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Short Story Prize

Reader Q&A with Kevin Chong

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 Kevin Chong on precision storytelling and bowling with George Bowering.

Kevin Chong by Jonathan Dy.jpg
Tell us about yourself. 
I've written four books, most recently a novel entitled Beauty Plus Pity and a memoir about horse racing called My Year of the Racehorse. I write in Vancouver. 

What's your day job?
I teach Creative Writing at UBC and Kwantlen Polytechnic University.

What's your literary street cred?
Sometimes I bowl with George Bowering. 

What are you working on now?
A novel, a nonfiction book proposal, and a stab at playwriting. 

What do you like most about the short story as a form?
How the best story writers can transport another world, time, and situation in a few paragraphs 

When you’re reading hundreds of stories and trying to choose the most exceptional ones, what are you looking for?
A precision in the writing and an eye for detail that signals to readers that you're in the hands of a great storyteller.

What are some of the subjects/themes that people are writing about?
I don't think those themes change much: marriages, family, death. I found quite a few stories that are about a character's relationship to nature. I also read a few stories that dealt with characters in foreign countries.

Has being a reader for the Short Story Prize changed anything about how you approach your own writing? 
I've entered a few times and have not even gotten a sniff from the jury. I think longer-form prose works better for me, as it gives me more of a margin for error. 

Can you describe a couple of the entries that struck you as standouts? 
"L'Etranger" describes the tense bond shared between a Canadian woman and Ukrainian woman who share a flat in Paris, and really captures the helplessness of living in a foreign country. "Old Hands" contrasts the fantastical conceit of a man in a house sinking in the sea with a narrator with a narrator who seems distracted by his own grief. "Dolls" is a period piece about conjoined twins that conjures a time and place and brings the reader to throat-catching gasps in a few pages. Re-reading these pieces, I thought to myself, "Wow, what great first lines!" I realized that great first lines don't exist on their own; they're normally followed by great second lines, and great twenty-seventh lines, and so on. These pieces start well and follow through to the end.

Kevin Chong was a reader for the 2013 CBC Short Story Prize. Find out more about this year's competition here.

You can follow Kevin on Twitter @KevinChong1975.

Photo credit: Jonathan Dy

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