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Meet the reader: Maria Schamis Turner

As we prepare to unveil the shortlist for the CBC Short Story Prize, we're asking the readers for the competition about reading 500 short stories in search of the best. Here's Maria Schamis Turner on the ones that made the YES pile.

Tell us about yourself. Where do you live and what do you write?
I live in Montreal and in Calgary. (Don't ask, it's complicated.) I write mostly nonfiction.

What's your day job?
That depends on the day. Currently I am producer of the CBC Blue/Radio-Canada série littéraire at the Blue Metropolis Montreal International Literary Festival. Most of the time I am a freelance writer.

What's your literary street cred?
I had a complicated childhood and I grew up without a television. At least that's what I tell myself when I wonder why I became the editor of the literary magazine carte-blanche.  

Why did you want to be a reader for the 2011 CBC Short Story Prize?
I wanted to see what people across the country were writing about.

What do you like about short fiction?
Short stories are like glimpses of entire worlds. The writer takes you there in just a few pages and then leaves you to explore the world in your imagination.

Where did you read the short story entries?
Everywhere: on the couch, in bed, on the airplane, on the metro, and anywhere I had to stand in line.

When you're reading about 500 stories (500 stories!) what are you looking for?
Something that wakes me up, that seduces me, that makes me forget I am reading a short story on the metro.

What is it about a story that makes you put it in the YES pile?
You can tell right away if a writer has worked hard on a story, it shows in the ease of the language and the promise of revelation. The stories that made the YES pile were stories that surprised me in one way or another.

Can you describe a couple of the stories that struck you as stand-outs??
Reading "Mine," I was struck by how the writer took a familiar story (the story of an dying spouse — there were many of these) and did something different with it. The emotion in the story was complex and left me slightly disturbed. In "Pax" the language was a delight and the story was refreshingly different.

Having read all these of stories, do you have any tips, dos and don'ts for short story writers?
Don't write about having writer's block. Don't end the story with "and then I heard a terrible scream." Do read short stories. As many as you can.

What did you enjoy most about the experience?
The best part was getting down to that final YES pile where each story had something different that made it strong.

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