Owen King

Owen King is the author of We're All in This Together: A Novella and Stories, and co-editor (with John McNally) of Who Can Save Us Now?, an anthology of superhero fiction by literary writers. His fiction and non-fiction have appeared in publications such as the Bellingham Review, One Story, Paste Magazine, and Subtropics. He has been nominated for a National Magazine Award and his story, “Nothing is in Bad Taste,” was cited in the 2009 Pen/O. Henry Prize Stories.

what are you reading now

The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris, and it’s brilliant. The premise is awesomely, wonderfully strange, and the prose is faultless, so crisp and so rich at the same time.

classic you’ve been meaning to read

Fathers and Sons by Turgenev.

last book to bring you to tears

I definitely welled up a few times while reading Little Dorrit this spring. The part where Little Dorrit tells Maggy the story of the tiny woman who keeps a secret shadow – a hopeless love – is the sort of moment that earns Dickens the opprobrium of hard ass academics, but it gets me in the gut.

favorite neglected book by a celebrated writer

My sense is that a lot of people find Ian McEwan’s The Comfort of Strangers over-the-top. It’s a gory little yarn about a married couple on vacation in Venice who fall into the company of a pair of malevolent charmers. (Probably all you need to know is that Christopher Walken plays the male charmer in Paul Schrader’s film adaptation, and he brings all of his considerable powers of weirdness to bear on the part.) To me, the book has that combination of the profoundly eccentric and the totally awful that makes Grimm's Fairy Tales so undeniable even now, however many years after they were written.

most treasured book in your collection

My favorite book is the copy of an anthology I co-edited that I've been obsessively trying to get all the contributing writers to sign.

If there was a fire, I would, of course, rush the family out before I worried about any of our possessions. Which is why I have drilled our three cats in an elaborate evacuation procedure for the book. (It’s pretty cute.)

book you’ve planted on a coffee table to impress someone

I can’t recall having done this, but recently, I moved my Baseball Encyclopedia off the coffee table, where it had been living for three months, and I’m pretty sure that impressed my wife.

if you could subscribe to only one literary journal

I’m a One Story devotee. The combination of the back-pocket format and the consistent high quality of the work is tough to top.

most anticipated upcoming release

The new novel by my old classmate Jessica Shattuck, Perfect Life. Her first novel, The Hazards of Good Breeding, was a favorite.

recommended reading list:

Ten Stories That Are Ready For Their Close-Up

In the Bedroom (from Dubus’s “Killings”) and Brokeback Mountain (from the Annie Proulx story) are great examples of why, in general, most short stories probably make more sense as subjects of film adaptation than most novels. I’m not sure that the reason for this is all that complex. Turning a novel into a film usually requires a screenwriter to do lots of paring down, whereas a short story adaptation usually asks for rounding out. Neither thing can be easy, but I feel like the former needs a ruthless attitude that’s especially rare.

Anyway, here are ten short stories that have a sort of wonderful “roominess” – full, terrific characterizations, and narratives extended enough to bear the weight of elaboration – that makes them ripe for the motion pictures! (Come to think of it, for the same reasons, all these stories could be enlarged into novels…)

- “Death Defier” by Tom Bissell

- “The Man Who Knew Dylan” by William Gay

- “Flower Garden” by Shirley Jackson

- “Aerogrammes” by Tania James

- “The Specialist’s Hat” by Kelly Link

- “Intervention” by Jill McCorkle

- “Gators” by Mark Poirier

- “CivilWarLand in Bad Decline” by George Saunders

- “Batting Against Castro” by Jim Shepard

- “Blue Yodel” by Scott Snyder


Caitlin Horrocks

Caitlin Horrocks’ fiction has appeared in The PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories 2009, The Paris Review, Tin House, Prairie Schooner, Epoch and elsewhere. Her stories have been short-listed in Best American Short Stories and won awards from the Atlantic Monthly and the Bread Loaf and Sewanee Writers' Conferences. She lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and online at www.caitlinhorrocks.com.

what are you reading now

I staggered home from the Sewanee Writers’ Conference this summer with a suitcase full of wonderful fiction that I’m slowly making my way through. Currently in the stack: Things That Pass for Love by Allison Amend, The New Valley by Josh Weil, Tunneling to the Center of the Earth by Kevin Wilson, What Happened to Anna K. by Irina Reyn, Red Weather by Pauls Toutonghi, and more. It’s a big stack.

classic you’ve been meaning to read

Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne. It’s one of those books I know enough about to occasionally reference: “forerunner of post-modernism etc. etc. etc.” But it leaves a bad taste in my mouth to talk about books I haven’t actually read, so I’m hoping to get to it soon and replace the taste of fraud with the taste of delicious 18th century narrative innovation.

most treasured book in your collection

I really treasure the various half-remembered children’s books I’ve been able to hunt down online. I spent years ransacking my parents’ attic for The Little Monster’s Bedtime Book by Mercer Mayer, because I remembered tiny creatures hidden in the illustrations saying, “We’re rock cooties. Count us!*” Then the internet made it possible to order an out of print copy.

