For the short story reader. Updated every Monday.

The Short Form

Week n° 25: April 01, 2013

I started writing in 1999 and it was a long trek. I wasted a lot of paper.

Author of the story collection, Crimes in Southern Indiana, and the recently released novel, Donnybrook.

Dan Chaon on the things he's had to unlearn as a writer, in an interview with Fictionaut:

The part that’s hardest is when I start thinking about the stuff beyond the scope of the actual work,  because there’s an aspect of being a writer that feels constantly like being in Junior High.

Will I ever publish a story in the New Yorker?  Probably not.

Will the cool po-mo hipster guys ever think I’m cool too?  In a pig’s eye.

Will I ever please that Amazon reviewer who found my work boring and depressing,  and my characters unlikable?  Highly doubtful.

It’s very hard — weirdly hard — to clear your mind of all that crap so that you can just sit down and write and find that place where you’re just involved and enjoying the imaginary place you’ve discovered.  All the other “problems” with writing are just puzzles,  and they can be interesting to try to crack,  even when it’s frustrating.

Our recommendations this week

The Eatonville Anthology
Excerpt

The grown-ups kept telling him he ought to go see a train. He always said he didn’t have time to wait so long. Only two trains a day passed through Maitland. But patronage and ridicule finally had its effect and Old Man Anderson drove in one morning early. Number 78 went north to Jacksonville at 10:20. He drove his light wagon over in the woods beside the railroad below Maitland, and sat down to wait. He began to fear that his horse would get frightened and run away with the wagon. So he took him out and led him deeper into the grove and tied him securely. Then he returned to his wagon and waited some more. Then he remembered that some of the train-wise villagers had said the engine belched fire and smoke. He had better move his wagon out of danger. It might catch afire. He climbed down from the seat and placed himself between the shafts to draw it away. Just then 78 came thundering over the trestle spouting smoke, and suddenly began blowing for Maitland. Old Man Anderson became so frightened he ran away with the wagon through the woods and tore it up worse than the horse ever could have done. He doesn’t know yet what a train looks like, and says he doesn’t care.

We read it in The Complete Stories.

Originally published in The Messenger: Sept–Nov 1926.

I Want This Always
Excerpt

#212a—A healthy gust for the first kite of the season redolent of the dense woods surrounding the hill upon which the kite mingles with other kites with just a hint of fresh dogwood and deer; your father is with you. Vintage 1965.

A man named Hellison orders #35.

#35—A strong lakeside zephyr; northerly, fresh with midnight and prom corsages and charter boat thrusting through the dark waves. On the cold side; give her your coat. Vintage 1987.

Hellison tells no one, not even his wife. Hellison waits. Hellison has second thoughts about blowing twenty-five bucks on what is obviously a hoax. Hellison waits. Hellison is home when the box is delivered. Hellison is surprised to read the simple instructions: Place this canister in the corner of the room in which you wish to experience it, open it, sit down, close yours eyes, and enjoy.

We read it in The American Reader.

The Great Wall
Excerpt

More than once they asked for work on the Wall restoration project; after the repeated collapses of the right-hand tower, one was so persistent he actually got to see me personally and told me in bad Chinese that he’d once seen in a far distant land a bridge in one of whose pillars a man had been immured. He pointed his eyes as he swore that he had really seen it, and even asked for a scrap of cardboard so he could draw the shape of the bridge for me. It was only a small bridge, he said, but to stop it from collapsing a sacrifice had to be made. How, then, could this huge Wall of China remain standing without an offering of the same kind?

He came back to see me a few days later and told the same story once more, but this time he made a lavishly detailed drawing of the bridge.

When I asked him why he’d pictured it upside down, he turned pale. “I don’t know,” he replied, “perhaps because that’s the way it looks in the water... Anyway, the night before last, that’s how I saw it in my dream. Upside down.”

We read it in Agamemnon's Daughter.