SSM – Day Nine

Short Story MonthAllow me to share “Principles of a Short Story,” an essay by poet/fictionist (and apparently essayist) Raymond Carver, one of my more favorite short story writers, because I’m like, stoic that way — and gasp! he’s a man. Carver, bless his soul, begins by saying how every little world within a short story is the writer‘s world. We all knew that, yes, but he says it in such a nice way that I, exciteable Sasha, can’t help but be impressed and googly-eyed:

It’s akin to style, what I’m talking about, but it isn’t style alone. It is the writer’s particular and unmistakable signature on everything he writes. It is his world and no other. This is one of the things that distinguishes one writer from another. Not talent. There’s plenty of that around. But a writer who has some special way of looking at things and who gives artistic expression to that way of looking: that writer may be around for a time.

And then he goes on and on about why he likes about the short story, what he likes in a short story, and what other people like in a short story. If you’re a rabid fan [like me] you can’t help but make a mental checklist for every item he writes down. And this was a moment of triumph for me, haha, if only because I like to think that I think this way:

It’s possible, in a poem or a short story, to write about commonplace things and objects using commonplace but precise language, and to endow those things—a chair, a window curtain, a fork, a stone, a woman’s earring—with immense, even startling power. It is possible to write a line of seemingly innocuous dialogue and have it send a chill along the reader’s spine—the source of artistic delight, as Nabokov would have it. That’s the kind of writing that most interests me. I hate sloppy or haphazard writing whether it flies under the banner of experimentation or else is just clumsily rendered realism.

Hell yeah. Score one for the team. I feel like one of those kindergarten kids given a Smiley Face stamp on her wrist for behaving, haha. I do not like that analogy.

Anyway. As much as I love Carver, a big part of me — the conflicted-for-months-now part — disagrees, or at least whines, when Carver insists on “the use of clear and specific language” — I love me my purple prose, and it’s been showing in my fiction with alarming frequency. The question is, where will I end up, Mr. Carver, with my pitiable lack of plot and my fondness for block paragraphs and refrains? It’s Faulkner over Hemingway any time in my world. Fuck it. Haha. Haaah.

But it’s a fascinating read, and very welcome, even if it makes this blogger here feel a little guilty. So. Before I end up quoting the entire article, this is what I want to write on a three-by-five index card, and tack it on the wall above my gargantuan desk:

At the risk of appearing foolish, a writer sometimes needs to be able to just stand and gape at this or that thing—a sunset or an old shoe—in absolute and simple amazement.


Sometimes a short story finds its way to you that you put off reading because the alarms go off in your brain, warning you against possible boredom. Such a story is #29 – “Forgiveness” by Nathaniel Bellows. It took a week from point-of-download to actual reading, because I thought it was going to be yet another quiet story on the (mis)adventures of a young, timid soul trying to un-timid her self. Now I wonder how many great stories I’ve opted not to read because of this built-in bias — Haruki Murakami’s been coagulating on my bookshelf, as well as John Updike (admit it: he bores you too) and Thomas McGuane and Jess Row (sorry, Mikael).

But I read it, and it was quiet — but it was also full of tension: the “timidness” of the main character forever at odds with what she really thought of the things around her — and those moments where her spine showed, when she pushed back in her simple, quiet way — and the whammy revelation at the end, and the crazy crazy crazy secondary characters. Man.

Nathaniel Bellows, here’s to you. Glug glug glug.



About Sasha Martinez

Her sins were scarlet, but her books were read.

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