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CBC Short Story Prize

CBC Short Story Prize: Amber Dawn, Michael Hingston and Rebecca Rosenblum

Reading hundreds of stories in a short period of time is not an easy task, but it’s one we at Canada Writes and the CBC Literary Prizes regularly ask Canadian writers to do. This year 12 writers were called upon to use their reading skills and put together the longlist for the CBC Short Story Prize

Here is the first of four posts introducing them. They will share with us why certain stories resonated with them, and let us in on some of the best writing advice they've ever received. 

Amber Dawn

Tell us about yourself. 
I was born on Six Nations of the Grand River territory, in a little town named Crystal Beach, Ontario, best known for its Amusement Park and Dance Hall. I moved to Vancouver in 1992 and fell in love with the mountains and tall cedars. I live with my wife and two fluffy elderly dogs.  

Can you describe a couple of the stories that struck you as standouts? 
"Coconut Dreams", "Milk Glass" and "Woof" were easily my favourites. All three stories featured characters who struggle with external pressures to conform or please others. Each story approached the balance between family, friends and individual identity in a unique way. Also, each story was tremendously successful with "show, don't tell" narrative voice. I felt I could see, smell and feel my own way around each vivid story. 

What are you working on now? 
I'm working on a supernatural fiction novel set in my hometown, Crystal Beach.

What is the best writing advice you've ever received?
Just finish the damn thing!

Photo credit: Sarah Race

Michael Hingston

Tell us about yourself. 
I am a writer and human in Edmonton, Alberta. I'm also the books columnist for the Edmonton Journal and author of the novel The Dilettantes (2013).

Can you describe a couple of the stories that struck you as standouts? 
I loved trying to suss out the exact setting of “Smiley,” as well as how much empathy there is towards the narrator’s confused sexuality. The strange achievements listed in “My Father” won me over immediately: it exists at the smudged crossroads between eulogy and myth making. My favourite piece of all, though, was “Qom.” I've re-read it several times and still can't figure out how the author fit so much into such a small space. It's dynamic, and heart-wrenching, and expertly observed.

What are you working on now?
A completely different, completely terrifying book of non-fiction. I can't say any more about it just yet.

Rebecca Rosenblum

Tell us about yourself. 
I’ve written two collections of short stories, Once and The Big Dream, along with a chapbook and various journal and magazine publications. My husband is the author Mark Sampson, and we have two cats. I work in educational publishing, which is pretty interesting. I also have a long commute, which is perfect reading/thinking/daydreaming time that all authors need.

Can you describe a couple of the stories that struck you as standouts?
“Lucy Alkema and the Nervous Breakdown” is a kind of story I’ve seen before—about the cruelty of kids looking for a target when they themselves are also treated harshly. Despite that familiarity, this story feels completely fresh in its honesty—the author is willing to reveal the harshness of Lucy and her classmates without being him/herself harsh. There is tenderness for these kids, even love, even as they are revealed in their meanness. 

“We Know Me Better Than Anybody” is an incredibly detailed story—carpet fibres, online interfaces, food on the tongue. There is something grim and huge at the centre of the story, but the author comes at carefully, in small steps, so that the reader can understand not just the event but echoes beyond it.

“Tukisiviit?” is a story about a world I don’t know at all, and the author does not waste any time explaining, trusting his/her ability to describe accurately enough that I will feel a part of the story before I fully know it—and I did. This piece also has one of my all-time favourite opening lines: “We hated him for three reasons. His chained dog. His refusal to learn Inuktitut. And his noisy and conceited notion that he was helping us.” I mean, wow.

What are you working on now? 
Another collection of stories called So Much Love. It’s a linked collection of short stories about several different couples and different forms of love—some constructive, some destructive. 

What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
“Don’t talk it out.” That’s from my mentor Leon Rooke, who has been writing for many years and knows how not to take himself too seriously. If it’s meant to be a story, write the story; if you don’t want to write it, maybe it’s meant to be a cocktail-party conversation. I know some people who can’t get around this one, have a million chats around a story idea and still make it work on paper, but I have no process for that. Some people will say, “It’s all written in my head, I just need to type it up,” but for me the writing process is the story. The initial glimmer in my head is nothing close to what the final piece will be, and will sound pretty silly if I try to air it as an idea. I can be laughed out of a writing project pretty easily, so I try to shut up about what I’m working on until it’s pretty far along. 

Photo credit: Dave Starrett

Discover the other readers

The shortlist for the 2014 CBC Short Story Prize will be announced on March 10. To see which stories made the longlist, click here >>


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