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Ed. note: We asked members attending the AWP Conference here in Denver to send us a note or two on sessions they attended so that those who couldn’t attend could take a virtual trip. Here’s our first, from Lighthouser Jessica Regner.
On Thursday, I attended the Going Long: The Long Short Story, hosted by Jilly Meyers, editor of American Short Fiction, and including panelists Josh Weil, Suzanne Rivecca, and Karen Brown. (Note: Karen Brown is author of Isabel’s Daughter, one of the PEN/O. Henry 2009 award winners. I read her short story in conjuction with Andrea’s winter short story class, and it really wowed me.) This is what I thought was critical from that session. According to Josh Weil, the difference between a “short” short story and a “long” short story is that the “short” goes FROM something (starts out with an explosion, and the rest of the story is about the repercussions of that event) and the “long” develops TOWARD something (may start slower, but is rich and holds promises and finishes in a big way).
So, thinking about the PEN/O. Henry short stories, the shortest award-winning story for 2009 was “The Order of Things” by Judy Troy. It’s less than 8 full pages (probably around 2500 words). It’s about a married Reverend who has an affair with one of his married parishioners. On page one, they’re meeting at a Super 8 to have sex. That’s the big explosion. The rest of the story is winding down from there.
Contrast that with “An Ordinary Soldier of the Queen” by Graham Joyce (also a 2009 PEN/O. Henry award winner). This story is 28 pages and at least 8000 words. It starts conversationally light, a first person narrator telling about his life in the army. The tension builds and peaks around page 21, when the character is lost in a firefight in the desert, stuck with his foot on top of a grenade, and saved by a mysterious apparition (djinn). The narrator is unreliable, and the reader has to form her own judgments about what happened to him. The length of story was necessary for setting up what happened to the character and getting to know his personality and how what happened effected him.
Suzanne Rivecca recommended “long” short story writers read Alice Munro for compression of time and learning to write summary scenes and then move into them.
Jill Meyers stated that American Short Fiction is committed to publishing longer pieces. She and the other panelists also recommended the following journals for longer pieces: New England Review, Georgia Review, Ploughshares, Electric Literature, One Story, Georgia Review, Tin House, Crazy Horse, Narrative, Northwest Review, Alaska Quarterly, and the Atlantic Monthly e-reader.