I also hunted down Jack Prelutsky’s Nightmares, which I’d listened to only once on a borrowed audiotape. My parents had given me permission to spend the night in a tent in our backyard, and listening to this tape outside, in the dark, gave me such nightmares I erased the book’s title from my memory. Turns out I was right to be terrified. Sample stanza: “He cracks their bones and snaps their backs/and squeezes out their lungs,/he chews their thumbs like candy snacks/and pulls apart their tongues.”

* There are nine.

book you borrowed and never returned

My mother is a librarian: I always return my books. But I got into a ridiculous argument with a friend once over a copy of Bel Canto by Ann Patchett. I was moving away and calling in the books I’d lent. Our phone plans made it cheaper to send text messages than call, so we traded a series of increasingly ridiculous texts. There are only so many polite, mature ways to write: “You have my book,” “No I don’t,” “You have my book,” “No I don’t.” By the end of it I was questioning the whole friendship; how had I once associated with a bald-faced liar who was now trying to steal a book that I loved? Then finally he typed, “oh! thought bel canto was CD. gave yr CDs back weeks ago. book right here will bring it.” Which made me feel like a moron incapable of speaking on a phone and resolving basic interpersonal conflicts via actual words.

strangest book you’ve ever read

Possibly The Discoverie of Witchcraft by Reginald Scot, written in 1584. Sample chapter title: “Certeine popish and magicall cures, for them that are bewitched in their privities.”

collected stories of

Flannery O’Connor. No question.

if you could subscribe to only one literary journal

Hayden’s Ferry Review. I used to be an editor there, so I’m completely biased, but it’s a great journal. There’s a consistently interesting blog, too.

best thing you’ve read online recently

Forrest Anderson’s wonderful short story “Hey Bubba” in Blackbird. It’s heartbreaking. Go read it.

recommended reading list:

Smörgåsbord Short Story Collections

There are a lot of story collections I enjoy while I’m in the midst of reading them, but then look back on later and find the stories have blurred together in my mind. I have an especial love for collections that offer up a lot of distinct pleasures, whether the author is consciously working with different subjects and styles, or just producing a selection of really kick-ass stories.

- The Hotel Eden by Ron Carlson

- Equal Love by Peter Ho Davies

- Here We Are in Paradise by Tony Earley

- Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri

- The Good Life by Erin McGraw

- Permanent Visitors by Kevin Moffett

- The Train to Lo Wu by Jess Row

- Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich (I know, it’s a novel, and I know, everybody already knows it’s great. But it’s the book that taught me what a short story is, so I can’t let it go unmentioned.)


Clifford Garstang

Clifford Garstang’s short story collection, In an Uncharted Country, will be published in September 2009 by Press 53 and is now available for pre-order at http://CliffordGarstang.com and www.Press53.com. His stories have appeared in Cream City Review, Wisconsin Review, Baltimore Review, and elsewhere. A former international lawyer specializing in Asia, he has an MA in English from Indiana University and an MFA from Queens University of Charlotte.

what are you reading now

The New Valley by Josh Weil, published earlier this year. It’s unique—a collection of three novellas set in Southwest Virginia—and disturbing, which is about all I can ask of fiction. Josh is a friend from the Sewanee Writers’ Conference and we’re doing a joint reading at the New Dominion Bookshop in Charlottesville, Virginia, in September.

Because I usually have both a fiction and a non-fiction book going at the same time, I’m also reading Jack Kornfield’s After the Ecstasy, the Laundry. It’s about the Buddhist spiritual path and is a sequel to his A Path With Heart, which I recently finished.

classic you’ve been meaning to read

There are several, I’m sorry to say, but the one classic I wish I could say that I’ve read is Remembrance of Things Past. Not sure when that’s going to happen, but it’s on my shelf, waiting.

last book to bring you to tears

That doesn’t happen very often, but I recently re-read Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, and that book is a killer. And it doesn’t help that I’ve heard O’Brien read from it and he gets emotional in the reading, so how can I not do the same?

book you borrowed and never returned

Who, me?

if you could write yourself into any book or story

I’ve always been interested in reincarnation, so maybe that would be The Sea of Fertility, the amazing tetralogy by Yukio Mishima, which follows a single “character” through successive lives.

