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Short Story Prize

Meet the reader: Alice Zorn

As we prepare to unveil the shortlist for the CBC Short Story Prize, we're asking the readers for the competition what it's like to read 500 short stories in search of the best. Here's Alice Zorn on what it takes for a story to hook her.

Tell us about yourself. Where do you live and what do you write?
I live in Montreal and I write fiction--both short fiction and novels.

What's your day job?
In my case, the job that pays the bills and keeps me fed is an evening job. I work part-time as a unit coordinator in a hospital. My mornings are for writing.

What's your literary street cred?
In 2011 my novel, Arrhythmia, was published with NeWest Press. My collection of short fiction, Ruins & Relics, was a finalist for the 2009 Quebec Writers' Federation First Book Award. I've published stories in literary magazines in Canada and the UK. In 2006 I won
first prize in the Prairie Fire Fiction Contest — and have just received word that I've won again in their 2011 contest.

Why did you want to be a reader for the 2011 CBC Short Story Prize?
I welcomed the opportunity to read a great variety of writing from across the country.

What do you like about short fiction?
By definition, short fiction is short. It's tight. There's an economy of words. You can get close to a character for ten pages in a way that might seem claustrophobic in a novel.

Where did you read the short story entries?
I like a closed door and space to myself. A room of my own. It's got a recycled oak boardroom table for a desk, a sofa, a leather pouffe from Morocco, bookcases, filing cabinets, photos on the walls.

When you're reading about 500 stories (500 stories!) what are you looking for?
I want to be interested — whether in a human plight, a mystery, an ethical conundrum, an unexpected point of view…I don't need an immediate plot hook, but I want a voice, a situation, or detail that intrigues me.

What is it about a story that makes you put it in the YES pile?
My curiosity was piqued and then satisfied. A story doesn't have to end with a neat bow (in fact, I prefer if it doesn't), but by the end I want to feel I've arrived somewhere new. Or seen an old story told anew.

Can you describe a couple of the stories that struck you as stand-outs?
All of the stories I chose had a strong sense of character or voice that never slipped. Excellent control of point of view. Setting and detail were precisely depicted — the kitchen of a Chinese restaurant, the Arctic, Russia, the backyard of an apartment building. The authors
made the stories very real for me.

Having read all these of stories, do you have any tips, dos and don'ts for short story writers?
Tell the story. Don't waste valuable sentences on setting it up. Jump in.

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set count down final date: 11/01/2014
set count up final date: 11/01/2014
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