Author's Note:

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.



Saturday, November 8, 2014

I had the opportunity to attend a reading by Colm Toibin of his new book, Nora Webster, this past Thursday evening at the Writers Guild of America theater.  Toibin's interviewer after the segments he read was Rachel Kushner, author of The Flame Throwers



Toibin has a great sense of humor and loves to talk (Theresa says, "Of course, he's Irish!").  It was a great evening, the conversation between Kushner and Toibin was quite elevated and entertaining.

Afterward, I was able speak to him about my favorite of his books, The Master.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Balancing Brookner and Gao


Think of these as segmented proofs, through the use of auxiliary lines, literary lines that is, as I try to absorb the colloidal suspension of literature: or how I balance my love of Anita Brookner with my complete and utter confusion with Gao Xingjian, and what difference does it make? I still think you should read both, although one means far more to me than the other.  Just read them.  Read others.  Read on.


From Anita Brookner's The Bay of Angels:

I had seen the relief on the faces of those visitors as they left, the smile fading, the nod of recognition to others in the same boat.  Only the following day would restore them to themselves. 
The company of the able-bodied would reassure them once again that nature was on their side, and if nature needed a little help from time to time, needed to be postponed, or relegated to a dark corner, there was no harm intended. Surely it was more honourable to joke and to encourage than to case oneself, weeping, at the feet of a parent now in ruins?


From Gao Xingjian's Soul Mountain:

The flying eaves curling upwards are lines of pure simplicity and the majestic forests on the mountain behind soundlessly sway in the night breeze.  Suddenly the myriad things turn silent and the sound of pure pipes can be heard, serene and flowing, then abruptly vanishing.  Then, beyond the gates of the temple complex,the noisy surging of the river under the stone bridge and the soughing of the night wind all seem to be flowing from my heart.


 From Anita Brookner's Hotel du Lac:

He was a man of few words, but those few words were judiciously selected, weighed for quality, and delivered with expertise.  Edith, used to the ruminative monologues that most people consider to be adequate for the purposes of rational discourse, used, moreover, to concocting the cunning and even learned periods which the characters in her books so spontaneously uttered, leaned back in her chair and smiled.  The sensation of being entertained by words was one which she encountered all too rarely.  People expect writers to entertain them, she reflected.  They consider that writers should be gratified simply by performing their task to the audience’s satisfaction.


   “This life you advocate,” she queried, “with its low moral standards.  Can you recommend it?  For others I mean.”
   Mr. Neville’s smile deepened.
   “I daresay my wife could.  And that is what you are getting at, isn’t it?  Do I tolerate low moral standards in other people?”
   Edith nodded.
   He took a sip of his wine.
   “I have come to understand them very well,” he replied.
   Well done, thought Edith.  That was a faultless performance.


    “You cannot live someone else’s life.  You can only live your own.  And remember, there are no punishments.  Whatever they told you about unselfishness being good and wickedness being bad was entirely inaccurate.  It is a lesson for serfs and it leads to resignation.  People feel at home with low moral standards. It is scruples that put them off.”


   “You are a good woman,” he said.  “That is all too obvious.”
   “How is that obvious?” she asked.
   “Good women always think it is their fault when someone else is being offensive.   Bad women never take the blame for anything.”


From Gao Xingjian's Soul Mountain:

   You realize that the childhood you have been searching for doesn’t necessarily have a definite location.  And isn’t it the same with one’s so-called hometown?  It’s no wonder that blue chimney smoke drifting over roof-tiles of houses in little towns, bellows groaning in front of wood stoves, those translucent rice-coloured little insects with short forelegs and long hind-legs, the campfires and the mud-sealed wood pail beehives hanging on the walls of the houses of mountain people, all evoke this homesickness of yours and have become the hometown of your dreams.
   Although you were born in the city, grew up in cities and spent the larger part of your life in some huge urban metropolis, you can’t make that huge urban metropolis the hometown of your heart.
   Perhaps because it is so huge that within it at most you can only find in a particular place, in a particular corner, in a particular room, in a particular instant, some memories which belong purely to yourself, and it is only in such memories that you can preserve yourself fully.  In the end, in this vast ocean of humanity you are at most only a spoonful of green seawater, insignificant and fragile.



Brookner, Anita.  The Bay of Angels, New York: Random House, 2001.
Brookner, Anita.  Hotel du Lac, New York: Random House, 1984.
Gao, Xingjian.  Soul Mountain, New York: Perennial Books, 2001.


