categories: Cocktail Hour / Reading Under the Influence
The University of Georgia Press recently re-issued my book of stories, Big Bend, in a new paperback edition, and, for the first time, as an e-book. So bug your local bookstore, and load up your e-reader!
These stories were written late in the last century, many of them during an amazingly productive residency at the MacDowell Colony in March of 1997, but at least one of them, the lead-off story, “Thanksgiving,” as early as 1986, which was before I went back to school for my MFA at Columbia.
In 1998, I was editor of the Sandstone Prize as part of my work in the MFA writing program at Ohio State University. It was a new short story prize, and the award was publication by the OSU Press. Students and I worked on the mountain of manuscripts, choosing finalists, which went out to a distinguished outside judge, usually a writer. It was very hard work, but fun in its way, and a great way for aspiring writers to learn about one kind of publishing process.
I had enough stories for a collection, and so I put one together and sent it to four of the top contests, just to see how they did things, and to learn what we might do better. My students and I studied the response letters I got, the submission fees, the pace of the process, really pretty useful information. And we kept at our work till a winner for the year was found and anointed.
Then I went back to Maine for the summer, 1999. And one fine August day, the phone rang. A man with a courtly phone style and good southern accent asked if I was me. I was. He said, “Your collection has won the Flannery O’Connor Award in Short Fiction.”
And I said, “Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha.” Because I was sure it was one of my students razzing me.
But it was true.
People often ask me which of my books is my favorite. And I often say, Big Bend. I feel so fond of these stories, and of the former me they reflect and represent.