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CBC Short Story Prize

CBC Short Story Prize: Elise Moser, Dennis E. Bolen and Shari Lapeña

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 third 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. 

Elise Moser

Tell us about yourself.
I live in Montreal. I worked as a bookseller and as a publishers' sales rep for many years, as well as doing copy editing and proofreading, editing anthologies, mentoring and leading workshops, a little book reviewing...and oh yeah, writing a few stories and a couple of novels. I also love to do pickling and preserving—there's nothing like the Jean-Talon Market in August to stimulate the senses and the imagination.

Can you describe a couple of the entries that struck you as standouts? 
“Anya” grabbed me from the first line—and then grabbed me again and again—by creating a series of moments of violent banality that seemed as if they ought to be shocking, but because the writing was so skillful they fit perfectly the utterly ordinary reality being described. It was ingeniously crafted, creating a complex cycle of events, like an elaborately patterned snake holding its own tail in its sharp-toothed mouth.

“Twillingate” seeped into me like the fog it describes. It is so subtle and finely made, I had to read it a couple of times before I felt I really understood it—but it wouldn't let me stop until I did. It is a sophisticated consideration of what it means to know another person, of what intimacy is, of what love can be—and it has the strength to explore all that slowly and quietly, without gaudy displays of emotion or libido. It is beautifully matched to the landscape of Newfoundland, where it takes place—its palette is muted but moving, its materials elemental and fierce.

“Frank” charmed me by tiptoeing with style and confidence around the edge of a noir sensibility, but in a woman's voice. There is a dry inflection of Flannery O'Connor in this story's deft language and plot; in a rather sordid setting, communicated without the least cliché, our heroine Alice brings an intelligent sense of humour to her view of life as she calculates her best move, knowing the cards are stacked against her and the house always wins.

What are you working on now?
I am in the middle of a short story and am also researching a non-fiction book for kids. That is a little daunting because it's something I've never done before, but it's a story that really wants to be told.

What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
"If you want to be a writer, you have to write."

Photo credit: Fred Lauing

Dennis E Bolen

Tell us about yourself. 
I am a longtime prose writer—author of five novels and two collections of short fiction, published by Anvil Press, Random House and Arsenal Pulp—whose first collection of verse, Black Liquor, was published in September 2013 by Caitlin Press.

What are you working on now? 
There's been a novel worming itself out of my brain for the past year or so... I'm hoping to give it full emergence sometime in the future. Aside from that I'm busy cooking up stage scripts for a couple of my past novels (Kaspoit!; Anticipated Results); I'm ongoing with poetry; and I continue a crusade to maintain Canadian book reviewing by championing books I like in whatever media I can avail...most frequently over the years it's been The Vancouver Sun.

What is the best writing advice you've ever received?
Though a veteran of years of learning in writing workshops—both taken and taught—I can't recall any actual advice being offered... and would likely not have listened if it were.

Photo credit: Gabor Gasztonyi

Shari Lepeña
Tell us about yourself. 
I am a novelist and mother of two living in Toronto. I tend to write darkly funny books about dysfunctional families and what I think is wrong with society.

Can you describe a couple of the entries that struck you as standouts? 
What struck me was the utter confidence and assuredness of some of these longlisted stories. “Raymond’s Old Man” creates a whole heartbreaking world in a few short pages. I loved the voice and originality and humour of “Jihad.” And the insight in “The Egg,” which really moved me.

What are you working on now? 
I am just finishing my third novel, How We Live Now. It’s about a woman married to a man with ADHD and struggling to raise a son with severe ADHD and learning disabilities. I’m trying to find the humour in what is really a sad and difficult situation. It’s also about how distracted we all are in today’s society, and about reality TV and what it says about our culture, and about how parenting has changed from the “hands off” approach of the Mad Men era, to the hyper parenting or “helicopter” parenting of today—and what that might mean for our kids.

What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
Write the very best you can as yourself. And also, if you can’t think of anything to write, make it up!

Photo credit: Manuel Lapeña

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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