Sunday, September 14, 2014

There was a truce in the field



(an excerpt from THE LONG HABIT OF LIVING, p. 286)

CHAPTER XVI.

                There was a truce in the field, I noticed, as I walked alone over the expansive embankment high above the Canal de Cadenet.  I looked out over the rocky fields bordered by more fertile stretches of high plain and clumps of trees and farmhouses, and detected a break in the business of nature.  I stepped quietly from the tall grass and wandered over to a row of elms and, looking down the hill, saw very close to me Father Revenant and Georges Ebert.  Although I was shielded by the elm grove and by subsequent patches of jasmine bushes and scattered, exiled grapevines swaying in a warm breeze, I could still see and hear them perfectly.
               
Revenant sat on a three-legged stool facing a flimsy easel, on which was placed a small, white water-color board.  He dipped a brush into water, then paint, and made slow, careful strokes on the white paper.  Ebert leaned back, absorbing the view, a foot resting on the picnic basket that lay between them.  Two umbrellas had been propped up so as to give both men some shade.
                I found an area of dried moss and sat down, paying strict attention to what was being said.  I wouldn't normally spy on people, but I couldn't resist listening to them, two men who have listened so much to Owen.  They spoke in French, and so I offer the translation.
                "You don't think the river has any significance?" Revenant asked.
                "Albert," Ebert sighed, "this is getting me bored."
                "I was hoping that Your Literariness would enhance my theory," snapped Revenant, hurt.
                "You know how I feel about those things," said Ebert.  "Everybody in the world has a critical theory."
                "You could at least humor me," said the priest.  "I don't see a Nobel hanging in your living room."
                "Freedom from the Archbishop has taken on a whole new dimension for you, hasn’t it?”
                "What do you mean, ‘freedom from the Archbishop’?  I know no such freedom.  He's a sore tooth, I tell you.  I'll rot by the seaside, unclothed, unloved, forgotten."
                He turned full on Ebert and smiled brightly:
                "Why?  Have you noticed something?"
                "Yes, since Avignon, you have a new sense of duty," said Ebert.
                "Duty?" replied Revenant.
                "I'm afraid you don't understand me."
                "What do you know of duty?" Revenant interrupted.  "Besides, those kinds of questions are...what?  …café talk.  I hate café talk."
                "You hate café talk, I hate theories," responded Ebert.
                He waited for Revenant to continue.  I waited for Revenant to continue.
                "Well...?  What can you tell me about your new duty in life?"
                "What about the river?" asked Revenant.
                "Forget the river," said Ebert.
                "Why?  I'm not an intellectual weasel or some other tree-thing."
                "I didn't say you were," replied the novelist.
                "I don't know if you're naturally rude or if you've picked it up from your doctor.  You weren't this way when we were kids."
                "Albert," said Georges.
                "Why don't you ask your American friend about duty," said Revenant.  "It's crippled him."
                "He's your friend, too," added Ebert.
                Moments passed in silence.  I thanked God that I forgot to put on cologne or after shave before leaving the house, like I usually do, being a fanatic about such things.  I was upwind of them, and they would've caught a trace of it in the air.  It was a peculiar sensibility I'd begun to acquire, not necessarily thinking like an animal but definitely falling into a more organic and less synthetic frame of mind when it came to extra-personal hygiene.  I think it had something to do with the wine, or with Sarah's cooking, or the air and all its pollen, its dried leaves, or the dusty pickup when the mistral blew, or even the ripening fruit from the orchards all around Cadenet.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Why I Love James Purdy

Why I love James Purdy.


I love James Purdy.  Yesterday, while riding the Wilshire Boulevard express bus, I finished The Complete Short Stories of James Purdy.  It made me feel kind of lonely, even though the bus was well-populated and I had a forward facing seat.  It's important to get a seat on the L.A. buses because when you get off you're in dire need of a chiropractor or Vicodin or a martini.  I'd go with the martini, because you can still be witty while dealing with pain; the chiropractor just turns you into a Picasso painting; and Vicodin is what you take to dull the pain of watching a Judd Apatow movie.

In spite of that strange separateness I was experiencing, it was certainly a triumph.  Those 700 pages are remarkable.  My hero John Cowper Powys said of Purdy:

"James Purdy is the best kind of original genius of our day. His insight into the diabolic cruelties and horrors that lurk all the time under our conventional skin is as startling as his insight into the angelic tenderness and protectiveness that also exist in the same hiding-place. Few there be that recognize either of these things. But Purdy reveals them."

