Short Story Prize
Meet the reader: Andrew Hood
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. Andrew Hood says the exceptional ones drop you into a place you don't understand, but can't wait to find out more about.
Tell us about yourself. Where do you live and what do you write?
These days I live in Halifax, where I've been banging my head against a novel for a year. In the past, I've lived in Montreal and Guelph, and out of those two places have come two collections of short stories.
What's your day job?
I work at a brewery here in Halifax, currently manning The Filler. If you've been finding your IPA a little on the oxidized-side, we'll talk. Also, if your labels are a bit crooked, that might be my bad too.
What's your literary street cred?
Well, I haven't slain any rival short story writers yet, but my first book, Pardon Our Monsters, won the Danuta Gleed Award and my second book of stories, The Cloaca, will be foisted on the public by Invisible Publishing in April.
Why did you want to be a reader for the 2011 CBC Short Story Prize?
I love reading short stories. If I wasn't writing this right now I'd probably be reading a short story. Reading for this year's Prize gave me the opportunity to dig into a heap of these things, every time without any expectations — which is marvelous and rare.
What do you like about short fiction?
I'm weary of analyzing too much the stiffy I have for the short stuff. So let's just say that it takes me as long to finish your average short story as it does to finish a 500ml bottle strong, hoppy-ass IPA.
Where did you read the short story entries?
The hundreds of stories submitted to me were read at the kitchen table, between 5am and 6:45am, when I left for work. Much coffee was consumed.
When you're reading 500 stories (500 stories!) and trying to choose the most exceptional ones, what are you looking for?
It's unfortunate when you read the first line of a story and know exactly what the story is, where it will go. The exceptional stories are those that immediately drop you into a place you don't understand, but can't wait to find out more about. An exceptional short story is something like a runner taking her dog out with her. I want to be the dog, to be bouncing beside the short story, trying to keep up and trying to not to go faster at the same time. Whatever that means.
What is it about a story that makes you put it in the YES pile?
I had to want to read the story again for it to land in the YES pile. A story can be perfectly pleasant, deftly written etc, but when the thing's done and I can live with never reading it again, the NO pile gets just a little bit higher.
Can you describe (briefly) a couple of the stories that struck you as stand-outs?
Nearly two months after having read and chosen these stories, "Curves" and "What About How Blue the Sky Is" stand out most starkly in my mind. There is a real clarity to the voices of both those stories, but not a cold clarity. The telling is straightforward, but consistently mysterious, consistently double-checking that I'm paying attention.
Having read all these stories, do you have any tips, any dos and don'ts, for short story writers?
Have I got tips! Oh man. Tip #1: Avoid beginning a story with your character waking up.
Tip #2: Stop and ask yourself, "Is this description of how the sun is shining really adding anything to the narrative, or should I trust that my reader know what sunlight looks like?"
Tip #3: If there is a sentence in your story that begins, "And then she realized..." CUT IT! It's me, the reader, whose job it is to realize what your characters are realizing!
Tip #4: (And this is a tricky one to articulate and not come off seeming like a wretched person.) Cancer is so disastrously present in nearly everyone's life. If you're going to write a story about a near-ubiquitous situation, you need to be amazingly confident that you're writing the absolute best story on this experience with illness and loss that anyone has ever written. Commonness is a hell of a thing to bust through, but it does happen. So please, if you're planning to write a story about someone struggling with an illness, please be careful, please be powerful — if only to save me from ever again having a girlfriend overhear me exclaim "Ugh! Not another cancer one!" I have enough working against me as it is.