Reading for Writing: Short Fiction

A year ago I signed up for a Stanford Continuing Studies online short fiction workshop. I loved it. I started a lot pieces and worked my way through a couple revisions. I decided to keep writing short fiction, and to more purposefully read short fiction. Just as the post I re-blogged explains, when you read for your writing, your reading is a little different. I still immerse myself in a story, but I am also aware of the craft.

Since that workshop, I returned to reading contemporary short fiction. I am already familiar with authors featured in recycled high school anthologies. I wanted to find authors new to me, known or not. Here are a few collections I’ve read recently:

The Tenth of December: Stories by George Saunders. I read this collection after seeing an article in the NY Times about Saunders. I finished reading the book, downloaded his previous collection, CivilWarLand in Bad Decline, and overdosed on the man. In a good way. Even though some individual pieces disturbed me, the whole body of work reminded me of the first time I read Kurt Vonnegut: I didn’t know you could write like that.

The Best American Short Stories 2012 edited by Tom Perrota. This collection was great for my writing. I was writing these long wandering pieces with fifty characters too many. I’d received feedback about unnecessary characters in my drafts but was afraid to cut. This collection showed me the value of keeping a small cast.

Memory Wall by Anthony Doerr. Years ago in college, I read his first collection, The Shell Collector and it remains one of my favorite short fiction collections. I like his style. What I really like is that he writes pieces set around the world, speaking from wildly varying perspectives. The first time I read Doerr’s fiction, I sensed an almost reckless boldness, to write fiction from all over. I was stuck writing from my own experience. So when I read and reread The Shell Collector or Memory Wall, I think: why not write from places I’ve never been, physically, emotionally or spiritually?

I Want to Show You More: Stories by Jamie Quatro. An editor I work with recommended this collection after reading a couple of my fiction pieces. When I finally started reading Quatro, I felt two things. First, I was so glad I’d already written the particular pieces that prompted my editor to suggest the book.I was pleased to realize I’d managed difficult truth-telling on my own, in my own style. Second, as with Saunders, I read Quatro and thought: you can do that? Which I why I am now experimenting, taking what I’ve seen Saunders and Quatro do in their writing and seeing how it may fit into some of my own pieces.

If you have favorite short fiction authors or collections, please post in the comments. Next up on my short fiction reading is The Best American Short Fiction 2013. I am also reading pieces from The Story and Its Writer.

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