I'll go along with a Powys recommendation any day.
 
Prior to the Stories, I'd read House of the Solitary Maggot, Jeremy's Version, 63 Dream Palace, and Eustace Chisholm and the WorksI find his prose clean, well-structured; and the tone of his writing, the themes of abandonment, alienation, desperation, greed, jealousy, marbled with peculiar language and habits brings me simultaneous sorrow and Gothic hilarity.  Purdy says of his writing: "I think I learned early on that the only subjects I could deal with were impossible.  ...if I chose an easy subject I couldn't write it because it wouldn't mean anything to me."

Take for instance, Sound of Talking (1955), where we read about a wife who wants to buy a bird and her paraplegic husband who doesn't:

In the summertime it helped to watch the swallows flying around when the pain was intense in his legs, or to listen to a plane going quite far off, and then hear all sound stop.  There was a relief from the sound then that made you almost think your own pain had quit.  ...She wanted him to want something so that she could want something, but she knew he would never want at all again.  There would be suffering, the suffering that would make him swell in the chair until he looked like a god in ecstasy, but it would all be just a man practicing for death, and the suffering illusion.  And why should a man practicing for death take time out to teach a bird to talk? 

And then there are the two friends, Mahala and Plumy, in Eventide (1956), two women who are surrounded by the absence of their sons:

"It ain't like there bein' no way out to your troubles: it's the way out that kills you," Mahala said.  "If it was goodbye for always like when someone dies, I think I could stand it better.  But this kind of parting ain't like the Lord's way."

"You go through all the suffering and the heartache," she said, "and then they go away.  The only time children is nice is when they're babies and you know they can't get away from you.  You got them then and your love is all they crave. They don't know who you are exactly, they just know you are the one to give them your love, and they ask you for it until you're worn out giving it."

She walked over to the chair where Plumy was and laid her hand on her.  Somehow the idea of George Watson's being dead so long and yet still being a baby a mother could love had a kind of perfect quality she liked.  She thought then, quietly and without shame, how nice it would be if Teeboy could also be perfect in death, so that he would belong to her in the same perfect way as George Watson belonged to Plumy.  There was a comfort in tending the grave of a dead son, whether he was killed in war or peace, and it was so difficult to tend the memory of a son who just went away and never came back.  Yet somehow she knew as she looked at Plumy, somehow she would go on with the memory of Teeboy Jordan even though he still lived in the world.

Mr. Evening (1968) is one hell of a story, and I love this sentence:  "...then he was back in the chair again, the snow still pelted the shutters, and the east wind raved like lunatics helpless without sedation."

And this one from Short Papa (1976):  "I've always wanted to do what was best, Lester," Mama went on, "but parents too are only after all flesh and blood as someday you will find out for yourself."

Mr. Sendel, who sits at a bar every night, believing if he didn't talk he'd shatter like glass, habitually steps away for a few minutes to make a call in a phone booth (remember them?).  But you see, Mr. Sendel goes through the motions of dialing numbers that don't exist, and he talks into the mouthpiece to no one.  From Reaching Rose (2000):

Mr. Sendel now talked to prevent himself from collapsing like glass into smithereens.

When Mr. Sendel first began going to the telephone  booth he had talked only to himself, but this had never really satisfied him.  First of all he no longer had anything more he wanted to say to himself.  He was an old man, and he did not care about himself; he no longer actually wanted to exist as he was now.  Often as he sat at the bar he wished that he could become invisible, disembodied, with just his mind at work, observing.  He wished the painful husk of ancient flesh which covered him would be no more, that he might live only remembering the past currents of his life.  Perhaps, he reflected, that was all immortality was: the release from the painful husk of the flesh with the mind free to wander without the accumulated harvest of suffering.
 


And lastly, from Easy Street (2004):
 
..the presence of the many young visitors and of old Nehemiah and the church choir ladies made Mother Green's last days, if not quite as heavenly as the fortune teller had foretold, nonetheless a peaceable kind of half-light that suggests the growing presence of angels from beyond.


Sunday, July 6, 2014

It takes great courage to look where you have to look, which is in yourself (Harry Crews)

This is the third post in a series of four surveying 40 or more short story writers.

