- Paperback: 480 pages
- Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1 edition (January 17, 2004)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0393325326
- ISBN-13: 978-0393325324
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 7 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,035,408 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Story Behind the Story: 26 Stories by Contemporary Writers and How They Work 1st Edition
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"Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress"
Is the world really falling apart? Is the ideal of progress obsolete? Cognitive scientist and public intellectual Steven Pinker urges us to step back from the gory headlines and prophecies of doom, and instead, follow the data: In seventy-five jaw-dropping graphs, Pinker shows that life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge, and happiness are on the rise. Learn more
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From Publishers Weekly
Though students of literature or writing are often told to stick to the text-to avoid guessing at authorial intention and process-the dictum doesn't squelch their curiosity. Fledgling writers, especially, wonder how the pros get the job done, where they find their inspiration and how they can tap into those creative wells. This rich anthology, which offers shrewd insight into writers' approaches-thereby sating our desires for their secrets while validating our own eccentric quirks-reassures all lovers of good writing that there is no one correct way to craft a good tale. The contributors, all recent faculty members at the Warren Wilson Program for Writers in Swannanoa, N.C., offer model short stories followed by informal mini-essays on how they came to fruition. Antonya Nelson credits the seedling of "Strike Anywhere" to a student; Jim Shepard owes much of the title story from his new collection, Love and Hydrogen, to a flurry of research; while Tracey Daugherty cagily tips his hat to both imagination and autobiography, admitting only of his story, "City Codes," "it's all true except for the parts I made up." Writers' experiences couldn't be more different, with Robert Cohen "cackling" his way through the feverish high-speed ride of composing "The Varieties of Romantic Experience," while Ehud Havazelet took years to pen "Pillar of Fire." By sharing their stories as well as their struggles, their risk-taking and rule-breaking (Charles Baxter claims to have "violated most of the narrative norms" he tries to instill in his own students), these authors remind us that writing is a messy, fascinating and highly individualized process. This collection is a treasure trove of literary encouragement and wisdom.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Warren Wilson College's unique MFA writing program has counted among its faculty some of the finest contemporary American writers. In this welcome collection, 26 writers contribute a short story, followed by revealing personal commentary that offers insight into, as David Shields writes, "the secret (now not so secret) nerve-centers of the story." Many of the stories are a departure in style or content from the authors' best-known works: "inspired by students, and unlike any story I've written," says Antonya Nelson about her piece. In their personal essays, the writers speak both with authority and with vulnerability about their struggles, fragile moments of inspiration, and the help that they, too, receive from other writers. Perhaps most affecting is the authors' deep, affectionate faith in the stories that defy common writing wisdom: "Any writing workshop would hammer it to bits," Charles Baxter says of his selection. Intimate and instructive, this is a collection for anyone who cares about contemporary short fiction. Gillian Engberg
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Among the valuable things I learned are, "Every story is at least two stories" (a Grace Paley quote), how writing a short story can help a novel writer get "unstuck" and how you can "write your way into your story."
The introduction by Richard Russo is excellent as well. Highly recommended for both the reading pleasure and getting insight into the writers' minds.
Ah, the writing life. We envision the author working compulsively, never satisfied, anxious to capture his ideas on paper before they disappear, a bottle of liquid inspiration and glass at hand. In the public imagination, the writer exists in some remote setting, isolated in his rarified world of complicated thoughts and clever phrases, perhaps a tragic and difficult personality. While there is cachet in such perceptions, writing actually involves a great deal of hard work. A story must be nurtured, carefully pruned from inception into the finished pages. Yet the writers in this anthology are distinctly human and accessible, certainly generous, stimulating the reader's imagination with their experiences.
In this anthology, a series of writers, all teachers on the faculty of Warren Wilson College MFA Program for Writers, have contributed twenty-six short stories, each followed by a section named "About the Story". Each About the Story details the author's creative process involved in his particular story, whether it be personal experience, an idea gleaned from research or a series of incidents that resulted in a tale to tell.
The pivotal question about writers: is this talent genetic or are these skills that can be learned? In his introduction, Richard Russo addresses the problem ambiguously: Writers are both the same and different than others, says Russo. Good writing cannot be readily taught, but those who want to write can learn to do it well. With authors as mentors, advising aspiring writers, they may master the needed skills. However, "artists seldom progress in a predictable, linear fashion". It is possible for a writer to be good before he is competent; clearly, craft and experience can turn a writer into an author.
Thanks to the generosity of these veteran authors, sharing their experience and guiding the apprentice through the necessary elements of the craft, this volume is especially valuable. The shared ideas and discussions on problem solving build an energy that inspires the novice writer to experiment with a variety of approaches and each new story provides an opportunity for discovery. Yet each author has his own method, his own path. Russo refers another phenomenon, "cross-fertilization": when the solution to the story pays off by suggesting yet another, or stimulating a thought process that leads to a completed story.
The contributing authors are some of the finest names in contemporary fiction, including Margaret Livesey, Charles Baxter, Judith Grossman, Stephen Dobyns, Pablo Medina and Andrea Barrett. The authors' generosity is extraordinary in this literary treasure. Setting the tone with the first story, Antonya Nelson's "Strike Anywhere", a student "gives" Nelson the story, which "hangs in her mind like a Christmas ornament", until it is born. And Nelson "gives" the story to the reader in this anthology.
A few lines from each "About the Story", or one specific author's thoughts may trigger that sudden recognition, a solution. Of inestimable value to readers, each author shares a piece of his art, a myriad of ideas, suggestions and inspiration. I have marked my favorites (so far) and keep The Story Behind the Story on my nightstand, a ready resource and a reminder of the personal nature of the process, lessons on the art of writing. Luan Gaines/ 2004.
In the 'behind the story' section, Nelson reveals that a student told her this story, that her brother had told her, and said Nelson could have it to do with as she pleased. The result of that priceless gift is "Strike Anywhere."
When I bought this book, I expected it to be like a writing class, but I think it is more like a workshop. Many of the stories impressed me as world-class, while others left me cold. All of the 'behind the story' sections were interesting, as I thought they would be, some were a lot more helpful than others.
Steven Dobyns' "Part of the Story" is a page turner in which a sixty-three year old woman must meet the five children she gave up for adoption at birth, now adults who have tracked down her and each other. She is reluctant to admit that they all have different fathers, none of which she was married to. Further complicating things, on the morning they are all coming to her trailer to meet her, her current boyfriend dies in her bed. Only some well-chosen lies can save the day. Not only is the story brilliant, but Dobyns' comments about creating it are fascinating and instructive.
C.J. Hribal's story "Morton and Lilly, Dredge and Fill" is good, but his behind the story is great, with in-depth discussion of point-of-view and how he used it.
Robert Boswell wraps up the book beautifully with "A Walk in Winter," in which a man must relive the disappearance of his mother when a body is discovered twenty-two years later. The story, both the then and the now, is riveting, and the behind the story section is as well.
With only a few exceptions, I found the stories here more than satisfying, and the background material intriguing.