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 O. Henry Prize-winning authors free rein to share their thoughts on these questions and others, and the result is a rare treat.

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Comments Brad Watson
2010 PEN/O. Henry Award-winning Author

It's a first, for me, and an honor to have my story included in The PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories. I hope it means that more people will read it, and that some of them will decide to read the collection it appears in, Aliens in the Prime of Their Lives. I also feel very lucky that my story was chosen over what were no doubt many, many fine stories published in the past year. I'm not just saying that; I mean it.

(author photo © Nell Hanley)

Writing Tips

I've spent many, many days and nights in motels, some cheap and some average, a couple nice ones, with my son from my second marriage. Owen's a connoisseur of motels, has his own priorities about what's good and what's bad, and it's interesting to see how the priorities have changed over the past few years. For instance, anything that seemed to have what I deemed "character" (something that reminded me of motels from my own childhood, for instance) was out; now, he's a little more open to that, but sometimes I think this is only so that he can educate me, pointing out once we're in there just how run-down and crappy the place actually is. In any case, I wanted to write a story about a divorced father spending time with someone he loves most in the world, his child, in crappy, seemingly soulless places. The fact that Loomis, in this story, does not deal with it very well is a response from the more pessimistic, darker side of myself. I'm not exactly sure where the lighter, more optimistic side of myself resides, although I know it usually doesn't involve motels and spending money on them. Eating a great meal with my son(s) and other family, is good. Great long walks in the Wyoming mountains, that's good. Owen loves that, too, as does my older son, Jason. But this is a story about the difficult part of visiting a child of a busted marriage. The bad motels, the dislocation, the anxiety it all creates, together with memories of having once visited several roadside psychics (for a magazine article) who all predicted sad things for my current marriage—these seemed to be the stuff of the story. That said, I wrote the first draft longhand in the backyard during a wonderful summer in Wyoming when Owen was staying with me here, in our house, and having a great time biking and hiking with me in the Medicine Bow National Forest every day, eating good homecooked meals every night. It may be the contrast between such good times and such not-so-good times helps a writer to reimagine the hard times in more vivid detail. The detachment is critical, I think, for me.

About the Author

Brad Watson is from Meridian, Mississippi, and teaches in the University of Wyoming MFA program. His books are Last Days of the Dog-Men, The Heaven of Mercury, and Aliens in the Prime of Their Lives. He's published stories in The Black Warrior Review, Greensboro Review, Story, Bombay Gin, Alabama Literary Review, The Idaho Review, The Oxford American, Narrative, and The New Yorker. He lives in Laramie, Wyoming.

Writer's Desk

  • I'm back to work on a novel I set aside in 2008, when I started writing stories again. I hadn't written short stories in a few years, having written some 500 pages into the beginnings of three tangled novels, but several new stories began to work on my head during 2007, so I gave in and began to write them. I'd forgotten how much I enjoyed writing short stories, and I hope that doesn't happen again.

  • Writer's Desk

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