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. Julie Booker looks for stories that surprise her.
Tell us about yourself. Where do you live and what do you write?
I live in downtown Toronto. I write short fiction.
What's your day job?
I'm a teacher.
What's your literary street cred?
A book of short stories, Up Up Up
(House of Anansi, 2011).
Why did you want to be a reader for the 2011 CBC Short Story Prize?
I love to read. And I love short stories. What could be a better job?
What do you like about short fiction?
The quick emotional payoff. And the way every word counts; there's no time for the reader to look away.
Where did you read the short story entries?
On the couch, mostly, in pyjamas.
When you're reading hundreds of stories and trying to choose the most exceptional ones, what are you looking for?
They have to be well-written; there's no room for shoddy editing. Beyond that, I'm looking for something that surprises me; a glimpse of something I haven't looked at before or a familiar story told in a new way.
What is it about a story that makes you put it in the YES pile?
Voice. A strong point of view or tone that remains consistent. And the feeling that something is always about to happen. Tension that begins in the first sentence.
Can you describe a couple of the stories that struck you as stand-outs?
"Sadie's Bone" is about a man coming home from an addiction treatment centre. As the story unfolds we become privy to what he isn't: his wife's meticulous and horrifying plan to leave him. "The Swimmer" has the feel of Aimee Bender's magic realism. A woman watching a swimmer dive into a pool full of ice decides to intervene. The final sentence puts the whole story into perfect alignment.
Having read all these stories, do you have any tips, dos and don'ts for short story writers?
Don't wrap up your story with an ending that says, 'This is what the story was about,' or try to shock the reader in the last paragraph.
Stay away from cliché. Even in the title. Many times, after reading the first page, I thought: "I know where this is going." And rarely did a story that started like that veer from the expected.
What did you enjoy most about the experience?
It was a lovely reading binge that lasted several weeks. And I enjoyed every single story because it's just as interesting to understand why something doesn't work as it is to read a fantastic story.