Laura Hulthen Thomas Plays a Long Game

Laura Hulthen Thomas
photo: Ron Thomas

Hey, if you’re going to be in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on August 21, 2017, you should swing by the University of Michigan campus in the afternoon, because Laura Hulthen Thomas will be reading from her new story collection, States of Motion, along with Linda Gregerson, Mike Ferro and Debotri Dhar.

And if you’re not going to be there, you should track this book down, because these are some fantastic stories. I’m particularly enamored of the way Thomas goes all in on her narratives, drawing out the main action so expertly that you want to dwell longer in these worlds, dive deeper into their backstories. One of the most effective ways she does that is to hit her characters with multiple stressors, like the woman in “State of Motion” who’s trying to coach her son through a school competition while sorting out her extramarital affair with the janitor, or the driving instructor in “Adult Crowding” scrambling to cope with his dying mother while taking two argumentative teens out on a driving lesson. In this essay, she explains how she came to love stories that aren’t so short, as both a reader and a writer.

Whenever I’m asked, “Why do you write short stories?” I’m honor-bound to point out that I’m not a short story writer! The stories in States of Motion clock in at around thirty pages, with a couple of longer pieces, too. Why am I so devoted to the longer story at a time when readers and writers are having so much fun reimagining storytelling through micro-fiction, prose-poems, posts and tweets? Literary evolution has taken us from the days when Dumas was paid by the word for The Count of Monte Cristo to Amy Hempl’s or Etgar Keret’s radical narrative slimming. Readers’ habits trend towards brief, intense portraits of situation and experience, easy on the dialogue, enough with the navel-gazing already.

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21 August 2017 | selling shorts |

Paul Yoon’s Character-Building “Island”

Paul Yoon
photo: Peter Yoon

It hardly seems like it’s been three years since Paul Yoon won the New York Public Library’s Young Lions Fiction Award for his first novel, Snow Hunters, let alone seven years since he was tapped as one of the National Book Foundation’s “5 Under 35″ young writers of imminent distinction. Now here he is with his second story collection, The Mountain, a half dozen stories set in locations around the world, from the outbreak of the First World War to the near future. Each of Yoon’s locations, whether it’s the shattered landscape of post-WWII Europe or the rundown housing for Shanghai factory workers, is vividly detailed, in ways that dovetail neatly with the characters’ behavior—in this world, you feel, these people surely would do these things. In this essay, Yoon tells us about a short story that helped him get to that place in his writing.

I discovered a writer named Alistair MacLeod when I was around twenty-one years old. He passed away a few years ago, but he was known for his work set in Nova Scotia and also for his great slowness. His entire career spanned, I think, two short story collections and a single novel. I read his stories first, and one in particular, when I was first attempting to write, changed the way I thought about craft and how to compose fiction. It’s called “Island,” and it centers around Agnes, a woman living alone in her old age in a small house on a small island off the coast of Cape Breton, which itself is an island, though she calls it the mainland.

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20 August 2017 | selling shorts |

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