best book-to-film adaptation

I don’t see a lot of films, but when I see an adaptation I’m often disturbed by what’s been left out, although I know the best books are much bigger in scope than a typical film. So I think Brokeback Mountain would be my choice here since it was based on a story rather than a novel, and I thought did an excellent job of capturing the whole work, even improving on the story in some ways.

favorite neglected book by a celebrated writer

I don’t think my reading has had the depth to do justice to this question, but Ken Kesey’s Sometimes a Great Notion is an amazing book, and I think most people only know One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

book you’ve planted on a coffee table to impress someone

This is maybe not quite what you mean, but for a while I had a couple of very nice books about Angkor Wat on my coffee table and wouldn’t have minded if someone had asked me about my trip there.

best american short stories, pen/o. henry prizes, or the pushcart prize anthology

Pushcart. I like both of the other anthologies, too, but I use the Pushcart Prize volume each year to update my rankings of literary magazines (which I post on my blog in early December), and for that purpose I like their somewhat more democratic approach.

collected stories of

Grace Paley. But really, there are so many short story writers I admire and whose collected stories I either own or would like to own: Russell Banks, Richard Yates, William Trevor, Flannery O’Connor. It’s a very long list.

if you could subscribe to only one literary journal

Ploughshares. And you didn’t ask for a reason, but I’d choose Ploughshares because it has more Pushcart Prize winners and Special Mentions than any other magazine this decade. By far.

most anticipated upcoming release

I’ve heard very good things about Dan Chaon’s Await Your Reply, which is coming out later this month, but I know that both John Casey and Tim O’Brien have new books that they’ve been working on for some time and I’m looking forward to seeing both of those.

recommended reading list:

Chinese Novels in Translation

(Because I’ve spent so much time in Asia, I’m drawn to work set anywhere in the region, and Chinese literature offers a treasure of new settings and ideas.)

- Soul Mountain by Gao Xingjian

- Red Sorghum by Mo Yan

- The Republic of Wine by Mo Yan

- To Live by Yu Hua

- Chronicle of a Blood Merchant by Yu Hua

- Wolf Totem by Jiang Rong

- Raise the Red Lantern by Su Tong

- Rice by Su Tong

- Farewell My Concubine by Lilian Lee

- Half of Man is Woman by Zhang Xianliang


Shya Scanlon

Shya Scanlon’s fiction and poetry have appeared in Mississippi Review, Literary Review, New York Quarterly, and elsewhere. His novel FORECAST is being serialized across 42 online journals and blogs. His prose poetry collection In This Alone Impulse will be published by Noemi Press in 2009. He received his MFA from Brown University in 2008, where he won the John Hawkes Prize in Fiction. Visit him online at www.shyascanlon.com.

what are you reading now

Right now I’m juggling a number of different books. I can’t tell if this is because none of them have grabbed me entirely, or whether my mood has been fluctuating, or perhaps that my attention span is a victim of the amount of time I spend online. Likely it’s a combination of all these. At any rate, I’ve got bookmarks in:

Driftless by David Rhodes
Home Land by Sam Lipsyte
Ninety-two in the Shade by Thomas McGuane
Tumble Home by Amy Hempel
Vermeer in Bosnia by Lawrence Weschler
… and a variety of journals, including the new Fence, the new Puerto del Sol, and the first issue of Dewclaw

classic you’ve been meaning to read

Well, to answer that honestly would be a long list. I never really got a classical education, even in high school, and I didn’t study English in college, so I simply haven’t read all the books most of my peers consider essential. So let this thought experiment suffice for an answer: think of ten canonical classics. Chances are, I’ve probably read no more than one of them. Huh. Not much of an experiment, is it.

last book you finished in a single sitting

I never finish a book in one sitting.

book you borrowed and never returned

Oh, I’ve done this a lot. And it’s been done to me a lot, too. Frankly, I don’t really keep good track of books, whose are whose, etc. It’s all part of a big book continuum, for me. I have books for a while, then I don’t. But because I’ve avoided your last two questions, I’ll get specific here and tell you the last book I think I’ve failed to return: Mayordomo by Stanley Crawford.

favorite book from childhood

I suppose I can determine what stage of childhood we’re talking about here. One of my all-time favorite picture books is The Grey Lady and the Strawberry Snatcher by Molly Bang. Just beautiful and giddy. Makes me think of growing up in Maine. Running naked through the woods.

longest book you’ve ever read

Huh. I don’t know. I don’t really think about that. I’ll tell you the longest book I’ve ever started and stopped reading: The Runaway Soul by Brodkey. I really wanted to be captivated by this book, and maybe that was the problem. The reading was so slow that every page I turned made me painfully aware of how many more there were to go. It was like being stuck in time. I don’t think I made it past 50. I’ll probably pick it up again when I’m old and crave that slowness.

