As we enter the final weeks of the 2013 Fiction Contest, many writers are faced with the question: What does it take to win?
Because submitting work can feel a bit like fishing in the dark with your firstborn child as bait, we asked last year’s winner, CB Anderson, to say a few words about her creative process and to share a few strategies for success in short fiction.
Anderson’s prize-winning story “Mavak Tov” will soon be published in her collection River Talk. The book contains 17 stories — a combination of short and short-short fiction forthcoming from C&R Press in 2014 . Be sure to check it out!
In response to “Mavak Tov,” last year’s judge Dana Johnson writes:
This story haunted me. The main character’s longing and desire for comfort, for a place to be, is so powerful and recognizable, as is the conflict and question this story poses, not just for the main character but for all of us: At what price do we achieve comfort? At what point do we reject what is easy and familiar for something far more necessary, which is true agency and power? This essential question is explored through a beautifully rendered relationship between a mother and her daughter and between the wives of one polygamist man, in gorgeous, unflinching detail.
IR: Where did the idea for “Mavak Tov” start?
With Gavriella. Initially I was interested in writing about a victim soul and thought the story would center around her. She needed a mother though, and once I had Ranya the story became hers. Then it shifted again to include plural marriage. Sometimes I know where a story is headed when I begin, and sometimes–as in this case–I don’t.
IR: How does “Mavak Tov” fit into your collection of short stories?
Most of the work in River Talk is set, like “Mavak Tov,” in river valleys of western Maine. The stories are linked by the inland geography and emotional landscape rather than by character.
IR: How has your success with Indiana Review contributed to your goals as a writer?
Well, it’s wonderful to have a story recognized. Writing can be a lonely undertaking — you do have to enjoy it for its own sake — but it’s great when someone validates what you’re doing.
IR: What role does submitting to journal contests play in your career as a writer?
I like contests because they’re anonymous, which levels the playing field. They’re a really important way for emerging writers to get their work out there. It doesn’t matter whom you know or who knows you.
Do you have any advice for writers submitting work to the 2013 IR Fall Fiction Prize?
Submit your best, of course. And, before you do, don’t forget to edit and edit. Truman Capote said–I’m paraphrasing–“Prefer the scissors to the pencil,” and I think that’s good advice. You don’t want to take a piece down too far, but that rarely happens. To the contrary: often when one of my stories winds up in print I’ll see something and think, ‘Oh, I wish I’d cut that.’ Including certain parts of “Mavak Tov”!