"Writers spend all their time preoccupied with just the things
that their fellow men and women spend their time trying to avoid thinking about.
It takes great courage to look where you have to look, which is in yourself,
in your experience, in your relationship with fellow beings,
your relationship to the earth, to the spirit or to the first cause
--to look at them and make something of them."  (Harry Crews)


As you may recall, my May 11 post displayed the second group of short story writers I wanted to herald, with photos of the authors and images of their collective works.  I mentioned that this is not a hierarchical piece, since I don’t like competing with list viewpoints and my intention was to, as they say elsewhere, shout out to my peeps, those authors who have impacted not only myself but the course of literature.

Shall we proceed?  Group Three, here, gathers together Henry James, Irwin Shaw, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Ivan Bunin, Jack London, J.D. Salinger, John Cheever, Joseph Mitchell, Katherine Anne Porter, and Nathaniel Hawthorne.

#1  Henry James 1843-1916

“...I had the view of a castle of romance inhabited by a rosy sprite, such a place as would somehow, for diversion of the young idea, take all colour out of storybooks and fairy tales. Wasn't it just a storybook over which I had fallen a-doze and a-dream? No; it was a big, ugly, antique, but convenient house, embodying a few features of a building still older, half replaced and half utilised, in which I had the fancy of our being almost as lost as a handful of passengers in a great drifting ship. Well, I was, strangely, at the helm!
(from “The Turn of the Screw,” 1898)





#2  Irwin Shaw 1913-1984


            Fifth Avenue was shining in the sun when they left the Brevoort and started walking toward Washington Square. The sun was warm, even though it was November, and everything looked like Sunday morning--the buses, and the well-dressed people walking slowly in couples and the quiet buildings with the windows closed.
            Michael held Frances' arm tightly as they walked downtown in the sunlight. They walked lightly, almost smiling, because they had slept late and had a good breakfast and it was Sunday. Michael unbuttoned his coat and let it flap around him in the mild wind. They walked, without saying anything, among the young and pleasant-looking people who somehow seem to make up most of the population of that section of New York City.
            "Look out," Frances said, as they crossed Eighth Street. "You'll break your neck."
            Michael laughed and Frances laughed with him.
            "She's not so pretty, anyway," Frances said. "Anyway, not pretty enough to take a chance breaking your neck looking at her."
(from “The Girls In Their Summer Dresses,” 1939)



#3  Isaac Bashevis Singer 1902-1991


“Well, I read these things [Sherlock Holmes stories] when I was a boy of ten or eleven, and to me they looked so sublime, so wonderful, that even today I don't dare to read Sherlock Holmes again because I am afraid that I may be disappointed.  ...I don't think that the stories of Sherlock Holmes had any real influence on me. But I will say one thing—from my childhood I have always loved tension in a story. I liked that a story should be a story. That there should be a beginning and an end, and there should be some feeling of what will happen at the end. And to this rule I keep today. I think that storytelling has become in this age almost a forgotten art. But I try my best not to suffer from this kind of amnesia. To me a story is still a story where the reader listens and wants to know what happens. If the reader knows everything from the very beginning, even if the description is good, I think the story is not a story.”
(from The Paris Review, Fall 1968)



#4  Ivan Bunin  1870-1953


            The early days of a lovely autumn come back to me.  In August there were warm and gentle rains--rains that seemed to fall deliberately to help the sowing, coming in the middle of the month, near the holiday of St. Lavrenty.  People in the country always say that fall and winter will not quarrel if the water's still and the rain is soft on St. Lavrenty's Day.  During the warm days of babye leto, the gossamer was thick in the fields, and this too is a good sign, another promise of fine weather in the fall.  ...They've hired some of the local mouzhiki to pack up apples that they'll send to the city during the night--invariably the trip is made at night, when it's so wonderful to lie on a pile of apples and stare at the stars, smell the scent of tar in the fresh air, listen to the cautious squeaking of the loaded carts as they move in a long line through the darkness on the big road.
(from “The Scent of Apples,” 1900)