secret crush on a writer or literary character

I think Lorrie Moore’s women are sexy as hell. They’re all broken yet strong and brilliant and hilarious. I don’t really picture them in my mind, though—in fact, I rarely picture characters in my mind unless the author drives it home (and even then I try to forget about it if possible). I like characters to remain nebulous, shifting word-arrangements. Though this doesn’t mean I like characters to be abstract. In fact, I’ve been increasingly disinterested in “abstract” fiction these days. I like characters, I find. Characters that seem real. I like plot, though it doesn’t have to be the driving force of the book. Action, then. I like things to “happen.” I want to write some Lorrie Moore fan fiction with long, elaborate sex scenes.

book you’ve planted on a coffee table to impress someone

Hopefully, someday, my own.

if you could subscribe to only one literary journal

I don’t subscribe to literary journals. I prefer to browse and buy from the rack. But I think I might use this opportunity to plug Monkeybicycle, which has kind of against all odds found a way to not only survive, but thrive, and which is dear to my heart for a variety of reasons. I look forward to each issue Steven Seighman creates.

best thing you’ve read online recently

How about this: I’ve recently been invited to join the online non-fiction site The Nervous Breakdown, and I’ve really been enjoying the memoir-type personal essays there. There’s a great variety of voices, experiences and perspectives, and it’s been kind of a nice reprieve from the dense, language-focused writing prevalent on many of the online journals I’m familiar with (and enjoy).

most anticipated upcoming release

Man, we’ve had a pretty good year so far, right? There are a number of books recently out that I haven’t read, so maybe I’ll list those instead. Inherent Vice, of course. How to Sell by Clancy Martin. Lowboy by John Wray. Okay, I’ll say this: I want to read Happy Rock by Matthew Simmons, when it comes out. It has yet to find a publisher, though, as far as I know, so I might have to wait a while. Any takers? Contact Matthew at http://themanwhocouldntblog.blogspot.com/.

recommended reading list:

Adult Books to Read to Your Child

My criteria: these books all use very simple language, and in most cases, very simple syntax, to create wildly imaginative fictions. I think in some cases a child might even have an easier time understanding it than most adults.

- Dad Says He Saw You at the Mall by Ken Sparling

- The End of The Story by Lydia Davis

- Stories and Texts for Nothing by Samuel Beckett

- Return to the City of White Donkeys by James Tate

- Vanishing Point by David Markson

- The Complete Stories by Franz Kafka (especially the really short ones)

- The Shoe Tester of Frankfurt by Wilhelm Genazino

- The Road by Cormac McCarthy


Amelia Gray

Amelia Gray is a writer living in Austin, TX. She is the author of AM/PM, published by Featherproof Books, and Museum of the Weird, due Summer 2010 through Fiction Collective 2. Her writing has appeared in American Short Fiction, McSweeney's Internet Tendency, DIAGRAM, and Caketrain, among others. She blogs at ameliagray.com.

what are you reading now

I got a bunch of great books in the course of driving around on tour, and I'm sampling all of them at once like I'm at the counter at Luby's. Blake Butler's Scorch Atlas is warmed-up slaw. Big World by Mary Miller is an ice cream scoop of cottage cheese. The Show that Smells by Derek McCormack is crispy macaroni. Thomas Cooper's Phantasmagoria is banana pudding.

classic you’ve been meaning to read

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov. It was chosen for a book club that I was in about six months ago. The moment it was chosen, the book club immediately dissolved under its weight. Maybe we'll get the club back together and do it. It was a good choice. Classics deserve to be read by a group that will sit quietly and talk about them.

last book to make you laugh out loud

The Cradle by Patrick Somerville has a line in the middle that caused me to laugh out loud on an airplane.

book you borrowed and never returned

The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt. I was told to keep it after I took it into the bath. I intended to never return Jesus' Son but my plan was discovered. Actually I think that I was supposed to give Phantasmagoria back. Sorry, everyone.

strangest book you’ve ever read

Historical prize goes to As I Lay Dying. New blood goes to Gary Lutz. I'd say Ulysses but I think of it more of a brick you bury in a foundation rather than a book.

last audiobook you listened to

The Unbearable Lightness of Being. I listened to it while driving from San Antonio to El Paso at the end of 2007. I had to consult my email archives to figure out exactly when. I said this on 1/3/08: "The best book on CD was The Unbearable Lightness of Being. I didn't get through all of The Heart is a Lonely Hunter but my god it sucked." In hindsight, I was not in the right place emotionally for The Heart is a Lonely Hunter.

