Short Story Prize
Reader Q&A with Bonnie Dunlop
As we prepare to unveil the shortlist for the 2013 CBC Short Story Prize, we're asking the readers for the competition what it's like to read hundreds of short stories in search of the best. Here's Saskatchewan's Bonnie Dunlop on how reading makes her want to write even more and why an element of surprise can make a story resonate long after the reading is done.
Tell us about yourself. Where do you live and what do you write?
I live under the endless prairie skies of southwest Saskatchewan, in Swift Current, where my roots are. I write mostly short fiction but also some creative nonfiction. I have written one good poem, aired on CBC.
What's your day job?
I worked in a government office until June of 2012. My new job is reading and writing, thinking and playing.
What's your literary street cred?
My first short story collection, The Beauty Box, was short-listed in two categories for the 2004 Saskatchewan Book award and won in First Book. My second book, Carnival Glass, was shortlisted in the Fiction category in 2008. I have been published in literary presses and my work has been read on CBC.
What are you working on now (in your writing)?
My short stories were getting too long to qualify in the short story form so I thought a novel would be a logical progression. I am also working on a memoir set in an intense ten-day time frame.
What do you like most about the short story as a form?
I love the concise nature of a short story. Every word has to matter.
When you’re reading hundreds of stories and trying to choose the most exceptional ones, what are you looking for?
I am looking for clarity and beauty of language, for a strong and consistent voice, for a story I find myself thinking about hours after I have finished reading.
What are some of the subjects/themes that people are writing about?
Love and indifference, good and evil, the power of childhood actions, memories, inner and outer space, small moments that can turn a life sideways.
Has being a reader for the Short Story Prize changed anything about how you approach your own writing? Would you do anything different if you were to submit to the competition?
My stories are character driven and I love the surprise of what the characters do and say when they take over.I don’t want to change that. But the scope the ideas in the stories was amazing and energizing too. Reading made me want, even more, to write. If I were submitting, I would edit with a ruthless eye, put the piece aside for as long as possible and then edit some more. My fine-toothed comb would become finer still.
Can you describe a couple of the entries that struck you as standouts?
"Ikke Vil Vare Evig" (Nothing Lasts Forever). I was intrigued first of all by the title. After an opening description of cremated remains and the memories the ashes evoke, the writer hits us with their chemical analysis, a surprising twist. After reading this story, I had lived through a chaotic childhood and fallen in love with a steadfast grandmother. There is very little dialogue in this story, but what is there is polished, small gems.
"Fishing in 52" began with a vivid description of the protagonists and their physical world, but the reader is soon taken to a different place. There is something mysterious going on, a transfer or knowledge or wisdom, perhaps bravery from the old man to the boy. The otherness of that world was so real that the pragmatic ending came as a total surprise. I think it is the unexpected, the element of surprise that makes stand-out stories resonate long after the reading is done.
Bonnie Dunlop was a reader for the 2013 CBC Short Story Prize. Find out more about this year's competition here.