#5  Jack London 1876-1916


            I am a retired captain of the upper sea. That is to say, when I was a younger man (which is not so long ago) I was an aeronaut and navigated that aerial ocean which is all around about us and above us. Naturally it is a hazardous profession, and naturally I have had many thrilling experiences, the most thrilling, or at least the most nerve-racking, being the one I am about to relate.
            It happened before I went in for hydrogen gas balloons, all of varnished silk, doubled and lined, and all that, and fit for voyages of days instead of mere hours. The Little Nassau (named after the Great Nassau of many years back) was the balloon I was making ascents in at the time. It was a fair-sized, hot-air affair, of single thickness, good for an hour's flight or so and capable of attaining an altitude of a mile or more. It answered my purpose, for my act at the time was making half-mile parachute jumps at recreation parks and country fairs. I was in Oakland, a California town, filling a summer's engagement with a street railway company. The company owned a large park outside the city, and of course it was to its interest to provide attractions which would send the townspeople over its line when they went out to get a whiff of country air. My contract called for two ascensions weekly, and my act was an especially taking feature, for it was on my days that the largest crowds were drawn.
(from “An Adventure in the Upper Sea,” 1902)



#6  J.D. Salinger  1919-2010


I'LL EXQUISITE DAY you, buddy, if you don't get down off that bag this minute. And I mean it," Mr. McArdle said. He was speaking from the inside twin bed--the bed farther away from the porthole. Viciously, with more of a whimper than a sigh, he foot-pushed his top sheet clear of his ankles, as though any kind of coverlet was suddenly too much for his sunburned, debilitated-looking body to bear. He was lying supine, in just the trousers of his pajamas, a lighted cigarette in his right hand. His head was propped up just enough to rest uncomfortably, almost masochistically, against the very base of the headboard. His pillow and ashtray were both on the floor, between his and Mrs. McArdle's bed. Without raising his body, he reached out a nude, inflamed-pink, right arm and flicked his ashes in the general direction of the night table. "October, for God's sake," he said. "If this is October weather, gimme August." He turned his head to the right again, toward Teddy, looking for trouble. "C'mon," he said. "What the hell do you think I'm talking for? My health? Get down off there, please." Teddy was standing on the broadside of a new looking cowhide Gladstone, the better to see out of his parents' open porthole.
(from “Teddy,” 1953)



#7  John Cheever  1912-1982


            It was one of those midsummer Sundays when everyone sits around saying, “I drank too much last night.” You might have heard it whispered by the parishioners leaving church, heard it from the lips of the priest himself, struggling with his cassock in the vestiarium, heard it from the golf links and the tennis courts, heard it from the wildlife preserve where the leader of the Audubon group was suffering from a terrible hangover. “I drank too much,” said Donald Westerhazy. “We all drank too much,” said Lucinda Merrill. “It must have been the wine,” said Helen Westerhazy. “I drank too much of that claret.” This was at the edge of the Westerhazys’ pool. The pool, fed by an artesian well with a high iron content, was a pale shade of green. It was a fine day. In the west there was a massive stand of cumulus cloud so like a city seen from a distance— from the bow of an approaching ship— that it might have had a name. Lisbon. Hackensack. The sun was hot. Neddy Merrill sat by the green water, one hand in it, one around a glass of gin.
(from “The Swimmer,” 1964)



#8  Joseph Mitchell  1908-1996


             











To a devoted McSorley’s customer, most other New York City saloons are tense and disquieting.  It is possible to relax in McSorley’s.  For one thing, it is dark and gloomy, and repose comes easy in a gloomy place.  Also, the barely audible heartbeatlike ticking of the old clocks is soothing.  Also, there is a thick, musty smell that acts as a balm to jerky nerves; it is really a rich compound of the smells of pine sawdust, tap drippings, pipe tobacco, coal smoke, and onions.  A Bellevue interne once remarked that for some mental states the smell in McSorley’s would be a lot more beneficial than psychoanalysis or sedative pills or prayer.
(fromMcSorley's Wonderful Saloon,” 1943)