favorite book from childhood

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin immediately comes to mind because I just read part of it again, aloud, in a van. It sort of holds up in terms of some cleverness and puns but I think it is a little too repetitive. Children's literature stoops down too low today. Let's return to the golden age when the weirdest writing out there was for the kids. Twain, Kipling, Stevenson. I'll continue below.

book you’ve planted on a coffee table to impress someone

Persepolis. I think I wanted to prove that I knew the difference between a comic book and a graphic novel. It worked!

best american short stories, pen/o. henry prizes, or the pushcart prize anthology

Dzanc's Best of the Web

collected stories of

Shirley Jackson. My friend has a piece of one of her bones.

if you could subscribe to only one literary journal

Keyhole, for spreading their Digest around Nashville and for picking Phantasmagoria as a book.

best thing you’ve read online recently

"Meat From a Meat Man" by Lindsay Hunter at Eyeshot.

most anticipated upcoming release

How Some People Like Their Eggs by Sean Lovelace (Rose Metal Press). I heard him read some of it in Chicago at the beginning of the year and I think it's going to be just what I need to get through some weeks.

recommended reading list:

Children's Books That Will Drive Your Shit Insane

The Golden Age of Children's Literature happened sometime between 1865 and 1910, when the Victorians were just coming up with the idea that childhood was an actual period of life and that children could have special clothes and books that weren't all about sweeping chimneys and dying young. Writers during this time had no idea how to handle this idea and immediately wrote some of the weirdest fiction possible. Not everything from this list is from the Golden Age but all of it either informs it or draws heavily from it.

- Der Struwwelpeter by Heinrich Hoffmann

- The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

- The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter

- Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

- Children's and Household Tales by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm

- Five Children and It by E. Nesbit

- Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt

- The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling

- A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

- Little Lord Fauntleroy by Frances Hodgson Burnett


Suzanne Burns

Suzanne Burns has published two full-length poetry collections, Blight (Archer Books) and The Flesh Procession (Bleak House Books). Pudding House Press recently published her poetry chapbook, Vacancy, which chronicles infamous events that took place in famous hotels throughout history. Her debut short-story collection, Misfits and Other Heroes, was published in June by Dzanc Books.

what are you reading now

I am a serial book rotator. Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury. Immortality by Milan Kundera.

classic you’ve been meaning to read

Damn Proust and double damn Tolstoy. I get so confused so quick. After I saw Paris for the first time last year I was all, "Proust! Proust! Proust!" But, like, wow, he's a little boring. Then I asked my husband for a copy of Anna Karenina as a Valentine's Day present. Wonderfully pretentious request. I was lost by page two. I want to take a marker and change all the names to Sally and Bob and Troy. Then I just might "get" it.

last book to bring you to tears

I've never cried over a book. Maybe I've been a little misty over parts of The Catcher in the Rye. If you mean bore me to tears, how about anything by Jane Austen or Virginia Woolf.

best book you’ve read so far this year

The Book of Laughter and Forgetting by Milan Kundera and Vera & Linus by Jess Ball and Thordis Bjornsdottir and The Blue Life Sketches by Jonathan Treadway (throwback books).

if you could write yourself into any book or story

I'd be Holden Caulfield's best girl. We'd go to a lousy movie together and hold hands through the newsreel and the cartoon. Then I'd be Esther Greenwood's confidant (The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath). I'd beg her to warn her shadow self to steer clear from handsome future British poet laureates so I could snag Ted Hughes for myself.

collected stories of

Shirley Jackson. The most underrated writer of all time ever. Who else can make a cocktail party so terrifying and so mesmerizing?

book you’ve planted on a coffee table to impress someone

I succumbed to this trickery in my late teens and early twenties. The tried and true trinity of Maus, The Book of the SubGenius and any issue of Sandman. (I worshipped THOSE kind of boys.)

if you could subscribe to only one literary journal

I don't buy or read lit journals. I know, shame on me. I love books. Books. Books.

best thing you’ve read online recently

The blogs at The Nervous Breakdown.

recommended reading list:

Beautiful Stories for Ugly Times

Though these books are very dark and sometimes disturbing I find them all wonderfully life affirming.

- A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

- Fahrenheit 451, The Illustrated Man, et al. by Ray Bradbury

- The Book of Laughter and Forgetting by Milan Kundera (plus everything else of his all the time)

- Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller

- Anything by J.D. Salinger

- Cannery Row and Sweet Thursday by Steinbeck, plus Tortilla Flat of course

- Any and all Kafka

- The Lottery and Other Stories by Shirley Jackson