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“He placed his long-fingered hand on Jeff’s chest. Jeff heard himself whimper quietly from somewhere beyond his control. “And what about content, Jeff? I assume there are restrictions? You have to take the fun out of it somehow.” “Well we’re not allowing crossover, where characters from two fictional worlds interact.” Jeff could barely get the words out now. He had never felt this strange intensity, this lust for anyone. He felt a strange throb where his soul had once been, years ago.”—
Dustin wrote Jeff Bezos fan fiction and it is beautiful.
“If you see that some aspect of your society is bad, and you want to improve it, there is only one way to do so: you have to improve people. And in order to improve people, you begin with only one thing: you can become better yourself.”—Leo Tolstoy
Kevin Hardcastle for #shortstorymonth
To celebrate Short Story Month, we’ve asked some awesome writers, editors, and other literary types to weigh in on their favourite stories and collections, and what makes a piece of short lit great. Today, writer Kevin Hardcastle.
1. What do you love about reading short stories?
Short stories have such immediacy to them, an inbuilt necessity to connect quickly and make inroads into your blood and guts. Every word has significance and every line has to build the narrative towards its purpose. But there are also fewer controls than there are in novel-length fiction, fewer structural or traditional guideposts, which gives a good author opportunity to exert control over the reader, or to really throw you. Consequently, it also gives writers the rope to hang themselves with. Which is why short fiction so often tells no lies when it comes to which writers are really exceptional.
2. What is the best short story (or collection) you’ve read in the last year? And why?
My favourite collections that I read in the last year are The Outlaw Album by Daniel Woodrell, and Siege 13 by Tamas Dobozy.
Woodrell is an author that I’ve been reading for some time, but mainly just his novels. His considerable gifts are just as apparent in his short fiction. The standout from The Outlaw Album for me is a story called Uncle. About a young lady who brains her abusive uncle but doesn’t end up killing him, and then serves as his caretaker until he starts to show signs of recovery. Woodrell’s prose style is the main thing I’m drawn to. That bare bones, muscular storytelling, and a real ear for dialogue. I also find myself very much invested in the way he handles dark, heavy material, especially with regards to rural life and folks who live off the beaten path and adapt accordingly.
Dobozy’s collection sort of came out of left field for me. I read a lot of American fiction, and Siege 13 was not on my radar until I was paired up with Tamas for some Writers’ Trust related interviews last year. I went into reading Siege 13 fairly blind and it really knocked me on my ass. My favourite story in that collection is The Animals of the Budapest Zoo, 1944-1945. In which two employees of the zoo try to keep their animals alive, or free them accordingly, as the zoo, and the city around it, falls into ruin during the Soviet siege of Budapest. Dobozy has a very measured yet powerful way of guiding the reader through extraordinary situations. His prose is meticulous and carefully put, somewhat different from most of the writers I admire, but equally important and effective. Some of the images in that story are seared into my brain for good. It is a hell of a story, and collection.
3. Do you have a favorite short story collection? And what makes it your favourite?
The cheat would be to say The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway – Finca Vigia Edition, which is a compendium of all of Hemingway’s short fiction, and which holds pretty much all of the ingredients you could need to know how to write. But that is a dirty move. So, I’ll say The Lost Salt Gift of Blood by Alistair MacLeod. I had only read his novel No Great Mischief when I happened upon an old edition of The Lost Salt Gift of Blood in a used bookstore. It fits in my pocket and I often carry it with me and read and re-read the stories in it. That collection changed the way I write fiction. It is very heartfelt but never crosses the line into sentimentality. He has total control of his lines and his language and he flattens you with the weight of those stories. The focus on family, the land, the natural world that acts upon the characters, all of that material strikes a deep chord with me. The Boat is among my favourite stories ever written. I dare you to find many better. That story wrecks me every time I read it.
Kevin Hardcastle’s short stories have been published in Word Riot, subTerrain Magazine, and The Malahat Review. His story We Gotta Save The Leg is forthcoming at Little Fiction.