#9  Katherine Anne Porter  1890-1980


            She flicked her wrist neatly out of Doctor Harry’s pudgy careful fingers and pulled the sheet up to her chin. The brat ought to be in knee breeches. Doctoring around the country with spectacles on his nose! “Get along now. Take your schoolbooks and go. There’s nothing wrong with me.”
            Doctor Harry spread a warm paw like a cushion on her forehead where the forked green vein danced and made her eyelids twitch. “Now, now, be a good girl, and we’ll have you up in no time.”
            “That’s no way to speak to a woman nearly eighty years old just because she’s down. I’d have you respect your elders, young man.”
            “Well, Missy, excuse me.” Doctor Harry patted her cheek. “But I’ve got to warn you, haven’t I? You’re a marvel, but you must be careful or you’re going to be good and sorry.”
            “Don’t tell me what I’m going to be. I’m on my feet now, morally speaking. It’s Cornelia. I had to go to bed to get rid of her.”
            Her bones felt loose, and floated around in her skin, and Doctor Harry floated like a balloon around the foot of the bed. He floated and pulled down his waistcoat, and swung his glasses on a cord. “Well, stay where you are, it certainly can’t hurt you.”
            “Get along and doctor your sick,” said Granny Weatherall. “Leave a well woman alone. I’ll call for you when I want you…Where were you forty years ago when I pulled through milk-leg and double pneumonia? You weren’t even born. Don’t let Cornelia lead you on,” she shouted, because Doctor Harry appeared to float up to the ceiling and out. “I pay my own bills, and I don’t throw my money away on nonsense!”
(from “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall,” 1930)


“The past is never where you think you left it.” (K.A. Porter)


#10  Nathaniel Hawthorne  1804-1864



            That very singular man, old Doctor Heidegger, once invited four venerable friends to meet him in his study. There were three white-bearded gentlemen, Mr. Medbourne, Colonel Killigrew, and Mr. Gascoigne, and a withered gentlewoman whose name was the Widow Wycherley. They were all melancholy old creatures, who had been unfortunate in life, and whose greatest misfortune it was that they were not long ago in their graves.
            Mr. Medbourne, in the vigor of his age, had been a prosperous merchant, but had lost his all by a frantic speculation, and was no little better than a mendicant. Colonel Killigrew had wasted his best years, and his health and substance, in the pursuit of sinful pleasures, which had given birth to a brood of pains, such as the gout and divers other torments of soul and body. Mr. Gascoigne was a ruined politician, a man of evil fame, or at least had been so, till time had buried him from the knowledge of the present generation, and made him obscure instead of infamous.
            As for the Widow Wycherley, tradition tells us that she was a great beauty in her day; but, for a long while past, she had lived in deep seclusion, on account of certain scandalous stories which had prejudiced the gentry of the town against her. It is a circumstance worth mentioning that each of these three old gentlemen, Mr. Medbourne, Colonel Killigrew, and Mr. Gascoigne, were early lovers of the Widow Wycherley, and had once been on the point of cutting each other's throats for her sake.
(from “Dr. Heidegger's Experiment,” 1837 )


Sunday, May 11, 2014

"...nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed."




"There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed." --Ernest Hemingway






My last post introduced you to the four groupings of short stories that have really jazzed me over the years.  They were not in any way hierarchical, that is, Group I doesn't mean Top Shelf.  Actually, I'm pretty sure I ordered them alphabetically by first name when I started and then mixed them up so as not to be too orderly.  (And me, having worked in the Lincoln Jr. High School and Orville H. Platt High School libraries.)

Now this is the second post, and so it's the second group; not second-best.  I don't get paid to rate the writers, I don't get paid.  This is a sheer Love-of-Writing flag that I'm waving.  I'm encouraging you to read them.

II.  Ernest Hemingway, Eudora Welty, Flannery O'Connor, Frank O'Connor, Franz Kafka, G.K. Chesterton, Grace Paley, Guy de Maupassant, H.H. Munro (Saki), H.P. Lovecraft

#1  Ernest Hemingway
(1899-1961)
It wasn't until I started college that I began to read all of Hemingway's stories.  One that grabbed hold of me so profoundly was "Big Two-Hearted River."  I found a stripped copy of the Nick Adams Stories in a Five and Dime store in Meriden (Conn.), after I'd moved back there during the summer of 1975.  They'd made a great impression on a highly impressionable young man.  



#2  Eudora Welty
(1909-2001)
"..When I did begin to write, the short story was a shape that had already formed itself and stood waiting in the back of my mind.  Nor is it surprising to me that when I made my first attempt at a novel, I entered its world--that of the mysterious Yazoo-Mississippi Delta--as a child riding there on a train: "From the warm window sill the endless fields glowed like a hearth in firelight, and Laura, looking out, leaning on her elbows with her head between her hands, felt what an arriver in a land feels--that slow hard pounding in the breast." -[from One Writer's Beginnings by Eudora Welty]

#3  Franz Kafka
(1883-1924)
"...we need books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. That is my belief.” [Franz Kafka]


