One of the trout flies my father tired—one of my favorites because of its name—was the Gold Ribbed Hare's Ear, which required, for its bristly little body, a tiny thatch of hare's fur, complete with a few long, dark guard hairs for effect. My father would clip the hair from a palm-size piece of fall-colored fur, impossibly soft. For some reason, though I knew fox was fox and deer hair was deer hair, I never read the hare's mask as the face of a hare, never saw how the irregular outline spoke the missing eyes, the nose...Whatever it was—kind of optical illusion, some kind of mental block—I just didn't see it, until I did.

Writer's Desk

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