Winner of the 2021 W.S. Porter Prize for Short Story Collections
Books everywhere. Books on shelves, in towers on the floor, next to my bed, books on my nightstand; books on the other side of my bed when I was young and now, when my husband travels. Books in my backpack, in the car, I was never without a book. My dad reminds me that when I was young, say 12 years old, I checked out the classics from the library, Jane Austen, Wuthering Heights, Frankenstein, but got the large print editions that somehow made them easier to read. I remember carrying around Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago in junior high (tucked inside was my character map that tracked all the different names he used for one character). I remember the way my friend’s older brother, a smarty pants, looked at me differently, with curiosity and affection when he saw me with that book.
But the idea of writing, of creating something that made people feel and experience something or, even better, transported them, cracked open their minds a bit–I didn’t think I could do that. Maybe I had too much respect and awe for writing or maybe I had too little confidence, or was too filled with fear.
So I went round and round the act of writing, starting in a distant land called investment banking, then moving a little closer as a lawyer, a little closer as a greeting card designer, a little farther away as a teacher who taught painting to children, a little closer as a newspaper reporter, a magazine editor and writer, until I found myself picking up the scraps of what didn’t end up in the newspaper (just the facts, ma’am) and fiddling around. The expansive arm-waving gestures of a man who believed himself the center of the universe; the orange-uniformed defendant in the courtroom who kept gnawing his cheek and sat at the edge of his chair; the watery-eyed public defender who read to me the criminal record of his client, a record that began at the age of 10 with the theft of a loaf of bread.
With those scraps, and writing classes at night, then an MFA program, I began to write, pretty badly at first. Then I got a little better and was hired to teach writing. Here’s the thing, and this is what I tell my students, if you love the process of writing, the way it makes you feel, the joy, the dissolving of the self, the risk-taking to create something new, you’ll keep at it.
I published poems, then some short stories, then came a novel, The Painting, which was a finalist for the Northern California Book Award and named by the San Francisco Chronicle as “one of the year’s finest.” Then a second novel, The Translator, which won the Next Generation Indie Book Award for General Fiction and was a finalist for the William Saroyan International Writing Prize. My nonfiction book, How to Write Stunning Sentences, was the result of teaching for many years a class called, “Style in Fiction,” and the book became a Small Press Distribution bestseller. A new Stunning Sentences Creative Writing Journal will be published this fall, 2022. And my new novel, Afterword, will be published in 2023.
Another thing I tell my students: if you love writing, keep at it. Even ten minutes a day adds up. And today you might write something that surprises you, that goes into the world and surprises other people, too, that charms and delights them and maybe gives them hope.
I am so thrilled Regal House Publishing chose In this Ravishing World as the winning recipient of the 2021 W.S. Porter Prize!