#4  Flannery O'Connor
(1925-1964)

"From my own experience in trying to make stories 'work,' I have discovered that what is needed is an action that is totally unexpected, yet totally believable, and I have found that, for me, this is always an action which indicates that grace has been offered. And frequently it is an action in which the devil has been the unwilling instrument of grace."  [Flannery O'Connor]

#5  Frank O'Connor
(1903-1966)
Q: Why do you prefer the short story for your medium?
Frank O'Connor: "Because it’s the nearest thing I know to lyric poetry—I wrote lyric poetry for a long time, then discovered that God had not intended me to be a lyric poet, and the nearest thing to that is the short story. A novel actually requires far more logic and far more knowledge of circumstances, whereas a short story can have the sort of detachment from circumstances that lyric poetry has."   [The Paris Review, Autumn-Winter 1957]

#6  G.K. Chesterton
(1874-1936)

"I like detective stories; I read them, I write them; but I do not believe them. The bones and structure of a good detective story are so old and well known that it may seem banal to state them even in outline. A policeman, stupid but sweet-tempered, and always weakly erring on the side of mercy, walks along the street; and in the course of his ordinary business finds a man in Bulgarian uniform killed with an Australian boomerang in a Brompton milk-shop. Having set free all the most suspicious persons in the story, he then appeals to the bull-dog professional detective, who appeals to the hawk-like amateur detective. The latter finds near the corpse a boot-lace, a button-boot, a French newspaper, and a return ticket from the Hebrides; and so, relentlessly, link by link, brings the crime home to the Archbishop of Canterbury.”  [G.K.Chesterton as quoted in Illustrated London News, May 6, 1911]


#7  Grace Paley
(1922-2007)

Q: How do stories begin for you?
Grace Paley:  A lot of them begin with a sentence—they all begin with language. It sounds dopey to say that, but it’s true. Very often one sentence is absolutely resonant. A story can begin with someone speaking. “I was popular in certain circles,” for example; an aunt of mine said that, and it hung around in my head for a long time. Eventually I wrote a story, “Goodbye and Good Luck,” that began with that line, though it had nothing to do with my aunt. Another example: “There were two husbands disappointed by eggs,” which is the first sentence of “The Used-Boy Raisers.” I was at the house of a friend of mine, thirty-five years ago, and there were her two husbands complaining about the eggs. It was just right—so I went home and began the story, though I didn’t finish it for months.  ...The sound of the story comes first."  [The Paris Review, Fall 1992]


#8  Guy de Maupassant
(1850-1893)
"A man forced to spend his life without ever having the right, without ever finding the time, to shut himself up all alone, no matter where, to think, to reflect, to work, to dream? Ah! my dear boy, a key, the key of a door which one can lock — this is happiness, mark you, the only happiness!"  [from Maupassant's The Question of Latin]


#9  H.H. Munro (Saki)
(1870-1916)
"Reginald sat in a corner of the Princess's salon and tried to forgive the furniture, which started out with an obvious intention of being Louis Quinze, but relapsed at frequent intervals into Wilhelm II.
He classified the Princess with that distinct type of woman that looks as if it habitually went out to feed hens in the rain.  Her name was Olga; she kept what she hoped and believed to be a fox- terrier, and professed what she thought were Socialist opinions. It is not necessary to be called Olga if you are a Russian Princess; in fact, Reginald knew quite a number who were called Vera; but the fox-terrier and the Socialism are essential."  [from Munro's Reginald in Russia]

"My aunt will be down presently, Mr. Nuttel," said a very self-possessed young lady of fifteen; "in the meantime you must try and put up with me."  Framton Nuttel endeavored to say the correct something which should duly flatter the niece of the moment without unduly discounting the aunt that was to come. Privately he doubted more than ever whether these formal visits on a succession of total strangers would do much towards helping the nerve cure which he was supposed to be undergoing." [from Munro's The Open Window]


#10  H.P. Lovecraft
(1890-1937)

"I am Basil Elton, keeper of the North Point light that my father and grandfather kept before me. Far from the shore stands the grey lighthouse, above sunken slimy rocks that are seen when the tide is low, but unseen when the tide is high. Past that beacon for a century have swept the majestic barques of the seven seas. In the days of my grandfather there were many; in the days of my father not so many; and now there are so few that I sometimes feel strangely alone, as though I were the last man on our planet."  [from Lovecraft's The White Ship]